Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Moravian visual tradition

I have, somewhere or other, an extensive collection of photographs of paintings by John Valentine Haidt, and other Moravian imagery. I hope to post these images here in due course. Meanwhile, I attach some photos I took in the Moravian Archive, Bethlehem.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo

This is the script for an illustrated talk on Mackmurdo I gave some twenty-five years ago.  The slides are currently missing but I'll fill in the illustrations as and when I can. Additionally, all bibliographical citations and source notes are omitted. This is a gap even more difficult to fill.


There's a basic problem that's encountered by anyone attempting to talk or write about Mackmurdo. It's that there seems to have been an element of the bogus or of the mountebank in his character. For example, he repeatedly claimed to have been a pupil of Ruskin and to have been chosen  to accompany the great man on a tour of Italy. No evidence has been found for this claim. There's doubt if he ever met Ruskin. Of course he read and admired Ruskin, Carlyle, Walter Pater, Herbert Spencer. And they had a deleterious effect on his literary style. But there was never the personal acquaintanceship he was prone to claim.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Rev. William Muir

The Rev. William Muir (1795-1864), Minister, First Charge, Parish Church, Dysart, Fife, was uncle of "our" William Muir. He was born 30 Aug 1794 in Paisley, Renfrew, and died 1 Dec 1864 in Dysart, Fife, aged 70. His first marriage (to Christian Bain), took place 15 Apr 1828, at Dysart. They had eight children. His second childless marriage (to Margaret Robertson), took place 25 Dec 1850 . She long outlived him, dying in 1889.

Dysart circa 1860.
For what it's worth—at least it will avoid confusion—here is a list of the books published by the Rev. William Muir.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A William Muir chronology II: 1884-1940

Former home of the Iona Press.
Muir, now settled in London, began publishing as the Iona Press—Muir proprietor, manager, editor—John MacCormick set up type and worked the press, binder (John MacCormick—already a student at Glasgow University?). "The pictures in the 'Iona Press' (and also those of the Blake Press London) were painted by girls on the island, under the instruction of Mr Muir and the late Miss Flora Ritchie, whose father, the late Captain Ritchie, kindly gave the use of a room in his house, and in other ways materially assisted the workers financially."

Friday, 30 May 2014

Blake's apprentice—Thomas Owen

I recently purchased a print of a scene in Leeds engraved by one T. Owen.

Christ Church and Coal Staith, Leeds. | Drawn by N. Whittock. Engraved on Steel by T. Owen. | London Published by J. T. Hinton, No.4. Warwick Square March 1829.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Blake set to music—Walter Zimmerman

Walter Zimmermann was born in Schwabach, Franconia, on 15 April 1949. Alongside his career as a composer he has engaged in ethnological research, gathering folk music in Franconia but also (1975-6) from American Indian reservations. He has been Professor of Composition at the Berlin Academy of the Arts since 1993; he now lives in Berlin and Seidmar (Franconia).

Zimmermann's position is that of a resolute outsider within a culture based on common currents and continuities. And almost from the start, works with quite different instrumentation were organised into substantial Werkgruppe (“cycles” or “projects”). Thus, perhaps his best-known work, Lokale Musik (1977-81) is a collection of pieces (from solos and chamber music through to large orchestra), a project about the "manifold relationships between landscape and music", a private (autobiographical and psychological) and public (historical and social) working out of those relationships in a particular landscape, that of Zimmermann's native Franconia. Zimmermann presents us with, not just a remarkable body of music, but a model of composition as a project that connects the musical to the historical, ethnological, social and psychological, and one in which these connections are never musically trivial.

Blair's Grave—a conundrum

The place that books have in the social values of their time is expressed in the frame built to hold them, that is to say, the splendour and beauty of their external protection, their binding.

Last week, at the London International Book Fair (22-24 May 2014), Sims Reed Rare Books offered for sale an elaborately bound copy of Robert Blair's The Grave, with the William Blake illustrations engraved by Luigi Schiavonetti. This is the description in the Sims Reed fair checklist.
7. BLAKE, WILLIAM. Robert Blair. The Grave, A Poem. London. Printed by T. Bensley ... for the Proprietor, R. H. Crombie [sic] &c. 1808. Folio. (420 x 330 mm). [42 leaves; pp. xiv, 36]. Frontispiece portrait of Blake by Schiavonetti after T. Phillips, printed title with verse by Montgomery verso, leaf with Blake's poem 'To the Queen', additional etched frontispiece marked 'Proof', 3 leaves with 'List of Subscribers', leaf with Cromek's 'Advertisement', leaf with Fuseli's appreciation and text and 11 plates, all by Schiavonetti after Blake; plates printed on white laid paper with the watermark 'AUVERGNE', the text on cream wove paper with the watermark 'J WHATMAN 1801' where applicable; sheet size: 410 x 320 mm. Contemporary full red straight-grained morocco by Charles Hering with his ticket to front free endpaper verso, boards with elaborate decorative tooling in  gilt and large central Cathedral stamp, skull tools to corners, blue watered silk doublures with gilt decorative tooling, a.e.g. A magnificent copy of the large paper issue of Blake's illustrations for The Grave bound in red morocco in Cathedral style by Hering.                                                                            £18,500

