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The Early Marketing of The Grave in London and Boston

AS is well documented, Robert Cromek had a great talent for marketing that emerged in his promotion of The Grave.11. In their facsimile of The Grave, Robert N. Essick and Morton D. Paley call Cromek “an energetic promoter” (Robert Blair’s The Grave, Illustrated by William Blake: A Study with Facsimile [London: Scolar Press, 1982] 19). See also G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) [hereafter BR(2)] 208. He ran a two-year advertising campaign in more than ten newspapers and magazines across England and Scotland. These included the Birmingham Gazette and Birmingham Commercial Herald (July 1806), Scots Magazine (July 1807), Artist (August 1807), Monthly Literary Recreations (September 1807), Literary Panorama and Manchester Gazette (November 1807), Wakefield Star and West-Riding Advertiser (May 1808), Monthly Magazine, Athenaeum Magazine, and Bristol Gazette, and Public Advertiser (June 1808), and Monthly Literary Advertiser (July 1808).22. Except for the Scots Magazine, these references are found in BR(2). See David Groves, “‘Great and Singular Genius’: Further References to Blake (and Cromek) in the Scots Magazine,” Blake 39.1 (summer 2005): 47. As the list of subscribers in the published volume signifies, Cromek did not limit himself to the literary and artistic markets of London and was ready to find new subscribers across Britain.

If there was anything strange about his marketing strategy, however, it was his initial neglect of London for Birmingham during the summer of 1806. But a previously undiscovered announcement, which was reprinted two times, suggests that Cromek was very mindful of the London marketplace that summer: 3. “Modern Discoveries, and Improvements in Arts, Sciences, and Literature,” Universal Magazine 6 (July 1806): 47-48; “Monthly Retrospect of the Fine Arts,” Monthly Magazine (Aug. 1806): 61; “Intelligence,” Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review 3 (Oct. 1806): 559. The Universal Magazine version is quoted above, with the numbers in brackets appearing in the Monthly Magazine and Monthly Anthology. In accidentals, these versions differ from the Universal Magazine notice in capitals, lineation, punctuation, and the use of the phrase “the [as opposed to “their”] vigorous expression.” More significantly, the Monthly Magazine and Monthly Anthology leave out the reference to the patronage of Royal Academy members, deleting “the principal members of the Royal Academy, and.”

Mr. Cromek intends to publish in the course of the ensuing winter a series of 12 [twelve] Engravings, etched in a very superior style of excellence by Louis Schiavonetti, from the original inventions of William Blake, illustrative of Blair’s popular Poem “The Grave.” In consequence of the originality of the designs and their vigorous expression, the work has been honoured with the patronage of the principal members of the Royal Academy, and the first professors of art in the metropolis, and by the subscriptions of upwards of 300 [250] of the most distinguished amateurs.3
In London, the notice ran in the July issue of the Universal Magazine and the August issue of the Monthly Magazine. It is the only reference to Blake in the Universal Magazine,44. The Universal Magazine 11 (Feb. 1809): 132-39, would give a very favorable review of Cromek’s Reliques of Robert Burns. and was published in a section entitled “Modern Discoveries, and Improvements in Arts, Sciences, and Literature,” alongside other forthcoming books. In the Monthly Magazine, it appeared in its “Monthly Retrospect of the Fine Arts,” which included prints and books with prints. Since the text is nearly identical in both magazines, the announcement was presumably written by Cromek and not the editors. It is also found in the October 1806 Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review, which reprinted the Monthly Magazine version in its “Intelligence” section that provided notices regarding British books. This notice may be the earliest reference to Blake in America, and it might explain the presence of J. Brown from Boston in the list of the subscribers to The Grave. While it is possible that Cromek had his eye on the potential market across the Atlantic, it is more likely, given Blair’s popularity in America, that the Grave project simply appealed to the Boston editor, who reprinted it without either Blake’s or Cromek’s knowledge.

The biggest question raised by the announcements is why the number of subscribers was reduced from 300 in the Universal Magazine to 250 in the Monthly Magazine version. Perhaps the Monthly Magazine version was written first but published later. This idea would accord with the fact that the number of subscribers seems to have risen steadily. In November 1807 Cromek reported getting seventy-two “at Manchester in less than 3 Weeks” (BR(2) 249), and the change in number in the announcements implies that he was working at a similar clip in the summer of 1806. By the time the book was published there would be “578 subscribers for 688 copies.”55. G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Books (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977) 529. Despite Cromek’s success in garnering subscriptions, the idea that the volume would be published in the “ensuing winter” suggests that he envisioned a very truncated production schedule, meaning that the famous portrait of Blake was likely not part of the original plan, since Blake did not sit for Thomas Phillips until April 1807 (BR(2) 232). Finally, the newly discovered notices offer some evidence that Blake was aware of how The Grave was being marketed. They were the only advertisements for The Grave to reference “the most distinguished amateurs,” and Blake’s first recorded reference to the English amateur came in his letter to the Monthly Magazine (1 July 1806) defending Fuseli’s painting of Dante’s Ugolino. As Paley has recently stressed, “amateur” was still considered a novel, if not foreign, import in English discussion of the arts, and Blake’s parody of it in his notebook quip begin page 110 | back to top “The Cunning sures & the Aim at yours” may have been spurred by its association with Cromek’s fashionable marketing language.66. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, newly rev. ed. (New York: Anchor-Random House, 1988) 510. As Paley observes, the first recorded use of “amateur” was in 1784, and it was still new enough in 1803 that Rees’s Cyclopædia had to gloss it (“Blake’s Poems on Art and Artists,” Blake and Conflict, ed. Sarah Haggarty and John Mee [Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009] 214).

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