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2. Blake and “Cowper’s Tame Hares”

In A Blake Bibliography (p. 123) Professors Bentley and Nurmi describe one plate in William Hayley’s The Life,...of William Cowper, Esq. (Chichester, 1803-04; 3 vols.) as follows: “(4) At Vol. II, p. 415, the bottom of the page, is an unsigned engraving, not mentioned in the directions to the binder, representing the Weather-house, ‘The Peasants Nest,’ and ‘Cowper’s Tame Hares,’ ‘Puss Tiney & Bess,’ with a quotation from The begin page 12 | back to top Task, Book I, line 200. There can be little doubt, however, that Blake engraved this plate.” However, in A Bibliography of William Blake (New York, 1921; p. 250) Sir Geoffrey Keynes noted that the signature “Blake d & sc” appears, not at the bottom of the plate as in the other five plates Blake did for Hayley’s Cowper, but within the design.

Like Bentley and Nurmi I have examined two copies of the first edition (those of the Oberlin College Library and of Professor A. J. Kuhn) and one (my own) of the second edition. In all three the signature appears, above a garland and directly beneath the initial letters of the lines quoted from The Task. In these copies the inscription is clearly “Blake d e sc” (for “Blake d[elineavit] e[t] sc[ulpsit]”) rather than as Keynes reports. Perhaps there were two or more states of the plate, one with the signature, one without. The plate—plate-mark 23 × 17 cm., about two-thirds of the page—was moveable and independent of the type set at the top of the page, the distance between the type and the plate-mark varying from copy to copy. In one copy (Oberlin) the page is numbered (“415” but not “416” on verso) and bears the page head “APPENDIX.” The other copies I have seen have neither page head or page number; the only clue to the binder is a flag (“Motto”) at II.414. In my copy the plate appears at the end of the first volume—perhaps because “Cowper’s Tame Hares” are described at I.89-90, or perhaps simply as an afterthought.

This plate is of some interest because it is the only one of those Blake engraved for Hayley’s Cowper which he also designed. But all he has done, perhaps all he was free to do, was work into a rather conventional balance the weather man’s dark, stormy side of the house with the woman’s bright and pastoral half.

(When I thought that I had discovered an altogether new Blake signature, Mr. J. C. Maxwell of the Balliol College, Oxford, helped correct me. I am grateful to him for this.)

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