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ARTICLE

Blake’s “Annus Mirabilis”: The Productions of 1795

Author’s note: An online version of this article, with six more illustrations, all illustrations in color, and a slightly longer first section, is available on the journal’s web site.[e] Illustrations that appear only online are indicated in the print version by the online illustration number preceded by an “e” (e.g., illus. e4).

IN 1795, Blake produces The Song of Los, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los, executes 12 large color-printed drawings, color prints a few etchings, reprints 8 copies of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, reprints most of his illuminated canon to date in a deluxe, large-paper set, and begins the 537 watercolor drawings of Night Thoughts.**I would like to thank Robert Essick for reading an early draft of this essay and Todd Stabley, multimedia consultant, formerly of the Center for Instructional Technology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for his assistance in digitally recreating Blake’s copper sheets and virtual designs. The first period of illuminated book production, 1789-95, culminates, new experiments in combining printmaking and painting are begun and perfected, and work as designer and painter begins to dominate Blake’s energies and time for the next 10 years. In this essay, the second of a two-part study, I focus on the last of Blake’s illuminated books from this period, The Song of Los, The Book of Los, and The Book of Ahania, trying to sequence them from a purely materialist perspective—by recreating the large copper sheets from which the individual plates were cut—to see how Blake’s creative process, including changes of mind and false starts, unfolded through production and how these particular works and their techniques might relate to one another, to the color-printed drawings, and to the experiments in color printing that lie behind them both.11. Part 1, “Blake’s Virtual Designs and Reconstruction of The Song of Los,” uses digital imaging to recreate Blake’s original designs for the text plates of The Song of Los and to realize the virtual designs in this and a few other illuminated books. Blake’s virtual designs are designs we create mentally by recombining an illuminated book’s related images.

The Song of Los is generally thought to precede the two other books, which is to say, Blake is thought to have returned to America a Prophecy (1793) and Europe a Prophecy (1794) with “Africa” and “Asia,” the two parts of The Song of Los, rather than continuing The First Book of Urizen (1794), because he began the “continental” books before the “Urizen” books.22. Europe and Urizen are both dated 1794 by Blake, but the order in which he produced them is not immediately clear. Keynes sequences the books America, Urizen, Europe, The Song of Los, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los (222-48). By placing Urizen between America and Europe, he implies that the continental cycle was Blake’s most recent project when working on The Song of Los and that he postponed work on the subsequent books of Urizen. Erdman and other editors are less clear about the sequence of the 1794 and 1795 books; they group the related books together, even though that means placing Urizen after The Song of Los so it can be read with The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los and The Song of Los can be read with America and Europe. In the Blake Archive, we place Europe before Urizen, assuming a chronological contiguity with America because the works are physically, visually, and thematically alike, but also because the Urizen plates were executed in terms of color printing, the printing technique Blake had begun using in 1794, and the Europe plates were not (see Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book, chapter 29). The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania are thought to be last because they are intaglio and short, supposedly representing a decreased focus on illuminated book production. An easy symmetry and progression, from large format to small, relief etching to intaglio—and then no more illuminated books until Milton (c. 1804-11)—helps make this sequence attractive. But when examined in terms of their production, these books reveal a much different sequence, one in which The Song of Los is executed last, the “Urizen” project is completed uninterrupted, and the return to the “continental” project is possibly an afterthought.

I will begin by recapitulating the main argument of my bibliographical analysis of The Song of Los, in which I realize digitally the book’s virtual designs and original format, then proceed to examine the technique of the color-printed drawings, reconstruct the sheet of copper from which Blake cut The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania, provide new information about the trial proof for Pity, Albion rose, and the Large and Small Book of Designs, and conclude by speculating on the sequence of the three illuminated books and their relations to the large color-printed drawings.

I. Blake’s Reconstruction of The Song of Los

The Song of Los, dated 1795 on its title page, is Blake’s most oddly shaped illuminated book, consisting of four full-page illustrations (including the title page) and four text plates, which are about 4 cm. narrower than the illustrations and 1 to 2 cm. shorter. As I have shown elsewhere, illuminated plates are never perfectly uniform or square, because Blake cut most from larger sheets by hand.33. See Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book, chapter 5, and “Evolution” 306-07. But the variance among plates is greatest in The Song of Los—and, as we shall see, is actually much greater than it first appears. The frontispiece (illus. 1), picturing Urizen kneeling at an altar under a globe inscribed with strange markings, is the exact same size as the endplate (illus. 2), picturing Los kneeling above the sun, hammer in hand. Figures with globes in mirrored position pair the designs visually and thematically and suggest a new, conflated virtual design (illus. 3). Plates 1 and 8 are the same size because begin page 53 | back to top

1. The Song of Los copy B, plate 1.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]

                11
2. The Song of Los copy B, plate 8.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
3. The Song of Los, virtual design of plates 1 and 8, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
begin page 54 | back to top

                2
                THE
                SONG of
                LOS
                Lambeth    Printed by W Blake    1795
5. The Song of Los copy B, plate 2.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]

                7
6. The Song of Los copy B, plate 5.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
they are executed on the front and back of the same copper plate. This may not be apparent comparing just the height and width of the plates, but four measurements reveal their shared shape. The copy B impression of plate 1 is 23.6 cm. left side, 23.6 cm. right, 17.8 cm. top, and 17.5 cm. bottom. Plate 8 has the same measurements, indicating that it is the verso of plate 1 (illus. e4).

Blake typically etched both sides of relief-etched plates: Experience plates are on the versos of Innocence, Europe on America, Urizen on Marriage. Thus, discovering that plates 1 and 8 were etched recto/verso was not surprising. Finding plates 2 (illus. 5) and 5 (illus. 6), the other two full-page illustrations, apparently not recto/verso, however, was surprising. They have the same shape and width, but plate 5 is 9 mm. shorter. The discrepancy is an illusion, however, caused by the top of plate 5’s having been masked 9 mm. upon printing.44. The masking is very difficult to detect, but the plate’s embossment is visible in the verso of the copy C impression, which reveals the plate’s true size as well as a 4-5 mm. dent in the plate’s edge (illus. e7), which would have been unsightly and distracting had it been printed as part of the heavily color-printed plate 5. The bottom of plate 2, however, was not color printed and thus could be printed without showing the dent. This is not the first time Blake masked top or bottom of a design. He had masked the bottom of America plate 4 in its first printings of 1793 so that the last five lines did not print (Bentley, Blake Books 87). The plates are recto/verso, with the top of plate 5 being the bottom of plate 2. Together, this recto/verso pair form a virtual design in which Urizen is imprisoned behind the leaves of the lilies holding Titania and Oberon (illus. 8), calling to mind the imprisonment of another eternal in Urizen plate 4 (illus. 9) and the body behind

8. The Song of Los, virtual design of plates 2 and 5, based on copy A.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
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-tals
              Have written the secrets of wisdom

              In whirlwinds of sulphurous smoke:
              And enormous forms of energy;
              All the seven deadly sins of the soul
9. The Book of Urizen copy G, plate 4.   Collection of Robert N. Essick. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
10. Small Pity.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
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8
                ASIA
                The Kings of Asia heard
                The howl rise up from Europe!
                And each ran out from his Web;
                From his ancient woven Den;
                For the darkness of Asia was startled
                At the thick-flaming, thought-creating fires of Orc.

                And the Kings of Asia stood
                And cried in bitterness of soul.

                Shall not the King call for Famine from the heath?
                Nor the Priest, for Pestilence from the fen?
                To restrain! to dismay! to thin!
                The inhabitants of mountain and plain;
                In the day of full-feeding prosperity;
                And the night of delicious songs.

                Shall not the Councellor throw his curb
                Of Poverty on the laborious?
                To fix the price of labour;
                To invent allegoric riches:

                And the privy admonishers of men
                Call for Fires in the City
                For heaps of smoking ruins,
                In the night of prosperity & wantonness

                To turn man from his path,
                To restrain the child from the womb,
11. The Song of Los copy B, plate 6.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
10
                To cut off the bread from the city,
                That the remnant may learn to obey.

                That the pride of the heart may fail;
                That the lust of the eyes may be quench’d:
                That the delicate ear in its infancy
                May be dull’d; and the nostrils clos’d up:
                To teach mortal worms the path
                That leads from the gates of the Grave.

                Urizen heard them cry;
                And his shudd’ring waving wings
                Went enormous above the red flames
                Drawing clouds of despair thro’ the heavens
                Of Europe as he went:
                And his Books of brass iron & gold
                Melted over the land as he flew,
                Heavy-waving, howling, weeping.

                And he stood over Judea;
                And stay’d in his ancient place;
                And stretch’d his clouds over Jerusalem;

                For Adam, a mouldering skeleton
                Lay bleach’d on the garden of Eden;
                And Noah as white as snow
                On the mountains of Ararat.
                Then the thunders of Urizen bellow’d aloud
                From his woven darkness above.

                Orc raging in European darkness
                Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps
                Like a serpent of fiery flame!
                The sullen Earth
                Shrunk!
                Forth from the dead dust rattling bones to bones
                Join: shaking convuls’d the shivring clay breathes
                And all flesh naked stands; Fathers and Friends;
                Mothers & Infants; Kings & Warriors;

                The Grave shrieks with delight, & shakes
                Her hollow womb, & clasps the solid stem;
                Her bosom swells with wild desire;
                And milk & blood & glandous wine,
                In rivers rush & shout & dance,
                On mountain, dale and plain.
                The SONG of LOS is Ended.
                Urizen Wept.
12. The Song of Los copy B, plate 7.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
4

                AFRICA

                I will sing you a song of Los, the Eternal Prophet:
                He sung it to four harps at the tables of Eternity.
                In heart-formed Africa.
                Urizen faded! Ariston shudderd!
                And thus the Song began

                Adam stood in the garden of Eden:
                And Noah on the mountains of Ararat;
                They saw Urizen give his Laws to the Nations
                By the hands of the children of Los.

                Adam shudderd! Noah faded! black grew the sunny
                African
                When Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brama in the East.
                (Night spoke to the Cloud!
                Lo these Human form’d spirits in smiling hipocrisy. War
                Against one another; so let them War on; slaves to the
                eternal Elements)
                Noah shrunk beneath the waters:
                Abram fled in fires from Chaldea;
                Moses beheld upon Mount Sinai forms of dark delusion;

                To Trismegistus. Palamabron gave an abstract Law;
                To Pythagoras Socrates & Plato.

                Times rolled on o’er all the sons of Har, time after time
                Orc on Mount Atlas howld. chain’d down with the Chain of Jealousy
                Then Oothoon hoverd over Judah & Jerusalem
                And Jesus heard her voice (a man of sorrows) he recievd
                A Gospel from wretched Theotormon.

                The human race began to wither. for the healthy built
                Secluded places, fearing the joys of Love
                And the disease’d only propagated;
                So Antamon call’d up Leutha from her valleys of delight:
                And to Mahomet a loose Bible gave.
                But in the North, to Odin, Sotha gave a Code of War.
                Because of Diralada thinking to reclaim his joy.
13. The Song of Los copy B, plate 3.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
6

                These were the Churches: Hospitals: Castles; Palaces;
                Like nets & gins & traps to catch the joys of Eternity
                And all the rest a desart;
                Till like a dream Eternity was obliterated & erased.

                Since that dread day when Har and Heva fled.
                Because their brethren & sisters liv’d in War & Lust;
                And as they fled they shrunk
                Into two narrow doleful forms:
                Creeping in reptile flesh upon
                The bosom of the ground:
                And all the vast of Nature shrunk
                Before their shrunken eyes.

                Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
                Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
                And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
                Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
                Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke

                Clouds roll heavy upon the Alps round Rousseau & Voltaire:
                And on the mountains of Lebanon round the deceased Gods
                Of Asia; & on the desarts of Africa round the Fallen Angels
                The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent
14. The Song of Los copy B, plate 4.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
begin page 57 | back to top
AFRICA

                I will sing you a song of Los, the Eternal Prophet:
                He sung it to four harps at the tables of Eternity.
                In heart-formed Africa.
                Urizen faded! Ariston shudderd!
                And thus the Song began

                Adam stood in the garden of Eden:
                And Noah on the mountains of Ararat;
                They saw Urizen give his Laws to the Nations
                By the hands of the children of Los.

                Adam shudderd! Noah faded! black grew the sunny
                African
                When Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brama in the East.
                (Night spoke to the Cloud!
                Lo these Human form’d spirits in smiling hipocrisy. War
                Against one another; so let them War on; slaves to the
                eternal Elements)
                Noah shrunk beneath the waters:
                Abram fled in fires from Chaldea;
                Moses beheld upon Mount Sinai forms of dark delusion;

                To Trismegistus. Palamabron gave an abstract Law;
                To Pythagoras Socrates & Plato.

                Times rolled on o’er all the sons of Har, time after time
                Orc on Mount Atlas howld. chain’d down with the Chain of Jealousy
                Then Oothoon hoverd over Judah & Jerusalem
                And Jesus heard her voice (a man of sorrows) he recievd
                A Gospel from wretched Theotormon.

                The human race began to wither. for the healthy built
                Secluded places, fearing the joys of Love
                And the disease’d only propagated;
                So Antamon call’d up Leutha from her valleys of delight:
                And to Mahomet a loose Bible gave.
                But in the North, to Odin, Sotha gave a Code of War.
                Because of Diralada thinking to reclaim his joy.

                These were the Churches: Hospitals: Castles; Palaces;
                Like nets & gins & traps to catch the joys of Eternity
                And all the rest a desart;
                Till like a dream Eternity was obliterated & erased.

                Since that dread day when Har and Heva fled.
                Because their brethren & sisters liv’d in War & Lust;
                And as they fled they shrunk
                Into two narrow doleful forms:
                Creeping in reptile flesh upon
                The bosom of the ground:
                And all the vast of Nature shrunk
                Before their shrunken eyes.

                Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave
                Laws & Religions to the sons of Har binding them more
                And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
                Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete
                Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke

                Clouds roll heavy upon the Alps round Rousseau & Voltaire:
                And on the mountains of Lebanon round the deceased Gods
                Of Asia; & on the desarts of Africa round the Fallen Angels
                The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent
15. The Song of Los, digitally recreated design for plates 3-4, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
the tall grasses in the trial proof for Pity (illus. 10), which I will refer to throughout this essay as small Pity and which, as we will see below, was executed before The Song of Los.

Erdman sees a virtual design formed of plates 6 (illus. 11) and 7 (illus. 12). He notes that plate 7 “seems to continue the forest of plate 6; the boughs that crowd the left margin—an unusual effect—can be the ends of those bent down in the right margin of 6” (Illuminated Blake 180). Envisioning plate 7 to the right side of plate 6 actually corresponds to Blake’s design as originally executed. These two plates, which form the poem or section entitled “Asia,” are actually the left and right sides of one horizontal design, as are plates 3 (illus. 13) and 4 (illus. 14), which form the poem or section entitled “Africa.” The “Africa” design is 21.5 cm. left, 21.5 cm. right, 27.3 cm. top, 27.2 cm. bottom; the “Asia” design is 22.2 cm. left, 22.2 cm. right, 27.2 cm. top, 27.4 cm. bottom. Instead of being recto/verso, as one would expect, the text plates are actually only half their original designs; as conceived and etched, “Africa” and “Asia” are autonomous designs clearly related to one another visually but not materially. I discovered these interesting material facts in 1991 and published them two years later begin page 58 | back to top

ASIA
                The Kings of Asia heard
                The howl rise up from Europe!
                And each ran out from his Web;
                From his ancient woven Den;
                For the darkness of Asia was startled
                At the thick-flaming, thought-creating fires of Orc.

                And the Kings of Asia stood
                And cried in bitterness of soul.

                Shall not the King call for Famine from the heath?
                Nor the Priest, for Pestilence from the fen?
                To restrain! to dismay! to thin!
                The inhabitants of mountain and plain;
                In the day of full-feeding prosperity;
                And the night of delicious songs.

                Shall not the Councellor throw his curb
                Of Poverty on the laborious?
                To fix the price of labour;
                To invent allegoric riches:

                And the privy admonishers of men
                Call for Fires in the City
                For heaps of smoking ruins,
                In the night of prosperity & wantonness

                To turn man from his path,
                To restrain the child from the womb,

                To cut off the bread from the city,
                That the remnant may learn to obey.

                That the pride of the heart may fail;
                That the lust of the eyes may be quench’d:
                That the delicate ear in its infancy
                May be dull’d; and the nostrils clos’d up:
                To teach mortal worms the path
                That leads from the gates of the Grave.

                Urizen heard them cry;
                And his shudd’ring waving wings
                Went enormous above the red flames
                Drawing clouds of despair thro’ the heavens
                Of Europe as he went:
                And his Books of brass iron & gold
                Melted over the land as he flew,
                Heavy-waving, howling, weeping.

                And he stood over Judea;
                And stay’d in his ancient place;
                And stretch’d his clouds over Jerusalem;

                For Adam, a mouldering skeleton
                Lay bleach’d on the garden of Eden;
                And Noah as white as snow
                On the mountains of Ararat.
                Then the thunders of Urizen bellow’d aloud
                From his woven darkness above.

                Orc raging in European darkness
                Arose like a pillar of fire above the Alps
                Like a serpent of fiery flame!
                The sullen Earth
                Shrunk!
                Forth from the dead dust rattling bones to bones
                Join: shaking convuls’d the shivring clay breathes
                And all flesh naked stands; Fathers and Friends;
                Mothers & Infants; Kings & Warriors;

                The Grave shrieks with delight, & shakes
                Her hollow womb, & clasps the solid stem;
                Her bosom swells with wild desire;
                And milk & blood & glandous wine,
                In rivers rush & shout & dance,
                On mountain, dale and plain.
                The SONG of LOS is Ended.
                Urizen Wept.
16. The Song of Los, digitally recreated design for plates 6-7, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
(Blake and the Idea of the Book 287), and Detlef Dörrbecker, in his 1995 edition of the poem, was the first to arrange black and white photographs of the conjunct pages to give an idea of what the original relief-etched plates looked like (320n29, 345-46). The digital recreations here (illus. 15, 16), however, are the first reproductions to join the plates seamlessly and present them color printed in their entirety.55. Why not etch both sides of plates 3-4 and 6-7, or cut the plates in half instead of masking? Putting the two text plates on separate plates freed the versos for Pity-size color prints. Masking instead of cutting the plates kept the versos intact should Blake ever want to use them for designs.

Blake initially divided his text into two columns, but very unlike the columns in Urizen, these being very loosely placed across a horizontal—or “landscape”—format, a format used for paintings and prints but not the text of books. By masking one side of the design, probably with a sheet of paper, he was able to print each text column separately. Hence, he transformed a coherent design 27.2 cm. wide into two seemingly independent designs/pages approximately 13.6 cm. wide, which is nearly 4 cm. narrower than the four illustration pages. He produced The Song of Los using just four plates, but two are portrait format and executed recto/verso and two are landscape format and apparently executed using one side only. Why create pages in oblong folio format, with double columns, so visually different from the pages of America and Europe? Why print the columns of text separately after composing and etching them as part of the same design?

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Given the two distinct sets of plates, The Song of Los appears to have emerged from two distinct stages of production, with the text plates coming first. This sequence seems the most likely, because if Blake had the two portrait plates on hand, intending to use them for the designs of his new book, then he would have acquired plates for texts to match. If, along with the portrait plates, he also had the 27.2 cm. plates on hand, then he probably would have cut them approximately 17.5 cm. wide and etched both sides to create four text plates to match the width of his illustrations, thereby producing a book of eight pages much nearer in size and shape to America and Europe. It seems reasonable to assume, then, that the two portrait plates were not yet on hand, that the two 27.2 cm. wide plates were acquired first, and that the text plates preceded the illustrations. (As we shall see, the shared width of these plates is not a coincidence; at least four other plates from 1795 share the exact measurement of 27.2 cm., including the sheets that yielded the plates for The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania.) Moreover, from this perspective, Blake appears to have set out to fuse poetry, painting, and printmaking in ways even more radical than the illuminated books. “Africa” and “Asia,” as originally executed, function autonomously as painted poems or written paintings, with text superimposed on a landscape design. Each design could have been matted, framed, viewed, and read like a separate color print or painting. They do not, however, function as book pages.

Blake created relief etching as a way to work as a printmaker with the tools of the poet and painter, that is to say, with pens, brushes, liquid ink, and colors, rather than the burins and needles conventionally required of metal. Blake worked on rather than in the metal surface, as though it were paper, with tools that enabled him to work outside the conventions and codes of printmaking and indulge his love of drawing and writing. His new medium encouraged the autographic gesture, the calligraphic hand of the poet with the line and

AFRICA
                            ASIA
17. The Song of Los, digitally recreated design for plates 3-4 and 6-7 as pages stitched together to form a diptych, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
brushwork of the painter. As he says in his prospectus (1793), his is a “method of Printing which combines the Painter and the Poet,” but he notes also that it is a “method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving” (Erdman, Complete Poetry 692), by which he means printing text and illustration in the service of book production. Between 1789 and 1794, Blake printed illuminated plates as book pages; in his later style, beginning with the color-printed designs of 1794, he printed the plates more like miniature paintings. But whether he printed them as poems or elaborately colored them as miniatures, Blake designed illuminated plates with reference to the codex form and in portrait format.

Blake did not, however, design “Africa” and “Asia” as book pages; he transformed them into book pages through a trick of printing. Horizontal formats were commonly used for print series, particularly aquatints of picturesque views, but also for works like George Cumberland’s Thoughts on Outline, eight of whose illustrations Blake engraved in late 1795 and 1796. But, as mentioned, horizontal formats were not used for texts of books, nor does any book in oblong folio before 1795 with pages in double columns come readily to mind. Even stitched together to form a long open diptych (illus. 17), the two designs seem less like facing pages in a book than a long panel, pair of broadsides, or a horizontal scroll. Perhaps Blake used a non-Western book format to evoke Africa and Asia. For example, the Chinese horizontal scroll, usually on silk or paper, fuses calligraphy and painted image. It reads right to left, starting with the title panel, which names the work, and has a colophon panel, at the end of the scroll or juxtaposed over the image, which contains the poem or notes pertaining to the work. Blake titles his poems “Africa” and “Asia” and thus does not need a title page, which is a book convention. If he meant the poems to be read as parts of one work entitled “The Song of Los,” then that too is effected without a title page. “Africa” begins with “I will sing you a song of Los, the Eternal begin page 60 | back to top

AFRICA
                ASIA
19. The Song of Los, digitally recreated design for plates 3-4 and 6-7 as horizontal scroll or two-part broadside, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Prophet,” and “Asia” ends with “The Song of Los is Ended. / Urizen Wept.” Moreover, if treating the poems as autonomous designs or parts of the same panel or scroll, Blake could have signed and dated the work in pen and ink on its surface as he did paintings and color-printed drawings (usually with “WB inv.” in monogram, with a date; illus. e18). Thus, these works did not need a title page for date and author.

Perhaps the two designs were meant to be joined and printed on one sheet to form a panorama, a format the landscape painters Paul Sandby and Francis Towne were experimenting with in the 1780s and 1790s, or, as noted, to suggest an ancient scroll, the predecessor of the printed codex, and thus a fitting medium for the Eternal Prophet. Indeed, “in the context of Romantic textual ideology,” according to Mitchell, “the scroll is the emblem of ancient revealed wisdom, imagination, and the cultural economy of hand-crafted, individually expressive artifacts” (65). For Blake, “the scroll represents writing as prophecy: it is associated with youthful figures of energy, imagination, and rebellion” (65). Printed together on one sheet of paper the designs form a long, narrow, perpetually open composition approximately 22.5 × 54.5 cm., which is half the size of most of the color-printed drawings; if given a centimeter between and around the images (illus. 19), the resulting two-part panel would be approximately half the size of Newton (46 × 60 cm.) or Good and Evil Angels (44.5 × 59.4 cm.), among the largest of the color-printed drawings. As originally designed, however, the two poems continuing Blake’s continental myth do not resemble the previous installments in size, shape, number, or structure. America with 18 plates and Europe with 17 plates are matched in size, shape, and structure: both begin with frontispiece, title page, two-page preludium (Europe’s plate 3 is a late addition, though one that gave Europe 18 pages), a heading of “A Prophecy,” and “finis” as the last word. The titles of The Song of Los sections clearly connect the poems/panels to the earlier works, but the horizontal format marks a break with them as well. The full visual extent of that break was not realized; instead, Blake executed four illustration pages exactly the size of America and Europe and printed each of the four text columns separately. The resulting eight pages of The Song of Los are frontispiece, title page, “Africa,” full-page design, “Asia,” end-piece; headings of “A Prophecy” or endings of “finis” are not present. As reconstructed, The Song of Los is unevenly shaped and oddly structured, being two poems in one book to form a quartet of continental works within a trilogy of artifacts.

Proofs of the text plates in their original condition, or “first state,” are not extant, which may suggest that Blake abandoned his experiment in rethinking text and image soon after completing the text plates. This, however, cannot be proven, since other plates are also without proofs. But it does seem reasonable to suggest that Blake reconstructed the text plates to salvage an experiment about which he had changed his mind. We can sequence and speculate upon the stages in the production of The Song of Los, but can we sequence those stages within the year’s worth of productions and discover the relation of the books to one another and to the color-printed drawings? These are the main questions I try to answer in the following five sections.

II. The Large Color Prints

The large color prints are, “as a group, the first really mature individual works in the visual arts that Blake created. Moreover they are, as a group, probably the most accomplished, begin page 61 | back to top forceful, and effective of Blake’s works in the visual arts” (Butlin, “Physicality” 2). Technically, they are monotypes, which are in effect printed paintings. Frederick Tatham described the process to Gilchrist accurately enough, stating that when Blake

