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An American Original: Mrs. Colman’s Illustrated Printings of Blake’s Poems, 1843-44
Between 1843 and 1845, Pamela Chandler Colman, an American Swedenborgian active in the production of children’s books, was responsible for printing in four separate publications nine different poems from Blake’s Songs of Innocence. 1↤ 1 My discoveries of six of Mrs. Colman’s insertions and of several other early printings of Blake’s poems have been noted in my “Unnoticed Printings of Blake’s Poems, 1825-51,” Blake Newsletter 40 (Spring 1977); with the exception of her insertions of “A Dream,” “The Little Boy lost,” and “The Little Boy Found,” Mrs. Colman’s printings of Blake’s poems have not been noticed previously in Blake scholarship. For other early printings and mentions of Blake helpfully arranged in chronological order, see G. E. Bentley, Jr., William Blake: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 220-69. Taken together, these printings constitute a remarkable “edition” of Blake’s poems, both for their text and for their accompanying illustrations. As we will see, Mrs. Colman did not simply reprint a selection from Wilkinson’s 1839 edition of the Songs or from Cunningham’s Lives as we might expect at this time in America; she apparently used an original copy of Innocence and chose texts which she thought most appropriate for her young readers; she even took the liberty of attributing to Blake a rather saccharine piece entitled “Evening Hymn.” Perhaps more remarkable, most of these poems, taken from Blake’s illuminated pages, are accompanied by illustrations, at least one or two of which seem to have been inspired by Blake’s etched design and which constitute a graphic interpretation of Blake’s Innocence. After presenting the illustrated text of Mrs. Colman’s “edition” of Blake’s poems, I will consider the question of her source text and finally suggest two contexts in which to view her work: the genre of American children’s books in the 1840s and the continuing interest in Blake manifested by American Swedenborgians.
Mrs. Colman’s editorial career began in the 1830s, when her husband, Samuel, established himself as a successful bookseller and publisher in New York City. In addition to his adult publications and his sale of works by other publishers, Samuel Colman began by 1839 to produce children’s books edited, and sometimes written, by his wife. Their most extensive effort to achieve some prominence in the field of children’s literature did not begin until 1843, when the Colmans (who continued to reside and to publish other works in New York) began to publish a number of children’s books in Boston. Some of these productions, especially the original inventions of Mrs. Colman, were published by “S[amuel]. Colman” of Boston, but others, including all those with Blake poems, give on their title pages only “T. H. begin page 5 | ↑ back to top Carter & Co.” of Boston, although they were the joint enterprise of Carter and Samuel Colman.2↤ 2 Samuel and Pamela Colman are considered briefly in both the Dictionary of American Biography and Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography as the parents of the American landscape painter Samuel Colman. My chief source of information about their publishing activities is the National Union Catalogue. Relevant to their New York activities during 1843 and 1844 are J. C. Palmer, Thulia: A Tale of the Antarctic[e] (New York: Samuel Colman, 1843), and a New York edition of The Little Keepsake for 1844 (see my note 5, below). For Samuel Colman’s early publishing activities in New York see “S. Colman’s List of Publications,” appended to Anon., Sunday Morning Reflections (New York: S. Colman, 1839), and his “List of Birthday and Holiday Presents Published by Samuel Colman” appended to Jane Marcet, Willy’s Stories for Young Children (New York: S. Colman, 1839), pp. 143-44. About the New York-Boston connection, one possibility is that the “G. Colman” of Boston listed as publisher of some of Mrs. Colman’s works was a relative who, in some sort of business relationship with Samuel Colman, represented the New York publisher’s interests in Boston.
Clearly the showpiece of the Colman’s juvenile productions—and the one upon which must have depended their greatest hopes for success—was the first of their Boston publications, the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine 3↤ 3 In addition to the monthly and annual states described in the “Prospectus” (illus. 1), the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine was issued in tri-annual volumes, which I have seen at the Wellesley College Library and at the New Church Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts. The magazine is concurrently paginated for the tri-annual and annual volumes, e.g., Blake’s “The Blossom” appears on page 142 of Volume II of the tri-annual volumes, which is also page 286 of the annual volume; my volume and page references are to the tri-annual volumes. (illus. 1). The magazine featured contributions by the genre’s leading authors, and the publishers went to the special expense of having many illustrations especially designed and engraved to accompany particular texts. Unfortunately, the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine seems to have proved a less successful venture than had been hoped, for no numbers were published after the twelve for 1843. As an indication of the public’s disappointing response during that year, we find, in the prefatory notice integral to the third bound volume, the announcement that the next year’s edition, which in fact never appeared, would be reduced in price to $1.00, “trusting thereby to meet the wishes of a much larger number throughout the whole country.”
