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Grant’s “Problems in Understanding”: Some Marginalia

He started the controversy,
he gave the challenge,
and has fled from it.
—Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, II

Under a slightly misleading title, John E. Grant has provided us (1) with a forceful and impressive attack on some of the reviewers of William Blake’s Designs to Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts”: A Complete Edition, as well as (2) with a—this time singlehanded—new and revised version of some of the chapters in the introduction to that magnum opus which, in collaboration with Edward J. Rose, Michael J. Tolley, and David V. Erdman, he had edited for the Clarendon Press at Oxford. Grant has divided the 57 pages of the typescript of his essay which were known to me when I was asked for some comments by the editors of this journal into three separate parts. Of these, one is concerned with the reproductions of Blake’s Night Thoughts watercolors (NT), the other two mostly with problems of their interpretation and with revisions of the chalcographic reports in the “Introduction” to the Clarendon volumes. I do not share the editors’ decision that all of this material warrants publication in its present state; if printed, however, Grant’s second and third sections will certainly be good for yet another extensive review. Nevertheless, I have tried to keep the following notes, if not to a minimum, then at least to a reasonable proportion, and they will therefore deal almost exclusively with the first section of Grant’s essay, which contains most of the criticisms of my own 1982 review of the Clarendon NT edition.

Reading this section, one is surprised to find that—though dissatisfied with many of the reviews of his publication—Grant seems rather to agree with than to contradict his reviewers: there is in his article much talk about the unreliability of the reproductions in the Complete Edition, and there is relatively little (and perhaps even less than in a review such as that by Dennis M. Welch and Joseph S. Viscomi) which attempts to salvage those halftone and color offset plates from the often harsh criticisms they have been subjected to.

Grant begins by telling us about his own and his co-editors’ disappointment “with the overall quality of the 800 reproductions in [the] massive two-volume edition published in 1980,” and he goes on to say that “neither the color nor the black and white reproductions are, on average, commendable.” This might seem a bit startling when stated by one of the three editors who, after all, were responsible for the publication now under discussion, and yet up to this point this is indeed in complete harmony with all those of the scholarly reviews of the Clarendon volumes that were based on a firsthand experience and an examination of the original water-colors at the British Museum Print Room (see Bindman 1981; Hagstrum 1982; Lincoln 1981; Paley 1982; Welch & Viscomi 1981; and Dörrbecker 198211 These abbreviated references, which I shall use throughout, can easily be completed with the help of the Bibliography in Grant’s response, above. ). The same cannot be said of what immediately follows this concession: if the reproductions are not commendable, it must seem (at least for an art historian) a strange euphemism to go on with proclaiming that “their shortcomings should [not] be seriously misleading” (italics mine). Yet this sort of reasoning, or rather, wishful thinking, is sadly characteristic of the whole of Grant’s response to his critics.

The purpose of his article, Grant says, is to clarify “standards and deviations from them,” so that in the future we can “assess the edition in a way that will advance scholarship.” From Grant’s point of view, this is also what has not been achieved by any of the many reviews published between 1980 and early 1983. Where such a discussion of standards of reliability is advocated, however, one might expect some more general remarks concerning those criteria which are likely to help us with differentiating (at least a bit) between the varying degrees of what, in passing, Grant mentions as the usual unreliability of the plates in art books. His reviewers, no doubt, were all well “aware that in most [though obviously not all] art books the reproductions are untrustworthy.” Yet, unlike the editors of the NT edition, some of the reviewers actually took pains to establish the precise extent of deviation from the originals in the publication they had been asked to describe and evaluate by comparing the published plates with the watercolors in London. And, though the examples chosen by the various reviewers differed widely, all the resulting reviews agreed that there is considerable deviation between the watercolors and their photographic replicas as printed by the Clarendon Press.