wanted to make his prints in oil . . . [he] took a common thick millboard, and drew in some strong ink or colour his design upon it strong and thick. He then painted upon that in such oil colours and in such a state of fusion that they would blur well. He painted roughly and quickly, so that no colour would have time to dry. He then took a print of that on paper, and this impression he coloured up in water-colours, re-painting his outline on the millboard when he wanted to take another print. This plan he had recourse to, because he could vary slightly each impression; and each having a sort of accidental look, he could branch out so as to make each one different. The accidental look they had was very enticing. (Gilchrist 1: 376)
To W. M. Rossetti, Tatham added that the printing was done
in a loose press from an outline sketched on paste-board; the oil colour was blotted on, which gave the sort of impression you will get by taking the impression of anything wet. There was a look of accident about this mode which he afterwards availed of, and tinted so as to bring out and favour what was there rather blurred. (Rossetti 16-17)
Tatham is mistaken about the medium, which was gum and glue-based colors and not oil-based inks or colors, as are commonly used today for monotypes, and Blake would not have had to work too quickly or worry too much if his colors dried to the touch on the support, because he almost certainly printed on dampened paper, whose moisture would have reconstituted the colors.66. Blake used damp paper to print both intaglio plates—which is standard practice—as well as his relief etchings (Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book 99-100). The facsimile of Albion rose and the color prints (illus. 18, 19, 21) in Essick and Viscomi, “Blake’s Method,” were printed on damp paper after the colors had dried. McManus and Townsend come to the same conclusion: “The paper was not prepared with any priming, but would have been wetted to make it more receptive to printing” (83; see also Ormsby and Townsend 44). For analyses of Blake’s colors in the large color prints, see McManus and Townsend 86-99, and Townsend 186. The colors, though, he applied “strong and thick” to create a unique spongy opaque paint film, but also to enable a second and sometimes a third impression to be pulled from the millboard without having to replenish the colors. Generally speaking, depending on the paper’s dampness and thickness and the amount of printing pressure, the colors are strongest in first impressions and less intense in subsequent pulls. The presence of lighter outline and colors in second impressions is proof that outline and colors were both printed together for the first impressions as well, even for the one color-printed drawing with a relief-etched outline, as will be demonstrated in illustrations below. Tatham is correct, then, to assume that Blake “drew . . . his design . . . [and] then painted upon that . . . [and] then took a print of that on paper,” as opposed to printing outline (“design”) and colors separately.7 7. To print outline and colors separately calls for printing the plate twice. For Blake, this would have required printing the outline onto a sheet of paper, somehow fastening the paper in place on the press bed, marking the position of the plate, removing the plate to apply its colors, returning the plate exactly to its position (a hair-width variance at top or sides will reveal itself), and dropping the paper over the plate exactly where it was. Because the shape of the dampened paper is slightly altered by its first pass through the press, perfect (i.e., undetectable) registration is near impossible under the best of conditions. Evidence of a plate’s having been printed twice by hand is nearly always visible if you know where to look; the absence of such evidence signifies single-pull printing and is not evidence of Blake’s genius for hiding his hand in color printing. If outline and colors of lighter second impressions were printed separately, then both first and second impressions underwent a procedure that doubled the likelihood of misregistration. The first impression, instead of being fastened to the press, is removed so a second impression can be printed, thus the sheet of paper as well as the plate with colors must be aligned exactly, top and sides, to their marked positions, greatly increasing the chances of misalignment. No one explicitly argues for this mechanical and labor-intensive procedure for second impressions, which is wise, since no second impression among the large color-printed drawings or the Large and Small Book of Designs (see section V of this essay) shows any misalignment of color and outline. Yet such a procedure is implied because it is the inevitable and logical result of printing outline and colors separately. Hence, the premise of two pulls collapses when tested this far in practice, which in turn supports the one-pull hypothesis for both second and first impressions. For the fullest presentation of the hypothesis that Blake color printed his outline (which includes text when it is part of the relief-line system) and colors (which could be printed from relief lines and/or shallows) separately, registering the second pull on top of the first exactly, consistently, and without traces of this production method, see Phillips’ William Blake and “Correction” and Butlin’s “War.” For a refutation, see Essick and Viscomi’s “Inquiry” and “Blake’s Method.” He is also correct that Blake “tinted” the impressions “to bring out and favour what was there rather blurred.” As with his color-printed illuminated book impressions, Blake finished the large color-printed drawings in watercolors and pen and ink, clarifying forms in the blots and blurs. Translucent and transparent washes over mottled colors could also transform printed colors, making more colors appear to have been printed than actually were. Given that the method is primarily painting on a flat support and pressing that painting into paper, differences among impressions were inevitable if not also intentional, hence the oxymoronic term of monoprint, a print that is unique rather than exactly repeatable.

To use millboard to print colors requires at least minimal sealing of its porous surface. Blake could have done this with a coating of glue size or gesso, which is chalk or whiting mixed with size and painted over panels or canvas to produce a very white ground. Smith, Tatham, and Linnell mention Blake’s using this mixture to prepare his tempera paintings. According to Smith, “his ground was a mixture of whiting and carpenter’s glue, which he passed over several times in thin coatings” (Bentley, Blake Records 622). In his manuscript on the life of Blake, Tatham says “3 or 4 layers of whitening & begin page 62 | back to top

20. Paint printed from a gessoed millboard, detail.  
21. The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, detail.   This item is reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
carpenters Glue” were used (Bentley, Blake Records 671). Linnell told Gilchrist that it was a “plaster ground (literally glue and whiting); but he always called it either fresco, gesso, or plaster. And he certainly laid this ground on too much like plaster on a wall” (1: 368). One can sand gesso smooth or leave the striations created by brushing it on for a rougher feel for brushes. Colors printed from such a textured ground will replicate that texture if they are thin or pressed hard enough, or hide it if they are thick or opaque enough. The sample of three color strips (illus. 20) demonstrates this: at the top of the image, the first and second strips (red and yellow ochre) reveal the same striations, indicating that this texture is from the millboard and not the paint layers; the opacity of the third strip (green) hides most of that texture. At the bottom of the strips, the gesso was applied with a stump brush rather than brushed on, and its textures are also revealed in the printed colors.

The striations in the surfaces of The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (illus. 21) and Christ Appearing to the Apostles (illus. 22) suggest that Blake painted his large color-printed drawings on gessoed grounds. Butlin notices “a striated” effect in Pity, as well as in impressions of Newton and Nebuchadnezzar (cat. 311, 307, 302), but believes it may have been “produced by only partial adherence” of paint to paper “as if the paper were slightly oily” (“Physicality” 17). The striations, though, appear not to have been created by the paint layer, but by the textured surface of the millboard, because the same striated patterns are visible across different printed colors, as is clear begin page 63 | back to top

22. Christ Appearing to the Apostles, detail.   Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection.
in the Metropolitan Museum’s copy of Pity (illus. 23).88. The large digital images of the color-printed drawings in the William Blake Archive have enabled us to examine details heretofore impossible to see in print reproductions and not always visible in the originals to the naked eye. Gesso is used in fresco painting, and if Blake “always called” his “plaster ground” “fresco, gesso, or plaster,” as Linnell states, then Blake’s writing “Fresco” on five of his large color prints in an “Indian-type ink” (McManus and Townsend 82) is fitting.99. According to J. T. Smith, “Blake’s modes of preparing his ground, and laying them over his panels for painting, mixing his colours, and manner of working, were those which he considered to have been practised by the earliest fresco-painters . . .” (Bentley, Blake Records 622). Apparently, this was, to Blake, true of both the color-printed drawings as well as the temperas. For an insightful examination of the meaning Blake attached to the word “fresco” in theory and practice, see Hamlyn 20-27, 30-33.

But whether he used glue size or gesso, or thought of the millboard surface as canvas or panel or plaster wall, he needed an outline to know what to paint. Chalk or charcoal serves this purpose in oil painting, but lines made with either medium could be ruined in color printing and thus make returning to the design years later (as we know Blake did, around 1805) impossible (Butlin, “Newly Discovered Watermark” 101). He could have perhaps relied on the thin dried colors on the millboard, but it is more likely that he had an impervious outline to guide his hand. Some X-radiographs reveal traces of a lead-based paint, which may have been used for outlining, while others show no traces of lead, supporting the idea that the outline was executed in an ordinary water-based “Indian ink,” which is lead-free and thus not detectable (McManus and Townsend 87). Indeed, the “Indian ink” used to sign color

23. Pity, detail.   Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, 1958 (58.603). Photograph © copyright 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
prints works for the purpose, because when dry it is not disturbed by the wet black paint and colors laid over it or by printing (Essick and Viscomi, “Blake’s Method” 62). With a fixed outline, Blake could, as Tatham says, return to the design “when he wanted to take another print,” presumably years later, by “re-painting his outline on the millboard,” painting in the forms, and printing “that on paper.”

What Tatham describes is planographic printing, that is, printing outline and colors not only together but also from the same flat surface, with outlines neither raised—as in woodcuts or relief etching—nor incised—as in etchings and engravings.1010. Printing exactly repeatable images planographically is, of course, lithography, invented accidentally in 1798 by Alois Senefelder and initially called “polyautography” to suggest the autographic gestures of writing, drawing, and sketching. Senefelder intended initially to etch designs in low relief on metal or limestone and only accidentally discovered that designs drawn on soft limestone in a greasy ink absorb the printing ink while all untouched areas repel ink if first covered with a thin film of water. The basis of lithography, in other words, is the separation of water and oil. For more on Senefelder and lithography’s similarities to Blake’s relief etching, see Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book 24-25, 171-72; for information on Blake’s lithograph, Enoch, see Essick, Separate Plates 55-59. Blake had tried his hand at planographic printing before 1795, possibly as early as 1789, in a print entitled Charity. Identified as a “planographic transfer print” (Essick, Separate Plates 10), the image was first painted on a sheet of paper or millboard and transferred to the paper while the ink was wet. Counterproofing (placing face down) newly printed impressions—regardless of matrix—works the same way, wet ink transferred from a flat surface to paper, reproducing all marks and forms, albeit in reverse. Blake did not, however, begin page 64 | back to top systematically experiment with printing painted images until he color printed the etching Albion rose, which, as I argue below, was in 1795 and not 1794, as is supposed (Butlin, “Physicality” 3; Bindman 476), and which was executed with small Pity (illus. 10), the trial proof for the large color print. Until then, Blake had color printed only illuminated books with relief-etched plates. He inked outlines with dabbers and on and in small areas added colors, probably with stump brushes (brushes with the tips cut off) or poupées (tightly rolled felt), to small, well-defined forms. This is, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, a variation on à la poupée printing, in which an intaglio plate is inked in numerous colors (Blake and the Idea of the Book, chapter 13). It differs from conventional color printing, however, in that Blake put colors in spaces meant to be white and negative spaces defining forms, whereas in conventional color printing colors are applied to the lines of the design itself and not surfaces or white spaces. Adding colors to shallows and printing them with inked outline is radical,

inv
                WB 1795
24. God Judging Adam.   © Copyright Tate, London 2006.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
but, in terms of performance, it is still more printing than painting. The result is indeed a monotype, in that the prints are never exactly repeatable, but Blake is still thinking—given the medium, size, and tools—more like a printmaker coloring plates than a painter working broadly with brushes on a large, flat surface, blocking out forms by colors as well as line.

At least one of the 12 large color-printed drawings, however, was not printed planographically. God Judging Adam (illus. 24) has traces of an embossed outline, indicating that the support was metal, probably copper, and that the outline was etched in low relief; it also has a platemaker’s mark (illus. e25), indicating that it was printed from the sheet’s verso. For the only color-printed drawing known for sure to have been relief etched to be on a sheet’s verso suggests that Blake was probably unsure of himself, continuing the experiments started with the small trial proof for Pity, which was also etched in low relief (see below), and intending to preserve the recto, the side normally used for engravings and etchings, should the experiment not work out. begin page 65 | back to top God Judging Adam is 43.2 × 53.5 cm. Because it is the only impression certainly to have come from a metal plate—and metal is much more expensive than millboard—Essick believes it was most likely the first of the large color-printed drawings executed (“Supplement” 139).1111. Today, an 18 × 24 in. sheet of copper (16 gauge) for etching costs almost $100; millboard nearly twice that size is less than $5. This is probably so, as will be shown below, but its place in the sequence is suggested by its technical connections to earlier experiments in color printing and not by its support, for two other designs may also have been printed from metal. Though printed planographically, Satan Exulting over Eve, at 43.2 × 53.4 cm., and elohim Creating Adam, at 43.1 × 53.6 cm., are the same size as God Judging Adam, raising the possibilities that one of these designs is on its recto and the other on a copper sheet acquired at the same time.1212. These measurements are from Butlin’s catalogue raisonné; I did not have the opportunity to measure each side of the impressions, which I assume would vary slightly. If either Satan or Elohim was printed from a copper matrix, then Blake not only used metal before millboard, but he also printed planographically from metal before millboard.

The detail of the horses’ heads in the first impression of God Judging Adam (illus. 26) reveals clearly that Blake applied a black paint to the low relief outline and shallows simultaneously and then added a brownish red to the shallows forming the neck and shoulder and a bright red to the manes. These steps in the painting process are even clearer in the second impression (illus. 27), which is, as noted, proof that both outline and colors were printed simultaneously here as well as in the first impression (see note 7). He probably applied the black with a small dabber, as in the illuminated plates, touching down in the shallows but not depositing color along the base of the relief lines, which produces a thin unpainted line on both sides of the outline. A yellow wash applied over the colors on the second impression is very bright in this line because it adheres to the untouched white of the paper. This halo-like line is evidence of a relief outline as well as of outline and colors’ having been printed together, as is demonstrated by an impression printed in one pull from a design etched in low relief, inked with a dabber in black, and painted in brownish red (illus. 28a). Had outline and colors been printed separately, the fine white line could not parallel the outline exactly, even with perfect registration, because the paper’s shape and dampness are slightly altered by its being pulled through the press, which is particularly noticeable in large sheets. Even when paint is deposited with a brush along the base of a relief line, paper is unlikely to pick the color up as it bends over the relief line onto the shallow, unless the paint is very thick. On plate 7 of The Song of Los copy E,[e] for example, Blake most likely used a brush to apply color to the tendrils dividing the verses, depositing paint on both sides of the relief line (illus. 28b), which, when printed, produced the telltale white lines and two tendril-like lines that printed from the shallows. Had Blake deposited color on one side of the outline only, the tendril-like

26. God Judging Adam, detail of horses’ heads.   © Copyright Tate, London 2006.
27. God Judging Adam, detail of horses’ heads.   Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1916 (16.38). Photograph © copyright 2000, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
begin page 66 | back to top
28a. Design etched in low relief, inked with dabber in black and gone over in brownish-red color, printed in one pull producing thin white line at base of relief lines, detail.  
That the delicate ear in its infancy
                May be dull’d; and the nostrils clos’d up.
                To teach mortal worms the path
                That leads from the gates of the Grave.

                Urizen heard them cry;
                And his shudd’ring waving wings
                Went enormous above the red flames
                Drawing clouds of despair thro’ the heavens
                Of Europe as he went:
                And his Books of brass iron & gold
28b. The Song of Los copy E, plate 7,[e] detail.   Huntington Library, San Marino, California.[e]
line would appear as the result of a misregistered second pull, an easy misreading of the material evidence.

As noted, Blake did not need or intend to print outlines separately, not in illuminated books or color-printed drawings. In the latter, he only needed fixed guidelines for painting and for ensuring that the design, however it was colored in and/or finished, was repeatable. But when and how did Blake realize that if he “drew. . .his design. . . [and] then painted upon that” he could take “a print of that on paper,” that outline and colors could be on the same surface and he could paint over the outline with a brush rather than use a dabber? When did he realize that he was no longer painting a print but printing a painting? To answer these questions requires knowing where God Judging Adam fits into this evolution and how it connects to Albion rose and the small trial proof of Pity, which have a heretofore unknown connection to Blake’s intaglio books of 1795.

