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The Publication of Ellis and Yeats, The Works of William Blake (1893)

THE first major work about Blake in the nineteenth century was Gilchrist’s epoch-making Life of William Blake, “Pictor Ignotus” (1863), which introduced Blake to a wide public. The second was The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical, Edited with [296] Lithographs of the Illustrated “Prophetic Books,” and a Memoir and Interpretation by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats in Three Vols. (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1893). The Ellis and Yeats edition published for the first time both the text and reproductions of the previously unheard-of Vala or The Four Zoas, presented for the first time an analysis of the previously scarcely heard of “Symbolic System” (1:235-420), and provided a previously unattempted “Interpretation and Paraphrased Commentary” on all of Blake’s works (2:3-301). These are major accomplishments.

The initiative for the work seems to have been largely that of Ellis. The editing was done for love, not money. Yeats wrote in 1904 that he worked on the edition for “4 years and . . . never got anything out of it but a few larger paper copies.”11. Inscription in a small-paper set, quoted by Robert N. Essick, “Blake in the Marketplace, 1982-1983,” Blake 18.2 (fall 1984): 70.

As early as 29 April 1891 the antiquarian bookseller and publisher Bernard Quaritch wrote to Ellis about printing three volumes of Blake.22. My wife and I went through the files in Quaritch’s on 9 August 1990, and Arthur Freeman gave us permission to quote from them. In an undated note, Quaritch wrote about the Blake edition: “500 ordinary issue / 150 large paper / Mr. Griggs to supply paper.” A business memorandum in the Quaritch files records:

Ellis’ Blake Nov. 1. 1892 Sent Mr Griggs order to deliver
100 sm. Paper
50 larger—to Leighton’s
the remaining stock to be delivered at green’s Court
Norman, sent order Nov 29
And on 29 November [1892] Quaritch wrote to Ellis:
I have given the order to the printers to deliver small and large copies of your Blake to Leighton, Binders New Street Sq.
The large paper copies will be done up in h[al]f mor. Gilt tops uncut[.] The small paper copies in extra cloth uncut with a gold impression on the front.

An agreeably full description of Quaritch’s publication arrangements is given in a recently discovered letter from Quaritch to Ellis: 3. The letter was discovered in a copy of Ellis and Yeats which John Windle acquired in Germany in 2006. [Scans of the pages are online at the journal’s web site <>.]

Decbr. 30 1892
Dear Mr. Ellis
I am glad you are tolerably well again and that you have set the binder going to do up your
Blake, 3 vols.
I am in favor of carrying out an agreement to the letter, and therefore refused to Mr. Yeats to exchange small paper copies for the Large Paper ones, due to you, as per agreement. Excuse me, I also refuse this request to you.
To show you however my sense of indebtedness to you, I shall send you beyond your 30 Large Paper copies
10 on Small paper.
The very desire of yours to prefer the small paper to the Large Paper copies has set me reflecting about the relative prices of the book in the two states, I shall alter the price of the
Large Paper copies
(from £6:6.) to £4.14.6
This seems the more correct proportion
Besides the 6 copies for the press you stipulated for, I shall send out a few more.
What Art Journal do you recommend?
Yours, dear Sir,
ever truly
Bernard Quaritch
Alfred is improving daily; his appetite is fierce.

Due as per Agreement
Gratis copies Large Paper.
Mr. Linnell 13 copies
British Museum 1
Press Copies 6
Mr. Ellis 30
50 copies

To which I add 10 copies on small paper
Press-copies to be sent to
Saturday Review,
Daily Telegraph (Sir E. Arnold)
The Theosophist
Tribune New York. USA.
Sun —do—
9 Speaker

In this list, the first six journals are bracketed, suggesting that they are “the 6 copies for the press you stipulated for.”

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In 1895 Quaritch offered The Works of William Blake, ed. E. J. Ellis and W. B. Yeats (1893) at £3.3.0 and the large-paper format at £4.14.6. He quoted reviews in Saturday Review (4 Feb. 1893), Times (19 Jan. 1893), which seems to be based on a flier, and Methodist Times (5 Jan. 1893), which says “we have just seen the proof-sheets.”

Of the 650 sets printed (150 of them large paper), Quaritch gave 40 to Ellis (30 on large paper), 13 to Linnell, who had made Vala available to Ellis and Yeats, 1 to the British Museum Print Room, at least 11 as review copies (though his agreement with Ellis called for only 6), and an unknown number to Yeats. Not counting the sets for Yeats, which may have been included in the 40 to Ellis, Quaritch gave away ten percent of the press run.

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