July 1843 Mrs. Colman seems first to have encountered Blake’s poems in the middle of 1843—probably, as argued in a later section of this essay, in an original but uncolored copy of Innocence alone. She displays Blake’s “Introduction” to Innocence very prominently as the leading piece of the July number (II, No. 3, 73-74), and she appends to the poem a short biography of the author in which she promises future selections from Blake’s “charming, illuminated volume” (illus. 2).
For all Mrs. Colman’s Blake texts we can make here the general observation that they vary from Blake’s original in accidentals of capitalization and punctuation and in the normalizing of many of Blake’s contracted forms, for example “vanish’d” and “pluck’d” in his “Introduction” and “wandring” and “thro’” in “The Little Boy Found.” In Blake’s “Introduction,” our Victorian editor also has altered the “chear” of Blake’s lines 6 and 10 to “cheer” and has added Roman numerals as stanza numbers.
That the Victorian illustration accompanying this printing resembles Blake’s design of his frontispiece to Innocence may result from Mrs. Colman’s access to an original copy of Blake’s work and her deliberate copying of his design (illus. 3). In considering that we may have in 1843 a graphic reinterpretation of Blake’s design, it is important to establish that the editor or publisher has not simply chosen an extant engraving which seemed generally appropriate to the subject matter, as would be the usual procedure in children’s books of the period. In fact, the engraving accompanying Blake’s “Introduction” to Innocence was used at least once in later years, as the cover of Miss [Mary Russell] Mitford’s The Rustic Wreath (Boston, 1849), published by W. J. Reynolds, who also republished several of Mrs. Colman’s original works (illus. 4). But an examination of many of the works Mrs. Colman edited or wrote and of publications by likely firms, especially T. H. Carter & Co., has not revealed an earlier use of the engraving.4↤ 4 I have seen many publications by T. H. Carter and related firms in a unique collection at the John Greene Chandler Memorial at South Lancaster, Mass. Other collections which I have examined include those at the Boston Atheneum, the American Antiquarian Society, the Boston Public Library, Wellesley, and Harvard. Neither have I found any other engraving related closely enough in design so as to suggest that someone in the Carter-Colman business circle was likely to have conceived of thisbegin page 6 | ↑ back to top
August 1843 “The Blossom” from Innocence appeared at the end of the next number of the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine (II, No. 4, 142) (illus. 5). Mrs. Colman has made a drastic emendation of Blake’s lines 6 and 12, which should read “Near my Bosom.” Also, the words “hears you” belong to line 10. That this poem is the last feature in Volume II of the magazine suggests that Mrs. Colman was deliberately beginning one number and ending the next number, and the second tri-annual volume, with Blake’s poems.
September 1843 A version of “Nurse’s Song” from Innocence appeared in the subsequent issue of the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine (III, No. 1, 9) (illus. 6). In none of Blake’s texts is Mrs. Colman’s brazen ear, which so handicaps her as an editor of poetry, more obvious than in her multitude of substantive emendations to this poem, most of which seem to have no special purpose and which serve to destroy Blake’s meter and even his rhyme scheme. We begin with the addition of the indefinite article to the poem’s title, and proceed to the syntactical inversion of the first sentence, which should begin, “When the voices of children are heard” and which should not include “When” at line 3. In the next stanza (Mrs. Colman might be excused for ignoring the stanza divisions which are somewhat unclear on Blake’s illuminated page), we should have “Then” in place of “Now” and “gone down” rather than simply “down” in line 5. In the next line, Blake tells us that the dews “arise,” but Mrs. Colman, not content merely to have them “fall,” tells us that they “fall fast.” To complete the mutilation of this stanza, Mrs. Colman has omitted the repetition of “come” at the beginning of line 7 and has the morning appear in the “east” rather than in the “skies,” which fortunately does nothing further to disturb the rhyme scheme because she has already emended the preceding rhyme word from “arise” to “fast.” This trend of unfortunate emendation, which could only improve, does improve. In the last half of the poem, our editor is content to destroy the final rhymes by changing “bed” to “rest” at the end of line 12 and then by adding “for joy” after a regularized spelling of Blake’s “ecchoed.”
Although Mrs. Colman has not been very careful in attending to the texts of Blake’s “Nurse’s Song,” she has produced an accompanying engraving similar to Blake’s designs for that poem and for the title page of Innocence (illus. 7, 8). I have found neither an earlier nor a later use of the Victorian engraving. In the May issue of the Boys’ and Girls’ begin page 7 | ↑ back to topbegin page 8 | ↑ back to top
October 1843 Blake’s “Laughing Song” from Innocence, with an interesting choice for a companion piece, was the fourth of his poems to appear in successive monthly numbers of the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine (III, No. 2, 66) (illus. 10). Besides emending “hill laughs” to “hills laugh” at line 4, Mrs. Colman has given, instead of the “He” which is quite clear on Blake’s illuminated page, yet a third “ha” at the ends of he second and third stanzas.