III. The Book of Los, The Book of Ahania

Three color-printed drawings, God, Satan, and Elohim, possibly all from metal and the first executed, are approximately 43.2 × 53.5 cm. This is a large but apparently not uncommon sheet size. Blake’s engraving of Beggar’s Opera Act III (1788) is 40.1 × 54.2 cm.; Job and Ezekiel engravings of 1793 and 1794 are 46 × 54 cm. and 46.4 × 54 cm. respectively; the plates for Stedman’s Narrative, 16 executed by Blake between 1792-94, average 27 × 20 cm., which suggests that they were quarters of a 40 × 54 cm. sheet of copper.1313. Eleven of the 16 plates are between 27.2 and 27.5 cm. in height, 3 are between 26.5 and 26.9 cm., and 2 are between 25.7 and 26.4 cm. Widths range only between 19.6 and 20.5 cm. I am indebted to Robert Essick for measuring his uncut copy of Blake’s engravings for Stedman. In most copies, the prints were trimmed to the design and thus shorn of their platemarks. If the Stedman plates, which were commissioned by the publisher Joseph Johnson, were quarters, then the platemaker from whom Blake bought the plates was most likely responsible for quartering the sheets, presumably according to either Johnson’s or Blake’s instructions, and may also have been responsible for preparing them for intaglio etching by beveling the sides and rounding the corners. According to Mei-Ying Sung, most of the Book of Job plates were cut by the platemaker, but crossing marks on the versos make it possible to reassemble them into their original sheets (“Technical and Material Studies of William Blake’s Engraved Illustrations of the Book of Job [1826],” Nottingham Trent University PhD, 2005, appendix 1). In some cases, in other words, Blake’s plates can be reconstructed into their original sheets whether Blake cut the sheets or had them cut for him. The larger widths, up to begin page 67 | back to top

AFRICA
                ASIA
29. The Song of Los plates 3-4 and 6-7 as half sheet, based on copy E.   These items are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
60 cm. for Newton, Lamech, House of Death, and Nebuchadnezzar, are presumably from millboards and likely come later in the series. Recall that the two The Song of Los text plates share the same width, 27.2 cm., though they vary in height by about 8 mm. If joined at their shared measurement of 27.2 cm., then they formed a sheet of copper approximately 43.5 × 27.2 cm. (illus. 29), which is half the size of these large metal sheets. The full sheet would have been 43.5 × 54.4 cm. That two plates are 27.2 cm. wide is unlikely to be a coincidence. The shared measurement strongly suggests that the plates are quarters of a sheet the size of those used for the first color-printed drawings. But if so, what were the other two quarters? I initially suspected the quarters were the sheets that yielded the plates for The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania, not because they are also 1795 productions, but because both sheets begin page 68 | back to top
THE
                BOOK of
                LOS

                LAMBETH
                Printed by W Blake 1795

                LOS

                Chap. I

                1: Eno aged Mother.
                Who the chariot of Leutha guides.
                Since the day of thunders in old time

                2: Sitting beneath the eternal Oak
                Trembled and shook the stedfast Earth
                And thus her speech broke forth.

                3: O Times remote!
                When Love & Joy were adoration:
                And none impure were deem’d.
                Not Eyeless Covet
                Nor Thin-lip’d Envy
                Nor Bristled Wrath
                Nor Curled Wantonness

                4: But Covet was poured full:
                Envy fed with fat of lambs:
                Wrath with lions gore:
                Wantonness lulld to sleep
                With the virgins lute.
                Or sated with her love.

                5: Till Covet broke his locks & bars.
                And slept with open doors:
                Envy sung at the rich mans feast:
                Wrath was follow’d up and down
                By a little ewe lamb

                And Wantonness on his own true love
                Begot a giant race:

                6: Raging furious the flames of desire
                Ran thro’ heaven & earth, living flames
                Intelligent, organizd; arm’d
                With destruction & plagues. In the midst
                The Eternal Prophet bound in a chain
                Compell’d to watch Urizens shadow

                7: Rag’d with curses & sparkles of fury
                Round the flames roll as Los hurls
                his chains
                Mounting up from his fury, condens’d
                Rolling round & round. mounting on high
                Into vacuum: into non-entity.
                Where nothing was! dash’d wide apart
                His feet stamp the eternal fierce-raging
                Rivers of wide flame; they roll round
                And round on all sides making their way
                Into darkness and shadowy obscurity

                8: Wide apart stood the fires; Los remain’d
                In the void between fire and fire
                In trembling and horror they beheld him
                They stood wide apart, driv’n by his hands
                And his feet which the nether abyss
                Stamp’d in fury and hot indignation

                9: But no light from the fires all was

                Dark

                Darkness round Los: heat was not; for
                bound up
                Into fiery spheres from his fury
                The gigantic flames trembled and hid

                10: Coldness, darkness, obstruction, a Solid
                Without fluctuation. hard as adamant
                Black as marble of Egypt; impenetrable
                Bound in the fierce raging Immortal.
                And the seperated fires froze in
                A vast solid without fluctuation.
                Bound in his expanding clear senses

                Chap: II

                1: The Immortal stood frozen amidst
                The vast rock of eternity; times
                And times; a night of vast durance:
                Impatient, stifled, stiffend, hardned.

                2: Till impatience no longer could bear
                The hard bondage. rent; rent. the vast
                solid
                With a crash from immense to immense

                3: Crack’d across into numberless frag-
                -ments
                The Prophetic wrath, strug’ling for vent
                Hurls apart. stamping furious to dust
                And crumbling with bursting sobs; heaves
                The black marble on high into fragments

                4: Hurl’d apart on all sides, as a falling
                Rock; the innumerable fragments away
                Fell asunder; and horrible vacuum
                Beneath him & on all sides round

                5: Falling, falling! Los fell & fell
                Sunk precipitant heavy down down
                Times on times, night on night, day on day
                Truth has bounds. Error none; falling
                falling:
                Years on years, and ages on ages
                Still he fell thro’ the void, still a void
                Found for falling day & night without
                end.
                For tho’ day or night was not; their spaces

                Were measurd by his incessant whirls
                In the horrid vacuity bottomless.

                6: The Immortal revolving; indignant
                First in wrath threw his limbs, like the
                babe
                New born into our world: wrath subsided
                And contemplative thoughts first arose
                Then aloft his head rear’d in the Abyss
                And his downward-borne fall. chang’d oblique

                7: Many ages of groans; till there grew
                Branchy forms. organizing the Human
                Into finite inflexible organs.

                8: Till in process from falling he bore
                Sidelong on the purple air. wafting
                The weak breeze in efforts oerwearied

                9: Incessant the falling Mind labour’d
                Organizing itself: till the Vacuum
                Became element. pliant to rise.
                Or to fall, or to swim, or to fly:
                With ease searching the dire vacuity

                Chap: III

                1: The Lungs heave incessant, dull and
                heavy
                For as yet were all other parts formless
                Shiv’ring: clinging around like a cloud
                Dim & glutinous as the white Polypus
                Driv’n by waves & englob’d on the tide.

                2: And the unformed part crav’d repose
                Sleep began: the Lungs heave on the wave
                Weary overweigh’d, sinking beneath
                In a stifling black fluid he woke

                3: He arose on the waters. but soon
                Heavy falling his organs like roots
                Shooting out from the seed, shot beneath;
                And a vast world of waters around him
                In furious torrents began.

                4: Then he sunk, & around his spent Lungs
                Began intricate pipes that drew in
                The spawn of the waters. Outbranching

                An

                An immense Fibrous form, stretching out
                Thro’ the bottoms of immensity raging.

                5: He rose on the floods: then he smote
                The wild deep with his terrible wrath,
                Seperating the heavy and thin.

                6: Down the heavy sunk; cleaving around
                To the fragments of solid; up rose
                The thin, flowing round the fierce fires
                That glow’d furious in the expanse.

                Chap: IV:

                1: Then Light first began; from the fires
                Beams, conducted by fluid so pure
                Flow’d around the Immense: Los beheld
                Forthwith writhing upon the dark void
                The Back bone of Urizen appear
                Hurtling upon the wind
                Like a serpent! like an iron chain
                Whirling about in the Deep.

                2: Upfolding his Fibres together
                To a Form of impregnable strength
                Los astonish’d and terrified, built
                Furnaces; he formed an Anvil
                A Hammer of adamant then began
                The binding of Urizen day and night

                3: Circling round the dark Demon, with
                howlings
                Dismay & sharp blightings; the Prophet
                Of Eternity beat on his iron links

                4: And first from those infinite fires
                The light that flow’d down on the winds
                He siez’d; beating incessant, condensing
                The subtil particles in an Orb.

                5: Roaring indignant the bright sparks
                Endur’d the vast Hammer; but unwearied
                Los beat on the Anvil; till glorious
                An immense Orb of fire he fram’d

                6: Oft he quench’d it beneath in the
                Deeps.
                Then surveyd the all bright mass: Again
                Siezing fires from the terrific Orbs
                He heated the round Globe, then beat
                While roaring his Furnaces endur’d
                The chaind Orb in their infinite wombs

                7: Nine ages completed their circles
                When Los heated the glowing mass, cast-
                -ing
                It down into the Deeps: the Deeps fled
                Away in redounding smoke; the Sun
                Stood self-balanc’d. And Los smild
                with joy.
                He the vast Spine of Urizen siez’d
                And bound down to the glowing illusion

                8: But no light. for the Deep fled away
                On all sides. and left an unform’d
                Dark vacuity; here Urizen lay
                In fierce torments on his glowing bed

                9: Till his Brain in a rock, & his Heart
                In a fleshy slough formed four rivers
                Obscuring the immense Orb of fire
                Flowing down into night: till a Form
                Was completed. a Human Illusion
                In darkness and deep clouds involvd.

                The End of the
                Book of LOS
30. The Book of Los plates 2, 3, 4, and 5 as quarters of a copper sheet, based on copy A.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
AHANIA

                Chap: Ist

                1: Fuzon. on a chariot iron-wing’d
                On spiked flames rose; his hot visage
                Flam’d furious! sparkles his hair & beard
                Shot down his wide bosom and shoulders
                On clouds of smoke rages his chariot
                And his right hand burns red in its
                cloud
                Moulding into a vast globe. his wrath
                As the thunder-stone is moulded
                Son of Urizens silent burnings

                2: Shall we worship this Demon of smoke.
                Said Fuzon. this abstract non-entity
                This cloudy God seated on waters
                Now seen. now obscur’d; King of sorrow?

                3: So he spoke. in a fiery flame,
                On Urizen frowning indignant,
                The Globe of wrath shaking on high
                Roaring with fury. he threw
                The howling Globe: burning it flew
                Lengthning into a hungry beam. Swiftly

                4: Oppos’d to the exulting flam’d beam
                The broad Disk of Urizen upheav’d
                Across the Void many a mile.

                5: It was forg’d in mills where the winter
                Beats incessant: ten winters the disk

                Unremitting endur’d the cold hammer.

                6: But the strong arm that sent it. remem-
                -ber’d
                The sounding beam; laughing it tore through
                That beaten mass: keeping its direction
                The cold loins of Urizen dividing.

                7: Dire shriek’d his invisible Lust
                Deep groan’d Urizen! stretching his awful hand
                Ahania (so name his parted soul)
                He siez’d on his mountains of Jealousy,
                He groand anguishd & called her Sin,
                Kissing her and weeping over her:
                Then hid her in darkness in silence;
                Jealous tho’ she was invisible.

                8: She fell down a faint shadow wandring
                In chaos and circling dark Urizen.
                As the moon anguishd circles the earth;
                Hopeless! abhorrd! a death-shadow.
                Unseen. unbodied. unknown,
                The mother of Pestilence.

                9: But the fiery beam of Fuzon
                Was a pillar of fire to Egypt
                Five hundred years wandring on earth
                Till Los siezd it and beat in a mass
                With the body of the sun.

                Chap: II:d

                1: But the forehead of Urizen gathering.
                And his eyes pale with anguish, his lips
                Blue & changing; in tears and bitter
                Contrition he prepar’d his Bow.

                2: Form’d of Ribs: that in his dark solitude
                When obscur’d in his forests fell monsters.
                Arose. For his dire Contemplations
                Rush’d down like floods from his mountains
                In torrents of mud settling thick
                With Eggs of unnatural production
                Forthwith hatching; some howl’d on his hills
                Some in vales; some aloft flew in air

                3: Of these: an enormous dread Serpent
                Scaled and poisonous horned
                Approach’d Urizen even to his knees
                As he sat on his dark rooted Oak.

                4: With his horns he push’d furious.
                Great the conflict & great the jealousy
                In cold poisons: but Urizen smote him

                5: First he poison’d the rocks with his blood
                Then polish’d his ribs, and his sinews
                Dried: laid them apart till winter;
                Then a Bow black prepar’d; on this Bow.
                A poisoned rock plac’d in silence:
                He utter’d these words to the Bow.

                6: O Bow of the clouds of secresy:
                O nerve of that lust form’d monster!
                Send this rock swift, invisible thro’
                The black clouds, on the bosom of Fuzon

                7: So saying, In torment of his wounds.
                He bent the enormous ribs slowly;
                A circle of darkness! then fixed
                The sinew in its rest: then the Rock
                Poisonous source! plac’d with art, lifting dif-
                -ficult
                Its weighty bulk: silent the rock lay.

                8: While Fuzon his tygers unloosing

                Thought Urizen slain by his wrath.
                I am God. said he. eldest of things!

                9: Sudden sings the rock. swift & invisible
                On Fuzon flew. enter’d his bosom;
                His beautiful visage, his tresses.
                That gave light to the mornings of heaven
                Were smitten with darkness. deform’d
                And outstretch’d on the edge of the fo-
                -rest

                10: But the rock fell upon the Earth,
                Mount Sinai. in Arabia.

                Chap: III:

                1: The Globe shook; and Urizen seated
                On black clouds his sore wound anointed
                The ointment flow’d down on the void
                Mix’d with blood; here the snake gets
                her poison

                2: With difficulty & great pain; Urizen
                Lifted on high the dead corse:
                On his shoulders he bore it to where
                A Tree hung over the Immensity

                3: For when Urizen shrunk away
                From Eternals, he sat on a rock
                Barren; a rock which himself
                From redounding fancies had petrified
                Many tears fell on the rock,
                Many sparks of vegetation;
                Soon shot the pained root
                Of Mystery. under his heel:
                It grew a thick tree; he wrote
                In silence his book of iron:
                Till the horrid plant bending its boughs
                Grew to roots when it felt the earth
                And again sprung to many a tree.

