begin page 69 | back to top


Keynes and Blake at Cambridge

When Sir Geoffrey Keynes died on 5 July 1982 at the age of ninety-five, he had the greatest Blake collection in private hands in Britain, and his Blake collection was only a small part of the entire library, though it seemed to be where his heart lay. His collections were the basis of his own bibliographies of, inter alia, John Donne (1914; 1932; 1958; 1973), Sir Thomas Browne (1924; 1968), William Harvey (1928; 1953), Jane Austen (1929), William Hazlitt (1931; 1981), John Ray (1941; 1951), Rupert Brooke (1954; 1959), Robert Hooke (1960), Siegfried Sassoon (1962), George Berkeley (1976), and Henry King (1977), and among these the contemporary copies of books by Blake were comparatively small in number. But when to these were added books with commercial engravings by Blake (such as five copies of Remember Me! [1825; 1826] in different original boards), proofs, prints, sketches, paintings, imitations, embroidery, facsimiles, and the scholarship of the subject (much of it his own), the size of his Blake collection became substantial, and its interest to students of Blake was unsurpassed of its kind—particularly when displayed by the collector.

The mark of the collector was strongly impressed upon these cherished and beautiful books, from his bookplate, to his manuscript notes on provenance and condition, to his published descriptions of them, and it was exceedingly desirable that the collections should be kept together, both as an aid to scholars of the future—what has become of Blake’s transcription of a poem by Sheridan which Sir Geoffrey alluded to so tantalizingly in 1964?—and as a memorial to the collector. Sir Geoffrey’s intentions altered from time to time, and there seemed to be a strong possibility that the collection would be separated subject by subject, which would have been a great pity.

Fortunately that has not occurred, for the collection of books was sold to Cambridge University Library. There they have been arranged by subject in the exceedingly handsome Keynes Room, which is to be used as a meeting-place for the Syndics of the Library. Not only are the books in a beautiful room, but they are now for the first time gathered in one place, for in his London residence and at Lammas House, Brinkley, not far from Cambridge, the books were scattered in many rooms—and sometimes shelved five deep. They make a brave display in the Keynes Room, and my only regret when I saw it in November 1984 was that, for reasons of security and convenience, mere scholars will not be able to work there, though they may of course use the books in the rare book reading room.

There was a Keynes exhibition at the University Library in the summer of 1983, without a catalogue, but it is only fairly recently that the final payment has been made for the collection and the books have become officially the property of the University and accessible to readers.

What Blakes are here? In general, everything associated with Blake printed from movable type or in manuscript is in the Keynes Room in the Cambridge University Library. The easiest means of identifying what is there at the moment is Sir Geoffrey’s own description of his collection, Bibliotheca Bibliographici (1964), supplemented by the card file he made (also in the collection) of about five hundred important works he acquired after 1964. In terms of Blake, the most exciting addition to the 1964 list is Poetical Sketches copy P, which was previously described, at least by me, only at second hand. That description should read as follows:

BINDING: “BOUND BY RIVIERE & SON” (according to a stamp on the front inner board) in Green morocco, gilt, top edge gilt, other edges untrimmed, with the Advertisement and pp. 57-70 in type-facsimile, the Advertisement of remarkably persuasive quality (titlepage size: 13.7 × 22.1 cm). The book has no MS correction and almost certainly passed at Blake’s death to Catherine Blake and thence to Tatham.
HISTORY: (1) Acquired from Quaritch about 1900 (according to Keynes, Blake Studies [1949]) by (2) General Archibald Stirling of Keir, who added on a flyleaf his initials and a note of 12 February 1921 about the presence of the facsimile gatherings; from him, it passed to (3) Lt.-Col. William Stirling, who sold it; (4) Sold anonymously at Sotheby’s, 25 April 1978, lot 50, to (5) Sir Geoffrey Keynes, who sold it in 1982 to (6) Cambridge University Library.