1843 It was probably during the latter part of this year that “Mrs. Colman” edited—and her husband and his co-publisher, T. H. Carter offered for sale—The Little Keepsake for 1844,5↤ 5 The Little Keepsake for 1844, ed. Mrs. S. Colman (Boston: T. H. Carter and Co. [copyright 1843]). The NUC (NC 0555861) lists what seems to be another copy of this same work, but which gives “Colman” of “New York” as publisher; this copy, reported by the Boston Public Library, unfortunately has disappeared from that library. which, we learn from their advertisements, was intended primarily as a Christmas and New Year’s gift. Included in this small volume are Blake’s “A Dream” and “A Cradle Song” (illus. 11). In “A Dream,” Mrs. Colman has emended the first words of several lines: “Where” to “When” at line 4, “All” to “Quite” at line 8, and “Do” to “And” at line 10. She has also given “do” for “how” at line 9, and “beetle” for “beetles” at line 19. I have found no other uses of this particular engraving, but it is very similar in style to many illustrations of animals and foliage in the Colman and Carter publications.
“A Cradle Song” is included in a story, “The Baby,” which apparently was written by Mrs. Colman specifically to display Blake’s poem and which reflects her continued enthusiasm for his poems as works which should be known to her young readers (illus. 12). The most substantial emendation is of line 4, which should read “By happy silent moony beams.” Mrs. Colman has also given “weeps” for Blake’s verb “weep” at line 20 and “Thus” for “Thou” at line 27. This engraving, which is not in any event notably similar to Blake’s original illuminations, also appeared with Miss A. A. Gray’s story “Little Charlie” in the Boys’ and Girls’ Library (II, 62). This issue (June 1844) follows the preparation of The Little Keepsake for 1844 by several months and is a good example of the reuse of a design which could fit several narratives; here the design seems less appropriate to Blake’s poem than to Miss Gray’s story, which begins: “‘The Babe will not eat his breakfast; will he, mother?’ said little Laura. ‘No; he will eat nothing. Poor little Charlie! He is very ill.’”
June 1844 During 1844, Mrs. Colman edited the Boys’ and Girls’ Library (Boston: T. H. Carter and Co. [copyright 1844]), which was almost identical begin page 9 | ↑ back to topbegin page 10 | ↑ back to top
July 1844 Mrs. Colman printed “The Lamb” in the next monthly number of the Boys’ and Girls’ Library (II, 87-88) (illus. 14). Instead of small mistakes which might be attributed to careless transcription, we have the substantive emendation of three important lines. Mrs. Colman has altered line 14, which should read “For he calls himself a Lamb,” and the final two lines, both of which should read “Little Lamb God bless thee.”begin page 11 | ↑ back to top
One difference between the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine and the Boys’ and Girls’ Library is that, apparently as an economy measure, the Colmans frequently used engravings which were at hand from their earlier publications and from other sources rather than going to the expense of regularly producing engravings especially for particular texts. In fact, the cherub from the engraving for Blake’s “Introduction” to Innocence in the Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine for July 1843 is used in the successor publication to illustrate a piece about the aeolian harp (III, 48) (illus. 15). The availability of the engraving with which Mrs. Colman accompanies Blake’s “The Lamb” might explain why the lamb is attended in the illustration by a woman rather than by a “child” as in the text of Blake’s poem and in his design. Originally, this engraving may have been prepared as an illustration of Wordsworth’s “The Pet-Lamb” in Poems for the Little Folks (New York: Samuel Colman), p. 38, which is similar in typography and format to Samuel Colman’s New York publications of about 1839. The engraving was later put to at least one less glorious use, as an illustration for the story, “The Dwarf in Search of a Lodging,” in Miss A. A. Gray’s John’s Adventures, or the Little Knight Errant (Boston: S. Colman [copyright 1846 by Mrs. P. Colman]), p. 62.
1844 As in the previous year, Mrs. Colman compiled a small Christmas and New Year’s gift book, the Child’s Gem for 1845 (Boston: T. H. Carter & Co.), in which she included Blake’s “The Little Boy lost” and “The Little Boy Found” from Innocence (illus. 16). In the former poem, Mrs. Colman has added the word “dear” to the first line, and she has made a quite significant alteration in the sense of the poem by substituting “thick” for “away” at line 8. For “The Little Boy Found,” our Victorian editor’s text agrees with Blake’s except for the addition of “he” to line 6.