                4: Amaz’d started Urizen! when
                He beheld himself compassed round
                And high roofed over with trees
                He arose but the stems stood so thick
                He with difficulty and great pain
                Brought his Books. all but the Book

                Of

                Of iron. from the dismal shade

                5: The Tree still grows over the Void
                Enrooting itself all around
                An endless labyrinth of woe!

                6: The corse of his first begotten
                On the accursed Tree of Mystery:
                On the topmost stem of this Tree
                Urizen nail’d Fuzons corse.

                Chap: IV:

                1: Forth flew the arrows of pestilence
                Round the pale living Corse on the tree

                2: For in Urizens slumbers of abstraction
                In the infinite ages of Eternity:
                When his Nerves of Joy melted & flow’d
                A white Lake on the dark blue air
                In perturb’d pain and dismal torment
                Now stretching out. now swift conglobing.

                3: Effluvia vapor’d above
                In noxious clouds: these hover’d thick
                Over the disorganiz’d Immortal.
                Till petrific pain scurfd o’er the Lakes
                As the bones of man, solid & dark

                4: The clouds of disease hover’d wide
                Around the Immortal in torment
                Perching around the hurtling bones
                Disease on disease, shape on shape.
                Winged screaming in blood & torment.

                5: The Eternal Prophet beat on his anvils
                Enrag’d in the desolate darkness
                He forg’d nets of iron around
                And Los threw them around the bones

                6: The shapes screaming flutter’d vain
                Some combin’d into muscles & glands
                Some organs for craving and lust
                Most remain’d on the tormented void:
                Urizens army of horrors.

                7: Round the pale living Corse on the
                Tree
                Forty years flew the arrows of pestilence

                8: Wailing and terror and woe
                Ran thro’ all his dismal world:
                Forty years all his sons & daughters
                Felt their skulls harden: then Asia
                Arose in the pendulous deep.

                9: They reptilize upon the Earth.

                10: Fuzon groand on the Tree.

                Chap: V

                1: The lamenting voice of Ahania
                Weeping upon the void.
                And round the Tree of Fuzon:
                Distant in solitary night
                Her voice was heard. but no form
                Had she: but her tears from clouds
                Eternal fell round the Tree

                2: And the voice cried: Ah Urizen! Love!
                Flower of morning! I weep on the verge
                Of Non-entity; how wide the Abyss
                Between Ahania and thee!

                3: I lie on the verge of the deep.
                I see thy dark clouds ascend,
                I see thy black forests and floods,
                A horrible waste to my eyes!

                4: Weeping I walk over rocks
                Over dens & thro’ valleys of death
                Why didst thou despise Ahania
                To cast me from thy bright presence
                Into the World of Loneness

                5: I cannot touch his hand:
                Nor weep on his knees, nor hear
                His voice & bow. nor see his eyes
                And joy. nor hear his footsteps, and
                My heart leap at the lovely sound!
                I cannot kiss the place
                Whereon his bright feet have trod,

                But

                But I wander on the rocks
                With hard necessity.

                6: Where is my golden palace
                Where my ivory bed
                Where the joy of my morning hour
                Where the sons of eternity. singing

                7: To awake bright Urizen my king:
                To arise to the mountain sport,
                To the bliss of eternal valleys:

                8: To awake my king in the morn:
                To embrace Ahanias joy
                On the breath of his open bosom:
                From my soft cloud of dew to fall
                In showers of life on his harvests.

                9: When he gave my happy soul
                To the sons of eternal joy:
                When he took the daughters of life.
                Into my chambers of love:

                10: When I found babes of bliss on my beds.
                And bosoms of milk in my chambers
                Fill’d with eternal seed
                O! eternal births sung round Ahania
                In interchange sweet of their joys.

                11: Swell’d with ripeness & fat with fatness
                Bursting on winds my odors.
                My ripe figs and rich pomegranates

                In infant joy at thy feet
                O Urizen sported and sang;

                12: Then thou with thy lap full of seed
                With thy hand full of generous fire
                Walked forth from the clouds of morning
                On the virgins of springing joy,
                On the human soul to cast
                The seed of eternal science,

                13: The sweat poured down thy temples
                To Ahania return’d in evening
                The moisture awoke to birth
                My mothers-joys, sleeping in bliss.

                14: But now alone over rocks. mountains
                Cast out from thy lovely bosom:
                Cruel jealousy: selfish fear!
                Self-destroying: how can delight.
                Renew in these chains of darkness
                Where bones of beasts are strown
                On the bleak and snowy mountains
                Where bones from the birth are buried
                Before they see the light.

                FINIS
31. The Book of Ahania plates 3, 4, 5, and 6 as quarters of a copper sheet, based on copy A.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
begin page 69 | back to top are 27.2 cm. wide. The former sheet was 19.85 cm. left, 19.60 cm. right, 27.2 cm. top, 27.25 cm. bottom; it yielded plates 3-2/4-5 (illus. 30), with plate 1 etched on the verso of plate 4. The latter sheet was 19.65 cm. left, 19.75 cm. right, 27.2 cm. top, 27.25 cm. bottom; it yielded plates 4-3/6-5 (illus. 31), with plates 1 and 2 on the versos of plates 6 and 3 respectively.

These plate arrangements are not from Blake and the Idea of the Book, where I used just two measurements per plate and thought the sheet was larger and cut into sixths rather than quarters (414n26); they are from research done soon afterwards for David Worrall’s The Urizen Books. I used four measurements per plate and tracings of their shapes to reconstruct the sheets, the technique I had used to reconstruct the sheets that yielded the 27 plates of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.1414. This information about sheet reconstruction was first presented as a plenary address for William Blake 1794/1994, a conference at St. Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill, London, 14 July 1994, and later published as “Evolution.” Worrall agreed with The Book of Ahania arrangement (191) but not with The Book of Los arrangement (223n13), which is understandable since measurements, even with tracings, can support different results. With digital imaging, however, and the expert assistance of Todd Stabley, media consultant for my university, I was able to verify my earlier findings and to raise the bar for proof. Though it was no easy task, we were able to put the pieces back together. We verified the recto/verso plates by superimposing them, as with The Book of Ahania plates 3 and 2 (illus. e32), to reveal their matched shapes. We demonstrated, by revolving the plates, how their edges fit together, as evinced by the inside edges of The Book of Los plates 3 and 4 (illus. 33) paralleling one another exactly, one curving with the other.

[o]wn true love

                [fla]mes of desire
                [l]iving flames
                [arm]’d
                In the midst
                [boun]d in a chain
                shadow

                [sp]arkles of fury
                Los hurls

                condens’d
                [mounti]ng on high

                wide apart
                fierce-raging
                roll round
                [ma]king their way
                [shadow]y obscurity

                [fir]es; Los remain’d
                [an]d fire
                [the]y beheld him
                [driv]’n by his hands
                [neth]er abyss
                [in]dignation

                [fire]s all was

                Dark

                Darkness rou[nd]
                bound
                Into fiery sph[eres]
                The gigantic

                10: Coldness, d[arkness]
                Without fluctu[ation]
                Black as mar[ble]
                Bound in the
                And the seper[ated]
                A vast solid
                Bound in his

                Ch[ap]

                1: The Immort[al]
                The vast rock
                And times; a
                Impatient, stif[led]

                2: Till impatie[nce]
                The hard bon[dage]
                solid
                With a crash

                3: Crack’d ac[ross]
                -ments
                The Prophetic
                Hurls apart.
                And crumblin[g]
                The black ma[rble]

                4: Hurl’d apar[t]
                Rock; the inn[umerable]
                Fell asunder;
                Beneath him

                5: Falling, fa[lling]
                Sunk precipit[ant]
                Times on times
                Truth has bou[nds]
                falling:
                Years on year[s]
                Still he fell
                Found for fal[ling]
                end.
                For tho’ day o[r]
33. The Book of Los copy A, plates 3 and 4, detail of edges fitting together within the sheet of copper.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.

With four plates 27.2 cm. in width (two for The Song of Los, one each for The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania), it seemed reasonable to assume that they were quarters of a sheet the size of—and perhaps acquired at the same time as—those used for the first color-printed drawings. The problem here, though, was an approximately 8 mm. difference in the heights of The Song of Los plates. If the measurements were correct, then one or both did not fit into the larger sheet. Moreover, the small, unfinished color print of Pity (illus. 10), recorded as 19.7 × 27.5 cm. (Butlin, cat. 313), was the same height as The Book of Ahania sheet, though 2 or 3 mm. wider, which I suspected was mistaken. The similarity of its size to the size of The Book of Ahania made small Pity seem likely to have been one of the quarters or, possibly, a quarter that was cut up to provide the plates for The Book of Ahania. Superimposing small Pity over The Book of Ahania plates revealed no convincing traces of small Pity. The digital reconstruction was beginning to reveal what combination of quarters was likely and unlikely to have come from the same sheet, as well as to reveal exactly what works I needed to reexamine. In the Morgan Library, I reexamined the height of the text plates in The Song of Los copy C, along with the size and shape of proofs of The Book of Los plates 4 and 5, and The Book of Ahania plate 5; in the Library of Congress, I reexamined The Song of Los copy B and again made tracings of the plates of the only complete extant copy of The Book of Ahania; most importantly, in the British Museum, I examined The Song of Los copies A and D, traced the plates of the only extant copy of The Book of Los, and determined exactly the size of the small Pity and Albion rose plates.

This new data enabled me to disprove my initial hypothesis that The Song of Los plates 3-4 and 6-7 and the plates for The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los were quarters of the same large sheet. It enabled me also to ascertain that small Pity was not the exact size of The Book of Ahania sheet but that it was one of the quarters. Two measurements for small Pity proved insufficient to see this connection, but with four it became clear: 19.75 cm. left, 19.5 cm. right, 27.2 cm. top, 27.4 cm. bottom. These are approximately the same measurements as the color-printed impression of Albion rose, which are 27.2 cm. left, 27.3 cm. right, 19.75 cm. top, 19.95 cm. bottom.1515. Essick records the plate size as 27.2 × 19.9 cm. (Separate Plates 24); Butlin records the Huntington impression as 27.2 × 19.9 cm. and the British Museum impression as 27.5 × 20.2 cm. (cat. 284, 262.1). Turn small Pity upside down and Albion rose on its left side, place them on top begin page 70 | back to top of The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania sheets (illus. 34), and you have the four quarters of a sheet that is 39.35 cm. left, 39.7 cm. right, 54.7 cm. top, 54.5 cm. bottom. Along the middle, vertically and horizontally, the sheet is 39.4 × 54.4 cm. This sheet was cut exactly in half and each half was cut in half, hence each of the four quarters has a side 27.2 cm. wide or high.

Why did Blake purchase a 39.4 × 54.4 cm. sheet of copper? At first, it may seem that he needed copper plates for his two new poems, The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los. The former has 239 lines and the latter has 176 lines, for a total of 415. Urizen is on 28 plates, 11 of which, including the title, are full-page illustrations, leaving 17 text plates for 517 lines. If Blake intended to etch his new poems in relief to match the style and structure of Urizen, then he would have needed at least 22 plates for the two books. Quartering each quarter of the large sheet produces 16 plates (or 32 if versos are used), slightly smaller than Urizen, whose size was determined by its being on the verso of Marriage plates, the size of which was determined by Approach of Doom quartered (see Viscomi, “Evolution” 307).

THE
                BOOK of
                LOS

                LAMBETH
                Printed by W Blake 1795

                LOS

                AHANIA
34. The Book of Ahania, The Book of Los, small Pity, and Albion rose digitally reconstructed as quarters into a sheet of copper.  

Deducing motive from end results, however, clearly does not work here. The sheet does not produce plates exactly the size of Urizen, forcing one to ask why not if that was Blake’s intent. More troubling is that Blake appears to have changed his mind after he quartered the sheet. Three of the quarters he intended to use for etchings or engravings, as indicated by their rounded corners and beveled sides, features designed to remove sharp edges that could tear the paper when intaglio plates are printed under the required pressure. One quarter he intended to use as a relief etching, as indicated by the absence of these features, which are unnecessary for relief etchings, because they are printed with less pressure. Given the manner in which the quarters were prepared—whether by Blake or a platemaker following Blake’s instructions (see note 13)—Blake appears not to have acquired this copper sheet as a poet needing many small relief-etched plates for an illuminated book; he appears to have acquired it as a printmaker, with at least two designs, Albion rose and small Pity, in mind, as a creative graphic artist who, to date, had executed many separate etchings and engravings, including Head of a Damned Soul (c. 1790), The Accusers (1793), Edward and Elenor (1793), Job (1793), and Ezekiel (1794).

begin page 71 | back to top

What Blake originally intended for the other two quarters prepared for intaglio designs is not known. It is interesting to speculate, though, that the designs may have been The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (24.2 × 27.8 cm.) and Newton (20.4 × 26.3 cm.), which are the only other drawings extant that fit the quarters—or could be trimmed to fit—that were also executed, like small Pity, approximately four times their size as large color-printed drawings. But whatever the original plans were for these quarters, Blake changed his mind. He quartered the two quarters and used the resulting plates for The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania. This sequence of events is indicated by the fact that each small plate has just one rounded corner (illus. e35), that of its original sheet, which, in addition to the plates’ uneven and rough inside edges (illus. 33), is why the plates can be reconstructed like pieces of a puzzle back into their original quarter sheets (illus. 30, 31). The edges are rough because Blake did not file them at an angle (the bevel), and though he appears to have pounded down the sharp edges of the new corners, he did not round them. In other words, Blake did not prepare the small plates for etching.

Was he in such a hurry to print his new poems and designs that he ignored these crucial steps in preparing plates for intaglio printing? Or did he know that he would print with

But I wander on the rocks
                With hard necessity.

