Wednesday, 20 December 2017

William Blake and fake news

William Blake has declared Jerusalem to be the capital of England and dismissed all other suggestions as fake news.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Gerald Eades Bentley, Jr (23 August 1930—31 August 2017)

I first met Jerry Bentley in 1992 or 1993. I had drafted a paper on William Muir and the Blake Press at Edmonton and sent it off to Blake Quarterly. The journal wrote back to say that G.E. Bentley, Jr had also sent them a paper on Muir and could we sort out two complementary papers for publication. We met up in Oxford where Jerry and Beth had rooms at Merton College and agreed a split. Jerry would provide a transcript and commentary on Muir’s correspondence with the bookseller Bernard Quaritch. And I would provide a biography of Muir with his letters to Kerrison Preston.

Actually it was Beth I met first. Jerry had been delayed somewhere so Beth got me to help with the laundry.  I wonder now if, say, years earlier it had been Sir Geoffrey Keynes at the door, would Beth have sought his assistance in folding sheets? Probably yes.

Jerry was the first distinguished literary scholar I had ever met. Our two papers appeared in Blake Quarterly in Summer 1993, and his had a note
Mr. Keri Davies has generously allowed me to see his essay on Muir, coincidentally written at the same time as my own, and to improve mine on the basis of his.
Naively, I thought this was the generous courtesy one would receive from Blake scholars as a matter of course. Alas!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

William Blake and Cricket

When reading Blake’s earliest surviving writings, I find myself tantalised by the roads not taken: the precocious Augustan poet of the Poetical Sketches; or the broad comedy of the manuscript known, from its opening paragraph, as “An Island in the Moon”.
In the Moon, is a certain Island near by a mighty continent, which small island seems to have some affinity to England. & what is more extraordinary the people are so much alike & their language so much the same that you would think you was among your friends.
“An Island in the Moon” is a 17 page fragment written in pen and ink in Blake’s hand, and now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. It notably contains the earliest extant drafts of “Nurse’s Song”, “Holy Thursday”, and “The Little Boy Lost”, which were to make their first published appearance in his Songs of Innocence (1789).

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Blake set to music—T. L. Hately

Donald Fitch, writing in 1990, suggested that
[t]he earliest person to suggest a Blake text for music was apparently … the Unitarian minister James Martineau, who, in about 1874 proposed the text “Can I see another’s woe” for use as a hymn; two years later Doyne Courtenay Bell made the first art-song setting of this text (xxi).
For many years this latter work
Doyne Courtney Bell, 1831-1888.—On Another’s Sorrow; song for voice and piano.—London: R. Mills & Sons, 1876.—4 p. (Fitch no 96)
remained the earliest known setting. But it now appears that the first published musical setting for any work by Blake (though slightly adjusted as to wording) is “Chimney Sweeper’s Song” (from Innocence), on pages 128-129 of The Illustrated Book of Songs for Children (London, etc., 1863). The composer is Thomas Legerwood Hately, not named on the title-page, but who, as noted in the preface, “has kindly provided a number of new airs, and revised the whole” (vi).

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Blakespotting—Damien Hirst

In his Descriptive Catalogue of 1809, Blake writes of having been taken in vision to see the "stupendous originals" that lie behind later art
Those wonderful originals seen in my visions, some of them one hundred feet in height; some painted as pictures, and some carved as basso relievos, and some as groupes of statues, all containing mythological and recondite meaning, where more is meant than meets the eye. (5)

William Blake.—The Ghost of a Flea.—circa 1819-20.—Tempera heightened with gold on
mahogany.—214 x 162 mm.—Tate.—Bequeathed by W. Graham Robertson 1949.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Blake Set to Music—Donald Fitch

The formal composition of settings of a poet provides an interesting measure of the reputation of a poet and the reception history of his oeuvre. Musicians, not just critics, are influenced by literary fashion. For example, Robert Bloomfield’s work was granted musical setting almost from publication of The Farmer's Boy in 1800. The fashion for Bloomfield (1766-1823) was transitory, though intense enough while it lasted, and the vast majority of these compositions were written within Bloomfield’s lifetime.  In contrast, his near contemporary, William Blake (1757-1827), had to wait until 1863 for the first known composed setting of his words (“Chimney Sweeper’s Song”, by T. L. Hately).  Today, Blake is probably approaching Burns as the most set English-language poet after Shakespeare, whereas Bloomfield’s settings remain few.

A comprehensive list of Blakean musical settings to the late 1980s is given in Donald Fitch’s Blake Set to Music (1990), which documents the use of Blake’s poetry and prose by composers, identifying 1,412 musical settings from the 1870s through 1989.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Blake illustrated—Simeon Solomon

In my previous post I suggested that George Henry Edwards (in 1882) was the first artist to illustrate a poem by William Blake (apart from Blake himself, or a facsimilst or copyist). He's still the first, but between Edwards and the Vale Press in 1897, there is also Simeon Solomon with a pencil drawing, "From W. Blake's Songs of Innocence", in 1886.