begin page 48 | back to top


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

Martin Butlin has recently drawn attention to William Michael Rossetti’s copy of Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake (1863), now in the Houghton Library, Harvard University, Catalogue No. *EC75 / B5815 / W863g (B);1 1 Rossetti’s marginalia are printed here for the first time by permission of the Harvard College Library. For Mr. Butlin’s description of Rossetti’s copy of Gilchrist, see “William Rossetti’s Annotations to Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake,” Blake Newsletter, II (1968), 39-40. and he has suggested, on the basis of annotations to the “Descriptive Catalogue” in Volume II, that these notes — perhaps written over a period of years2 2 Mr. Butlin’s conjecture is borne out by the fact that when Rossetti annotates Volume I, p. 335, he is aware of only the Butts-Strange set of illustrations to Paradise Lost, now in the Boston Museum of Art; when he annotates Volume II, p. 210, however, he is conversant with the Aspland set now in the possession of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. — were begun before 1872 and completed by 1876. Rossetti’s annotations to the biography and poems provide evidence in support of different time-limits for these marginalia. A note on “The Crystal Cabinet,” referring to Swinburne’s explanation of the poem, indicates that these jottings were begun after the appearance of William Blake: A Critical Study in 1868. The fact that the annotation to Volume II, p. 106, is printed almost verbatim in Rossetti’s The Poetical Works of William Blake and that the annotation to the same volume, p. 77, is greatly expanded in this edition suggests that the marginalia to the biography and poems, at least, were completed by the Autumn of 1873 when Rossetti’s[e] edition with “Prefatory Memoir” was being put together.3 3 It seems likely that the corrections and emendations to the biography and text were done over a very short period of time with Tatham’s MS in hand; those to “Descriptive Catalogue” occur over a much longer span of time.

A librarian’s note, inserted into the Houghton copy, indicates that “some annotations & revisions” from the first volume are “included in ed. 2; many more not” (the marginalia referring to Tatham’s manuscript are uniformly ignored); also ignored are the many emendations to the second volume, although “revisions in the Descriptive Catalogue of Blake’s pictures” are “generally included; and these marginalia are very numerous.” Moreover, Rossetti’s annotation to Volume II, p. 243, provides a clue as to what occasioned him to reread and heavily annotate this copy. He says, “It would be as well in a second edition, to put these heads into something a little more like order.” The librarian’s inference that these marginalia “arise from someone’s request for advice concerning a possible 2nd edition” seems correct.4 4 When one considers the use made of these annotations in Rossetti’s edition of Blake, it seems likely that the immediate occasion for reading and correcting Gilchrist was the preparation of Rossetti’s “Prefatory Memoir” and edition. The annotations are clearly suggestions, and indeed very few were carried into execution. For the most part, Rossetti is concerned with textual emendation and correction of printing errors and some biographical facts; however, a very few of his marginalia have a critical orientation, and those are printed below.5 5 Rossetti’s remarks are printed in ordinary type; the passages in Gilchrist to which they refer in italics. Editorial comments are bracketed.

begin page 49 | back to top

Gilchrist, I, 335.

While, in 1825, the designs from Dante were progressing, I find Mr. Linnell a purchaser also of twelve drawings from Milton’s Paradise Regained, a sequel to those from Paradise Lost, executed for Mr. Butts, which are now scattered in various hands. [“a sequel” and[e] “which . . . hands” are underscored by Rossetti]

I don’t know how far this may be correct. Strange (alone to my knowledge) has a set which may or may not be complete — much larger than the Paradise Regained designs — some subjects noted p. 255 vol. 2, may belong to the Strange ed. — I don’t know.6 6 Rossetti’s comment explains his reservations regarding the second passage but not the first. A letter to Mrs. Gilchrist, dated 13 Decr. [1862] is suggestive, however; Rossetti writes, “I will consider about the Paradise Regained. The designs were shown to me by John Linnell as being more than usually beautiful, & I do not directly dissent from the terms used in the slip you send me; only my feeling is that Blake has here been less inspired than usual, and the result comparatively tame” (Letters of William Michael Rossetti Concerning Whitman, Blake, and Shelley [Durham, N.C., 1934], p. 11).

Gilchrist, I, 343.

[In response to Henry Crabb Robinson’s report of Blake saying,] “He [Milton] wished me to expose the falsehood of his doctrine taught in the Paradise Lost that sexual intercourse arose out of the Fall.”

He did not

Gilchrist, II, 77.

This enigmatic-looking poem [“The Crystal Cabinet”] probably does no more than symbolize in a new way the world-old phenomena of a lover’s transfiguration of his mistress and of all things through her, and the reaction when the dream is broken by a too ardent effort to embody it.

I differ here, being pretty confident that the poem describes figuratively the physical phenomena of birth: this explanation would probably be repulsive to most readers.

Gilchrist, II, 88.


*This poem seems to me to represent under a very ideal form the phenomena of gestation and birth. Mr. Swinburne has suggested a different explanation; and another again is offered in the 2nd vol. of Gilchrist’s book.

begin page 50 | back to top

Gilchrist, II, 106.

THE AGONY OF FAITH. [“AGONY OF FAITH” deleted; “Grey Monk1written above it.]

1 See the verses To the Deists, with which the present poem corresponds to some extent.

Gilchrist, II, 199.

[At the bottom of the page on which the headnote to “Descriptive Catalogue” begins, Rossetti writes:]

I shd be disposed to add a sentence somewhat to the following effect: —

A Catalogue [“such” deleted] on the plan of the ensuing is peculiarly necessary in the case of Blake. His life consisted in imaginative insight & in the embodiment of that insight in the form of art. The list of his paintings & designs is therefore a most important part of his life. I am in hopes that the extraordinary amount of original thought & invention which belongs to these works will be to some extent sensible even thro’ so imperfect a medium as that of an annotated Catalogue, & will render the looking thro’ this somewhat less tedious than would be the case with almost any other artist.

Print Edition

  • Publisher
  • Department of English, University of California
  • Berkeley, CA, USA
    • Editor
    • Morton D. Paley
    • Associate Editors
    • Donald D. Ault
    • Andrew Griffin
    • Editorial Assistant
    • Patricia Pelfrey

    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.