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1. William Rossetti’s Annotations to Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake

Some Blake scholars may not know of the copy of the first, 1863 edition of Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake containing annotations by William Rossetti. This is now in the Houghton Library, Harvard University, where I examined it in the summer of 1966. It bears William Rossetti’s name on the short title-page and also the inscription “Handed over to Olive/W.M.R./Septr. 1908,” which presumably refers to his daughter Mrs. Olive Rossetti Agresti.

Most of the annotations were made to William Rossetti’s own lists of Blake’s works in the second volume. There are some corrections, for instance regarding the duplication of certain works in the 1863 lists. References are inserted to pictures in the sale of George Blamire, deceased, at Christie’s on 7th and 9th November 1863 (which included “The Black Madonna” now in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon), and to works in the Aspland and H.A. Bright collections which were unknown to Rossetti when he compiled his lists. Some changes of ownership and two cases of cracked surfaces being repaired are noted and a few dates changed or inserted. Most valuable of all are two references to “Mr. Chase” which, as my colleague Leslie Parris will show in a forthcoming note,*Note:[e] “William Blake’s Mr. Thomas” by Leslie Parris has now been published in the Times Literary Supplement for 5 Dec. 1968, p. 1390. help in establishing the identity of a patron who commissioned a number of works from Blake surpassed in importance only by those executed for Thomas Butts and John Linnell.

Rossetti’s notes also identify the Tiriel drawings, listed as “of uncertain subject” in the 1863 edition, and there are one or two annotations to Gilchrist’s text in the first volume. It is difficult to date the notes precisely; indeed, they may have been done over a number of years, as is suggested by the references to both Chase and Aspland alongside the same items. One change of ownership, of List 1 no. 133 from “Mr. Strange” to “Mr. Scott,” gives a terminus ante quem for this annotation of 1876, when William Bell Scott lent the work concerned to the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition. The references to Mr. Chase were almost certainly done before 1872 when the watercolours were sold anonymously at Sotheby’s while those to Aspland must follow this date, when they apply to the works in that sale.

The additional entries, corrections and dates, notes of condition and so on were incorporated in the revised lists included in the 1880 edition of Gilchrist’s Life. The fresh information about ownership, on the other hand, was not. In fact the revised lists are less informative in this respect than those of 1863, only the works from the collections of Butts and Linnell being so noted. Doubtless William Rossetti found the task of keeping up with the increasingly frequent changes of ownership difficult; the present writer can sympathize.

May I take this opportunity of appealing for help over an untraced catalogue for a sale of works from the Butts collection? This included a number of illustrations to the Apocalypse which appear in Rossetti’s list with the note begin page 40 | back to top “Described in the Sale-catalogue as ‘very fine’,” “ . . . ‘very powerful and characteristic’,” “ . . . ‘of grand conception and highly characteristic’,” and so on. Although I have traced sales from the Butts collection at Sotheby’s on the 26th March 1852, and at Foster’s on the 29th June 1853 and again on 8th March 1854 (omitting sales later than 1863) none of them includes these works or these descriptions. Nor are they to be found in the Joseph Hogarth sale at Southgate’s on 7th to 23rd June 1854 or the anonymous Frederick Tatham sale at Sotheby’s on 29th April 1862. Any help in tracing this catalogue will be greatly appreciated.

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