[Ruth Fine’s review of the Blake exhibition at Adelphi University]

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DISCUSSION

(with intellectual spears & long winged arrows of thought)

We received the following letter from Erica Doctorow and Donald Wolf and solicited the reply from Ruth E. Fine that follows it in turn:

To the Editors: 1 June 1978
This may seem like a tardy reply to Ruth Fine’s review (Blake 42, fall 1977) of the Blake exhibition at Adelphi University, but the review itself appeared six months after the exhibition closed, and it raises some interesting questions.

To begin with, Miss Fine writes that it is a “disservice to late 18th-early 19th century England” to suggest that Blake confronted neglect and indifference. Isn’t it an even greater disservice to Blake to imply that he may actually have received the recognition he deserved?

Miss Fine’s review also does a disservice to the catalog, a reading of which can hardly justify her remark that it is “more spirited than informative,” especially if one keeps in mind that it was intended begin page 73 | back to top to be an introduction to Blake. Miss Fine notes this purpose but recalls it only fitfully.

“The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl that every thing was white.” Miss Fine wishes that the exhibition had made a major point of the fact that original prints and drawings are superior to reproductions. At least, that seems to be what she means when she says that it should have demonstrated “the differences in the tactile life of printed surfaces and their effects on one’s responses to works of art.” (Her style is definitely not spirited.) Adelphi focused on the content of Blake’s art. Would it not have been a disservice to our students to teach them that they were doomed to inferior esthetic experiences by the unavailability of the original prints, which, as Miss Fine puts it, must remain in repositories like the Alverthorpe Gallery for the sake of “persons”—she seems to mean scholars—“who travel great distances and at great expense in anticipation of viewing particular works”? Apparently she is as content for Blake to belong to the few, not the many, in the present as in the past. As it happens, the exhibition itself contradicted her premise, thanks to the generosity of other institutions and private collectors who lent Adelphi many original works.

It is also a disservice to readers of Blake, An Illustrated Quarterly to permit the implication to stand, as Miss Fine does, that she attended any of the events related to the exhibition—in particular, the opera, “Auguries of Innocence,” and the dance, “Eternity in an Hour.” Since she did not, it does not much matter that she seems to find them praiseworthy. On the other hand, she does not mention that the exhibition opened with a talk on Blake’s methods of printing; but she does criticize Adelphi for giving no attention to the matter.

Given a different tone, Miss Fine’s criticisms might be understood as the opposition of true friendship. As it is, our reaction is better suggested by another of Blake’s proverbs: “He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.”

Erica Doctorow Donald Wolf
Fine Arts Librarian Professor of English
Adelphi University Adelphi University

Ruth E. Fine replies: 27 June 1978
Ms. Doctorow and Professor Wolf were sent a copy of the Blake exhibition review manuscript, published in the fall 1977 issue of Blake, well in advance of its publication, a gesture to which they never responded; the elliptical implication of the sorrows of time passed with which they open their letter thus leaves a mysterious question as to motivation in writing now.

It remains extremely disturbing that the difference between reproductions and original works is a matter of such casual inconsequence to the organizers of a Blake exhibition. This, however, may account for the lack or superficiality of the descriptive material regarding such differences.

So far as viewing original material is concerned, Alverthorpe Gallery, as the review accurately stated, is open to “persons”—any person who will write or call and who shows genuine interest in examining the collection. Hundreds do. The inference drawn by Ms. Doctorow and Professor Wolf that access to the collection is restricted to “scholars” (with no suggestion of what standards they would assign to that category) is inaccurate; it is also unscholarly since the truth of the matter could easily have been determined before it was committed to paper.

This is only one inaccuracy of several in their defensive response to my review, but it would be tedious beyond decent patience to refute them further.

Ruth E. Fine

Curator

Alverthorpe Gallery

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