                6: Where is my golden palace
                Where my ivory bed
                Where the joy of my morning hour
                Where the sons of eternity. singing

                7: To awake bright Urizen my king:
                To arise to the mountain sport,
                To the bliss of eternal valleys:

                8: To awake my king in the morn:
                To embrace Ahanias joy
                On the breath of his open bosom:
                From my soft cloud of dew to fall
                In showers of life on his harvests.

                9: When he gave my happy soul
                To the sons of eternal joy:
                When he took the daughters of life.
                Into my chambers of love:

                10: When I found babes of bliss on my beds.
                And bosoms of milk in my chambers
                Fill’d with eternal seed
                O! eternal births sung round Ahania
                In interchange sweet of their joys.

                11: Swell’d with ripeness & fat with fatness
                Bursting on winds my odors.
                My ripe figs and rich pomegranates

                In infant joy at thy feet
                O Urizen sported and sang;

                12: Then thou with thy lap full of seed
                With thy hand full of generous fire
                Walked forth from the clouds of morning
                On the virgins of springing joy,
                On the human soul to cast
                The seed of eternal science,

                13: The sweat poured down thy temples
                To Ahania return’d in evening
                The moisture awoke to birth
                My mothers-joys, sleeping in bliss.

                14: But now alone over rocks. mountains
                Cast out from thy lovely bosom:
                Cruel jealousy: selfish fear!
                Self-destroying: how can delight.
                Renew in these chains of darkness
                Where bones of beasts are strown
                On the bleak and snowy mountains
                Where bones from the birth are buried
                Before they see the light.

                FINIS
36. The Book of Ahania copy A, plate 6.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
37. Albion rose, from The Large Book of Designs copy A.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
[View this object in the William Blake Archive]
less pressure than normal since he planned to use the surface area for color printing, which he did with The Book of Ahania plates 1, 2, and 6 (illus. 36), and The Book of Los plates 1, 2, and 5?1616. If the platemaker had quartered the sheet and beveled the three quarters for Blake, then Blake’s not beveling the small plates may seem less inconsistent, but it is still highly unorthodox behavior for an intaglio etcher. I have not encountered intaglio plates with such rough, unbeveled sides before. Equally unconventionally, Blake etched three of his new plates recto/verso; as we have seen, in relief etching this was his common practice and something Blake could get away with aesthetically because scratches across relief lines fill in with ink, whereas scratches across the surface of an intaglio plate fill in with ink and print as black lines on a white background. Blake was smart, though, in using the versos for the frontispieces, which he very heavily color printed, and for The Book of Ahania title plate, whose background he filled with a dense pattern of swirling lines. In The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los title plates, Blake etched the letters and inked them locally, wiping the surface around them clean of ink and painting the image between the inscription and title, presumably following a lightly scratched outline. Blake used the same combination of printing from the surface and incised lines in the endplates to both books. He knew printing from the surface of an etching would work, since—as I argue below—he had already done begin page 72 | back to top so with Albion rose (illus. 37), and knew also that he could print surface areas with incised lines because he had done so in Europe and Urizen.

Using the small plates for intaglio etching instead of relief etching enabled Blake to condense his texts, averaging 59.5 lines per plate for The Book of Ahania and 58.6 for The Book of Los, versus 30.4 for Urizen, and thus use far fewer copper plates. Using two of the quarters initially prepared for single intaglio designs (as is indicated by the four original rounded corners per quarter) from this sheet for illuminated plates appears to have been an afterthought, perhaps reflecting a decision to enlarge the designs originally intended for the quarters in another medium. Blake’s decision to etch the small plates in intaglio rather than in relief appears to reflect the influence of another quarter from the sheet, Albion rose. But before we can examine how those three quarters as used connect with one another, we need to understand the role played by small Pity, the quarter that appears to have been the first executed.

They call’d her Pity, and fled

                11. “Spread a Tent. with strong cur-
                -tains around them
                “Let cords & stakes bind in the Void
                That Eternals may no more behold them”

                12, They began to weave curtains of
                darkness
                They erected large pillars round the Void
                With golden hooks fastend in the pillars
                With infinite labour the Eternals
                A woof wove. and called it Science

                Chap: VI.

                1. But Los saw the Female & pitied
                He embrac’d her, she wept, she refus’d
                In perverse and cruel delight
                She fled from his arms, yet he followd

                2, Eternity shudder’d when they saw,
                Man begetting his likeness.
                On his own divided image.

                3, A time passed over, the Eternals
                Began to erect the tent;
                When Enitharmon sick,
                Felt a Worm within her womb.

                4. Yet helpless it lay like a Worm
                In the trembling womb
                To be moulded into existence

                5, All day the worm lay on her bosom
                All night within her womb
                The worm lay till it grew to a ser-
                -pent
                With dolorous hissings & poisons
                Round Enitharmons loins folding,

                6, Coild within Enitharmons womb
                The serpent grew casting its scales
                With sharp pangs the hissings began
                To change to a grating cry,
                Many sorrows and dismal throes,
                Many forms of fish, bird & beast,
                Brought forth an Infant form
                Where was a worm before.

                7. The Eternals their tent finished
                Alarm’d with these gloomy visions
                When Enitharmon groaning
                Produc’d a man Child to the light,

                8. A shriek ran thro’ Eternity:
                And a paralytic stroke;
                At the birth of the Human shadow,

                9. Delving earth in his resistless
                way;
                Howling, the Child with fierce flames
                Issu’d from Enitharmon.

                10. The Eternals, closed the tent
                They beat down the stakes the cords
38. The Book of Urizen copy C, plate 19.   Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
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IV. Small Pity

For small Pity to have been printed from a quarter of a large copper sheet means, of course, that its matrix is copper and not millboard, but neither is it a “completely bare plate”. (Butlin, “Physicality” 4). The evidence that small Pity is from a metal plate lies also in the faintly embossed lines in the horses’ hind legs, tail, and front leg, and at the head of the supine figure (visible in the verso), the very slight embossment of the relief plateau. Knowing that small Pity is from a copper plate in slight relief and not completely bare helps to explain an apparent anomaly in the sequencing of the large color prints and to verify Butlin’s initial intuition regarding their evolution.

Butlin initially believed that Pity was Blake’s first large color-printed drawing, because it “developed from the small trial print, the only such try-out that is known, and this in turn was preceded by two composition sketches . . . the first of which is an upright composition, showing that at this stage Blake had begin page 73 | back to top not yet evolved the format for the series of large prints.” In these works (sketches, trial proof, finished impression), “one does seem to see Blake developing a completely new composition in a relatively short time from upright drawing to large horizontal color print in a way that suggests a direct evolution rather than the reuse of earlier material as found in others of the prints, and hence the real point of origin for the series.” And yet, if so, why is small Pity, “the . . . trial print,” followed by God Judging Adam, the first color-printed drawing, and not Pity? This Butlin cannot answer: “Whether this origin, in a totally new design, has any significance for the meaning of the series as a whole I leave for others to speculate” (“Physicality” 5).

Treating small Pity as a sketch that immediately preceded the larger Pity is logical, especially if you think that it too is from a “bare plate.” On the other hand, placing the trial proof after the first color-printed drawing makes no sense, especially if it is the “real point of origin for the series,” for it then becomes a “try-out” for Pity alone and not the “experiment” in color printing “on a larger scale” that Butlin also assumes (cat. 313). The material evidence, however, indicates that both the experimental small Pity and the first color-printed drawing are from copper plates, each etched in very slight to low relief, the former leading technically and materially to the latter. Indeed, small Pity is the “experiment” and “origin” that Butlin assumes. The mystery, however, lies not in Blake’s following small Pity with a “totally new design” (many sketches are not fully realized until much later), or moving from “bare plate” to relief outline to bare plates or millboards (that progression is an illusion), but rather in his following small Pity’s failure at defining form through blocks of color with a return to reliefetched outline, as used in illuminated books, before figuring out true planographic printing. As an experiment, small Pity is specifically about working out how best to define forms in large color prints, which is to say, less about format and composition than technique and style.

True, small Pity differs in format and design from everything color printed to that point; it is horizontal and a tryout for prints four times its size. It borrows from earlier works, though, even while attempting new things. Small Pity is divided into top and bottom halves that were inked in different colors (illus. 10). This in itself was not unusual, since two inks, as in sky and ground, were commonly used in color printing aquatint landscapes. Moreover, in 1794 Blake had color printed Urizen in this style, with page designs divided into texts and vignettes and inked in different colors. For example, he inked the bottom half (text) of plate 19 from Urizen copy C (illus. 38) in an olive green and the top half (figures) in yellow ochre; one can see that his dabber inked the figures’ outlines and touched down in their shallows, creating a wide white line along the base of the outline, indicating that he inked shallows and outlines together and that the relief was slightly higher here than in God Judging Adam. He went over the background in an olive green ink or color, defining the yellow ochre figures as negative spaces, or cavities within the ground. Plate 23 demonstrates more clearly this style of defining form (illus. 39).

1 Urizen. C. VIII.
                Of life on his forsaken mountains

                2, And his world teemd vast enormities
                Frightning: faithless; fawning
                Portions of life; similitudes
                Of a foot, or a hand, or a head
                Or a heart, or an eye, they swam mis
                -chevous
                Dread terrors! delighting in blood

                3. Most Urizen sicken’d to see
                His eternal creations appear
                Sons & daughters of sorrow on mountains
                Weeping! wailing! first Thiriel appear’d
                Astonish’d at his own existence
                Like a man from a cloud born, & Utha
                From the waters emerging, laments!

                Grodna rent the deep earth howling
                Amaz’d! his heavens immense cracks
                Like the ground parch’d with heat; then
                Fuzon
                Flam’d out! first begotten, last born.
                All his eternal sons in like manner
                His daughters from green herbs & cattle
                From monsters, & worms of the pit.

                4, He in darkness clos’d, view’d all his
                race
                And his soul sicken’d! he curs’d
                Both sons & daughters; for he saw
                That no flesh nor spirit could keep
                His iron laws one moment.

                5. For he saw that life liv’d upon
                death
39. The Book of Urizen copy C, plate 23.   Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
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40. The Book of Urizen copy C, plate 23, digitally enhanced to appear as a relief-etched copper plate and to emphasize relief areas and cavities.   Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
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41. Small Pity, digitally enhanced to appear as a shallowly etched relief copper plate and to emphasize relief areas and cavities.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
Again, Blake inked the plate’s top and bottom halves in different colors and went over the bottom with a darker color to differentiate background and figure, carefully leaving the white of the paper to form Urizen’s robe (it is finished in white and gray colors in other impressions). Note, from the waist down, Urizen is a blank triangular shallow defined by its background, by solid blocks or areas painted in stop-out varnish and etched in relief (illus. 40). Blake had used this style of defining form in Europe, also of 1794, plates 5, 8, and 14, and very rudimentarily in America plate 2.

Small Pity uses this style to define form on a larger scale. Instead of bold outlines to delineate figures, it uses blocks of colors, leaving the forms as white or negative space to be finished in pen and ink and watercolors (illus. 41). In other words, production is divided into two stages, each stage producing a different visual effect: in the print stage, forms are blocked out in thick, mottled colors printed from the relief surface; in the finishing stage, forms left unprinted are washed in and defined in pen and ink. Small Pity fails as a technical experiment because too much is left unprinted—nearly 50% of the composition—leaving too much for finishing, resulting in white areas whose flat, thin watercolors contrast poorly with thick, mottled, alla prima paint surfaces. The combination of water-colors over or adjacent to thick colors in the smaller illuminated plates works well, but here, on the larger surface plane, the allocation of the different media to different areas makes the surface visually incoherent.1717. Perhaps Blake’s painting the horse’s rump sky blue was sign enough that the forms were poorly defined. He could have fixed the mistake by going over the blue in darker colors, but he chose to leave the impression unfinished, probably because even dark washes over a relatively large space would have appeared flat next to the thick, mottled paint printed from the plate. In short, small Pity printed but left uncolored is incomplete in ways that are not true of illuminated plates, etchings, or color-printed drawings.

Large color-printed drawings require finishing in pen and ink and watercolors (particularly in second impressions), often to keep the images from looking like blots and blurs, but it is just that, finishing; printing and coloring are not separate stages, but are instead integrated in the initial execution of the design in paint on the plate. Form is defined through line and begin page 75 | back to top colors together on the plate and then clarified, strengthened, and/or adorned further on the paper. The design on the matrix, in other words, already closely resembles the painting it will become rather than the basis for one. Matrix as organically unfolding painting would have described God Judging Adam (though of course not if its outline were printed separately from its colors), and most evidently the millboard designs that followed. As a design, small Pity could not be realized or completed without an inordinate amount of additional work that went far beyond the usual finishing, which is presumably why Blake left it unfinished, realizing that constructing designs out of printing and painting produced aesthetically inchoate textures and was not analogous to producing illuminated prints, where watercolor washes supplemented autonomous designs instead of completing them. His experiment was moving him in the opposite direction from the large painterly compositions he was envisioning.1818. In the Tate’s version of Lamech and His Two Wives, “virtually the whole image has been printed, with no reserves of paper left for finishing in watercolour.” This “seems to be a considerably more developed form of the technique” than used in Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah, “which argues that this print [Lamech] was made late in the series” (McManus and Townsend 96). In Naomi, God Judging Adam, and other prints, Blake left the figures or parts of them unprinted/unpainted to use the white of the paper, often in conjunction with white pigments, for highlights and contrast, but these are small areas relative to the composition and do not produce visually discordant surface textures.