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Blake-spotting—Pet Shop Boys

For most musicians today, a recording is (a) historical documentation, (b) a token of a certain status, (c) a gift-able object, and/or (d) a calling card and advertisement for live performances.—DANIEL WOLF

The latest Pet Shop Boys album, “Electric”, consists of nine tracks of which the fifth, “Inside a Dream” uses a Blake refrain
The Land of Dreams is better far,
Above the light of the Morning Star.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

A William Muir chronology I: 1817-1883

This chronology was prepared by Ted Ryan some twenty-five years ago.  His source was principally the Oban Times obituary of Muir published in 1939.

George Walker Muir (father), one of a "talented family of five" born in Kilmarnock.

4 September. Birth of Christine Penman (mother) in Glasgow.

Birth of Count Gleichen (patron).

Blackfriars Bridge

The 1881 census gave Muir’s occupation as “granite agent”.  Ross of Mull granite had been used in a number of engineering projects of the 1860s and 1870s, such as the piers of Blackfriars Bridge across the Thames, docks in New York, parts of the Thames Embankment, and bridges in Glasgow.

The first Blackfriars Bridge was designed by Robert Mylne and built in 1760-9. Constructed with nine semi-elliptical Portland stone arches, it strongly reflected the influence of Piranesi, with whom Mylne had spent much time when in Rome. This bridge, the third bridge across the Thames in London, cost £230,000 and was mainly paid for by fines that had accumulated from men refusing the City post of Sheriff. It was officially known as William Pitt Bridge but the public insisted on calling it Blackfriars. In 1780 Gordon Rioters broke down the toll gates and stole the money. It was freed from tolls in 1785. It was replaced in 1860-9 by the present structure (designed by Joseph Cubitt and H. Carr) of five wrought-iron arches, faced with cast iron, on red Ross of Mull granite piers. This may be the earliest use in London of stone from the Tormor Quarry. In later years the decorative qualities of the granite (it has a distinctive pink colour) were exploited by architects and sculptors. Ross of Mull granite was used in buildings of Glasgow University of around the same date.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” begins with the following quatrain, perhaps as perfect four lines as ever he wrote
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
The poem appears in the so-called “Pickering Manuscript”, sometimes called the “Ballads Manuscript”, a collection made for some friend or patron : ten poems written out in a clear hand on eleven leaves. Owned by Basil Montagu Pickering in 1866, the manuscript is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Blake set to music in Europe

When we look at Blake’s reception abroad, we find a curious divergence. In France, Italy, and the Spanish-speaking world the emphasis has been on translating Blake’s texts—with French versions by figures as distinguished as André Gide (1923) and Philippe Soupault (1927), Italian translations by Ungaretti (1936), and Spanish translations by Neruda (1947). Musical settings of Blake’s English words have tended rather to come from Norway (Øistein Sommerfeldt and Finn Coren), or from Belgium (Lucien Posman and Benoît Mernier).

The earliest Blake setting by a composer from continental Europe is by Jacques Blumenthal (born Hamburg, 1829). His "Songs of Innocence”, setting six Blake poems, were published between 1878 and 1883. But Blumenthal had been a London resident from 1848, and died there in 1908. Similarly, the Blake settings (1940s) by Paul Hindemith (Hanau, Hesse, 1895), Ernst Krenek (Vienna, 1900), and Ernst Toch (Vienna, 1887) were all composed in North American exile.

Blake set to music—John Sykes

First published on Zoamorphosis the Blake 2.0 Blog (http://zoamorphosis.com) on 14 June 2010.