Despite his promise that he will not “defend the Clarendon edition where it is indeed deficient,” Grant makes it clear right from the start that he will be discussing these criticisms and lamentations of his colleagues only in a very specific sense. Thus, he asserts that his reviewers have simply missed the point, and he does “not believe that they have succeeded in dealing either with many important aspects of the edition or of Blake’s pictures as they are reproduced therein.” This is a sentence which deserves to be looked at carefully because it seems to contain a clue to the governing principles of Grant’s longish paper. Being part of his introduction, it serves a fourfold purpose: (1) to discredit the intellectual integrity of his critics with the readers of his apologia; (2) to claim for himself (and, possibly, begin page 186 | back to top for his fellow-editors as well as the few truly favorable reviewers like Halsband or John Russell Taylor of The Times) exactly that “elevated” status of the ideal viewer of Blake’s designs which, as a concept of criticism, had been justly exposed as “an annoying tic” in Blake studies in W.J.T. Mitchell’s review (Mitchell 1982, p. 203); (3) to make it seem only natural then, that on the following pages he sidesteps many of the issues which had been brought forward in the reviews (see below for some examples); and (4) to establish a curious world-turned-upside-down view of the respective roles of author and reader-reviewer—according to John E. Grant, even in a scholarly publication it is the author who is to decide about the standards by which his work may, or may not be evaluated, not the audience, which either will have to be content to follow the author-editors, serving as their claqueurs (though paying, not being paid for serving this function as usual), or will be discarded as blockheads who cannot even discover all those “many important aspects” that have been kindly presented to them at a mere $365. Now, if I enter into a scholarly discourse with a set of false premises in mind, I shall of course be able to “prove” most anything. If Grant is unwilling to actually speak to the point—which in this case, alas!, had been made and dictated by the reviewers—he refuses to face up to a discussion in favor of mere polemics, and he is certainly not complying with the demands made on scholarly integrity with those “severe thoughts on scholarly procedures” of his which I had quoted in the final footnote to my review.

By way of a reply to Grant’s attack, this might seem all that really needs to be said, the rest being perfectly clear to anyone who has read not only the above essay, but also the reviews by Welch and Viscomi, Hagstrum, Mitchell, Paley, Bindman, and myself. Since I, too, had not read them all when Grant’s typescript arrived, I think it might still be worthwhile to reply in more detail to some of the statements in Grant’s response.

Concerning my own criticism of the quality of the color plates in the Complete Edition (and much the same might have been said of the criticisms by Bindman, Paley, and Welch and Viscomi, who all have made themselves guilty of similar “procedural errors”), Grant insists (1) that they are neither trustworthy nor generally useful, being “wrong from one-third to two-thirds of the time” (though in another instance Grant kindly concedes that at least “in about half the cases Dörrbecker complains about . . . there is something seriously amiss in the reproduction”), (2) that they pay no attention to the problems of “color averaging,” and (3) that I should have looked at the “difference” which an admitted mistake makes for the design as a whole rather than at the mistake in isolation. The first of these points is not argued, but merely asserted; I am fully aware of course, that whether my statements concerning the discrepancies between the color reproductions and the original watercolors are “trustworthy” or not, cannot really be decided in any other place than the Print Room. Grant’s quest for an evaluation of the exact amount of harm done to single designs by the specific mistakes in the reproductions—which he admits are present—to me seems quite absurd, especially since the quest is proposed by someone who should have minimized the very mistakes which he now proclaims a rewarding subject for further studies; moreover, the procedure recommended by Grant is sufficiently impractical even in a long review to allow this suggestion to be passed over in silence. It is true, however, that I ought to have developed my argument somewhat further where I had only drawn attention to the fact that “if just one color comes off wrong from a reproduction, this causes a distortion in the whole of the color composition which is unmendable” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 132).

In his eagerness to vindicate the Oxford publication, Grant freely admits that he read “the 1972 and 1976 [sic] theses by Hill and Mulhallen,” i.e., the only two full-length monographs which previously existed on the subject of his research, “only recently.”22 Karen A. Gabbett-Mulhallen’s dissertation had—correctly—been listed for the year 1975 on p. 83, item 84, of the “Checklist of Studies and Reproductions” in vol. 1 of the Clarendon edition, while Gillian M. Hill’s 1972 Exeter Ph.D. thesis was not even mentioned there. It had been included, however, in Bentley’s checklist of Blake dissertations which was printed in whole number 49 of this journal. Grant himself gives the correct date for Mulhallen’s thesis in a different paragraph of his rebuke; it has been generally “available for study” since at least 1979 through University Microfilms International, but probably would have been available to the editors much earlier if they had asked the author for permission to use her unpublished study in preparation for their own introduction and commentary on the NT series. He now believe[s]” that they both “would have been much more effective if the authors had been able to benefit by the kinds of awareness now available in the 1980 Clarendon edition.” None of his reviewers, however, did in the least attempt to dispute this claim for the importance of the two NT volumes. On the contrary, what Grant presents as a new insight into the relevance of his own work had been granted—and welcomed, though in a somewhat lower key—in many of the reviews I have seen, which often mention that the NT designs have now become more easily accessible than ever before (see Bindman 1981, Lincoln 1981, Welch & Viscomi 1981, Hagstrum 1982, and Dörrbecker 1982).