But there are treasures for the scholar which will not be found in either Bibliotheca Bibliographici or in Sir Geoffrey’s card-addenda to it. Naturally he did not trouble to list copies of ordinary books which any modern scholar might be expected to own, such as Butlin’s Paintings and Drawings of William Blake (1981) or Paley’s presentation copy of his Phaidon Blake (1978). Some of the most interesting features of the collection are the annotations which Sir Geoffrey made in his books, particularly in copies of his own publications. These occasionally contain information of significant value, so minor that Sir Geoffrey thought them scarcely worth printing but which are yet of real interest to those with somewhat lower standards of novelty. For instance, in the interleaved proof copy of his Bibliography of William Blake (1921) he annotated the 1868 Camden Hotten facsimile of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Edward Gordon Duff told John Sampson that Lord Houghton begin page 70 | back to top lent his copy of the original [Copy F] to Swinburne, and that Camden Hotten made his facsimile without permission, whereat Lord Houghton was much incensed.” This provides a persuasive context for the otherwise puzzling relationship between Lord Houghton and Camden Hotten; it was not previously known that “Camden Hotten made his facsimile without permission.”

Similarly, in his copy of the Keynes & Wolf Census (1953), Keynes inserted a facsimile of a letter from the U.S. artist Francis Lathrop of 9 January 1908 to Mr. [Beverley] Chew (the original is in the Grolier Club Library) offering “the ‘Stothard copy’ of the Book of Thel [Copy E]—the original Blake, that I spoke about” for $350. Lathrop had not previously been known to have any original Blake—and Chew is not known to have owned a copy of Thel.

In the interleaved copy of his Bibliography of William Blake at p. 371 he drew attention to a reference to Blake which has not heretofore been reprinted:

Anon., “Art. VIII. The Chimney-Sweepers’ Friend, and Climbing-Boys’ Album . . . Arranged by James Montgomery . . . Price 9s. London, 1824.” Eclectic Review, N.S., XXI (June 1824), 558-562.
The review includes on pp. 559-560 a puzzled reference to “The Chimney Sweeper” with a quotation of the poem from Montgomery’s book:
We know not how to characterize the song given from Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence.’ It is wild and strange, like the singing of ‘a maid in Bedlam in the spring,’ but it is the madness of genius.
Montgomery’s book has long been known, but this printing of Blake’s poem, showing the “madness of genius,” has not. Most accounts of Blake omitted the phrase “of genius.”

Finally in his 1921 Bibliography, at p. 417, Sir Geoffrey referred to a work by Joseph Hallett Junior which apparently belonged to Blake but which has not heretofore been associated with him in print. It is in three volumes, each with a different titlepage:

A | Free and Impartial Study of the | HOLY SCRIPTURES recommended: | BEING | NOTES | ON SOME | PECULIAR TEXTS; | WITH | Discourses and Observations | ON | The following Subjects; viz. | I. Of the Quotations from the Old Testament in the Apocrypha. | II. Of the Septuagint Version of the Bible; and the Diffe-|rence between the Citations, as they lie in the New Testa-|ment, and the Original Passages in the Old. | III. Christians not bound by any Authority of the Law of | Moses in the Ten Commandments. | IV. Of the Doxology at the End of the Lord’s-Prayer. Of | blessing the Eucharistical Elements, and of Grace before | and after Meat, | V. The Son of God knows the Hearts of Men; and, of Anger, | Catechising, &c. | VI. A Passage in Bishop Pearson on the Creed, and another | in Bishop Patrick’s Commentaries examin’d. | VII. Of the Soul; its Immortality, Immateriality, &c. with | the Impossibility of proving a Future State by the Light | of Nature; and of the Place where Good Men shall dwell | after the Resurrection. | - | By JOSEPH HALLETT, Junr. | - | LONDON; | Printed for J. Noon, at the White-Hart in Cheapside, near | Mercers-Chapel. M. DCC. XXIX [1729].