The music critic Andrew Porter said of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, that "there can be few English-speaking composers who ... have not contemplated setting all forty-six of the poems". But, as Donald Fitch points out, few have actually realised any substantial part of that dream. Only the American composer William Bolcom has succeeded in setting all 46 poems as a single sustained composition. Many others have set substantial numbers of the poems, though not often as a connected set, and most were for fairly limited musical resources. Among English composers there is Havergal Brian with 19, Fritz Hart with 26, Alfred Hale with 17, and Maud Valérie White with 15. Both Vincent Caillard and Ronald Stevenson have set the complete Songs of Innocence as a cycle, the first for voice and piano, the second as a choral cycle with solo voice and chamber orchestra. Another relatively unknown Englishman, John Sykes, came close; a provisional list of Sykes’s songs, compiled by Stephen Banfield, shows settings of all but nine of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Blake set to music—Adrian Leverkühn

First published on Zoamorphosis the Blake 2.0 Blog (http://zoamorphosis.com) on 29 June 2011.

Blake set to music—Cornelius Cardew

First published on Zoamorphosis the Blake 2.0 Blog (http://zoamorphosis.com) on 25 June 2010.

Over 30 years after his death in 1981, there nearly was a revival of interest in the English composer and political activist, Cornelius Cardew.  On Friday 20 August 2010, the BBC Proms featured a work by Cardew for the first time since the disastrous performance of part of The Great Learning at the Albert Hall in 1972.  A late-night (10.00 pm start) mixed programme of English and American experimental traditions included Cardew’s Bun No. 2 for Orchestra performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Ilan Volkov conducting. But that seems to have been that.

Blake set to music—Benjamin Britten

First published on Zoamorphosis the Blake 2.0 Blog (http://zoamorphosis.com) on 8 August 2010.

William Blake was a poet of crucial importance to the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-76). Other poets, notably W. H. Auden, were set more often, but as the enthusiasm of, at the most, a decade. Only Blake, it seems, provided inspiration throughout Britten’s life. The earliest of Britten’s Blake settings is The Nurse’s Song, written when he was sixteen. Some individual Blake settings followed in the 1930s, including a first version of A Poison Tree. The 1940s produced the haunting miniature ‘The sick rose’ in Serenade, and ‘Cradle Song’ in A Charm of Lullabies. A setting of ‘Sound the Flute!’ forms part of Spring Symphony, and his children’s opera, The Little Sweep is indebted to Blake’s chimney-sweeper poems. Then in 1965, thirty years after his first setting of ‘A Poison Tree’, Britten returned to Blake for the large-scale cycle, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Rylands Blake project 11. Archive materials relating to Rebekah Bliss

In the Bliss Bibliotheca Splendidissima, the books that were the most far-flung in their origin, the most difficult to procure in Rebekah Bliss’s lifetime, the most unexpected in an Englishwoman’s library of circa 1800, were the two Japanese books that appeared in the 1842 sale of books that had passed to her cousin's son, Samuel Roffey Maitland:
[lot] 696 Book of Fishes, printed in Colours, with descriptions and a prefatory treatise in the Japanese Language
697 Book of Plants, Reptiles and Insects, printed in Colours, with descriptions in Japanese
Sir Frederic Madden noted in his copy of the sale catalogue that these two books were purchased by Bohn on behalf of “Mr. Bland”. In fact, apart from a volume of Chinese drawings acquired for the British Museum, all the Oriental books in the 1842 sale were acquired by the noted Persian scholar Nathaniel Bland. Following Bland’s suicide in 1866 (apparently because of his gambling debts), the Bland collection was acquired en bloc by the Earl of Crawford, and the Crawford collection itself purchased in 1901 by Mrs. John Rylands.

Rylands Blake project 10. The Book of Thel (1928)

In 1789, Blake engraved & printed his Songs of Innocence & The Book of Thel. Both these early works display characteristics that become more marked in Blake’s later work. His lyrics, as in Songs of Innocence (1789) & the later Songs of Experience (1794), express spiritual wisdom in radiant imagery & symbolism & are often written with a childlike simplicity. In Tiriel & The Book of Thel Blake uses for the first time the long unrhymed line of fourteen syllables, which was to become the staple metre of his narrative poetry. Tiriel, a first attempt at a narrative poem, was never engraved. The Book of Thel, with its lovely flowing designs, is an idyll akin to Songs of Innocence in its flowerlike delicacy & transparency. It represents the maiden, Thel, lamenting change & mutability by the banks of a river, where the lily, the cloud, the worm, & the clod comfort her.
Everything that lives,
Lives not alone, nor for itself.
In the realms where Thel wanders all beings still aspire to unity with Christ through selfless giving to others (of their fragrance, nurturing care, etc). The final section, with its vivid & horrible images of death, seems to contradict the explicit Christian message of the rest of the poem.

