Blake and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette—with a Note on Thomas De Quincey
The Edinburgh Literary Gazette of 1829-30 was “edited by the Rev. Andrew Crichton: and the literary department . . . principally entrusted to Mr [Thomas] De Quincey and myself,” wrote the poet David Moir in 1838.*↤ A grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, for the purpose of researching Scottish periodicals, allowed me to live in Scotland while writing the present article. 1↤ 1 David M. Moir, “Life of Dr Macnish,” in his edition of The Modern Pythagorean: a Series of Tales, Essays and Sketches, by the late Robert Macnish, LL.D., 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1838) 1: 153. Moir (1798-1851) was a popular Scottish poet, known to readers of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine through his pseudonym “Delta” (or, “Δ”); he is mainly remembered today as the friend and biographer of John Galt. This weekly periodical has received virtually no attention from scholars. One cause of its neglect is probably the Gazette’s policy of withholding the names of the authors of its articles. Some of its better-known contributors, including De Quincey (the “English Opium-Eater”), the Scottish novelist John Galt, and the poets Thomas Hood and Allan Cunningham, probably feared that they might jeopardize their positions with more lucrative journals such as Blackwood’s Magazine, if their pieces in the fledgling Gazette appeared with their names attached.2↤ 2 The Gazette promised to identify the contributors of its various articles, but was prevented from doing so by the sudden bankruptcy of its owner David Blackie in 1830, followed by his sudden death from cholera in 1832 (see Moir, “Life of Dr Macnish,” [153n]). The Gazette’s four “valued correspondents” in London were “Miss Landon” (known to readers as the poetess “L. E. L.”), and “Messrs. T. Hood, Alaric Watts, and Allan Cunningham” (anon., “To Correspondents,” Edinburgh Literary Gazette, 1 : 192). By 1830, contributors included the poets Maria Jewsbury, William Howitt, and Thomas Pringle, and miscellaneous Scottish writers Andrew Laing, William MacGillivray, John Malcolm, Andrew Picken, Leitch Ritchie, and David Vedder (all of whom are named in the two special Anniversary Numbers of 15 May and 22 May 1830). Others who were said to contribute included William Jerdan and James Fraser (the editors, respectively, of London’s Literary Gazette and Fraser’s Magazine). John Parker Lawson, and the Edinburgh drama critic Christopher Torrop (see anon., “Literature: The Edinburgh Literary Gazette,” Glasgow Courier [newspaper] 5 Nov 1829 ). Robert Macnish (known to readers of Blackwood’s Magazine as “The Modern Pythagorean”) was also advertised as a contributor (see Edinburgh Evening Post [newspaper] 16 Jan. 1830 ). For further information on the Gazette, please see my articles “Thomas Hood, London, and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette” in English Language Notes, 27 (March 1990): 34-39, and “John Galt, the Edinburgh Literary Gazette, and ‘The Black Ferry’” in Scotia: American-Canadian Journal of Scottish Studies 12 (1988): 44-54. Many of the Gazette’s regular contributors may have read the remarks about William Blake in that journal in 1830. Although the authorship of this review remains a mystery, some evidence seems to suggest that Thomas De Quincey may have played a role in its publication. In any event, the article is interesting for its discussion of Blake as both poet and painter, and for bringing Blake’s work to the attention of readers outside England.
