THE FIRST PRINTED REFERENCE TO THE PUBLICATION OF JOB: DISRAELI (?) IN THE STAR CHAMBER (1826)
Professor William S. Ward has generously drawn my attention to a previously unrecorded reference to Blake’s Job in the obscure and short-lived satirical political weekly The Star Chamber for Wednesday 3 May 1826: ↤ 1 The three Job plates referred to are presumably pl. 6, “And smote Job with sore boils”; pl. 11, “With Dreams upon my bed thou scarest me”; and pl. 15, “Behold now Behemoth which I made with thee.” ↤ 2 The Star Chamber, No. 4 (3 May 1826), 73.
Mr. William Blake, whose illustrations in outline of Young, Gray, and other poets have long been before the public, has completed his designs for the Book of Job. Some of the etchings are full of that remarkable wildness and singularity of conception, for which Blake is so well known. The embodying of the plagues inflicted on Job by the Almighty; the personification of a Night-mare, and the figures of the creation,1 are wonderful, although we do not think them equal either in point of originality or skilful execution to some of the earlier productions of this extraordinary artist.2
The account is interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing, it displays a surprising knowledge of Blake’s works. The “illustrations in outline of Young” refer of course to Young’s Night Thoughts (1797) with forty-three plates designed and engraved by Blake. The “Gray” outlines can scarcely refer to the series of watercolors Blake made in 1797-98 for Flaxman in illustration of Gray’s poems, for these were not “before the public” in 1826 (they were first published in 1922); “Gray” is probably a mistake for The Grave by Robert Blair with twelve designs by Blake etched by Schiavonetti published in 1808 and 1813, for this was Blake’s best-known work. The “earlier productions of this extraordinary artist” seems to refer to Blake’s works in Illuminated Printing, and since very few copies were printed they were known only to few. The Star Chamber author seems to have been surprisingly well informed about Blake’s works.
He is also strikingly up-to-date in his information about the publication of Job. Subscriptions for it had been taken since 1823 (Blake Records , 598), but the label is dated “March 1826,” and the first completed copies were distributed at the end of that month (ibid, p. 327). It was not, however, published in the ordinary way, apparently no review-copies were sent to journals, and no review of it is known. Indeed, not only is the Star Chamber paragraph the first known published reference to the publication of Job, but it seems to be the only such reference during Blake’s lifetime. Even the obituaries of Blake failed to mention Job except for that in The Literary Gazette (1 November 1827), and the only other account before 1830 was in J. T. Smith’s life of Blake (1828). The Star Chamber account is important, therefore, as the only printed reference during Blake’s lifetime to the publication of his greatest finished series of line-engravings.
The Star Chamber is a jocular sixteen-page weekly published by W. Marsh which began on 19 April 1826 and ended with No. 9 on Wednesday 7 June 1826. It includes reviews, attacks on politicians, “The Dunciad of To-day,” and news of the arts, particularly exhibitions; it is in the untitled art section that the Blake reference comes. The periodical seems to have been founded by Peter Hall (who gave a copy to Bodley) with various assistants. Benjamin Disraeli was accused of having been the first editor, but he expressly denied this in The Times for 3 November 1871 and Leisure Hours for 4 November 1871.3↤ 3 William Flavelle Monypenny, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli Earl of Beaconsfield, I (1910), 84n. Robert Blake, Disraeli (1966), p. 44, finds it “difficult to avoid the conclusion that Disraeli was the moving spirit.” However, his authorized biographer concedes that Disraeli did contribute some fables called “The Modern AEsop,” a review, “and perhaps other matter,”3 and it is not unlikely that he was responsible directly or indirectly for the notice of Blake’s Job. At any rate, he was peculiarly well situated to know of Blake’s more “original” and “skilful” “earlier productions,” for his father Isaac (d. 1848) owned Thel (F), Visions (F), Marriage (D), Urizen (B), Songs (A), Europe (A), and Song of Los, and these works of course later came into Benjamin Disraeli’s hands. And we know that Benjamin himself was interested in Blake, for he tried to get The British Museum to buy Blake’s 537 watercolor designs to Young’s Night Thoughts in 1875,4↤ 4 James S. Bain, A Bookseller Looks Back (1940), p. 75. over fifty years before they eventually reached the Museum. It is at least a plausible guess that Benjamin Disraeli is the begin page 70 | author of the only contemporary printed reference to the publication of Blake’s Job.