Rylands Blake project 9. Songs of Experience (1927)

Blake never issued Songs of Experience separately but always with his Songs of Innocence. Nevertheless there have been seven facsimiles of a separate Experience.

1876.—Works by William Blake : Songs of innocence. 1789. Songs of experience. 1794. Book of Thel. 1789. Vision of the daughters of Albion. 1793. America: a prophecy. 1793. Europe: a prophecy. 1794. The first book of Urizen. 1794. The song of Los. 1794. Reproduced in facsimile from the original editions.—[London] : [Andrew Chatto, publisher].—144 leaves : ill. ; 39 cm.
“One hundred copies printed for private circulation.”
Monochrome facsimile printed by lithography and deriving from copy D (the British Museum copy).
Keynes notes that the lithographed plates are poorly executed, and that the text is inaccurate.

1885.—Songs of experience / Wm. Blake.--Edmonton : W. Muir.—1 v. : col. ill. ; 29 cm
Facsimile by William Muir.
Title from cover.
Limited ed. of 100 copies.

Rylands Blake project 8. The Book of Job (1927)

William Blake's "Illustrations of the Book of Job" is the most widely reproduced of his graphic series, at least 36 times, and more than the great book illustrations (Young, Blair, Gray) or any of the works in illuminated printing. Sometimes these reproductions (e.g. King, 1968, or Safire, 1992) provide us with surprising contexts.


ספר איוב Illustrations of the book of Job / Invented and engraved by William Blake, 1825. London, Published as the Act directs March 8: 1825 [i.e. 1826] by William Blake No 3 Fountain Court, Strand.-- 22 sheets : all ill. ; 44 cm
Despite the date on the title page, the plates were not actually issued until a year later according to the date on the wrapper.
Restrike issued 1870.

Rylands Blake project 7. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1927)

No work has challenged its readers like Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Iconoclastic, bizarre, unprecedented, it is all of these. Most extraordinary is the revolutionary method of its making—one of the first that Blake printed using the method he called "Illuminated Printing" and the only work in which he signifies its importance.

The "Proverbs of Hell" have been culled for the slogans of student protest and become axioms of modern thought. I remember from the sixties, Blake's "Proverbs" painted alongside London Underground lines and on fences surrounding waste ground. The graffitist called himself "Joseph". I've no idea who he was. Later, if I recall correctly he moved on to right-wing and racist graffiti.

There have been eleven facsimiles published. Some are facsimiles of facsimiles.

1868.—The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.—London : Hotten.—27 leaves ; 26cm
Hotten's facsimile reprint, hand-coloured.

Rylands Blake project 6. Frederic Shields: The Chapel of the Ascension (1904)

On 26 February 1911, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederic Shields (born 1833) died, having spent the last twenty years of his life devoted to the decoration of the Chapel of the Ascension in Bayswater, London. Conceived of in 1887, completed in 1910, bombed in 1944 during the Blitz of World War II and demolished in 1969, the Chapel represents changing Victorian precepts of religion and faith as well as attitudes towards public art and decoration on the eve of the modern age. Designed by the architect and aesthete Herbert Horne (1864-1916) and modeled on thirteenth-century northern Italian church architecture, the chapel design was a reflection of the British rediscovery of the Italian Renaissance during the Victorian period. Shields’ use of the marouflage technique, mimicking continental fresco schemes, reflects a national desire to raise public British art to a level of “high art,” which would ensure it a place in the art historical canon.—MARGARETTA S. FREDERICK.

There have been at least eleven editions of the "Handbook" to the Chapel.

Rylands Blake project 5. The Century Guild Hobby Horse

The Century Guild Hobby Horse was the journal of the Century Guild of Arts and Crafts, a group which was founded in 1880-81, growing out of William Morris’s efforts in the decorative arts. A first issue of The Century Guild Hobby Horse, edited by A. H. Mackmurdo and published from Orpington, appeared in April 1884. This issue "No 1" had no successors. Another new sequence with the same title, again edited by A.H. Mackmurdo, but published from London, started in 1886. Issue No 1 appeared in January 1886 and the journal ran to a No 28, which appeared in October 1892. This in turn was succeeded by a journal titled The Hobby Horse, edited by Mackmurdo's one-time architectural pupil and partner, Herbert Percy Horne. Three issues appeared between 1893 and 1894.