Next, Grant thought it necessary to devote a paragraph to the “standards” which I seemed “to have in mind” when putting to paper my “opinions about the adequacy of the reproductions.” The following two sentences of his rebuke certainly call for comment: “Unlike Paley, who declares that he checked the Clarendon reproductions against the originals, Dörrbecker admits that he is judging by other criteria. Naturally, comparing the reproductions with the originals should help in evaluating their quality, but (perhaps surprisingly) such checking is neither necessary nor sufficient for a reliable report.” This statement is just one example from Grant’s text which makes it hard to believe in the author’s capacity for fair play in dealing with criticisms of his work, though it may also and very simply be a sign of Grant’s suspension of all critical judgment when attacked. Had he chosen to read my review in a less prejudiced mood, the following corrections would have begin page 187 | back to top been superfluous, and all this space might have been used for the real thing: scholarship.

Grant here attempts to establish a difference in approach between Paley (who, however, is said to have been “not much more successful . . . in presenting a reliable analysis”), Viscomi, and myself. “Unlike Paley,” so his readers are being told, I had not compared the reproductions with the originals at the British Museum Print Room before writing my review for Blake, and, it is cunningly added, I was judging on the basis of some “other criteria.” According to Grant, this had been “admitted” by myself, yet he fails to provide the relevant quotation from my review. This omission seems wise, however, since no such references can possibly be supplied; on the contrary, one will be at a loss if trying to trace what exactly might have prompted this imputation.33 It just may be that Grant misunderstood what I had said concerning the criteria for “cautious value judgments” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 130); the respective sentence, however, clearly applies to Blake’s original watercolors, not to the quality of the reproductions in Grant’s edition. True enough, I did not explicitly declare that I had gone through the entire series of these watercolors at various times as well as in 1980-1981 when, in preparation for my review, I compared each of the originals at the Print Room with its reproduction in the Clarendon volumes, taking notes and (indeed!) annotating my review copy quite heavily. Yet from the character of my notes on the reproductions it should have been clear to any unprejudiced reader that the review could not possibly have been written without a stay in London.44 See phrases such as “only when compared with the originals,” or “to list the major discrepancies between the original designs and their reproductions” (Dörrbecker 1982, pp. 131 and 132), which certainly imply that recourse to the NT watercolors had supplied the reviewer with the decisive criteria for his evaluation of the reliability of the Clarendon halftones and color offset plates. At the same time, I freely admit that this did not take me “months rather than weeks” (for which Grant argues justifiably in a different paragraph). And yet, what sort of reviewer is being demanded by this editor who, after having been engaged on this project during well over a decade still has to admit that he has been guilty of “sheer carelessness”?

In reply to the statement quoted above, there is something else which seems to ask for contradiction: although “checking” the reproductions against the originals is in itself not sufficient (yet who had said so?), it is still and most certainly “necessary for a reliable report” as its factual basis. As long as we want reproductions to serve as an aid to research purposes, as a temporary substitute and a representation of the originals in effigie—and Grant seems to agree on that—all else is nonsense where an evaluation of their reliability is at stake. Tellingly, this need to compare the plates in the Clarendon edition with their London “prototypes” has been felt most strongly by one colleague who had been prevented from doing so when writing his review (see Hagstrum 1982, p. 340). With at least David Bindman, Andrew Lincoln, Dennis M. Welch and Joseph S. Viscomi, Morton D. Paley and Jean H. Hagstrum all agreeing on this point, one is left wondering about the purpose of that paragraph in Grant’s rebuke: was it meant to cast shadows of baseless doubt over the statement of Paley, who, in Grant’s phrasing, did not simply compare the reproductions with the originals, but only “declared” that he had done so? or was it meant to disqualify my own comments on the reproductions by cleverly pointing out that I had not even attempted such a declaration of the obvious and that in addition I had been judging by a set of alien, unknown, undescribed, and probably unspeakable criteria which are so freakish and uncanny that Grant just didn’t dare to unveil them?

