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ALMOST BLAKE

Occasionally works not by William Blake seem momentarily as intriguing and alluring as those genuinely by him. I offer three examples:

(1) A letter said to be by our William Blake was listed in the American Art Association Catalogue of First Editions and Autographs of 13-14 March 1928, lot 37, with the explanation that it is “to his old friend John Thomas Smith.” It reads:

Wedn
morn.
24th Ap[ril 1811].
My dear Sir,

I am just returned from taking another look at the little picture of the Pope—it wont do for me upon any terms cheap or dear

Have the goodness therefore to inform Mr. Christie that I have no wish to possess it—

—I long for the Grimthorpe display—when we may hope to see a few genuine pictures in good condition— Ever yrs, my dr Sir,
most cordially W B—
The picture in question seems to be (as the catalogue says) the one of Pope Leo X sold at Christies on 25 May 1811—and 24 April, when the letter was written, was a Wednesday in 1811. William Blake was a friend of J. T. Smith, who wrote a brief anecdotal life of him some years later (1828), and he was of course interested in pictures. But he certainly was not a buyer of such expensive pictures, especially in 1811 when his fortunes were at a particularly low ebb, and the handwriting of the letter (reproduced in the catalogue) is not his. Smith was doubtless being consulted in his capacity as Keeper of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. I suggest that this W. B. the buyer may have been the opulent collector William Beckford.11 Another work signed “W B” attributed to our William Blake is an undated manuscript headed “Directions for ‘Landscape Painting’” (8 pp.), on preparing a palette, reproducing the effect of shadows, bark, etc. (Anderson Galleries, 3 April 1928, lot *13). The hand and contents are quite unlike Blake’s.

(2) The letter of 15 June 1806 from Blake’s friend Ozias Humphry to “Dr William” quoted in Blake Records (1969), 178, is not to our William. The suggestion there that it is concerned with “applying for permission to dedicate his Grave designs to the Queen” (and this is the letter’s only clear connection with William Blake) is irrelevant, for this application to the Queen was not made until April 1807 (see “Blake and Cromek: The Wheat and the Tares,” Modern Philology, 71 [1974], 566-79).

(3) In The New Yorker for 26 February 1979, p. 3, and doubtless elsewhere, appeared an advertisement for Florence Eiseman, evidently a designer of children’s clothing, with the following inspirational motto:

To be a child is to live in a world where everything is new and exciting and beckoning us toward delight—William Blake
This somewhat flabby statement does not sound like Blake to me, and certainly Blake did not use either “exciting” or “beckoning” at all in his writings, according to the Concordance. Perhaps some hardpressed copy-writer thought Blake ought to have written it—or was companioned by Blake and was told it by him.

Clearly the name of William Blake is an almost irresistible lure to authors of some auction catalogues, New Yorker advertisements, and Blake Records.

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