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The Blake Collection of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne. Catalogue by G. E. Bentley, Jr. Introduction by Charles Ryskamp. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1971. Pp. 65 + 30 plates. $10 paperback.
Although The Blake Collection of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne was issued in conjunction with the exhibition of Mrs. Thorne’s collection held at the Pierpont Morgan Library from 19 November 1971 to 22 January 1972, it is not an exhibition catalogue. Rather, Bentley’s work is the definitive catalogue of one of the last three great Blake collections in private hands. As such, this handsomely produced volume goes far beyond the commemorative function of the usual exhibition handbook both in the amount of detailed information it provides and in its lasting importance to Blake scholarship.
Bentley’s description of Mrs. Thorne’s ten illuminated books, five of which are color printed, and her copy of For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise form the heart of the catalogue. The format is more convenient than that used in the Keynes and Wolf Census because the information is arranged under marginal headings (“Paper Sizes,” “Numbering,” “Binding,” etc.) rather than lumped together in paragraph-length notes. The bibliographic details provided for each book frequently add to the information in the Census. For example, Keynes and Wolf state only the number of pages with a watermark, whereas Bentley lists each page where it occurs. Further, Bentley has paid more attention to offsetting, stab holes, and other keys to binding history. This may appear to some as only so much useless trivia, but it can be crucially important to someone investigating the original sequence of plates and whether or not the present arrangement corresponds to Blake’s intended ordering of his work. I have not been able to check Bentley’s entries against Mrs. Thorne’s copies themselves, but I suspect that the enrichment of details has brought with it an increase in accuracy. Only the following comments seem called for.
Page 19 There Is No Natural Religion, title-page. Bentley’s statement that “in no copy is the author, printer, place, or date supplied” is potentially misleading. This is true of the title-page, under which heading this sentence appears, but it is of course not true of the whole book. As the first reproduction in the catalogue reveals, Blake inscribed in reverse “The Author & Printer W Blake” on the frontispiece to the first series of There Is No Natural Religion. Bentley considers the reverse lettering an error, stating that Blake “forgot to etch it reversed to make it print straight” (p. 20) while experimenting with his new technique of relief etching. It seems unlikely that Blake would have made this kind of mistake. Although his new mode of printing no doubt offered some unique difficulties, Blake had been long familiar with intaglio etching and engraving where writing in reverse on the plate, or employing some process for transferring writing from paper to plate in a way that reverses its direction, is no less necessary than in relief work. One should at least consider the possibility that Blake had a purpose for reverse lettering on his first frontispiece, just as he did years later in Jerusalem. However, the fact that the inscription is very faintly printed, and in some copies partly colored over, suggests that Bentley may be right, and further that Blake tried to minimize the consequences of his error.
Page 21 watermark. Bentley states that “no copy of Thel is watermarked,” but the Census records three different watermarks in the Morgan proofs (copy a), in copy F, and in copies N and O. In her facsimile edition of Thel, Nancy Bogen confirms the Census readings.
Page 21 variants. “In pl. 3, the men at the right . . . ” should read “In pl. 3, the men at the left . . . .”
Page 22 The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, title-page. In his transcriptions of titles, Bentley consistently makes no distinction between vertical and slanted letters, except in this case, where the decorative letters of “Marriage,” are transcribed as italics. It is practically impossible to represent accurately an etched title with type, but it seems possible to indicate slanted letters in Blake’s titles without getting into too many difficulties. For example, THE | BOOK | of | THEL is a little closer to the original than Bentley’s THE | BOOK | of | THEL. “Marriage” presents special problems, and only a reproduction can give a sense of the original.begin page 27 | ↑ back to top
Page 24 variants. Bentley writes that “ordinarily” the top of the frontispiece to Visions of the Daughters of Albion is “open sky” and not “colored like the mouth of a cave” as it is in the Thorne copy. In all copies I have examined (A, C, E, G, L, P—6 of the 16 recorded in the Census) the top of the cave, and the vegetation hanging from it, appear to have been printed from the copper-plate itself. Although in some cases the top of the cave is not emphasized with strong coloring, in no copy examined is it painted over to indicate sky.