The occasion of these remarks about William Blake was the publication of the second volume of Allan Cunningham’s Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, in London. Cunningham’s work attracted much interest in Edinburgh, partly as a result of Cunningham’s fame as a Scottish poet and essayist. The first volume of the Lives had received an anonymous critique (almost certainly written by Reverend Crichton) in the Gazette of July 1829.3↤ 3 Anon. rev., “Cunningham’s Lives of British Painters,” Edinburgh Literary Gazette: Devoted Exclusively to Literature, Criticism, Science, and the Arts. 1 (1829): 169-70. This initial review of Cunningham’s work may reasonably be attributed to Andrew Crichton. (Crichton was born in Kirkmahoe, Scotland, where he knew Cunningham slightly as a youth: the reviewer claims Cunningham as “an early acquaintance,” and refers fondly to “Kirkmahoe” . For information on Crichton, see the Dictionary of National Biography.) Crichton quit the Gazette in anger in early December: he cannot have written the two succeeding reviews of Cunningham’s Lives, which appeared in the Gazette in the following year.4↤ 4 Crichton “resigned the editorship” on 12 December 1829, and subsequently had “no further connexion” with the Gazette (see anon., “Literary Chit-Chat and Varieties,” Edinburgh Literary Journal 3 : 28). Unlike the first notice of Cunningham’s Lives (which had contained Scottish words, phrases, and place-names), the second review is almost entirely English (rather than Scottish), with its references to William Hazlitt, Henry Fuseli, and several other literary or artistic figures in contemporary London. The second review has never been reprinted, or mentioned in print, since it first appeared on 13 February 1830: ↤ 5 Anon. rev. in Edinburgh Literary Gazette 2 (1830): 103-04. The only other mention of Blake was a brief announcement, in the “Literary Intelligence” column of 28 Nov. 1829, that “The next number of the Family Library” would be “the second volume of the Lives of British Painters, including West, Fuseli, Barry, Blake, Opie, and Morland” (Gazette 1 : 463).
FAMILY LIBRARY, NO. X—CUNNINGHAM’S LIVES OF BRITISH PAINTERS.5
The Family Library, No. X. The Lives of the most eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. By Allan Cunningham. Vol. II. London: J. Murray. 1830.
ALTHOUGH sufficiently alive to the merits of Lockhart’s Napoleon, and Milman’s Jewish History,6↤ 6 John Gibson Lockhart’s History of Napoleon Buonaparte, and Henry H. Milman’s History of the Jews, were both published in 1829, in the same “Family Library” series (published by the firm of John Murray) in which Cunningham’s Lives appeared. we are free to confess that none of the volumes of the Family Library have hitherto delighted us more than the Lives of the Painters and Sculptors by Allan Cunningham.
At first we had doubts as to whether Allan was exactly the best calculated person for the task, and we thought that a formidable competitor might be found in Hazlitt,7↤ 7 The reference is perhaps to William Hazlitt’s conversational portrait of the painter James Northcote, entitled Boswell Redivivus (1827). by any other periodical caterer, in monthly volumes, to the public taste. We have, however, been most agreeably disappointed. In the collection of facts and materials, the imagination of the poet has been kept in subjection. His biographies are well digested, and are written with that feeling which never fails to raise a corresponding interest in the heart of the reader.
In the former volume we were particularly pleased with the life of Gainsborough: although in Hogarth he had an ampler fund of materials to draw from. The volume before us takes in West, Opie, Bird, Morland, Fuseli, and Blake.8↤ 8 The quotation is from the New Testament: “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2.17). Of the latter, we confess, we were comparatively ignorant: but from Mr. Cunningham’s account it is evident that his mind was characterised as much by singularity as originality. It is a dangerous thing for a man in this matter-of-fact age of the world, “to see visions and dream dreams:”9↤ 9 The artists mentioned by the reviewer are Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), William Hogarth (1697-1764), Benjamin West (1738-1820), John Opie (1761-1807), Edward Bird (1772-1819), George Morland (1763-1804), Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), and Blake. The reviewer has neglected to mention James Barry (1741-1806), who also merits a chapter in Cunningham’s second volume. especially as (if we take the case of Haydon for an instance) the public taste seems scarcely yet to have arisen from portrait to historical painting.10↤ 10 The historical painter Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was imprisoned for debt during 1822-23.