The Source Text
A case establishing that Mrs. Colman has taken an original copy of Blake’s Innocence as her source text would be substantial support of speculation about Mrs. Colman’s designs as a graphic Victorian reinterpretation of Blake’s art and would add to our interest in her various emendations and in her enthusiastic response to Blake’s illuminated work. Similarities between the Victorian designs and Blake’s originals suggest Mrs. Colman’s use of an original copy; further, we can establish that she had access to Copy U of Innocence in New York in 1843, and we can discount the possibility that she has used earlier letterpress versions of the poems as her source. ↤ 6 Sir Geoffrey Keynes and Edwin Wolf II, William Blake’s Illuminated Books, A Census (New York: Grolier Club, 1953), p. 17. This copy is described in detail by Thomas E. Connally in “Songs of Innocence, Keynes (1921) Copy U, Keynes-Wolf (1953) Copy U,” Blake Newsletter 28 (Spring 1974), 88-89.
Keynes gives a short history of Innocence (U):On the flyleaf now found with Copy U, which is in the Houghton Library, Harvard University, is Hooper’s begin page 12 | ↑ back to top
Formerly in the possession of Robert Balmanno, an English journalist, who emigrated to New York. He had been friendly with Stothard and Fuseli and other artists who knew Blake, and may have had the books directly from him. Afterwards in the collection of E. W. Hooper, of Boston.6
Although an investigation of the entire history of Copy U is not called for here, we should like to know enough about Balmanno’s situation in New York to estimate the likelihood of his association with Mrs. Colman. I have been able to piece together some idea of his American career from such secondary sources as the NUC, Allibone’s Dictionary, which includes articles on Robert and Mary Balmanno written in 1858, and the New York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America (1957), which relies upon a search of records at the National Academy of Design and the American Institute.7↤ 7 S[amuel] Austin Allibone, Dictionary of English Literature (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1886); the writer of the article on Balmanno states that his account was written in 1858. George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860 (New Haven: Yale, 1957). First, we can be certain that Robert Balmanno (1780-1861, dates given in the NUC) had emigrated to New York by 1843, the first year of Mrs. Colman’s Blake publications. A date before 1835 is suggested by Mrs. Balmanno’s “three poems written for special occasions (July 3-4, 1835) at Geneva, N.Y.” which were added to a copy of her Poems (London, 1830; NUC NB0074878), and we know that in 1843 she was exhibiting her works at the National Academy (NYHS Dictionary). Although Robert Balmanno actually made his living in New York as “a clerk at the customhouse” (NYHS Dictionary), by the later years of the 1840s and into the next decade both of the Balmannos occupied places of at least some small note in artistic and literary circles. Mary Balmanno published various short poems, continued to exhibit her still life paintings, produced “the beautiful drawing of all the flowers mentioned by Shakespeare, which excited so much attention at the New York Crystal Palace in 1853-54” (Allibone), and in 1858 published Pen and Pencil (NUC NB0074877) “illustrated with cuts, a majority of which were drawn on the block by her own hand” (Allibone). This last work was published by D. Appleton & Co. as was her earlier edition of Thomas Moore’s poems (1850, NUC NM0751581), a fact which suggests a specific connection with Mrs. Colman, whose Innocence of Childhood was also published by Appleton in 1850 (NUC NC0555851). Robert Balmanno’s literary career was quite similar. His first American work was published in 1846 (NUC NB0074881), and two years later his Stoke Church and Park (NUC NB0074882) was printed with illustrations engraved after his own designs. In addition to his few short works in the NUC, we are told by Allibone that he “contributed many articles to the London periodicals and to the New York Knickerbocker, Evening Post, and Graham’s (Phila.) Magazine.”
Although the preceding evidence documents the Balmannos’ literary activities only after 1843, it seem reasonable to assume that their association with literary circles probably began soon after their arrival in New York. It would then seem quite possible that by 1843 the Balmannos may have found their way to Samuel Colman’s successful publishing house on Broadway which was “one of the first in this country to publish illustrated books in color; and which became a gathering place for literary men and artists” (Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, III, 546), probably including Longfellow and the dramatist Willis, whom Colman published (Dictionary of American Biography) (illus. 17). There they may have loaned Blake’s illustrated volume to the publisher’s begin page 13 | ↑ back to top wife, who was then editing an illustrated children’s magazine. Of course Innocence (U) may have come to Mrs. Colman in a multitude of other ways; it is even possible that Balmanno had sold Copy U by 1843 and that she had it on loan from someone else, possibly her brother-in-law, William, a publisher of prints who was then preparing to open “the first gallery in the city for the sale of pictures” (ACAB). It is the combination of Mrs. Colman’s access to Copy U of Innocence together with her production of designs similar to Blake’s originals which most strongly supports the case that her source was this original copy of Innocence.