V. Albion rose and the Book[s] of Designs

Butlin believes that Albion rose also influenced the large color-printed drawings, and again he is right, but not entirely as he supposes. Albion rose is one of two etchings and 30 illuminated plates with masked-out texts color printed on papers of two different sizes for Ozias Humphry. Blake refers to the impressions only as “a selection from the different Books of such as could be Printed without the Writing” (Erdman, Complete Poetry 771); we refer to them as the Small Book of Designs and the Large Book of Designs.1919. The Small Book consisted of 23 impressions pulled from Urizen, Marriage, Thel, and Visions, on Whatman 1794 paper 26 × 19 cm.; the Large Book consisted of plates from Urizen, Visions, separate relief plates of America plate d and Joseph of Arimathea Preaching, and two etchings, Albion rose and The Accusers, on Whatman 1794 paper cut to 34.5 × 24.5 cm. Humphry, a renowned miniaturist, appears to have already owned color-printed Songs copy H and Europe copy D as well as monochrome America copy H, which may explain why plates from these books were not in the Book[s] of Designs, despite the obvious suitability of America and Europe designs for such a project. For more information about the Book[s] of Designs and their connection to the large color-printed drawings, see Viscomi, Blake and the Idea of the Book 302-04. Albion rose, from the latter, was color printed from the surface, with its incised lines not printed but used as guidelines for painting. In the catalogue, Butlin dates copies A of Small Book and Large Book 1794 because the date on Urizen plate 1 in the former was left as printed, “1794.” He dates copies B of both Book[s] 1796 because the printed date was altered in pen to “1796” (cat. 260). Bindman does the same and believes the two copies of Small Book represent different projects and motives years apart, with copy A serving as a “sampler of his best designs” to “demonstrate his colour-printing process,” and copy B possibly “some kind of emblem book [compiled] out of a selection of his designs” (476). Most of the B impressions, however, are second pulls, impressions pulled from the plate while ink and colors were still wet, which means they cannot be years apart. Butlin recognizes this fact in a later article (“Physicality” 3), but uses the unaltered 1794 date on the Urizen title plate in copy A for both sets of impressions. Thus, he considers 1794 as the date when “the illustrations literally broke free” of the accompanying texts. He also notes that Large Book included three subjects “based on independent engravings; the distinction between books and independent works was beginning to break down” (3). But a printed date does not date a printing session, as nearly any reprinted illuminated book demonstrates. The altered date of 1796 is more trustworthy than the printed “1794” because it bears Blake’s autograph (a similarly penned-in date of “1790” on plate 3 of Marriage copy F proved reliable); even if treated like the “1795” written on color prints produced c. 1804, it would signify the conception of the series and not the individual parts. Moreover, a project such as this one, where a selection of plates was reprinted without text, would have been an anomaly in 1794, because Blake was just beginning to reprint books and had not yet color printed from the surface of intaglio plates.

Neither color-printed impression of Albion rose could have been printed in 1794, since the plate appears not to have been cut from its sheet until 1795, along with the plates for small Pity, The Book of Los, and The Book of Ahania. Both color-printed impressions are in the first state and “were very probably produced in 1795-1796 when Blake seems to have done most of his work in that medium” (Essick, Separate Plates 28). No monochrome impression of the first state is extant. On the basis of the similarity in style to The Accusers (1793) and The Gates of Paradise (1793), Essick dates the first state of Albion rose c. 1793 (Separate Plates 28). This date can now be changed to 1795 and may explain why no monochrome impressions in the first state are extant: Blake color printed the plate before printing it in intaglio (though he probably proofed the plate during its progress and the proofs, like most proofs, are not extant). On the basis of textual and graphic evidence, Essick dates the second state of the plate (illus. 42a) no earlier than c. 1804 and possibly later than c. 1818. Albion, mentioned in the inscription, does not appear as a person in “Blake’s poetry until some of the later revisions of The Four Zoas manuscript, probably made after 1800, and in Milton, begun about 1803” (Separate Plates 28). Moreover, the inscription has a left-pointing serif on the letter g, which, according to Erdman’s hypothesis, Blake used consistently between c. 1791 and 1803.2020. See David V. Erdman, “Dating Blake’s Script: The ‘g’ Hypothesis,” Blake 3.1 (1969): 8-13. The inscription reads: “Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves / Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death.” Essick notes that the imagery in the inscription echoes that used in a letter to William Hayley, 23 October 1804, in which he likens himself to “a slave bound in a mill among beasts and devils” who has been “again enlightened with the light [he] enjoyed in [his] youth” (Separate Plates 28). The inscription reveals Blake returning to an earlier image and reinterpreting it (or remembering it as an idealized self-portrait), as he did with Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion (1773, c. 1810-20), The Accusers (1793, c. 1805-10), and Mirth (c. 1816-20, 1820-27). However, begin page 76 | back to top visual effects such as the burnished halo behind Albion’s head Essick associates with the influence of Linnell, leading him to suggest a possible post-1818 date as well (private correspondence).

Yet something is not quite right here. Because the etched lines are visible in the second, lighter color-printed impression when examined in strong light, Essick could ascertain that the first state “lacked the bat-winged moth, worm, and shafts of light radiating from the figure .... The horizontal hatching lines of the background seem to have extended much closer to the head and shoulders of the figure . . .” (Separate Plates 24). He also notes that Blake added a hill under the figure’s right foot without deleting the horizontal background lines, as he did when he added the moth. While the inscription may be c. 1804 or later, these design changes—halo, shafts of light, and hill—are likely to have been c. 1795, because they follow the color print’s coloring so closely, as is demonstrated by placing a transparency of the color print over the second state (illus. 42b). Blake appears to have used the color print as a model for the changes he made in the plate, but he is unlikely to have waited nine or more years to make these changes. The copy A impression was in Humphry’s possession by 1796 and the copy B impression appears to have been “one of the prints by Blake acquired in August 1797 by Dr. James Curry, a friend of Humphry’s” (Essick, Separate Plates 25; see also Bentley, “Dr. James Curry as a Patron of Blake,” Notes and Queries 27 [1980]: 71-73). Also, Blake seems to have used scrapers and burnishers conventionally, to erase lines and smooth surfaces so he could etch new forms, like the moth, and not radically, as he did in the second states of Mirth, Job, and Ezekiel, where he created dramatic and painterly visual effects that do indeed appear to reflect the influence of Linnell.2121. For Blake’s radical use of burnishers to create stark contrasts of blacks and whites and its association with Linnell, see Essick, Printmaker, chapters 13 and 16, and Essick, “John Linnell.” The technique’s use in Albion rose, however, seems more practical than painterly, and the resulting play of light less dramatic than in those others revised late in life.

WB inv 1780
42a. Albion rose, second state.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
WB inv 1780
42b. Albion rose, transparency of color print laid over second state of the plate to show alignment of colors with changes made in the second state.  
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Moreover, the worm, whose significance may be explained by a passage in Jerusalem 55:36-37 (Essick, Separate Plates 29), is visually similar to the worms in Gates of Paradise (1793) plates 1 and 18 and in The Song of Los plate 3. More interestingly, the bat-winged moth in the second state (illus. 42a) may have been influenced by the bat-winged moth in The Song of Los plates 3-4 (illus. 43). This image has heretofore been unrecorded because it appears in the middle of the horizontal plate and was masked out during printing; it is digitally recreated from traces in the plate 3 impression of copy E and plate 4 of copy B. The first state of Albion rose has always been thought to precede The Song of Los, but knowing that both works are from 1795 requires rethinking their sequence. If the second state of Albion rose was influenced by The Song of Los’s moth, then the first state of Albion rose was executed before The Song of Los text plates, which in turn suggests that the plates cut from the same sheet as Albion rose—including those for The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania—also precede The Song of Los. This sequence for the books agrees with other, stronger evidence given below.

Blake appears to have color printed Albion rose before printing it in intaglio. More importantly, it is the first intaglio plate he color printed. Misdating Large Book, with its two etchings, 1794 instead of 1796 has obscured this likelihood and its significance. Blake color printed only two other etchings, The Accusers and Lucifer and the Pope in Hell, and appears to have done so after Albion rose. The first state of the former is dated 5 June 1793; the two color-printed impressions extant are in the second state (Essick, Separate Plates 31) and were part of the Large Book, which Blake appears to have put together in 1796 by commission. No monochrome impressions of the second state are extant, which suggests that the color printing of The Accusers for Large Book may have provided the opportunity to make changes in the plate. Lucifer exists in a touched proof, with lots of pencil work in the first state and a monochrome impression in the second state.2222. The recently rediscovered proof is in the Essick Collection; it was unknown at the time Essick wrote his Separate Plates catalogue, which lists only one state for the plate (41-42). The one color-printed impression is presumably in the second state (the colors are too thick to see through and the image is pasted down on a thick sheet of paper). Essick dates the plate c. 1794 because it seems to share themes and motifs with Europe (1794), but he also recognizes that it differs stylistically from the other political prints, Albion rose and The Accusers, in that, while executed in their energetic etched

[Afri]can

                And all t[he]
                Before th[eir]

                Thus the terr[ible]
                Laws & Re[ligions]
                And more to
                Till a Philos[ophy]
                Urizen wept

                Clou[ds]
                And
                Of A[sia]
                The
43. The Song of Los, butterfly in recreated design for plates 3-4, detail, based on copies E and B.  
style, it makes “more use of enlarged versions of such conventional patterns as worm lines and cross hatching, much as in the Night Thoughts plates of 1796-1797” (Separate Plates 43). I agree and think Lucifer is c. 1796 and probably color printed that year, along with the other works for the Large Book and Small Book, though it was not part of either series, no doubt excluded for having a horizontal rather than vertical format.

In 1796, Blake appears to have built a series of color prints around Albion rose, taking stock of his etchings and relief etchings and transforming 30 of them into miniature paintings to make up the two series for Humphry. Twenty-two years later, in a 9 June 1818 letter to Dawson Turner, he remembered the project this way:

Those I Printed for Mr Humphry are a selection from the different Books of such as could be Printed without the Writing tho to the Loss of some of the best things[.] For they when Printed perfect accompany Poetical Personifications & Acts without which Poems they never could have been Executed[.]

He then describes the color-printed drawings as:

12 Large Prints Size of Each about 2 feet by 1 & 1/2 Historical & Poetical Printed in Colours[.] . . . These last 12 Prints are unaccompanied by any writing[.] (Erdman, Complete Poetry 771)

For Blake, the illuminated plates “Printed without the Writing” and the large color prints “unaccompanied by any writing” are clearly related projects. They are also, as Blake tells Turner, “sufficient to have gained me great reputation as an Artist which was the chief thing Intended.” Butlin recognizes that the projects are connected and has done more to champion their importance to Blake’s reputation as an artist than any other Blake scholar. He has argued, though, that the small works evolved into the larger works and thus, as noted, considers 1794 as the start of Blake’s illustrations breaking free of text (“Physicality” 3). But, as shown here, the smaller monotypes are from 1796, not 1794, and found their precedent and inspiration in the larger monotypes of 1795. And like their prototypes, the later, smaller impressions were colored “with a degree of splendour and force, as almost to resemble sketches in oil-colours . . . all of which are peculiarly remarkable for their strength and splendour of colouring.”2323. Richard Thomson’s description of the Large Book for J. T. Smith’s Nollekens and His Times, as quoted in Bentley, Blake Records 621. Indeed, the color-printed drawings, begin page 78 | back to top large and small, are to oil sketches what relief etchings are to drawings. They are prints in which Blake incorporated the tools and techniques of painting, just as in illuminated prints he used the tools and processes of drawing and writing. The prints in the Small Book and Large Book are not only “free of text,” but they differ even from the color-printed illuminated plates of 1794 by having been produced in a more overtly painterly manner, no doubt influenced by the larger prints of 1795. This painterliness in the small and large monotypes is no mere illusion, as it would be if the impressions were assembled from separately printed outline and colors.

Butlin’s premise that the large monotypes of 1795 grew out of smaller works is correct, but his choice of smaller works is partly mistaken. The candidates are the illuminated books color printed in 1794, or small Pity and Albion rose of 1795. Blake first prints in colors in 1794, printing the Experience sections of Songs copies F, G, H, T, and B, C, D, and E (the two sets in that order); Europe copies B, C, D, E, F, and G; The Book of Urizen copies A, C, D, E, F, and J; and possibly Visions of the Daughters of Albion copies F and R and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell copies E and F. He color printed The Book of Los, The Book of Ahania, and The Song of Los in 1795. The last of these, as we shall see, is likely to have been executed concurrently with or after the large color-printed drawings and under the influence of their format and technique, whereas the first two books are etchings that appear to have been executed before the color-printed drawings but after Albion rose, as indicated by Blake’s change of mind regarding the original quarter sheets used to provide their plates. Many significant differences exist between color printing relief etchings and intaglio etchings. With the former, Blake is inking plates as prints and adding colors to inked and uninked areas. He behaved even more radically with the latter works. Blake is not inking the plate; he is painting it, using etched lines as guidelines, but he is also free to improvise at will, as he did with hill and halo in Albion rose. Nothing like these had ever been produced before and no analogous printing process exists.

Recognizing Albion rose as a product of 1795 rather than 1794, as the first color-printed intaglio plate, and as cut from the same sheet as small Pity helps us to see it and small Pity more clearly as experiments in color printing that reveal the technical problem Blake is attempting to solve. He, as intaglio etcher and relief etcher, quarters a large sheet of copper and prepares three plates for intaglio and one for relief. He uses the relief etching to experiment with creating a matrix capable of being color printed as a relatively large composition. He needs to scale up in size his earlier experiments; to date, he has color printed from both the surface and from the surface and shallows simultaneously of relief etchings. He needs to figure out how to define forms on larger surfaces in the new marriage of print and painting that he was then envisioning. Were forms to be blocked out in low flat relief, as in small Pity, in relief outline, as in illuminated plates, or in incised outline, as in Albion rose? Albion rose can be printed without colors or finishing, but small Pity cannot; the latter work was designed with color printing in mind while the former probably was not. As Blake was beginning to experiment with scaling up his color prints, however, he put Albion rose to double use, testing its suitability for large printed paintings by painting the design and printing it. The idea to color print Albion rose from its surface instead of printing it as an etching may have occurred to Blake during its execution or after recognizing the failure of small Pity.

The basic principle, one could argue, for inventing large monotypes is present in color printing relief etchings, but, in practice, Blake is closer to working up flat areas and defining forms through colors when color printing intaglio etchings. Does this mean Albion rose was more influential in what followed than small Pity? Yes and no. The intaglio etching appears directly to have influenced the choice of medium and color printing technique of The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los—works one quarter the size of Albion rose—but not the color-printed drawings, which are four times its size. Interesting, in this regard, is Blake’s never having color printed the intaglio engravings that are the size of the color prints, like Job and Ezekiel, perhaps finding the dense line systems unsuited for the open and painterly compositions he was then creating—or because such surfaces proved more difficult to use than gesso’s striated surfaces. In any event, he apparently decided not to use etched outlines for his large printed paintings, following small Pity with God Judging Adam. What, then, leads to true planographic printing, which lies, technically speaking, somewhere between small Pity and Albion rose?