We are thus induced to make a few extracts from the biography of Blake, not only as we regard it as the most singular in the volume, but as it is likely to be the newest to our readers. He appears to have been a poet as well as a painter.↤ 11 The review quotes three paragraphs (beginning with this sentence), dealing with Blake’s “intertwin[ing] of poetry and painting,” and his relationship with his wife Catherine, from Cunningham’s volume (147-49). The three paragraphs are printed as a single paragraph, and contain numerous other minor alterations, in the review.
Though Blake lost himself a little in the enchanted region of song, he seems not to have neglected to make himself master of the graver, or to have forgotten his love of designs and sketches . . . .11
The account of his drawing portraits from imagination, under the impression that they stood meantime visibly revealed, is very strange, and somewhat unaccountable: as also of his holding converse with the spirits of the departed great on the sea-shore at twilight.12↤ 12 Cunningham describes Blake’s “friendships with Homer and Moses: with Pindar and Virgil: with Dante and Milton,” during his three years at Felpham, beginning in 1800: “These great men, [Blake] asserted, appeared to him in visions, and even entered into conversation” (Lives 2: 159). There is something wildly impressive in this enthusiasm, awakening at once our pity and our admiration. As was to have been expected, this waywardness of disposition led to an old age of poverty and neglect, sweetened alone by the companionship of his admirable wife. We have given their courtship: let us conclude with Blake’s death-bed:— ↤ 13 The review quotes three paragraphs (beginning with this sentence), dealing with Blake’s last days and death, from Cunningham’s volume (179-80). As with the preceding quotation, the three paragraphs appear as one, and contain several minor alterations, in the review.
He had now reached his seventy-first year, and the strength of nature was fast yielding. . . .13
It is delightful to trace to progress of a man of true genius. No earthly impediments can resist his progress: on he goes, conquering and to conquer:14↤ 14 The reviewer alludes to the New Testament: “And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow: and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer” (Revelation 6.2). soaring and ascending over the clouds that at first hid him from sight, or obstructed his early aspirations. Such is Allan Cunningham, to whom we shortly intend dedicating a leading article.15↤ 15 Although the Gazette carried many notices and reviews concerning Cunningham, the promised “leading article” never materialized. He has written a multitude of good things: but, excepting his inimitable imitations of the old ballad,16↤ 16 Cunningham wrote many “imitations of the old ballad” for R. H. Cromek’s Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song (1810). Cromek (who also published the 1808 edition of Blair’s Grave, with designs by Blake) would perhaps have been the best-known link between Cunningham and Blake, in Scotland in 1830, where Cromek was still renowned for his Reliques of Burns (1808). For further information on Cunningham’s association with Cromek, see David Hogg, The Life of Allan Cunningham (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1875), and De Quincey, “London Reminiscences” (1840: rpt. Collected Writtings of Thomas De Quincey, ed. D. Masson, 14 vols. [Edinburgh: Black, 1889-90] 3: 146). his “Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects,” is his best.
The reference to Cunningham by his first name alone, in the second sentence of this review, is very striking. Of all the known regular contributors to begin page 134 | the Edinburgh Literary Gazette in 1830, only Thomas De Quincey and Thomas Hood knew Allan Cunningham: all three men had worked extensively for the London Magazine during 1821-23. On the surface, an article in the 1830 Gazette which refers to Cunningham simply as “Allan” might be suspected as having been written by either De Quincey or Hood. Yet the statements about Blake seem too matter-of-fact to be plausibly attributed to either of those authors. The article also contains more biblical allusions than would perhaps be expected in a short piece by Hood or De Quincey. Since the same review also refers to “Mr. Cunningham,” it may have been the product of more than one pen. David Moir, who was the most frequent reviewer for the 1830 Gazette, makes no mention of the three notices of Cunningham’s Lives, in his voluminous surviving papers.17↤ 17 None of the three reviews was mentioned by Moir, either in the formal list of his own contributions to the Gazette (which he left at the time of his death in his private papers), or in his almost weekly letters to William Blackwood (in which he regularly informed Blackwood of his latest publications). Moir’s correspondence and private papers survive at the National Library of Scotland (see the Blackwood collection, and Accession 9856) and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Room (University of Toronto Library).
