Notebook of William Blake

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The Notebook of William Blake (is known also as the Rossetti Manuscript from its association with its former owner Dante Gabriel Rossetti) was used by William Blake as a commonplace book from c.1787 (or 1793) to 1818.

Description[edit]

The Notebook [Butlin #201] consists of 58 leaves and contains autograph drafts by Blake of poems and prose with numerous sketches and designs, mostly in pencil. Containing two pages of preface, alongside 94 pages of sketches, each page is approximately 159 x 197mm. The original leaves were later bound with a partial copy (ff. 62–94) of 'All that is of any value in the foregoing pages' that is Rossettis' transcription of Blake's notebook (added after 1847).[1]

Ideas of Good & Evil, p.4

Ideas of Good & Evil[edit]

At first the Notebook belonged to Blake's favourite younger brother and pupil Robert who made a few pencil sketches and ink-and-wash drawings in it. After death of Robert in February 1787, Blake inherited the volume beginning it with the series of sketches for many emblematic designs on a theme of life of a man from his birth to death. Then, reversing the book he wrote on its last pages a series of poems of c.1793. He continued the book in 1800s returning to the first pages. All together the Notebook contains about 170 poems plus fragments of prose: Memoranda (1807), Draft for Prospectus of the Engraving of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims (1809), Public Address (1810), A Vision of the Last Judgment (1810). The latest work in the Notebook is a long and elaborated but unfinished poem The Everlasting Gospel dated c. 1818.

On the page 4 is placed a short humorous poem "When a Man has Married a Wife..." and a picture above showing of a man and woman rising from bed in a sparsely furnished room that could be Blake's own. The line of text obscured by the picture "Ideas of Good & Evil" served probably as a title to 64 following picture emblems, 17 of which were used for the book "For Children: The Gates of Paradise". D. G. Rossetti,[2] A. C. Swinburne,[3] and W. B. Yeats[4] in their publications of Blake's poetry used this as a title for the series of poems from the manuscripts. In 1905 John Sampson issued the first annotated publication of all these poems and created a detailed descriptive Index to 'The Rossettt MS.'.[5] It follows by some other scholarly publications edited by Geoffrey Keynes (1935 & 1957/66), David V. Erdman (1965/82/88) & together with D. K. Moore (1977), Alicia Ostriker (1977), Gerald E. Bentley Jr. (1977), etc.

In the introduction of his publication D. G. Rossetti gave to these poems a following presentation:

“The shorter poems, and even the fragments, afford many instances of that exquisite metrical gift and rightness in point of form which constitute Blake's special glory among his contemporaries, even more eminently perhaps than the grander command of mental resources which is also his. Such qualities of pure perfection in writing verse, as he perpetually, without effort, displayed, are to be met with among those elder poets whom he loved, and such again are now looked upon as the peculiar trophies of a school which has arisen since his time; but he alone (let it be repeated and remembered) possessed them then, and possessed them in clear completeness. Colour and metre, these are the true patents of nobility in painting and poetry, taking precedence of all intellectual claims; and it is by virtue of these, first of all, that Blake holds, in both arts, a rank which cannot be taken from him."[6]

Poems of 1793[edit]

The section of c.1793 contains 63 poems that include drafts versions of 16 poems entered the collection of Songs of Experience, which have been placed here in the following order:

Poems and fragments from the Note-book Pages: See related texts in the Songs of Experience:
Written about 1793 (numbering from ed. Jeoffrey Keynes, 1957/66)
1. "A flower was offer'd to me…" p.115 reversed My Pretty Rose Tree
3. "Love seeketh not itself to please…" p.115 rev The Clod and the Pebble
5. "I went to the garden of love…" p.115 rev The Garden of Love
8. "I heard an Angel singing…" p.114 rev The Human Abstract
10. Christian Forbearance p.114 rev A Poison Tree
13. Infant Sorrow p.113 rev Infant Sorrow
17. Earth's Answer p.111 rev Earth's Answer
19. London p.109 rev London
23. "When the voices of children are heard on the green…" p.109 rev Nurse's Song
25. The Tyger (1st draft) pp.109–108 rev The Tyger
26. The Tyger (2nd draft) p.108 rev The Tyger
28. The human Image p.107 rev The Human Abstract
31. The sick rose p.107 rev The Sick Rose
45. The little Vagabond p.105 rev The Little Vagabond
47. The Chimney Sweeper pp.105 & 103 rev     The Chimney Sweeper
51. Holy Thursday p. 103 rev Holy Thursday
52. The Angel p. 103 rev The Angel
55. "Little fly…" p. 101 rev The Fly

Some of these drafts are significantly different from their last versions, for example Infant Sorrow of the Notebook is much more expanded and composed of nine quatrains instead of two that were chosen for the Songs of Experience. Also it is extremely interesting to compare the most famous Blake's poem The Tyger with its two earlier Notebook versions (see: The Tyger, 1st draft and 2nd draft).