A | SECOND VOLUME | OF | NOTES | AND | DISCOURSES: | CONTAINING | I. A New List of Errors noted in the present Hebrew Copies | of the Old Testament. | II. Notes on several Texts of Scripture. | III. Discourses on the Reality, Kinds, and Number of our | Saviour’s Miracles; occasion’d by Mr. Woolston’s Six | Discourses. | The Meaning of the Word, God; and the Doctrine of Providence. | The Nature of Sacrifices; particularly of the Sacrifice of | Christ. | The Original of Evil. | The Nature of Ordination. | A Review of the former Volume, particularly relating to the | Passage in Bishop Pearson on the Creed. concerning the | Meaning of the Word, Almighty, in the Sixth Article; | and to the Nature of Anger. | - | By JOSEPH HALLETT jun. | - | LONDON: | Printed for J. Noon, at the White Hart in Cheapside, near Mercers-chapel. M.DCC.XXXII [1732].

Sir Geoffrey’s note says that in each octavo volume of an untraced set of three volumes in old calf is Blake’s autograph, dated 1799, with the price he paid for it (£1.5.0) in the first volume. Sir Geoffrey probably found the reference to Blake’s copy of Hallett’s book in the Anderson Gallery sale catalogue of The Library of the Late H. Buxton Forman, Part Two (26 April 1920), lot 46, where the price, however, is given as a guinea, not as £1.5.0.

Doubtless other “discoveries” concerning Blake and many other authors remain to be found in the very rich collection of books which passed from Sir Geoffrey Keynes to the Cambridge University Library. But for efficient access to them we must wait for the collection to be catalogued. Many besides myself will hope for the appearance at least of a handlist concerning William Blake as soon as possible.

Over the years Sir Geoffrey clearly changed his mind about the destination of his Blakes; a few he gave away and sold, as is recorded in Robert N. Essick’s great catalogue raisonné of William Blake’s Separate Plates (1981). The final decision was that the Blakes which were printed from movable type and in manuscript should go with the rest of his books to the University Library. Most of the Keynes collection of “paintings, drawings, and prints by William Blake” were handed over to the Fitzwilliam Museum as this article went to press (according to Donald Wintersgill, “Museum Is Given Blakes,” Guardian, 16 May 1985, p. 5).

One may lament their separation from Blake’s purely literary works but recognize that this is a twentieth century commonplace. It is paralleled by the division of the splendid Rosenwald Collection a few years ago between the Library of Congress and the U.S. National begin page 71 | back to top Gallery, and it will be paralleled by the separation of the illuminated and other graphic works in the British Museum Print Room from the typographical and manuscript works in the British Library when the latter eventually finds its new quarters. It is a touching irony that Blake labored all his life to unite the arts of the eye and the ear, the vision and the word, but that this union is posthumously divorced in the disposition of the great collections of his works.

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of New Mexico
  • Albuquerque, NM, USA
    • Editors
    • Morris Eaves
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Managing Editor
    • Robin Tawney
    • Bibliographer
    • Thomas L. Minnick
    • Review Editor
    • Nelson Hilton
    • Associate Editor for Great Britain
    • Frances A. Carey
    • Contributors
    • G.E. Bentley, Jr.
    • David Bindman
    • V.A. De Luca
    • Karl Kroeber
    • Jenijoy La Belle
    • Raymond Lister
    • Josephine McQuail
    • Karen Mulhallen
    • Joseph Viscomi
    • Margaret LaFrance

    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
    • Project Coordinator, University of Rochester:
    • Sarah Jones
    • Scanning:
    • UNC Digital Production Center
    • XML Encoding:
    • Apex CoVantage
    • Additional Transcription:
    • Adam McCune
    • Jennifer Park
    • Emendations:
    • Rachael Isom
    • Mary Learner
    • Adam McCune
    • Ashley Reed
    • Jennifer Park
    • Scott Robinson
    • XSLT Development:
    • Adam McCune
    • Joseph Ryan
    • William Shaw
    • PHP and Solr Development:
    • Michael Fox
    • Adam McCune
    • Project Assistants:
    • Lauren Cameron,
    • Rachael Isom,
    • Mary Learner,
    • Jennifer Park,
    • Ashley Reed,
    • Adair Rispoli,
    • Scott Robinson
    • Sponsors
    • Funders
    • Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly
    • William Blake Archive
    • Carolina Digital Library and Archives
    • Use Restrictions
    • Copyright © 2015 Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, all rights reserved. Items in this digital edition may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the editors and advance notification of the publisher. Permission to reproduce the graphic images in this digital edition rests with the owning institutions.