Sunday, 21 November 2021

Milton: titlepage or frontispiece

The Blake Society Zoom meeting of October 15, 2021, was devoted to MILTON AND THE COTTAGE. The following notes are a response to the first part of the discussion and are concerned with the titlepage (some think of it as a frontispiece; it has elements of both) to Blake’s Milton a Poem in 2 Books (1804).

Milton plate 1; copy A, British Museum.

Plate 1 of Milton presents a nude man, the spiritual form of the poet John Milton, against a background of smoke and flames. In copy A, the vortex of billowing smoke is clearly shown emerging from Milton’s left palm and, to a lesser extent, from his right wrist. (It is not so obvious in some later impressions; and is ignored by many commentators.) At the bottom is Milton’s motto from Paradise Lost: To Justify the Ways of God to Men.

Friday, 5 November 2021

Blake's Cottage at Felpham

The Blake Society’s Zoom meeting on Wednesday 20 October was devoted to MILTON AND THE COTTAGE. This is my belated response.

The climactic moment of Blake’s Milton is precipitated when the female figure Ololon appears as “a Virgin of twelve years.”

For Ololon step'd into the Polypus within the Mundane Shell
They could not step into Vegetable Worlds without becoming
The enemies of Humanity except in a Female Form
And as One Female, Ololon and all its mighty Hosts
Appear'd: a Virgin of twelve years

Ololon is the spiritual form of Milton’s Sixfold Emanation; she is the truth underlying his errors about woman. And there’s that striking designation of Ololon as “a Virgin of twelve years,” with its Biblical resonance and its evocation of the Virgin Mary. Ololon, like Mary, is a bearer of deliverance.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Benjamin Heath Malkin, 1769-1842 : a Bio-Bibliography.


This “bio-bibliography”—a chronology of principal events in Malkin’s life and incorporating a list of his publications—was prepared many years ago for an abortive web project. It is presented here with additions and amendments, but remains a work in progress.

Benjamin Heath Malkin, antiquary and author, born in London in 1769, was headmaster of King Edward's School, Bury St Edmunds for many years, and later, more briefly, Professor of History at London University. He lived part of each year in Cowbridge, his wife’s home in the Vale of Glamorgan, from where he pursued his interests in local history and topography, and died there in 1842.

G.E. Bentley Jr. suggests that Malkin made the acquaintance of William Blake in 1803, soon after Blake returned to London from his three years in Felpham. But it is also possible that the two men were previously acquainted through the publisher Joseph Johnson for whom Blake had worked. William Godwin reports meeting Malkin at dinner at Horne Tooke’s in 1796 and 1797 and at Fuseli’s Milton Gallery in 1800, which suggests that Blake and Malkin may have shared some political and artistic sympathies. Malkin also lived close to Blake’s patron Thomas Butts in Hackney, and knew George Cumberland, another friend.

Monday, 29 March 2021

William Blake’s Cat

Mary Ann Linnell, wife to John Linnell and mother-in-law to Samuel Palmer, recalled in a letter of 1839 that “Mr Blake … used to say how much he preferred a cat to a dog as a companion because she was so much more quiet in her expression of attachment”.

It was perhaps in vague recollection of Mrs Linnell’s words that Tim Heath, two weeks ago, just before the Blake Society Zoom meeting, asked me if the Blakes, Catherine and William, ever had a cat. The answer is yes.

The Blakes moved to a cottage at Felpham in Sussex in September 1800 where Blake could work under the often burdensome patronage of the wealthy writer William Hayley. There he made the acquaintance of Hayley’s friend John Marsh (1752-1828) of Chichester, attorney, musician, prolific gentleman composer (thirty-nine symphonies), and diarist. Marsh recorded most of his long life in minute detail, in a journal that survives in thirty-seven volumes at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

In his Journal for 5 April 1802, Marsh wrote: “On Monday the 5th our white Cat produced 4 white Kittens, one of which we saved for Mr Blake of Felpham (Mr Hayley’s friend) but had great difficulty in rearing it, the Cat seeming to have very little Milk—”, and then repeated in his marginal summary: “Bred a White Kitten for Mr Blake”. It is pleasant to picture the white kitten playing with Catherine’s embroidery wool, or William, sitting quietly for once, dozing with a white kitten on his lap. (My understanding is that the gene that causes cats to have completely white fur is also linked to congenital hearing impairment. White cats with blue eyes are commonly deaf. One hopes that the Blakes’ white kitten escaped that disability.) Marsh’s journal also reports visits to Blake on 9th May and 26th June 1801, and gifts of white kittens to others in December 1801. Three years later, on 22th May 1805, he wrote again: “We drove to Felpham & carried our little white kitten to Mr Hayley”.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Geoffrey Keynes: Personal Papers and Correspondence

I have recently rediscovered notes that I made decades ago of the Keynes papers in Cambridge University Library. They will be of interest to a quite limited number of people, but perhaps contain hints for future blog postings.
    When I visited Cambridge in 1992, my research interests were very much focused on William Muir (1846-1938), facsimilist, and the Blake Press at Edmonton. (Keynes had met Muir as well as purchasing some of his facsimiles through Quaritch, bookseller.) I was also acquainted with Ruth Lockwood (1914-2004), formerly Ruth Jasper, who had been Keynes’s theatre sister at Barts, so there was an additional sentimental interest.
    In 1992, the contents were still in the corrugated cardboard boxes presumably used to move them from Lammas House, the Keynes residence near Newmarket. It looked to me like the family had just popped round to the Newmarket Tesco for any spare grocery boxes.

Geoffrey Keynes, Donald Fraser and a staff nurse (probably Ruth Jasper), c. 1935.The group are pictured at the foot of a patient's bed (patient not visible) in an unidentified ward. 
(Barts Archive, Photograph Collection: SBHX8/1757.)

Saturday, 10 October 2020

William Blake and Hampstead

“Old Wyldes”, North End, where the painter John Linnell played host to William Blake, is an early 17th-century house on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Though the present house was probably built soon after 1600, the estate of which it was the farmhouse was very much older, dating back to medieval times when it had been under monastic control. Wyldes was the medieval name of the estate, a name that was revived at the end of the 19th century. In Blake’s day it was known as Collins Farm.

The Collinses, father and son (and both called John) had been farming Wyldes since 1793. John Collins, the younger, was a small scale dairy farmer, owning 16 cows which grazed on the heath. He also sold strawberries, apples, currants and fresh water at a penny farthing a pail from one of the wells near the house. It is said that “J. Collins cow Keeper & Dairyman North End” can still be seen scratched on the window of his kitchen.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Chamber on the Wall

2 KINGS 4: 8-11 (King James Version)
8 And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
9 And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
10 Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
11 And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.

2 KÖNIGE 4: 8-11 (Luther Bibel 1545)

8 Und es begab sich zu der Zeit, daß Elisa ging gen Sunem. Daselbst war eine reiche Frau; die hielt ihn, daß er bei ihr aß. Und so oft er daselbst durchzog, kehrte er zu ihr ein und aß bei ihr.
9 Und sie sprach zu ihrem Mann: Siehe, ich merke, daß dieser Mann Gottes heilig ist, der immerdar hier durchgeht.
10 Laß uns ihm eine kleine bretterne Kammer oben machen und ein Bett, Tisch, Stuhl und Leuchter hineinsetzen, auf daß er, wenn er zu uns kommt, dahin sich tue.
11 Und es begab sich zu der Zeit, daß er hineinkam und legte sich oben in die Kammer und schlief darin