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The Origins of the William Blake Trust

In Sir Geoffrey Keynes’s autobiography The Gates of Memory, the origins of the William Blake Trust are ascribed to the year 1948 and the desire to make a worthy facsimile of Jerusalem. This was not as it happens the beginning of the idea. More than two years earlier (1 November 1945) I drafted a letter to Dr. Thomas Jones asking that the Pilgrim Trust help in a project to reproduce Blake’s engravings, paintings and prophetic books. As the text of the letter shows, our first priority was to reproduce the Milton series of drawings, secondly the Bible illustrations in tempera and watercolor, and thirdly, Jerusalem. Before mailing this letter I sent a draft to Geoffrey which he returned with a few minor corrections. Dr. Jones replied asking for time to consider the matter, so on 4 June 1947 I wrote again mentioning my previous letter and this time put forward Jerusalem as our first priority as the unique copy of that book had meantime become available for reproduction.

The original objectives of the William Blake Trust were very broadly defined and at no time have its aims been abandoned. It is more a case of the Trust using the technical expertise of Arnold Fawcus and his Trianon Press to the best advantage. Now that the William Blake Trust has successfully completed the long-awaited Job engravings in their several states it might be thought that the Trust has fulfilled the task for which it was formed. This is not the case. Three of the four original aims of the Trust remain uncompleted and some have not even been begun. There is work aplenty for the Trust still to do.

November 1st, 1945.
          	Dear Dr. Jones, 
          	You kindly sent me a copy of the Annual Report 
          	of the Pilgrim Trust. I was struck with the help you 
          	are giving to the encouragement of literature and am 
          	prompted by it to put a suggestion to you which has been 
          	in my mind for some time.
          	William Blake is not only a great English poet but
          	equally a great English painter - if not the greatest. 
          	His work is hardly known except to a small number of 
          	people. The reason is, I believe, partly that some of 
          	his best paintings are still in private hands such as 
          	those of Graham Robertson and Mrs. Stirling in this 
          	country, and Philip Hofer In America; partly because 
          	no adequate reproductions have been made. 
          	In 1935 {John Morgan} The Pierpont Morgan Library undertook the reproduction of
          	the three known coloured copies of the Job, together with
          	the original pencil sketches and the engravings. This 
          	magnificent production in six sections enabled the student 
          	to see Blake’s work in a form hardly distinguishable from 
          	the original works. I understand the price to the trade 
          	was 10 guineas a copy, and that the total expense of 
          	production was between £5,000. and £8,000. 300 copies 
          	were sold in America and 200 in England. By now the
          	original outlay should have been recovered. If you have 
          	not seen the Job I would like to show you a set next time 
          	you are in London. Geoffrey Keynes, who is the leading 
          	authority on Blake, wrote the introduction, and in every 
          	way the work is superb. We owe a great deal to {Pierpont}
          	The Morgan Library for this enterprise.
          	My suggestion is that to encourage artists in this 
          	country and U.S.A. to study Blake (I believe there is no 
          	more inspiring master than Blake - he literally teems with
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          	inspiration), plans should now be made for reproducing 
          	the other great Blake series in the same way as was done 
          	for the Book of Job by The Morgan Library and by the National Art
          	Collections Fund for the Dante drawings.
          	My first priority is to reproduce the Milton series
          	Some of these are in Boston, some in the Huntington
          	Library, and some at Cambridge. The series include
          	Paradise Lost and Regained, L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, 
          	The Nativity, and Comus. It will be necessary to obtain 
          	the loan of the American originals and this will take 
          	time; hence the need to start now.
          	The second great work cycle never hitherto reproduced 
          	is the series of Biblical temperas illustrating 
          	the Life of Our Lord. All the paintings need putting 
          	together and reproducing in fine collotype, as used for 
          	the Job. When they are seen together the world may 
          	appreciate for the first time the glorious beauty and 
          	religious creativeness of this wonderful artist. You 
          	probably know some of Blake’s paintings of Christ’s Life, 
          	such as the Infant John riding on the Lamb. No more 
          	tender presentation of the God-head - Divine Humanity and 
          	Human Divinity - can be imagined. There is nothing else 
          	I know of in Western art since the Reformation which 
          	conveys such deep religious feeling in form, colour and 
          	composition, as do these temperas, some of the finest of 
          	which are still in private collections. Ruthven Todd’s
          	catalogue {should} will help in tracing these.
          	Thirdly, there is the magnificent coloured Jerusalem
          	in the possession of Mrs. Stirling. Joseph Wickstead is 
          	still available to write the introduction for this book, 
          	but he is getting on in years and there is no young Blake 
          	scholar with the same understanding and learning. 
          	Then there are the eighteen paintings illustrating 
          	Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which the late Lord Crewe sold recently to America.
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          	They have been poorly reproduced in the United States, 
          	but the book is unobtainable in England.
          	It may be many months before Emery Walker & Co.
          	can re-assemble their expert men, but it is not too early
          	to start planning the undertaking.
          	Geoffrey Keynes tells me he would give all help
          	possible in the project. I imagine the cost would be
          	twice or three times as great as before the war. The 
          	outlay for the Milton series might, therefore, be £10,000
          	to £15,000. A {similar} smaller figure would cover the Biblical
          	series. These are outside figures. As I understand
          	{J.P.} The Morgan Library recovered the whole of the outlay for the
          	Job, the question for the Pilgrim Trust should be one of
          	outlay rather than of expenditure. I am very anxious to
          	interest you in the project, for I know of nothing else
          	better calculated to inspire the present generation of 
          	artists and to link England and U.S.A. in creative amity
          	than a noble and really worthy presentation of Blake’s 
          	work to the public here and in America for the first time.
          	I should like to talk further with you about this 
          	together with Geoffrey Keynes, and will be grateful if you 
          	will let me know when you are coming to London.
          	Sincerely yours,
          	Dr. Tom Jones,
          	The Pilgrim Trust,
          	N. Wales.
          	HAMPSTEAD 3923
          	2 Nov 1945
          	My dear George,
          	I return your draft with some suggested
          	alterations. I am not sure about
          	the “first priority.” It would be much
          	easier to get hold of the Jerusalem
          	than any of the others.
          	Yesterday I secured my sixth
          	copy of Remember Me! It is, of course,
          	different from the others
          	I went to an interesting sale of pictures
          	at Christie’s today. You could have
          	people your walls with handsom ancestors,
          	flower pieces, bird pieces, &c. (mostly from
          	Whaddon Hall) for the price of two M.S.S.
          	(or one)
          	Your affectionate
          	1 LOWTHER GARDENS
          	8th November 1945
          	Dear Goyder,
          	I have read with much interest
          	your letter about the Blake drawings,
          	and fully share your sense of their 
          	great importance in the art life of
          	this country.
          	The Trust is at the present
          	moment deeply committed to the publication
          	of several very expensive works.
          	You may have seen the first volume of 
          	MEDIEVAL WALL PAINTING; it is only
          	the first of several volumes. Then
          	we have RECORDING BRITAIN on the stocks,
          	and RECORDING SCOTLAND to follow. The
          	range of present costs is very high,
          	and that is another reason why we should
          	delay for a year or two sounding the
          	Trustees on a project of this kind.
          	Yours sincerely,
          	Thomas Jones
          	George Goyder, Esq.

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