The remainder of the case for Mrs. Colman’s use of Innocence (U) depends upon our exclusion of other possible sources. We can first discount the possibility that Mrs. Colman has used earlier letterpress versions of the poems. Wilkinson’s (1839) and Tulk’s (1843 or later) complete editions of the Songs were the only letterpress sources to include all or even most of the poems which Mrs. Colman prints. Tulk’s edition of only twelve copies was printed on paper watermarked 1843 and may well have been produced after Mrs. Colman’s first printing of a Blake poem, in July 1843; neither do we have any evidence that a copy was available in America.8↤ 8 Sir Geoffrey Keynes describes the two known surviving copies of Tulk’s edition (now at the British Museum and Liverpool University) in “Blake, Tulk and Garth Wilkinson,” The Library, 4th ser. 26 (1945), 190-92. We do know that at least one copy of Wilkinson’s edition had made its way across the Atlantic by 1843, for at a time almost exactly contemporaneous with Mrs. Colman’s first printings, we find in the New Church Magazine for Children (Boston: August-December 1843) five of Blake’s Songs given in a text following Wilkinson’s almost exactly;9↤ 9 Cited in my “Unnoticed Printings.” The copy of Wilkinson’s edition used by the Swedenborgians in 1843 was probably available to them a year earlier, when another Boston Swedenborgian publication, the New Jerusalem Magazine, reprinted Wilkinson’s text of “The Lamb” (16 (September, 1842), 40). copies belonging to Emerson and T. W. Higginson may also have been available at this early date.10↤ 10 In “The 1839 Wilkinson Edition of Blake’s Songs in Transcendental America,” Blake Newsletter 16 (Winter, 1970-71), Edward J. Rose discusses two copies, those of Emerson and T. W. Higginson, which may have been in America by 1843. Mrs. Colman’s texts have no recognizable pattern of similarity to the punctuation, capitalization, stanza divisions and other emendations by which Wilkinson’s texts differ from Blake’s originals. It is true that Mrs. Colman was not particularly careful with many of her texts: for example, in Tennyson’s “The May Queen” (Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine, II, No. 1, 12-13) she gives only one “black” in line 5 and contracts his “woven” to “wov’n” at line 25, both of which emendations adversely affect the meter. Yet the text in substance and accidentals clearly shows that she was cognizant, if not particularly respectful, of Tennyson’s printed text,11↤ 11 I have compared Mrs. Colman’s text to the American edition published by W. D. Ticknor (Boston, 1842). and I think it reasonable to suppose that even someone who has treated Blake’s “Nurse’s Song” as she has would betray some familiarity with Wilkinson’s version if that were her source.
Another possibility is that Mrs. Colman may have seen a manuscript transcription by a third party, who would then be held responsible for the various emendations. A third party could even have been responsible for sketching Blake’s designs and thus for providing Mrs. Colman with a semblance of Blake’s original. Although it is possible that Mrs. Colman may have seen a manuscript which has not been traced in Blake scholarship, I know of only one transcription—this one complete with detailed copies of Blake’s designs—which eventually found its way to America, but its text differs in particulars from that given by Mrs. Colman.12↤ 12 G. E. Bentley, Jr., “The Contemporary Facsimiles of Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 64 (1970), 450-63. Copy “Alpha” (c. 1805) remained in England until 1958. The history of copy “Beta” (c. 1821), which was made from copy “Alpha,” is not known before its sale in San Francisco in 1965. A final possibility is that Mrs. Colman had seen an original copy of Innocence or of the complete Songs but not Copy U. No other copies are reported by Keynes (Census) asbegin page 14 | ↑ back to top
We must consider briefly some of the obvious problems and questions which remain in connection with the hypothesis that the designs in Mrs. Colman’s publications derive from Blake’s original illuminations. How might the design have been transmitted from Mrs. Colman in New York to T. H. Carter in Boston? Can we know who might have done the designing and engraving? A study of the signed engravings in the “Boys’ and Girls’” series of 1843 and 1844 shows the services both of Boston engravers (John Greene Chandler, George T. Devereux, Fernando E. Worcester) and of New York engravers (Alexander Anderson, Joline J. Butler, Marx M. Hart, and William Howland).13↤ 13 For information on these engravers see the NYHS Dictionary and Sinclair Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, 1670-1870, 2 vols. (Princeton Univ. Press, 1968). These facts put us no closer to knowing who actually designed or engraved the illustrations to the Blake poems; none of these engravers seems to have been very active as a designer, and none of the signed engravings bears a particular technical resemblance to the Victorian illustrations of Blake’s poems—but they do indicate that at least some of the designs and engravings issued from New York. If the engravings illustrating Blake’s “Introduction” and “Nurse’s Song” were prepared in New York, we can suppose, given her prominent and deliberate display of Blake’s poems and the special production of the accompanying engraving, that Mrs. Colman may have shown the designer Blake’s original with instructions about how she would like text and illustration arranged on the page.