Blake possibly went from small Pity to God Judging Adam and returned to Albion rose to think more on the problem of defining form. The idea of a non-printable outline—neither in relief nor intaglio—but paintable along with blocks of colors could have grown out of painting and printing Albion rose. Alternatively, it could have grown out of painting over a low relief outline of God Judging Adam and realizing that the outline’s function could be served planographically, that it was the painting over the outline rather than printing the outline that mattered most. Once Blake made that discovery, returning to color print an intaglio etching or moving to the planographic printing of Elohim or Satan and then to millboards must have come quickly.

VI. The Song of Los Reconsidered

Determining the exact sequence of development in Blake’s monotyping may be impossible, because planographic printing can evolve out of painting the surface of an etching, using the incised lines as guidelines, or vice versa. However, the use of one sheet of copper to produce both small Pity and Albion rose, two plates representing different technical solutions to defining forms needed for printing large monotypes, does help us sequence the illuminated books of 1795. The size of the sheet may have influenced the size of the subsequent sheets acquired for the color prints. Recall that Blake described the “Size of Each” of his “12 Large Prints” at “about 2 feet by 1 & 1/2” (Erdman, Complete Poetry 771). Since these begin page 79 | back to top

44. The Song of Los copy B, plate 8, detail.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
works are horizontal, we should record this as 18 × 24 in. This is a rough approximation, but each work is within one and a quarter inch in height and three inches in width of this approximation. The smallest, Pity, is 16.75 × 21.25 in. (42.5 × 53.9 cm.), approximately the same size as God Judging Adam, presumably the first, which is 17 × 21 in. (43.2 × 53.5 cm.); the largest, House of Death, is 19 × 24 in. (48.5 × 61 cm.); the widest, Nebuchadnezzar, is 17.5 × 24.4 in. (44.6 × 62 cm.).2424. The widths vary 8.5 cm., ranging from approximately 53.5 cm. (four), 57.5 cm. (one), 58.1 cm. (two), 59.4 cm. (one) to 60-62 cm. (four); height varies only 6 cm., ranging from 42.5 to 44.6 cm. (ten), and 46 to 48.5 cm. (two). At 39.4 × 54.4 cm. (15.5 × 21.4 in.), the copper sheet yielding small Pity, Albion rose, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los fits squarely within the average of the first color-printed drawings, but is shorter, on average, by 3.5 cm. Assuming the copper sheet used for The Song of Los plates 3-4 and 6-7 was a half sheet, then the full sheet, at 43.5 × 54.4 cm., fits within both height and width of color-printed drawings. Relative to the copper sheets and millboards used in 1795, it fits the series while the shorter sheet, which yielded works whose printing directly influenced the technique and printing of the large color-printed drawings, does not. Similarly sized sheets for a projected series suggest a similar date of purchase; the shorter sheet appears not only to have been worked on before those of the series, but also to have been acquired apart from them, which further supports the thesis that The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania were composed and executed before the larger relief-etched text plates of The Song of Los, which in turn preceded their illustrations, plates 1, 2, 5, and 8.

Assuming Blake treated the sheet yielding The Song of Los plates 3-4 and 6-7 like the one for The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los, i.e., cutting it in half, then the unused half would also be approximately 43.5-8 × 27.2-5 cm. Cutting this half to provide the coppers for The Song of Los plates 2/5 and 1/8 appears logical, but to have done so would have meant wasting precious metal, because 24.2 × 17.4 cm. (2/5) and 23.6 × 17.5 cm. (1/8) do not fit without lots of awkward trimming. Moreover, plates 2/5 and 1/8 do not fit together; they were not conjoined in a sheet. Thus, while technically possible, economically it made no sense—and as his recto-verso etching demonstrates, Blake was very practical in his use of copper. He may have bought just half the sheet, intending to halve it for The Song of Los text plates, or bought the whole sheet and used the other half or pieces from it later.2525. Blake’s Child of Nature (1818), known from a unique impression, is 43.3 × 27.5 cm., the size of the half sheet. Other possible configurations include the Moore & Co. Advertisement, c. 1797-98 (Essick, Separate Plates 47), along with some practice plates for Thomas Butts (see Essick, Separate Plates 211-12). Blake reused parts of the Moore plate years later for Jerusalem plate 64, which is the recto of Jerusalem plate 96 (Essick, Separate Plates 48). However he used it, plates 2/5 and 1/8 appear certainly not to have been cut out of it, which supports the evidence below that they were not copper but millboards.

Plates 1 and 8 were planographically printed; no relief lines or marks are present in the versos of any impressions from either plate. No traces of incised lines are seen through the impression in strong light, as can be seen in the copy B impression of Albion rose. Blake either lightly etched or scratched begin page 80 | back to top

45a. The Song of Los copy A, plate 5.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum.
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7
45b. The Song of Los copy B, plate 5.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission.
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[S]ON[G]
                [S]ON[G]
                [S]ON[G]
                [S]ON[G]
46. The Song of Los copies A, B / D, C, plate 2, detail of the letter “N” from title.   © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum. Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission. Morgan Library and Museum, New York. PML 77236.
the outline in metal, as suggested by Essick (Printmaker 128), or he used millboard, which seems more likely, given the very wavy cut of the plate along the top edge (illus. 2), something more likely in board than metal. More significant are the striations in clouds and arms visible in plate 8 of copy B (illus. 44). These patterns, typical of gessoed millboard, are also in copies E and A and thus are not repetitions in the paint layer of a first pull within a second.

Plates 2 and 5 are also planographically printed. In plate 5 (illus. 45), figures, lily petals, and stems are consistent in each impression and carefully finished in watercolor washes and pen and ink. The broad green and brown leaves under the lilies, however, differ in number, form, and placement in each impression, signs of improvisation, of having been painted broadly and energetically directly on the plate rather than painted within an outline. Here, Blake paints each design anew, creating prints with both the miniature’s exactness of form and the freedom and boldness of the oil sketch.

Essick was first to recognize that plate 2 is the only illuminated plate with planographic lettering, though he acknowledges that the letters may have had “lightly incised” outlines (Printmaker 128). Dörrbecker agrees and adds that the letters begin page 81 | back to top

L
	L
47. The Song of Los copies B and C, plate 2, detail of letter “L” from title.   Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library of Congress. © Copyright 2005, William Blake Archive. Used with permission. Morgan Library and Museum, New York. PML 77236.
48. The Song of Los copy C, plate 2, detail.   Morgan Library and Museum, New York. PML 77236.
of the inscription may have been relief etched (319n28). Comparing all six impressions in great detail, however, reveals that the letter forms are too inconsistent to have been outlined or relief etched. Note, for example, the letter “N” (illus. 46) in copies A and B (top row) and D and C (bottom row): B and C differ slightly from one another but are exactly like A and D respectively, only lighter, because they are second impressions.2626. The six extant impressions of the title plate can be sequenced: F, A, B, D, C, E[?]. The E impression is very poorly and lightly printed and has so much handwork that sequencing is difficult and the possibility of a missing impression, of which this is a second or even third pull, is raised. Incised lines and relief etching are also ruled out because the matrix is almost certain to have been millboard, as indicated by the striated texture under the colors forming the letter “L” in the non-sequential B and C impressions (illus. 47). The copy C impression is telling in other ways as well; a second pull, it reveals thin white lines (illus. 48) that at first appear to be part of an incised outline, thus suggesting a metal plate. Closer inspection, however, reveals the white lines are the spaces between adjoining blocks of colors; we see the same effect in the second impression of Pity (illus. 49) and many of the other color-printed drawings.

The accepted sequence of The Song of Los, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los has Blake returning to the continental myth before finishing the Urizen cycle. It pictures him creatively experimenting in The Song of Los with page format and text design and using small color-printed drawings as book illustrations, only to return in the intaglio books to the earlier text format of Urizen. We now can see that The Song of Los is last in this sequence and that Blake completed the Urizen poems first and without interruption, with two much shorter books whose planographically printed images were directly influenced by the color printing of Albion rose. The Song of Los plates 3-4 and 6-7 are horizontal compositions influenced apparently by the format of Blake’s new invention, the large begin page 82 | back to top

49. Pity, detail.   Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Robert W. Goelet, 1958 (58.603). Photograph © copyright 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
color monotypes. Their double columns were influenced by Urizen, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los, but differ significantly, being widely spaced and almost free flowing in a format that combined poetry, printmaking, and painting in a new and radical way. The Song of Los was Blake’s last illuminated text until Milton, and Blake probably began it while working on the color-printed drawings, conceiving of his new texts as paintings with—or of—poems, presented as horizontal scrolls, panels, or broadsides.

With The Song of Los as originally conceived, Blake returned to his continental cycle using the same relief-etched print medium but in a painting format. For whatever reason, he changed his mind and decided that his “Africa” and “Asia” needed to be reformatted. He masked one side of the horizontal plate when printing to transform texts into book pages. He executed full-page illustrations on millboard after the text plates and designed them to match in shape and size the plates of America and Europe. In doing so, he appears to have salvaged an experiment he abandoned by extending what he learned about planographic printing from millboard into book production. The fact that The Book of Los and The Book of Ahania are not to Urizen as Experience is to Innocence, but are clearly related parts differently formatted, may have freed Blake from thinking that “Asia” and “Africa” had to match America and Europe exactly. The non-symmetrical relation within the Urizen cycle may have enabled him to reconstruct The Song of Los into a book with two “continents” and fewer than half the number of pages in America or Europe.

Butlin is surely correct that “1795 can be seen as a vital year in Blake’s evolution, that in which his pictorial art finally achieved maturity with works of the highest quality while, conversely, his production of illuminated books suffered a hiatus for over ten years ....” I hope, however, in light of new information about how small Pity was designed and executed, when and how Albion rose was printed, the size of the copper sheet and manner in which it was cut to yield their plates and the plates for The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los, how the small intaglio illuminated plates were printed, how the large color prints evolved and were executed and influenced the Large and Small Book of Designs, and, mostly, how The Song of Los began as texts designed in landscape format and was recreated as a book by the masking of these plates during printing and the inclusion of small color-printed drawings, that the last illuminated books of this period can be thought of as more than “the three relatively unambitious books of 1795” (“Physicality” 6).

Works Cited

Bentley, G. E., Jr. Blake Books. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

—. Blake Records. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Bindman, David. The Complete Graphic Works of William Blake. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

Butlin, Martin. “‘Is This a Private War or Can Anyone Join in?’: A Plea for a Broader Look at Blake’s Color-Printing Techniques.” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 36.2 (fall 2002): 45-49.

—. “A Newly Discovered Watermark and a Visionary’s Way with His Dates.” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 15.2 (fall 1981): 101-03.

—. The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

—. “The Physicality of William Blake: The Large Color Prints of ‘1795.’” Huntington Library Quarterly 52 (1989): 1-18.

Dörrbecker, D. W., ed. William Blake: The Continental Prophecies. Blake’s Illuminated Books, vol. 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press/Blake Trust; London: Tate Gallery/Blake Trust, 1995.

Erdman, David V., ed., with commentary by Harold Bloom. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Newly rev. ed. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1988.

—. The Illuminated Blake. Garden City, NY: Anchor-Doubleday, 1974.

Essick, Robert N. Blake and the Language of Adam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

—. “John Linnell, William Blake, and the Printmaker’s Craft.” Huntington Library Quarterly 46 (1983): 18-32. Also published in Essays on the Blake Followers. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1983.

—. The Separate Plates of William Blake: A Catalogue. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

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—. “A Supplement to The Separate Plates of William Blake: A Catalogue.Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 17.4 (spring 1984): 139-44.

—. William Blake, Printmaker. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Essick, Robert N., and Joseph Viscomi. “Blake’s Method of Color Printing: Some Responses and Further Observations.” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 36.2 (fall 2002): 49-64. Online version, with color illustrations, at the journal’s website: <http://www.blakequarterly.org>.

—. “An Inquiry into William Blake’s Method of Color Printing.” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 35.3 (winter 2001-02): 74-103. Online version, with 81 color illustrations, at the journal’s website: <http://www.blakequarterly.org>.

Gilchrist, Alexander. Life of Blake, “Pictor Ignotus.” 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1863.

Hamlyn, Robin. “William Blake at Work: ‘Every thing which is in Harmony.’” Townsend 12-39.

Keynes, Geoffrey, ed. Blake, Complete Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

McManus, Noa Cahaner, and Joyce H. Townsend. “The Large Colour Prints: Methods and Materials.” Townsend 82-99.

Mitchell, W. J. T. “Visible Language: Blake’s Wond’rous Art of Writing.” Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Morris Eaves and Michael Fischer. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986. 46-86.

Ormsby, Bronwyn, and Joyce H. Townsend, with Brian Singer and John Dean. “The State of Knowledge on William Blake the Painter.” Townsend 40-44.

Phillips, Michael. “Color-Printing Songs of Experience and Blake’s Method of Registration: A Correction.” Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 36.2 (fall 2002): 44-45.

—. William Blake: The Creation of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience from Manuscript to Illuminated Printing. London: British Library, 2000.

Rossetti, William Michael, comp. Rossetti Papers 1862 to 1870. London: Sands & Co., 1903.

Townsend, Joyce H., ed. William Blake: The Painter at Work. London: Tate Publishing; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Viscomi, Joseph. Blake and the Idea of the Book. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

—. “Blake’s Virtual Designs and Reconstruction of The Song of Los.Romanticism on the Net 41-42 (2006). <http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/2006/v/n41-42/013151ar.html>.

—. “The Evolution of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.Huntington Library Quarterly 58.3-4 (1997): 281-344.

The William Blake Archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. <http://www.blakearchive.org>.

Worrall, David, ed. William Blake: The Urizen Books. Blake’s Illuminated Books, vol. 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press/Blake Trust; London: Tate Gallery/Blake Trust, 1995.

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