A third review, concerning the third volume of Cunningham’s Lives, appeared in the Gazette of 12 June 1830. Although this final piece does not mention Blake, it seems to have been written by the same critic who wrote the second review.18↤ 18 The reviewer displays a familiarity with the previous volumes, and recalls “[h]aving in our former notices had occasion to dwell on our friend Allan’s qualifications for the office of an historian” (anon. rev., “Family Library,” Edinburgh Literary Gazette 2 : 374-76). The second and third reviews are similar in style and in their “English” perspective: but both are extremely unlike the initial review of the Lives, in spite of this reference to “our former notices,” the second and third reviews were almost certainly written by someone other than the author of the first review. The third review refers to Cunningham by his first name, and even as “our friend Allan.” The evidence of a possible connection with De Quincey comes in the form of a private letter, from the owner of the Gazette to David Moir, dated five days before the publication of the third review: the letter simply states enigmatically (after discussing Moir’s own work for the Gazette), “De Quincey is in town & at Wilson’s as you will see from the inclosed.”19↤ 19 David Blackie, letter to Moir, 7 June 1830 (National Library of Scotland MS Acc. 9856, no. 37). By “Wilson’s, Blackie refers to John Wilson, the editor of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, who was a close friend of De Quincey. Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland are quoted with the permission of its Trustees. Whether “the inclosed” was an article of De Quincey’s, an article by someone else which De Quincey was merely conveying to the Gazette, a book intended for review, or something quite different, is unclear. Since De Quincey undoubtedly knew about William Blake,20↤ 20 De Quincey mentions “that fine mystic, Blake the artist,” before quoting from Blake’s poetic dedication to the 1808 edition of The Grave, in his “Society of the Lakes” (1840; rpt. Collected Writtings 2: 400). Although this is the sole reference to Blake in De Quincey’s known writings, it suggests a fair degree of interest and familiarity with some of Blake’s work. and had a high opinion of Allan Cunningham,21↤ 21 De Quincey describes Cunningham as “a man of so much original genius” in his “London Reminiscences” (1840; rpt. Collected Writings 3: 146). It is perhaps significant that, in a letter of 7 July 1829, Cunningham wrote to an unknown correspondent, concerning De Quincey and the Edinburgh Literary Gazette. “I see you are united with my friend Mr De Quincey in this Critical undertaking of yours. . . . I beg you will name my name to him” (National Library of Scotland MS Acc. 15973, f. 32). it is conceivable that the two reviews of Cunningham’s Lives in the 1830 Gazette might have been among the rapid pieces of journalism which De Quincey was obliged to produce, for economic reasons, at about that time.22↤ 22 For a listing of many of De Quincey’s anonymous articles, “written with the left hand” from 1829 to 1846, see R. H. Byrns, “Some Unrepublished Articles of De Quincey in Blackwood’s Magazine” (Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 85 : 344-51). But in the absence of external evidence, the most that can safely be claimed is that De Quincey probably saw the article about Blake in the Gazette.
Whoever wrote the remarks on Blake in the Edinburgh Literary Gazette, it seems likely that the piece attracted some interest, not only among readers in Scotland, but more especially among those contributors to the Gazette who had been acquainted with Allan Cunningham. The Gazette enjoyed a relatively high reputation during its fourteen months of existence, with an appeal that was mainly “confined to the sound reasoner, and philosophical enquirer.”23↤ 23 H., “Edinburgh Chit-Chat,” Kelso Mail (newspaper), 15 Oct. 1829 (1). Although the Gazette seemed “eminently fitted to succeed,”24↤ 24 “Literature: The Edinburgh Literary Gazette,” Glasgow Courier (cited in n2, above). its circulation unfortunately never exceeded 300.25↤ 25 David Blackie, letter to Moir, 14 July 1830 (NLS MS Acc 9856, no. 37).