Rylands Blake project 4. America (1887)

No........ [ink numeral and Muir’s signature] Price. £ . . [ink price] | AMERICA, | A PROPHECY, | BY WILLIAM BLAKE, 1793 | [rule] |FACSIMILIED AT EDMONTON, ANNO 1887. | By W. MUIR, H. T. MUIR, E. DRUITT, & M. HUGHES. | This is the first part of the second volume of my edition of 50 copies of the Works of | William Blake, The first volume contained “The Songs of Innocence” and of “Experience;” | “Thel;” “The Visions of the Daughters of Albion;” “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell;” | “There is no Natural Religion; “ and “Milton.” Several of them can still be obtained from | the booksellers. | Mr. Quaritch, of 15, Piccadilly, W. is my only Agent. | W. MUIR. | January 1887.

AMERICA | a | PROPHECY | LAMBETH | Printed by William Blake in the year 1793.

18 leaves of lithographic facsimile printed in blue-black ink.
In blue wrappers. Rebound in crimson half leather, cloth sides.

Rylands Blake project 3. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1885)

Most copies of Muir's facsimile of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are colured in emulation of copy A (the Beckford copy), only a very small number being coloured from the Fitzwilliam Museum copy (H). 

Number [space for numeral & Muir's signature] | The | Marriage of | Heaven | and | Hell. | Willm Blake. 1790.

A facsimile by William Muir.

Edmonton, Middlesex: Blake Press, W. Muir; London: B. Quaritch, agent,

Rylands Blake project 2. Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1884)

Muir's facsimile of Visions of the Daughters of Albion has the most complicated history of any of the Blake Press facsimiles. Both low and high-numbered copies of the limitation of fifty are based on Blake's original copy A (British Museum) but Keynes implies that the majority were done from the Butts copy (B) of the original. Essick's and other late facsimiles (executed 1923-1928) were apparently based on copy G. Seven copies were printed on “antique note-paper”.

Number [space for numeral & Muir's signature] | Visions of the Daughters of Albion | W Blake 1793

Rylands Blake project 1. Songs of Innocence (1884)

J. Pearson & Co. was a London bookselling business begun in the middle of the nineteenth century by John Pearson (d. 1919), amd continued after his retirement in 1885, by C. E. Shepheard and F.A. Wheeler, whose partnership was dissolved in 1924. The form’s stock was then sold at Sotheby’s, but Wheeler continued to trade as J. Pearson & Co. (London) Ltd. until the mid-1930s. Pearson’s first catalogue was issued in 1860. The firm specialised in high quality antiquarian material, including bookbindings and significant association copies. David Pearson notes that many of the firm's catalogues contain extensive provenance information but, despite their importance, they are not easy to trace. The British Library has only seven--most at shelfmark S.C.1105 (Pearson, 163).

His library was sold many years later: Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge, 1916. Of works by William Blake, It contained the former Flaxman copy of Songs of Innocence, copy D, from which Muir’s facsimile was produced in 1884. Pearson also owned a copy of Poetical Sketches and a rather dubious-sounding water colour showing “a number of Nude figures being led captive by a Devil, and others following; the great head of a marine monster, in the mouth of which are several figures, etc.” (Sotheby's sale, lots 40, 41, 42).

Rylands Blake project: initial list

a) Books/Journals

1. William Muir: Songs of Innocence (1884)
2. William Muir: Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1884)
3. William Muir: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1885)
4. William Muir: America (1887)
5. The Century Guild Hobby Horse (editions 1886-88?)
6. Frederic Shields: The Chapel of Ascension (1904)
7. Max Plowman (ed.): The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1927)

b) British Museum Facsimiles of Blake's books

8. The Book of Job (1927)
9. Songs of Experience (1927)
10. The Book of Thel (1928)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Blake: reproducing the works in Illuminated Printing

Every literary work that descends to us operates through the deployment of a double helix of perceptual codes: the linguistic codes, on one hand, and the bibliographical codes on the other. We recognize the latter simply by looking at a medieval literary manuscript—or at any of William Blake’s equivalent illuminated texts produced (in the teeth of) the age of mechanical reproduction.—MCGANN 
The challenge from the mid-nineteenth century onwards (up to and including the present day), has been to reproduce William Blake’s work in Illuminated Printing in a way that provides fidelity not just to the image but to the reading experience. To cite one of the founders of the Blake Archive, “what is selected for reproduction and how it is reproduced affects the Blake we know and how we know him” (Viscomi). For each attempt at reproduction we need to specify, rigorously and precisely, what these gains and losses entail and especially what they reveal about presuppositions underlying reading and writing.