Then Grant laments that “it is easy to set an impossibly high standard of expectation as Dörrbecker often does in complaining when the pictures are only a little off,” and I would readily agree with him, had not Grant himself admitted that these standards are not impossibly high (see below), and had he not overlooked most of what I as well as other reviewers had indeed said about the usefulness of the NT edition even as it is. Also, I am ready to apologize for not having mentioned that NT 264 comes off much better in the color reproduction than in the halftone plate; this omission, however, was due to the disposition of my review which had been subdivided into separate chapters on the monochrome and on the color plates.

Furthermore, it will have been evident to readers of my review that at no point did I intend to have their achievement weighed against genuine facsimiles or even monochrome collotype publications. Grant himself draws attention to my footnote 8, where I had tried to make clear exactly what takes him another page of his typescript to explain: that a collotype publication would have been enormously expensive to produce. It is not hard to imagine, however, why a similar reference to my note 43 is lacking from Grant’s text; there, much the same topic is dealt with and a few, admittedly arbitrary, examples are given of “how much closer one can get to the original colors with the ordinary offset process and at a moderate price” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 139). Though one will now want to ask the editorial team of the Clarendon volumes for a more detailed account of their own standards of reliability in art reproduction, the issue which has been raised by Grant only in his present response is quite different: why did the editors tolerate their publishers’ petty economies which allowed for nothing better than, e.g., what Grant terms “the best pidgin English for black achieved in much modern color reproduction,” and will they tolerate the respective results in future publications too (which they themselves might be asked to review)? Shall such inadequacies really and simply “be understood,” and shall silence follow this sort of apodictic statement?

In a different paragraph Grant attempts to whitewash the mediocre results in his edition by comparing them with other reproductions that are still more inaccurate; entering into this train of thought, I would nonetheless feel tempted to ask for a higher quality of color reproduction in a pseudo-facsimile of just one of Blake’s series of illustrations like the Complete Edition begin page 188 | back to top (which offers 80 color plates at $365) than in a catalogue raisonné (which had been planned without any illustrations at all, and which was published at $300 with a total of 239 illustrations in color), or in a slim monograph like Paley’s which covers Blake’s entire career as an artist (containing 16 color plates and sold at $19.95). I guess that both Martin Butlin and Morton Paley would be ready to agree with much in Grant’s critique of the reliability of the color plates in their books. Methodologically, however, Grant’s procedure can only be understood as an attempt to establish a particularly low standard of reliability which will then enable him to set off the Clarendon plates more positively, and to feel content with their own humble achievement.

Personally, I would prefer different comparisons: if we really are to measure the relative success and/or failure of the color reproductions in the second volume of this edition against what it is possible to achieve with the ordinary processes that allow for mass production, I would recommend as a standard not a Blake book (old or new), but one of those mostly “untrustworthy” and accident-ridden art books that Grant is referring to. We all know that Titian and his Venetian followers daubed their canvases with “unorganized Blots & Blurs.” The uncouth hodgepodge of colors on their palettes and the complete lack of outline and definition in their paintings guarantee that both the photographer and the printer will be faced with enormous problems when trying to create a reliable reproduction of one of their works, especially since hardly any of these abominable productions can possibly be printed at something like 70% of their original format. Now, let us have a look at the Genius of Venice 1500-1600 exhibition catalogue. The sight of it may make us shudder, but treat it gingerly, and a careful and thorough examination will show that it was published in 1983 for the Royal Academy by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in a paperback quarto which sells at £8.95—that there are 95 color plates (i.e., more than in the NT edition, though all are much smaller of course)—that (at least according to my notoriously high standards) none of them is perfect, to be sure—yet that almost all of them are of superb and, it has to be admitted, often unprecedented quality in this particular field of art historical publications. The relatively modest price one has to pay for this volume, complete with more than three-hundred pages of text and hundreds of small black-and-white reproductions, is to be explained by the number of copies printed of this catalogue, no doubt far more than the one-thousand copies of the NT venture, as well as by the heavy subsidy for the exhibition project. Nevertheless, the comparison will prove that at a retail price of £150 technically much more than what has been achieved in the Clarendon edition would have been possible. It then seems to have been due to other factors that this technical achievement had to remain no more than a possibility.