The genre of most of the poems of this section can be define as Songs and Ballads. Some of them reflect a political and social climate of that time:

"Silent, Silent Night...", p.113 rev


✶✶✶

Why should I care for the men of Thames
Or the cheating waves of charter'd streams;
Or shrink at the little blasts of fear
That the hirelling blows into my ear?

Tho' born on the cheating banks of Thames,
Tho' his waters bathèd my infant limbs,
The Ohio shall wash his stains from me:
I was born a slave, but I go to be free!

✶✶✶

Silent, Silent Night
Quench the holy light
Of thy torches bright.

For possess'd of Day
Thousand spirits stray
That sweet joys betray.

Why should joys be sweet
Used with deceit
Nor with sorrows meet?

But an honest joy
Does itself destroy
For a harlot coy.


Some other of these poems rather belong to the genre of Satiric verses and epigrams, like the following:


Motto to the Songs of Innocence & of Experience

The Good are attracted by men's perceptions,
And think not for themselves;
Till Experience teaches them to catch
And to cage the fairies and elves.

And then the Knave begins to snarl,
And the Hypocrite to howl;
And all his good friends show their private ends,
And the eagle is known from the owl.

This motto, which was never engraved by Blake, is not found in any copy of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Poems of 1800–1803[edit]

There are 10 poems in the Notebook written during Blake's life in Felpham, a village in West Sussex. Here is the one of his most characteristic poems of that period:


✶✶✶

Mock on, Mock on Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, Mock on: 'tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye,
But still in Israel's paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton's Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore,
Where Israel's tents do shine so bright.

Poems of 1808–1811[edit]

The most of 92 texts of this section are epigrams, gnomic verses or fragments addressed to Blake's friends and enemies, to painters and poets as well as some different historical or mythological characters and even to God. Here are typical examples:

To God, p.73


✶✶✶

Was I angry with Hayley who us'd me so ill.
Or can I be angry with Felpham's old Mill?
Or angry with Flaxman or Cromek or Stothard
Or poor Schiavonetti, whom they to death bother'd?
Or angry with Macklin or Boydel or Bowyer,
Because they did not say "O what a Beau ye are"?
At a Friend's Errors Anger shew,
Mirth at the Errors of a Foe.

To God

If you have form'd a circle to go into,
Go into it yourself, and see how you would do.

In the following short fragment Blake speaks of himself and his own spiritual experience in his babyhood:

✶✶✶

The Angel that presided o'er my birth
Said 'Little creature, form'd of joy and mirth,
Go, love without the help of anything on earth.’

There is also a draft of famous Blake's motto from his poem Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion:

✶✶✶

I give you the end of a golden string;
   Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate,
   Built in Jerusalem's wall.

But there in Jerusalem at the beginning of the chapter 4 (To the Christians) it is given in a combination with other 4 mysterious lines:

Devils are I give you the end of a golden string,
False Religions Only wind it into a ball:
"Saul Saul" It will lead you in at Heavens gate,
"Why persecutest thou me." Built in Jerusalems wall.

Designs[edit]

The Notebook is full of Blake's sketches and designs almost on every page. Here is the index of the first 25 pages (see illustrations below):