American Children’s Books at Mid-Century
We should also consider the immediate context in which Mrs. Colman’s readers encountered Blake’s poems. The Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine is generally representative of all four publications considered here. Although the Blake printings have previously gone unnoticed, the work has a place in the bibliography of American literature for the first printing of a Hawthorne story. In the August 1843 issue, also containing the bowdlerized version of “The Blossom,” we find Hawthorne’s “Little Daffydowndilly” (II, No. 4, 264-69), the story of a boy by this name who, through various encounters with a rather irksome character named Mr. Toil, learns that “diligence is not a whit more toilsome than sport or idleness” (269). Even more important for its contemporary reputation, the magazine had as contributors some of the most popular writers of juvenile stories and verse (illus. 18). Jacob Abbott (1803-79) was a prolific writer of moral works (48 pages in the NUC), most notably The Young Christian (1832 and numerous editions thereafter) and of the extended juvenile series, the Rollo and Lucy books. Abbott had moved to New York in 1843, and his contributions may well have resulted from his personal association with the Colmans (DAB). T. S. Arthur (1809-85) was another prolific writer of children’s books (36 pages in the begin page 15 | ↑ back to top NUC), although his greatest fame came from Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw There (1854), a volume which enjoyed sales in the 1850s second only to those of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (DAB). We should note that Arthur manifested an interest in Blake after his involvement with Mrs. Colman’s publications; his The Brilliant: A Gift Book for 1850 (New York: 1850) included the text of “The Tyger” and a lengthy account of Blake’s life taken from Cunningham (120-26). Later, Arthur repeated an anecdote from Cunningham in “Death of Blake, the Painter,” Arthur’s Home Magazine, 3 (March 1854), 220. The publications of Lydia Howard Sigourney (1791-1865) may have exceeded those of Abbott and Arthur combined, in number if not in length (ACAB, Vol. I, 154). In the Dictionary of American Biography we read that “it is almost impossible to find a number of one of the popular magazines of the thirties or forties that does not contain a poem or an article by her”; indeed, “the inevitable regularity with which her poetic tribute followed the demise of any prominent person led a wag to declare that she had added a new terror to death.” Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867) was on one occasion praised by her co-contributor, Hawthorne, as “our most truthful novelist” (DAB). A series of novels published from 1825-35 and marked by “extravagent and imitative romanticism” (DAB) had established her as perhaps the most popular woman author in the country, and she continued with increasingly moral works until 1857. The only other contributors to the magazine noted in American biography (DAB and ACAB) are Hannah Flagg Gould (1789-1865), and Frances Sargent Osgood (1811-50), poets whose chief works were short, innocuous contributions to magazines and annuals. In addition, Miss Gould edited several juvenile works in this genre; Mrs. Osgood did some similar editorial work and published several volumes of verse on floral topics.
Although Mrs. Colman apparently had managed to assemble for her magazines and annuals the work of many well known writers, their contributions might seem strikingly undifferentiated to the modern reader. What we might see as an oppressive lack of innovation is not really so very surprising, for the surge of juvenile literature in the thirties and forties had actually begun with a formal code set for authors and editors by the American Sunday School Union, which published 6,000,000 volumes between 1824 and 1830. Contributions were to be adapted to the children’s level, to adhere to high standards of style and content, to have an American character, and to be morally and religiously impeccable, although non-denominational14↤ 14 John Tebbell, A History of Book Publishing in the United States, 2 vols. (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1972), I, 531. (illus. 19).
This code and the strict traditions which flowed from it may help us to understand Mrs. Colman’s treatment of Blake’s poems. On one level, some of her emendations may be understandable attempts to present Blake’s poems as correct and instructive models of the English language—as any work in her collection might have been expected to serve. This requirement certainly explains her addition of heavy punctuation as well as many of her alterations of capitalization and spelling, for example her regularization of “chear” (“Introduction” to Innocence) to the standard Victorian American spelling, “cheer.” Especially in the case of Blake, whose text was difficult to read and whose works werebegin page 16 | ↑ back to top almost unknown, Mrs. Colman—in the best tradition of nearly all of Blake’s nineteenth century editors—apparently felt an almost complete freedom in bringing his works into conformity with the established code. An innocent but substantial example is the final line of “Nurse’s Song”; Blake’s “And all the hills ecchoed” may have been intended to leave the echo pointedly unexplained, but Mrs. Colman apparently felt it necessary to make explicit for her young readers that the hills echo “for joy,” lest they think otherwise. Similarly, the “dews of night” in the same poem might be said to “fall fast” rather than to “arise” because Mrs. Colman has in mind some scientific explanation which she believes accurate for the phenomenon of dew (her explanation seems no closer than Blake’s to the scientific fact that dew condenses). Attention to the facts of Scripture may explain the emendation of Blake’s “For he calls himself a Lamb:” (“The Lamb,” line 14) to “He is called himself a Lamb.” Mrs. Colman is correct in that Jesus never calls himself a lamb, although he is often so named, e.g. John 1: 29. As for the illustrations, the piper and cherub of Blake’s frontispiece are draped according to popular stereotypes, while the angel is given a small harp and the shepherd a faithful dog, because they serve, as does Blake’s poem, as proper introductions to a series of moral poems and tales. About the emendation to “A Blossom,” we can easily understand Mrs. Colman’s categorical exclusion of the word “bosom”; this emendation also suggests her idea of a Victorian order for the natural world as she would have the blossom wish the sparrow and robin to be “In the greenwood tree” rather than “Near my bosom.”