In my review I said that “it is hard to believe that any serious and responsible attempt has been made to properly check the proofs of the reproductions against the originals while seeing these volumes through the press” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 137). This conjecture has neither been refuted nor confirmed in Grant’s paper. In passing, however, we learn from him that at least in one case he (as well as the other members of the editorial board?) had been left “without benefit of monochrome proofs,” and, it is added, “as usual.” Even after reading Grant’s lengthy vindication one still does not know what precisely the editors did to ascertain the highest standards possible for their (professional and renowned) publishers, and what they did not even attempt to do.55 I think there is no need here to outline the sort of editorial responsibility I had been speaking of; a perfect example for such responsible editorship and for the kind of editorial report which is lacking from the NT edition has been established by Morris Eaves when in whole number 31 of the Blake Newsletter, 8 (Winter 1974-1975), 86-88, he told us what it means to embark on “Reproducing ‘The Characters of Spenser’s Faerie Queene’.” This article—which rightly remarked that “an account of this sort is not the custom in fine-art reproduction, but . . . should be”—will be fairly well known to Grant since ironically it had been prompted by the printing of a color reproduction which accompanied as interpretative essay written by himself in collaboration with Robert E. Brown.

Instead of offering an explanation for just why all those compromises were necessary (be it in 100% or just 50% of the cases listed in the various reviews), Grant leaves us with a moving (and almost disarming) account of what can only be understood as self-accusations: the editors, “like other scholars . . . were disappointed with the overall quality of the 800 reproductions,” there might be “something seriously amiss” or “woefully inadequate” in the reproductions, and, unfortunately, “most of the color reproductions in the Clarendon edition are dead, lacking the vibrancy that it is possible to convey in color reproduction,” yes, they even might be “atrociously bad, turning everything to mud” (italics mine). This is neither “unaccountable,” however, nor is there such an easy way out as Grant continually tries to suggest: someone who, in his own words, “had much responsibility in designing” this edition cannot simply blame the responsibility for its many and “freely acknowledge[d] . . . shortcomings” on the publishers alone—he will at least have to face up to the questions concerning his position in the production process.

Grant thinks it interesting that I have attributed that “lack of vitality . . . to the choice of cream-colored paper for printing” (the same observation has been made by Bindman 1981 and by Welch and Viscomi 1981). Though he now seems convinced that “quite possibly this was a contributing factor,” he still urges his readers to believe that this was—if not an “unaccountable” then at least—an almost unavoidable shortcoming, referring to “the Yale University Press choice of a much whiter paper for Butlin’s 1981 catalogue” which did indeed prove to be “not sufficient to have resulted in [more] satisfactory color reproductions.” Grant overlooked or intentionally concealed from his readers, however, that in one of my notes I had said: “It needs no stressing, I suppose, that the use of glossy coated paper [such as in Butlin’s 1981 catalogue, that is] would have produced even worse results” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 137 n.7); what I had advocated was “a similar make of printing paper as, e.g., that used [by the same publishers] for the plates begin page 189 | back to top in Keynes’ Blake Studies” (Dörrbecker, p. 131).

