University of Virginia Library



I am grateful to my friend Professor Robert Essick for invaluable advice about several technical features of Blake's printing. The essay on "The Printing of Blake's Illuminated Works", pp. xlvii-lii in William Blake's Writings (1979), Vol. I, is much narrower in scope and extent than the present essay.


Blake's Notebook p. 55; cf. p. 47. (William Blake's Writings [1979] is the source of all the Blake quotations here.)


Descriptive Catalogue (1809), last paragraph.


Very detailed instructions about how "To engrave [on copper] with aquafortis, so that the work may appear like a basso relievo" are given in the first chapter of Anon., Valuable Secrets concerning Arts and Trades [1758], 1775, 1778, 1795, 1798, 1809, 1810. The book does not deal with printing from such plates.


"Hints on various Modes of Printing from Autographs", Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, 28 (Jan 1811), 56-59.


Blake Records (1969) 460 n. 1.


Probable exceptions are his plates for George Cumberland's Thoughts on Outline (1796), Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1797), William Hayley, An Essay on Sculpture (1800), Hayley, Little Tom the Sailor (1800), Hayley, Designs to A Series of Ballads (1802), Hayley, Life . . . of William Cowper (1803, 1804), Chaucer, Prologue (1812), Job (1826), and Dante (?1827). We must, therefore, be cautious about assuming that Blake lettered his commercial plates for books—see D. V. Erdman, "Dating Blake's Script: The 'g' hypothesis" and G. E. Bentley, Jr., "Blake Sinister 'g', from 1789-93 to ?1803", Blake Newsletter, III (1969), 8-13, 42-45.


It has been generally assumed that the "visionary imagination" occurred after Robert Blake's death in 1787, but this is not a necessary conclusion from Smith's language, and an earlier date, such as 1784, is at least possible.


Linnell wrote that this liquid "was nothing more I believe than the usual stopping as it is called used by engravers made chiefly of pitch and diluted with Terps" (Blake Records [1969], 460 n. 1).


Blake Records (1969), 472-473, quoted by Cunningham in his influential biography of 1830 (p. 504).


Virgin Wax is purified wax. (Cumberland called it "common white-wax"—see note 4 above.) The need for a perfect surface on the wax is indicated by Blake's directions "To Engrave on Pewter" quoted below.


British Museum Add. MSS 36, 497, f. 348v, quoted in a footnote to p. 4 of Blake's Notebook, ed. D. V. Erdman (1973). The rest of the quotation is irrelevant to Blake. I am grateful to D. V. Erdman, Allan Pritchard, and J. R. de J. Jackson for information about this memorandum.


Quoted from a photograph (generously sent me by its owner, Mr. Edward Croft-Murray) of the inscription in Cumberland's hand.


Perhaps Pierre Ducros (1745-1810), painter and engraver.


Blake Records (1969), 214, where it is misdated 1809. The date-stamp is obscure.


According to Miss Marion Linton of the National Library of Scotland.


Lizar's account did not appear in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal for June—October 1819, as Sir Geoffrey Keynes (Blake Studies [1971], 246) says it did. According to David Bindman, "There is no contemporary account of Blake's method of printing" (The Complete Graphic Works of William Blake, ed. D. Bindman [1978], 15), but, as may be seen below, this is not quite so.


In his letter of 13 Dec 1803 Blake apologises for not having sent Hayley a proof yet, "my Press not yet being put up". His apology to Cumberland in his letter of 4 Dec 1795 for not sending a proof, "my paper not being in order", seems to imply that he intended to pull the proof himself.


Frederick Tatham's MS "Life of Blake" (?1832) in Blake Records (1969), 522.


J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times (1828) in Blake Records (1969), 459.


George Cumberland, MS Commonplace Book, f. 75r (GEB Collection).


Songs of Innocence and of Experience is the Blake work which survives in the largest number of copies; we can trace today some 25 copies printed by the Blakes between about 1794 and 1827, about one per year. Some of his works survive in only one copy (e.g., The Book of Los), and at least one work, his Prospectus "To the Public" (1793), does not survive in a contemporary copy at all.


No copy in colour, i.e., printed in brown, say, or blue, rather than black, is known to have survived. The ballad was intended to be sold to village folk for the benefit of the family of the brave sailor boy it celebrates, and the roughness of its printing was therefore not inappropriate to its audience. The printing was tricky, however, for there were four plates to be printed on one broadside leaf. There is no evidence that it was sold to London connoisseurs.


Blake Records (1969), 116-117. When the Designs to A Series of Ballads (1802) was reissued commercially in a new format in 1805, Blake was evidently involved not at all in the printing and only partially in the profits.


It was believed that Hayley had made £11,000 from editions of his Life . . . of William Cowper in 1803-4, 1806, 1809, 1812 (Alexander Stephens, Memoirs of John Horne Tooke [1813], II, 489 fn), and even allowing for gross exaggeration in the sum, and much larger printing-runs for later editions, it is fair to assume that the first printing was a large one.


G. E. Bentley, Jr. The Early Engravings of Flaxman's Classical Designs (1964).


Blake Records (1969), 151; Blake's letter to Hayley with this information is not known. In his 31 March 1804 letter Blake merely says "we directly go to Printing. . . . Johnson [the Publisher] . . . wants them [the Plates] to set the Printer to work upon".


Quoted from a reproduction of the MS in the possession of Mr Philip Hofer.


Allan Cunningham, quoted in Blake Records, 480.