p. 2.  Sketch (pencil). — Daphne? (central emblem).
p. 4. Title-page. — Ideas of Good & Evil. Sketch (pencil). — A young woman dressing (central emblem).
p. 5. Sketch. (pen and ink) A man in a Roman toga
p. 6. Sketch (pen and ink) Tiger. Tiger's head. A man hiding in a house. For the Designs to a Series of Ballads of William Hayley
p. 7. Sketch (pencil). Three figures
p. 8. Sketch (pencil). A composition with 2 or 3 figures
p. 9. Sketch (sepia). attrib. to Robert Blake: "Lady Macduff fleeing one of Macbeth's henchmen"
p. 11.  Sketch (pencil). A composition with a few figures
p. 12.  Sketch (pencil). Head of a King? (obscured with the text, central emblem).
p. 13.  Sketch (sepia). attrib. to Robert Blake: Oberon and Titania Reclining on a Poppy (ill. to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?), Monochrome wash drawing,
p. 15. Sketch (pencil). For Gates of Paradise. Traveller (central emblem). The urinating man. Flying monster with a man in his mouth (3 times) — Lucifer discovering Judas? (Inferno, Canto xxxiv.). A man with a dog.
p. 16. Sketch (pencil). Flying monster with a man in his mouth (twice) — Lucifer discovering Judas? (Inferno, Canto xxxiv.). A man. A figure with children.
p. 17. Sketch (pencil) Monster's Head with a man in his mouth (twice). Old man encounters his death (central emblem).
p. 18. Sketch (pencil). A horseman with a lady following (central emblem).
p. 19. Sketch (pencil). — For Gates of Paradise. Object 9: What are these? Alas! the Female Martyr Is She also the Divine Image (central emblem).
p. 20. Sketch (pencil). Dispute (central emblem).
p. 21. Sketch.— For Songs of Experience — 'The Sick Rose.' (central emblem, pencil). Man's head in profile (pen and ink).
p. 22. Sketch (pencil). A composition with a few figures (heavily obscured with the text, central emblem).
p. 23.  Sketch (pencil). A figure inside of the cage hanged on the bow of a tree and anEagle (central emblem).
p. 24.  Sketch (pencil). A composition with 3 figures (central emblem).
p. 25.  Sketch (pencil). A composition with 5 figures – Pestilence? (central emblem).

... and so on.

These sketches often serve as the sources for Blake's later works, illustrations of his books, engravings, watercolors, etc. Here are some examples:

Image Description Image Description Image Description
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 013.jpg attrib. to Robert Blake:
Oberon and Titania Reclining on a Poppy
(ill. to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?), Monochrome wash drawing, c. 1786–87. Butlin 201.5(13), p.13
British Library, London, England
The Song of Los copy A 1795 object 5 British Museum.jpg William Blake:
Oberon and Titania
(ill. to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?), from The Song of Los, copy A, Relief etching with color printing and hand colouring. 1795 object 5
British Museum
The Song of Los, copy C, object 5 by William Blake.jpg William Blake:
Oberon and Titania
(ill. to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?), from The Song of Los, copy C, Relief etching with color printing and hand colouring. 1795 object 5
Morgan Library and Museum, New York, USA
Blake manuscript - Notebook 1800 - 03 On the Virginity of the Virgin.jpg Tiger.
Ink sketch from Notebook, p.6
William Blake for Hayley, Designs to a Series of Ballads, copy 1, object 4 Headpiece to The Elephant, Ballad the First.jpg Tiger.
Engraving from Designs to a Series of Ballads of William Hayley, copy 1, 1802,
Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California, USA
Songs of Innocence and of Experience copy Y object 42 The Tyger-Detail.jpg The Tyger.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy Y, 1825,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 015-Traveller-detail-center.jpg The inscription:
Thus the traveller hasteth in
the Evening

Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.15
For Children The Gates of Paradise copy D object 16.jpg The Traveller hasteth in the Evening 14 Publishd [sic] 17 May 1793 by WBlake Lambeth
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, 1793,
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA
Blake Traveller-For Sexes - Gates of Paradise.jpg The Traveller hasteth in the Evening 14 Publishd [sic] 17 May 1793 by WBlake Lambeth
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 019-Central emblem.jpg The inscription:

Ah luckless babe born under cruel star
And in dead parents baleful ashes bred
Full little weenest thou what sorrows are
Left thee for portion of thy livelihed
Spenser


Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.19

For Children The Gates of Paradise copy D object 9.jpg Alas!
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 9, 1793,
Library of Congress
For the Sexes The Gates of Paradise copy D object 9-Alas-Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.jpg 7 What are these? Alas! the Female Martyr Is She also the Divine Image Publishd [sic] 17 May 1793 by WBlake Lambeth
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, 1825, object 9 Inscribed in graphite lower center: "7. One dies! Alas! the living and dead! One is slain! and one is fled! Blake's 'Key'."
Yale Center for British Art at Yale University in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Paul Mellon Collection
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 028-Central emblem.jpg Oothoon & the Nymph-Marigold.
Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.28
Visions of the Daughters of Albion copy G plate 03.jpg Oothoon & the Nymph-Marigold.
Relief etching with monotyped color from Visions of the Daughters of Albion, copy G, object 3, 1795
Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Visions of the Daughters of Albion copy O object 3 - British Museum.jpg Oothoon & the Nymph-Marigold.
Relief etching with monotyped color from Visions of the Daughters of Albion, copy O, object 3, c. 1818
British Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 044-Nebuchadnezzar-detail.jpg Nebuchadnezzar.
Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.44
William Blake - Nebuchadnezzar (Tate Britain).jpg Nebuchadnezzar.
Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper, 1795/c.1805
Tate Britain, London, England
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell copy I object 24 detail.jpg Nebuchadnezzar.
Etching and watercolour on paper, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, copy I, 1827
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 059-Central emblem.jpg (Without inscription)
Count Ugolino and his sons in prison
Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.59
Blake Gates of Paradise For Sexes d p14 300.jpg Does thy God O Priest take such vengeance as this?
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake Hell 33 Ugolino.jpg Count Ugolino and his sons in prison (Ill. to Dante. Inferno Canto XXXIII 13–93) c.1826. pen, tempera and gold on panel
Fitzwilliam Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 061-Central emblem.jpg The inscription:
What we hope we see
Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.61
For Children The Gates of Paradise object 15 - Fear & hope are Vision -Yale center.jpg Fear & hope are – Vision.
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, 1793,
Yale Center for British Art
Blake Gates of Paradise For Sexes d p15 Morgan Library and Museum.jpg Fear & hope are – Vision.
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 063-Cеntral emblem.jpg The inscription:
I found him beneath
a tree in the Garden

Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.63
For Children The Gates of Paradise copy D object 3.jpg I found him beneath a Tree
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 3, 1793,
Library of Congress
The Gates of Paradise by William Blake -3.jpg I found him beneath a Tree
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 3, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 091-Fire-Central emblem.jpg The inscription:
he rears from off the pool
His mighty stature
Milton

Pencil sketch from Notebook, p.91
For Children The Gates of Paradise copy D object 7.jpg Fire
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 7, 1793,
Library of Congress
Blake Gates of Paradise For Sexes d p7 300 Fire.jpg Fire
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 7, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 094-Air-Central emblem.jpg The inscription:
Thou hast set thy heart as the
heart of God-
Ezekiel

Two sketches (pencil and sepia) from Notebook, p.94
For Children The Gates of Paradise copy D object 6-air.jpg Air
Engraving from For Children. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 6, 1793,
Library of Congress
Gates-sexes d p6 300.jpg Air
Engraving from For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise, copy D, object 6, c. 1825
Morgan Library and Museum
Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 112 reversed.jpg Satan with a shield and spear, sketch from Notebook, p.112 Satan Exulting over Eve.jpg Satan Exulting over Eve.
Graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor over color print, illustration of Paradise Lost, 1795. 1795.
The Getty Center, in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Satan Exulting over Eve c1795 Tate Britain.jpg Satan Exulting over Eve. Medium Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper mounted on canvas, illustration of Paradise Lost, 1795.
Tate Britain

Owners[edit]

The volume was presented by Catherine Blake (Blake's widow) in 1827 to William Palmer, brother of Blake's pupil, Samuel Palmer. It bought from him by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 30 April 1847. Later it was purchased by F. S. Ellis (at Rossetti's sale, T. G. Wharton, Martin & Co., 5 July 1882, lot 487) and by Ellis and Scruton (at Ellis's sale, Sotheby's, 18 Nov 1885, lot 608). Sold by Dodd, Mead and Co. of New York (f. ib) to William Augustus White (d. 1928) of Brooklyn, 26 Jan 1887. Inherited by his daughter, Mrs Frances Hillard Emerson (d. 1957) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Presented by Mrs F. H. Emerson. Now in the possession of British Library: Additional MS 49460.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See: Rossetti Manuscript online: 1 2
  2. ^ D. G. Rossetti (in Gilchrist, 1863/1880).
  3. ^ Swinburne, 1868.
  4. ^ Yeats, 1893/1905.
  5. ^ Sampson, 1905.
  6. ^ D. G. Rossetti (in Gilchrist, 1863/1880).

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]