Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The bourgeois Blake

On 29 November 2019, and coinciding with the Blake exhibition at Tate Britain, I attended “William Blake and the Idea of the Artist”, a conference at the Paul Mellon Centre in Bedford Square. The conference sought to “consider the work of William Blake with the context of Romanticism and the artistic currents of his times, the creative legacies of his work and the contemporary resonances of Blake’s vision”.

The first speaker, Silvia Riccardi (University of Freiburg), drawing attention to the interlinear squiggles and elaborations of the lettering in, for example, America, made one want to go back to the works in illuminated printing again, and this time take a magnifying glass. The speakers that followed all made similarly thoughtful contributions. But the final speaker, Dave Beech (University of the Arts, London) left me puzzled.

If I understood his argument, Beech claimed there was an eighteenth-century class distinction between “artisans”, like Blake, who had undergone an apprenticeship, and “artists”, who attended academies. Perhaps it would be anachronistic to point out that Raphael, for example, was apprenticed to Perugino; but surely not anachronistic to note that Sir Joshua Reynolds served an apprenticeship with the fashionable London portrait painter Thomas Hudson. At the age of 10 Blake was drawing from casts of antiquities in the school of Henry Pars, before his apprenticeship to James Basire in 1772. After 1779 Blake was a student at the Royal Academy, where he diligently drew from classical sculpture under the instruction of George Moser.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Bunhill Fields—25 May 1708

Post Boy, January 10, 1708 - January 13, 1708; Issue 1975.

In early 1708, the religious group known as the French Prophets (a millenarian movement active in London from 1706), sensationally announced in the London newspapers that Thomas Emes, one of their number, who had died at the end of December 1707, would rise from his grave at Bunhill Fields on 25 May.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Blakespotting: Private Eye

The Private Eye letters pages regularly include “Lookalikes” where sometimes surprising visual resemblances are brought to our attention. The issue of 4-17 October 2019 features, on pages 21-22, no fewer than three Lookalikes and a Moggalike (Jacob Rees-Mogg appropriately paired with a relaxing kangaroo).

Here’s page 22 (click to enlarge)

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Bunhill Fields—3 September 1688

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, died in August 1688, at the age of sixty. Drenched in a rainstorm on a rare visit to London for a preaching engagement, Bunyan fell ill while staying at the home in Snow Hill, Farringdon Without, of the grocer John Strudwick. His cold developed into a fever, though he still preached on 19 August to a London congregation, until illness claimed his life on 31 August 1688. He was buried at Bunhill Fields on 3 September.

Strudwick had already purchased a plot for a family vault in Bunhill Fields and it was his intention that Bunyan’s remains would be placed there too, though Bunyan was initially buried in the “Baptist Corner” at the back of the burial ground. John Strudwick survived another nine years, himself dying in 1697. There is no record of when Bunyan’s coffin was placed in the Strudwick vault although one might guess it was soon after Strudwick’s burial; the surviving burial ground registers only begin in 1713.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Bunhill Fields—the long continuities of London life and death

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.—BLAKE
The Bunhill Fields Burial Ground and the adjacent Artillery Ground are the last large open spaces remaining of the three great fields (Bunhill Fields, Smithfield, and Moorfields) that constituted the Manor of Finsbury. The name Bunhill is a corruption of “Bone Hill”, perhaps implying the presence somewhere on the land of a Saxon burial mound. Another suggestion is that the marshy field was used as a refuse tip—a dumping ground for rags and bones, including animal bones from the Smithfield shambles, but I think the name predates the establishment of the livestock market. The manor was originally the prebend of Halliwell and Finsbury, established in 1104 to provide support for a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.

In 1315, in the reign of Edward II, the prebendary manor was granted by Robert Baldock, the king’s secretary, to the Mayor and commonalty of London. This act enabled more general public access to a large area of fen or moor stretching from the City of London’s boundary (London Wall), to the village of Hoxton. Though ownership of Bunhill Fields reverted to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral from 1514 to 1867, it continued to be leased and managed by the Corporation of London. The Corporation in turn sublet the field. This pattern of lease and sub-lease (and often sub-sub lease) was customary with Corporation land and persists to this day.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Artillery Ground and the long continuities of London life

The Bunhill Fields burial ground preserves the name of one of the three large fields (the others being Moorfields and Smithfield) that historically formed the Manor of Finsbury. The term field implies open land—land not used for the cultivation of crops but for the grazing of animals, the tenting of cloth (that is to say, the bleaching of linen in the sun), all kinds of sports and ball games, & so on—any activity that required space. I attribute to Peter Ackroyd the phrase “the long continuities of London life” though I can no longer trace the reference. It just may be that I heard him use the phrase in a lecture twenty or more years ago and it has resonated with me ever since.

The Finsbury fields were long a noted place for the practice of archery. A Child ballad (No 145B : “Robin Hood and Queen Katherine”), tells of an archery contest at Bunhill Fields :

          In summer time, when leaves grow green,
          It is a seemly sight to see
          How Robin Hood himself had drest,
          And all his yeomandry.

          He cloathed his men in Lincoln green,
          And himself in scarlet red,
          Black hats, white feathers, all alike ;
          Now bold Robin Hood is rid.

          And when he came at Londons court,
          Hee fell downe on his knee:
          ‘Thou art welcome, Locksly,’ said the queen,
          ‘And all thy good yeomendree.’

Thursday, 8 March 2018

A Fugs Discography

In this simple discography of The Fugs, Ed Sanders, and Tuli Kupferberg, I attempt to list each recording (LP, Single, CD, tape or cassette) that I have been able to trace, though omitting downloads and online content. Reissues are usually noted with the original publication, but I list separately reissued discs where there is variation of title or of content. There may well be inconsistencies in the coverage. With the ESP recordings in particular, there are numerous variations in the packaging and labelling of the album which I shall not attempt to enumerate here.

The Fugs themselves were formed in New York City in 1964 by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Later that year they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders. Sanders says the Fugs started out with an air of anything-goes possibility—what a show could be and how the band would progress were entirely up for grabs.
We started out in Greenwich Village, on the Lower East Side, and we were in the middle of a lot of music: the jazz clubs, the civil-rights songs, the folk movement, rock’n’roll. Everyone had guitars in their apartments, and we’d put beat poetry to music. It was a time when you could rent a store front, rent a smoke machine, have someone dancing in a bathtub full of grapes, play some songs, and you could charge admission.—SANDERS