Two paragraphs further on one encounters yet another misrepresentation of what is actually to be found in my review. There, Grant quotes me as simply “find[ing] ‘those beautiful wide margins’ (p. 136) one of the features of the Clarendon edition that he can whole-heartedly praise”; obviously speaking of the pages with the reproductions, Grant then goes on to tell his readers that he now “consider[s] the margins an aesthetic and scholarly nuisance, a barrier against free access to a major critical and artistic accomplishment . . . useful only for taking notes—for those who can afford to write in such an expensive edition.” The quotation and the page reference are both correct; they do not, however, give any sense of the context that these few words have been lifted from. When I happened to mention my taste for wide margins, I did so sub voce the introduction in a paragraph dealing with the physical aspects of the production of these volumes. I had made my meaning explicit by speaking of “the lavish layout of the introduction [which] leaves those beautiful wide margins to which we are no longer accustomed” (Dörrbecker 1982, p. 136). Instead, the context of Grant’s misleading reference to my “praise” makes it look as if I had meant it to apply to the pages with the reproductions and had thus spoken out for the luxury of a happy few at the expense of “an aesthetic and scholarly nuisance.” In connection with W.J.T. Mitchell’s review of the NT edition, Grant chastises his critic for what he interprets as one “dubious move” amongst others, i.e., the “cutting [of] a rather lengthy quotation from our text.” With respect to my “praising” of the wide margins in the text section of the Complete Edition, Grant’s own procedure must be said to be fairly similar to that which he considers as lacking scholarly integrity in others.

In much the same vein, one might easily add more such corrections to Grant’s biased readings of his reviewers, as well as a list of all those questions which were brought forward by the latter but have not been honored with a reply in Grant’s article. Instead of offering new arguments to refute these criticisms, Grant has preferred rather to pose new problems. The subject of the inclusion of relief etchings among the “preliminary drawings” for the NT watercolors he has passed over in silence, and the same applies, e.g., to questions concerning the dating and the description of some of these drawings (see Paley 1982 and Dörrbecker 1982). The many parallels for designs in this series among Blake’s earlier (and later) works which had not been mentioned in the introduction to the Clarendon volumes, but have been pointed out by the reviewers (especially strong on this point are Welch and Viscomi) get almost no mention. The size of the reproductions is still spoken of as if it almost met with that of the originals, while in fact the reduction by approximately 30% is quite considerable. It can be effectively experienced in any library where there is a chance to place the present imperial quarto volumes side by side with copies of either Keynes’ 1927 portfolio or the imperial folio publication of the Gray illustrations (which, of course, are about the same size as the NT watercolors in the originals) edited by Herbert Grierson in 1922.

Then, in Grant’s final chapter, some strange theories about the chronological sequence in the production of the plates for the 1797 edition are brought forward which I find hard to reconcile with what I know about printmaking processes in general, and with what Robert Essick has taught us about Blake’s personal techniques in particular. I wish to conclude, however, with a few remarks not concerning the “indication of the capacities of the present Blake community to deal with Blake’s most extensive project in visionary criticism,” but rather its capacity for scholarly discourse and fair play.66 First, however, I have to point out that of course my own review is not entirely free from fault. There remain a number of typographical errors which I had overlooked, and, in my note 14, I stupidly presented Joseph Farington as the Royal Academy’s “secretary,” a post which the diarist never held. Also, I now regret some rather polemical asides—in the review, not in the present reply to Grant’s above article—and I have to accept Grant’s justified chiding of one of my own paragraphs as being “ill-coordinated,” as well as of my all too hasty and careless rejection of the possibly meaningful connection between ARO 10 and NT 264 in my note 24.

While there has been much talk about the sister-arts tradition in Blake criticism ever since Jean Hagstrum discovered the topic for us some twenty years ago, the relation between some of the literary critics who have made the study of Blake’s multimedia productions the center of their scholarly activities and the (still too few) art historians who have ever dared to intrude into this field of study seems to be characterized by feelings of distrust and competition rather than by a desire for cooperation. Suspending their twentieth-century critical judgment and taking Blake’s artist’s ideology (which of course is fascinating) for their own, some literary critics like Grant allow themselves to see in Sebastiano Ricci just “one of the also-rans,” and a superb “Pollaiulo” [sic] painting to them is merely an orthographical problem and “a red herring”—figuratively at least. I shall not ask how many minutes or hours Grant has ever devoted to the study of Ricci’s masterpieces at Venice, and I shall not enlarge on the reasons which made me choose this artist of the late baroque as an adequate contrary to Blake who yet was capable of executing a painting of the resurrection which would have had all the same iconographic ingredients that are listed by Grant and his fellow editors for Blake’s NT 264, but would have had a widely differing meaning because of artistic elements for which there seems to be no room in the mode of description that has been chosen for the introduction to the Clarendon edition. Also, and especially since Grant finds my view of NT 20 “conceivable” at least, I am not worried about the fact that he misinterpreted my reference in note 21 to the Pollaiuolos’ London altarpiece as an attempt to supply “counterevidence,” where in fact it had been quoted as an example for a well-known pictorial technique for rendering three-dimensional, “statuesque” phenomena into the two-dimensional picture plane by showing the same type of figure or object in both front and back views, a device which has been begin page 190 | back to top described in Leonardo’s Trattato della pittura and many other Renaissance texts concerned with the paragone between the arts of sculpture and painting.

