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An Apocryphal Blake Engraving: THE MINOR’S POCKET BOOK (1814)

In 1859 the British Museum Print Room acquired an engraving which it catalogued as by William Blake, “The World before the Flood . . . The Minors Pocket Book 1814.” Subsequently the engraving was mislaid; at any rate, it is not now with the Blake Collection in the Print Room.

Since no such print by Blake is known to Blake scholars, my article describing the above evidence (“A Fugitive or Apocryphal Blake Engraving”) was printed in the Blake Newsletter, 2 (April 1969), 74, expressing not only doubt as to the authenticity of the attribution to Blake but uncertainty about the subject and the work in which it appeared. The point of the present note is to identify The Minor’s Pocket Book and the subject of the engraving and to lay the ghostly attribution to Blake.

The World Before the Flood is a poem by James Montgomery (1813) which enjoyed some popularity (there was a third edition by 1814 and a seventh by 1826). The Minor’s Pocket Book is a quite uncommon annual for children published by permutations of the firm of Darton & Harvey (Harvey & Darton; W. & T. Darton; W. Darton; W. Darton, Junr; Darton, Harvey, & Darton). I know of no comprehensive runs of the journal, but isolated issues may be found as follows:

1797 Osborne Collection, Toronto Public Library
1804 Columbia University Library; Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand
1805 Columbia
1807 Columbia; Turnbull
1808 Columbia
1810 Columbia
1811 Columbia
1812 Columbia
1813 Columbia
1814 Mrs. Linda Hannas
1829 Turnbull

The Minor’s Pocket Book is a small volume, ordinarily bound in full red morocco with clasps to close it like a kind of envelope. It consists of a few sections of miscellaneous interest, such as New & Full Moons, Holidays, “Memorandum,” as well as pages with the date, for a journal. The copies in the Turnbull Library, for example, were used as a journal by Ann Taylor (later Gilbert), who contributed to early issues of the work. (Under 19 March 1807 is:

1 11 6 Recd of Darton for Minors PBk
3 8 3 for City Scenes
2 2 for Juvenile Anecdotes[.])

In some years there was a frontispiece, such as the one in 1829 designed by Stothard; begin page 108 | back to top in other years, an engraved vignette appeared on the titlepage.

The frontispiece for 1814 is identified at the top as having been “Engraved for the Minor’s Pocket Book 1814,” and at the bottom it is inscribed: “Nurst by that foster-sire, austere and rude, / Midst rocks and glens, in savage solitude. / The World before the Flood. Canto 7, p. 136.” The design represents a child holding up a snake before a crouching man. The plate is not signed with the name of either the designer or the engraver, and I see in it no reason to attribute either role to Blake. The British Museum Print Room cataloguer who added Blake’s name to the work seems to have been simply mistaken.

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