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George Frederick Cooke: Another Grave Subscriber Heard From

In Memoirs of George Frederick Cooke, 2 vols., ed. William Dunlap (London: Henry Colburn, 1813), is a reference to Blake which has not been previously noted. Cooke (1756-1811), a well-known actor, was a subscriber to The Grave, and among his diary entries (recorded in his Memoirs, II, 65-70) are several dealing with the arrival of his copy: 1 Advertisements in the Liverpool Chronicle and Commercial Advertiser show that Cook performed at the Theatre-Royal between 19 August and 11 September 1806. A short letter of introduction written for Cromek by Henry Fuseli to his patron, the Liverpool benefactor William Roscoe, is dated 16 July 1806. See G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), p. 179. Roscoe, his son, and many of his friends and associates are listed as Grave subscribers. 2 On the “List of Subscribers” is “George Frederick Cooke, Esq. Covent Garden Theatre.” Since the theatre burned down on 20 September 1808, Cromek needed a new address for Cooke. 3 Cooke’s little approximates that on the label glued to the boards of the folio “Subscriber’s Copy”: “Blake’s Illustrations of Blair’s Grave, Engraved by Schiavonetti. 13 Plates.—Price Four Guineas.” 4 Thomas Bensley, Bolt Street, the printer of The Grave, was known for his quality work.

Thursday, Jan. 5th [1809]
Received a note from a Mr. Cromek, informing me that a work I subscribed two guineas for, at Liverpool, above two years ago,1 and which I had entirely forgotten, is published, and requesting my address, that my copy might be sent.2

Friday, Jan. 6th
Wrote an answer to Mr. Cromek’s note, . . .

Thursday, Jan. 12th.
Received and looked over “Blake’s Illustrations of Blair’s Poem of The Grave.”3 The etchings seem finely executed, and the printing, the letter press I mean, done in the fine style.4
Cooke’s diary shows that Cromek was in Liverpool for at least part of the time that Cooke was there during the latter part of August and first weeks of September, 1806. Cromek’s stay was apparently worthwhile, for the “List of Subscribers” in The Grave includes fifty-one Liverpool residents. Cromek probably had come to Liverpool from Birmingham, where he ran nearly identical advertisements for The Grave in the 28 July 1806 Birmingham Gazette and Commercial Herald;5 5 The Gazette advertisement is reproduced in Geoffrey Keynes, “Blake in the Provinces,” Blake Newsletter 34 (Fall 1975), p. 41. he then left Liverpool probably for his native Yorkshire, where he gathered Grave subscriptions in Halifax, Pontefract, Leeds, and, finally, Wakefield, where he married Mrs. Elizabeth Charge in the parish church on 24 October 1806.

Cooke clearly is no intimate of either Cromek or Blake, and while he does not seem to regard his two guineas as ill-spent, his interest in his new acquisition is less than consuming. One wonders, in fact, if he ever opened his copy of The Grave again.

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