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Blake and the Edinburgh Evening Post

The Edinburgh Evening Post was a weekly 8-page newspaper, with a two-page section entitled “Scottish Literary Gazette.” The Post is mainly remembered today because Thomas De Quincey was one of its regular contributors during the late 1820s.11 See Stuart M. Tave, New Essays by De Quincey; His Contributions to the Edinburgh Saturday Post and Edinburgh Evening Post 1827-1828 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1966). With “more original discussion than any [other] newspaper in Scotland, the Post apparently “acquired considerable reputation as a journal of talent.”22 Anon., “The Edinburgh and Glasgow Newspaper Press,” Metropolitan Magazine 7 (1833): 98.

When Dr. John Abercrombie’s book, Inquiries Concerning the Intellectual Powers and the Investigation of Truth, was published in Edinburgh in 1831, it received a short review in the Scottish Literary Gazette section of the Post. Abercrombie’s speculations about ghosts and visions inspired the reviewer to include a brief comparison with William Blake. Although the remarks are not very enlightening, they at least attest to the spread of Blake’s reputation in Scotland. The reviewer’s allusion to Blake follows his discussion of the “visual phantasm[s]” suffered by Dr. Abercrombie’s patients: 3 Anon., “Abercrombie’s Inquiries,” Edinburgh Evening Post, and Scottish Literary Gazette 7 May 1831 (150-51). The reviewer quotes from Allan Cunningham’s Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 6 vols. (London: Murray, 1829-33) 2: 167.

In Allan Cunningham’s lives of the Painters, our author might have found another curious instance of the same thing, in Blake, the eminent artist, who had such visitors, and the appearance of them was so vivid and steady, that that writer [i.e., Cunningham] tells us, that he [i.e., Blake] actually painted them; and that so docile were his spiritual sitters, that they appeared at the wish of his friend [i.e., Blake].

Sometimes, however, (he adds) the “shape which he desired to draw, was long in appearing, and he sat with his pencil and paper ready, and his eyes idly roaming in vacuity, till all at once the vision was upon him, and he began to work like one possessed.”3
Whoever the author of these remarks may have been, his attitude towards visions was very different from Blake’s. The review ends with a recommendation that readers “receive . . . the solid instruction, that those spectral appearances, which terrified our forefathers, are now ascertained to be the results of certain states of body and health, of those to whom they appear.” No further mentions of Blake appear in surviving issues of the Edinburgh Post.

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