Swedenborgian Interest in Blake
Mrs. Colman’s unique “edition” of Blake’s poems should also be understood in the context of American Swedenborgianism. “Samuel Colman” and “Mrs. Pamela C. Colman” of New York had joined the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem in 1833, and in succeeding years Colman advertised and sold many of Swedenborg’s works and such Swedenborgian collaterals as the New Jerusalem Magazine. 15↤ 15 A Sketch of the History of the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem, with a list of its members (Boston: John C. Regan, 1873), p. 84. “S. Colman’s List of Publications,” op. cit., p. 9. That Mrs. Colman’s Swedenborgian interests continued after 1839 is clear from her Innocence of Childhood (New York: Appleton, 1850), which was reviewed and advertised in Swedenborgian periodicals and which includes fairly direct references to Swedenborg’s teachings although the master’s name is not mentioned.16↤ 16 See especially pp. 11-24 for Mrs. Colman’s Swedenborgian interpretation of “Innocence.” A short review praising Mrs. Colman for having “managed to interweave some of the choicest truths and lessons of the New Church” into “a pleasant vein of fiction” appeared in the New Church Repository, 1 (New York, 1850), p. 50. Advertisements listing the work appeared on the paper cover of another New York Swedenborgian Journal, The Herald of Light, e. g., the back cover of 2, No. 1 (May 1858). Indeed it may well have been through the Swedenborgian connection that Colman and T. H. Carter came together to publish the volumes which are the objects of our study. Carter had joined the Boston Society in 1821 and continued as an important member in subsequent years.17↤ 17 History of the Boston Society, pp. 82, 15, 27-28, 73. The fact of the Colmans’, and the Carters’, Swedenborgianism might itself seem a circumstance unrelated to their printing of Blake’s poems except for the remarkable coincidence that almost every other printing of Blake’s poems in America before the time of Gilchrist seems to have depended upon various Swedenborgians.18↤ 18 All of the American reprintings included in my “Unnoticed Printings” are of Swedenborgian origin. T. S. Arthur, whose works I have mentioned in my text, was a Swedenborgian, as was Mrs. D. L. Child, the author of the popular Good Wives, which included sketches of Blake and Flaxman. Longfellow’s printings in The Estray (1847) may have had a source with Samuel Colman, who was one of his New York publishers before 1845. Henry James, Sr., had the poems which he reprinted in The Harbinger (1848) from Garth Wilkinson. All these coincidences may have resulted from the fact that so many Swedenborgians were involved in publishing, but I think that the evidence of specific Swedenborgian statements about Blake, especially the American view expressed in articles about Blake and Flaxman in the New Jerusalem Magazine (1831),19↤ 19 “Memoir of Flaxman the Sculptor” and “Memoirs of William Blake,” New Jerusalem Magazine, 5 (1831-32), pp. 153-60, 192-99. suggests that their Swedenborgianism gave these individuals a special interest in sustaining the memory of Blake.