So what does worry me is (1) John Grant’s evident reluctance to even look at paintings which have no Blakean license and no immediate bearing on the interpretation of one of Blake’s own works, and (2) his tendency to prescribe such reluctance as a prerequisite for the well-attuned Blake scholar in general. I must protest against Grant’s implication that a credo has to be sworn before one attains the right to speak up in the round of the self-declared group of the initiated, the closed circle of the “properly attuned” readers and viewers of Blake, just as I have to protest when he equates my attempt “to distance [myself] from ‘Blake enthusiasts’ ” with an attempt to distance myself from an appreciation of Blake’s artistic achievements. The recognition of and esteem for the latter, however, by no means require us to actually see Blake as Michelangelo’s equal, or to despise the achievements of Rubens and all those other “also-rans,” or to level the existing differences between Blake’s masterpieces and his less successful works, or to believe for oneself in each of Blake’s aesthetic claims.

I was not the first, of course, and probably won’t be the last to find fault with the overall quality of the NT series as a whole. Hagstrum, for instance, whose review has been singled out by Grant as one of the two “favorable” ones he mentions, also agreed that “not all Blake’s designs for Young are masterpieces, though some most assuredly are” (Hagstrum 1982, p. 339). With this, both David Bindman’s and my own “common sense opinion” are in perfect conformity, and in no place did I ever question what Grant has to say about the presence of “some great pictures” in this series. I am glad to learn that Grant does not entertain any futile hopes “to improve [my art historian’s] taste for Blake,” which is neither needed nor asked for, but I wonder how in the future he is going to behave towards a less “exceptionally specific negative” reviewer like Jean Hagstrum, who has done so much for our knowledge of the NT designs.

Criticism, to be intelligible, will always have to be based on arguments that allow for their verification or falsification through others; therefore, it seems to be Grant’s dilemma that as a literary critic he must, if not accept, then at least take seriously those thoughts which he now tries to ridicule as “Grecian mocks,” while as a reader he deeply sympathizes with their condemnation by Blake. By means of a subjective and naive identification with the objects of his studies and their author, Grant may well imagine himself to be the “more properly attuned reader.” Yet the quality of his scholarship will still have to be submitted to an examination on the basis of rational criteria, and therefore may well be the object of more such “Grecian mocks.” In any case, the use of a few Blakean quotations in an attempt to accuse a colleague of heresy is not likely to advance our knowledge, and it seems particularly out of tune with an essay which itself complains about one reviewer’s “unscholarly way” of trying “to poke fun” at the editors of the NT edition. Therefore, and until Grant is willing to comply with his own earlier methodological standards, I shall feel rather happy in the company of such scholars and more open-minded friends as Paley, Bindman, Viscomi, Mitchell, and—“the connoisseurs in all ages.”

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, NM, USA
    • Editors
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Bibliographer
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Review Editor
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Associate Editor for Great Britain
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Production Office
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Managing Editor
    • Robin Tawney
    • Editorial Assistants
    • Leslie Donovan
    • Contributors
    • Shelley M. Bennett
    • James Bogan
    • D.W. Dörrbecker
    • Michael Fischer
    • Christopher Fox
    • John E. Grant
    • W.J.T. Mitchell
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Donald H. Reiman
    • Nicholas O. Warner

    Digital Edition

    • Editors:
    • Morris Eaves, University of Rochester
    • Robert Essick, University of California, Riverside
    • Joseph Viscomi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Project Manager
    • Joe Fletcher
    • Technical Editor
    • Michael Fox
    • Previous Project Manager and Technical Editor
    • William Shaw
    • Project Director
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Coordinator, UNC:
    • Natasha Smith, Carolina Digital Library and Archives
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