Unlike more conventional rationalists of the nineteenth century, the Swedenborgians had no quarrel with what the editor of the New Jerusalem Magazine called Blake’s “continual intercourse with spirits” (p. 193). Swedenborg himself had conversed frequently with spirits and had been privileged to visit their heavens and hells on many occasions. The very fact that Blake had spiritual visions argued for the existence of a spiritual world, the basic tenet of the Swedenborgian world view. Blake’s error, they believed, was “the strange use he made of this intercourse,” and it was seen in contrast to Flaxman’s rational, Swedenborgian interpretation of his spiritual vision:
But while Flaxman believed in the reality of a spiritual world, and in the actual and personal existence of spirits, as fully as Blake, in him this belief had nothing in it or with it of unregulated enthusiasm or of wild phantasy; he believed, and he knew why and what he believed, . . . But it was not so with Blake. He was gifted with perhaps an equal talent, and he appears to have embraced some of the peculiar opinions of Flaxman, but not understandingly; and these truths were, in his case, little more than broken parts of a system of which he knew not the unity and coherence; and they were mingled with falsities and made to minister to his self-conceit, and grievously distorted by the false medium through which he saw them. (p. 193)Although Blake’s interpretation of his visions was misguided, the editor believed that the worth of the visions themselves was to be acknowledged:
We do not say that their [the visions’] influence was destroyed or entirely perverted, for there was enough in his character to justify the hope that this was not the case; nevertheless, our readers will find in the following account of him frequent occasions for pity and regret. (p. 193)
We should add that this same magazine was, some ten years later, the first American publication (with the exception of American editions of Cunningham’s Lives) to reprint one of Blake’s poems, “The Lamb,” in September 1842 (p. 40). Further, in 1843 and 1844 the New Church Magazine for Children reprinted several of Blake’s Songs. Despite their criticism of Blake’s excesses in interpreting his spiritual vision, the American Swedenborgians may well have agreed with J. J. Garth Wilkinson’s argument, in the preface to his edition of 1839, that at least Blake’s Innocence represented a vision of the eternal state of childhood in accord with Swedenborg’s teachings.
Mrs. Colman had joined the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem on 7 April 1833, only a little more than a year after the articles about Flaxman and Blake appeared in the Society’s publication, the New Jerusalem Magazine, and that her husband was later a New York distributor of that periodical also suggests begin page 17 | ↑ back to top that she may have known the articles. Mrs. Colman may be sharing the special interest of the other Boston Swedenborgians in sustaining Blake’s memory when she chooses to introduce so prominently to her nineteenth century readers the poems of Blake, whom, in accord with the editors of the New Jerusalem Magazine, she associates with Flaxman in her brief biographical sketch.
Mrs. Colman’s Swedenborgianism also offers one explanation of her emendations to Blake’s poems and illustrations. That she gives “the Lord” instead of Blake’s “God” in the penultimate line of “The Lamb” may possibly reflect a habit of Swedenborgian expression,20↤ 20 See Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion, Section 81. but otherwise there is little evidence of Swedenborgian influence in her emendations. Although many of her small emendations are certainly due more to carelessness and to her insensitivity to rhyme and meter than to a deliberate, philosophical interpretation, a critical predisposition against Blake’s “unregulated enthusiasm” and “wild phantasy” may have increased her disregard for the authority of Blake’s given text. As for the designs, Mrs. Colman may have agreed with Blake that his arrangement of the piper and the angel were an appropriate illustration of his “Introduction” to Innocence, but instead of the naked and energetic figures which Blake may have seen in the excesses of his “unregulated enthusiasm,” Mrs. Colman has seen fit to present his design in a much more conventional and rationally acceptable manner. We should add that however strongly Mrs. Colman may have felt about the supposed Swedenborgian content of Blake’s vision of innocence, she probably would not in any event have made overtly Swedenborgian references in her emendations or in her short biographical sketch of Blake, for such reference would have violated the requirements of non-denominationalism. The reader familiar with Swedenborg’s writings can recognize as Swedenborgian the references in her publications to “Use” or to “Divine Providence,”21↤ 21 E.g., T. S. Arthur’s little story “The Delight of Use,” Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine, I, No. 3, 90-94, and a Swedenborgian analysis of the “use” of conundrums and riddles according to the concept of “Divine Providence” by “W,” Boys’ and Girls’ Library, I, No. 1, 31-32. Mrs. Colman’s contributions seem free of Swedenborgian coloration. but these are presented in such a way as to be consistent with the standard nineteenth-century Protestant view of the world. The point is that just because she makes no overt connection between Blake and Swedenborg, we should not discount the extent to which Mrs. Colman may have shared in Swedenborgian interest in Blake’s life and work and the possible significance of this interest in her decision to display prominently a number of Blake’s poems.
In Mrs. Colman we have a person who, in the years of relative public neglect which preceded the Blake revival of the 1860s, found the illuminated poems of Innocence so interesting that she displayed them prominently in her publications and possibly had some of Blake’s original illustrations redesigned and engraved, thus providing us with a unique graphic interpretation of Blake’s art. The context of her little “edition” is important because it indicates some of the various channels by which Blake’s reputation survived. We see the fortuitous coming together of a copy of Blake’s poems, probably Innocence (U), with a publisher, and we see that Blake’s poems were of interest chiefly because of their openness to interpretation as lyrics intended for the delight and edification of children. Finally, Mrs. Colman’s printings reflect the special Swedenborgian interest in Blake’s life and works which helped to sustain Blake’s reputation during the years before Gilchrist.begin page 18 | ↑ back to top