Page 28 Songs of Innocence and of Experience, title-page. Bentley records a period after the “W” of “W Blake” on the title-pages to Innocence and to Experience in the Thorne copy. These periods are not found in any of the eight copies of Innocence & Experience I have examined (three originals, the rest through reproductions). It seems unlikely that these periods ever appeared on the copper-plate, but Bentley does not record them as a variant unique to the Thorne copy. Like Blake’s etched letters, his punctuation in the illuminated books presents special problems for the descriptive bibliographer since it is often difficult to tell the difference between a punctuation mark and an element of the coloring or design. I suspect that any attempt to weed out all the commas from the vegetation and record every variant splash of color that might be punctuation would be a frightfully complicated task, and the sheer number and rendomness of variants discovered would militate against their significance. These are good reasons for not recording punctuation variants, but if they are part of the rationale for Bentley’s bibliographic procedures they should be pointed out as such. Otherwise, users of the work might waste time fussing over matters with which the catalogue is not concerned.
Page 35 For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, title-page. Bentley’s statement that “no copy gives author, printer, publisher, place, or date” may mislead some readers. As with the similar statement about No Natural Religion (noted above), this is true of the title-page only, for in The Gates of Paradise at least some of this information appears on sixteen other plates in the book.
The remainder of the catalogue is devoted to descriptions of manuscript materials (including the “Pickering Manuscript,” the only long fair copy of Blake’s poems extant), Mrs. Thorne’s three Blake watercolors, and fourteen printed or engraved works ranging from A Descriptive Catalogue of 1809 to an impression of “The Man Sweeping the Interpreter’s Parlor.” I have not been able to check Bentley’s transcriptions of printed title-pages against Mrs. Thorne’s own copies, but a comparison with other copies has turned up a number of discrepancies. These may indicate that Mrs. Thorne owns an astonishing number of variant issues, but none of her copies are indicated as such in the catalogue. Many of these possible errors listed below are of course the most minute of particulars, but Bentley’s catalogue commands the kind of authority to make their recording here worthwhile.
Page 37 A Descriptive Catalogue. There is a comma after “Soho” in the Huntington Library copy and in the reproduction of the title-page in Keynes’ Bibliography (1921), verso of p. 85.
Page 41 Tragedies of Aeschylus. There is a period after “TRANSLATED” in the Huntington copy.
Page 56 Gay’s Fables. In four copies examined, the “F” of “FABLES,” the “J” of “John,” and the “G” of “GAY” are a few millimeters larger than the other letters in these words. The “ol” of “Vol.” is in small capitals. There is no period after “1793” in either volume and none after “Piccadilly” in the second volume. There is a period after “Blake Mr” in the subscription list.
Page 57 Young’s Night Thoughts. In nineteen copies examined, the Latin inscription is printed in italics.
Page 58 Hayley’s Ballads (1805). In ten copies examined, the “E” of “Esq.” is an italic capital and the “sq” is in small italic capitals. I was not able to check the transcription of Flaxman’s Letter . . . for Raising the Naval Pillar also on this page of the catalogue.
Page 60 Blair’s Grave. In five copies examined, “William Blake” is in italics (capitalization as recorded by Bentley).
Page 61 Chaucer’s Prologue. In the three copies examined and in the reproduction in Keynes’ Bibliography (1921), p. 210, all but the “C” of “Colnaghi’s” is in small capitals. A period appears after the “M” in the date rather than after the “D.”
Page 62 Dante illustrations. In the Huntington copy and the reproduction in Keynes’ Bibliography (1921), p. 182, there is no period after “2.” There is a period after the Roman numeral in “Canto xxii. line 70,” not a comma as Bentley records for the Thorne copy.
Other sections of the volume contain Mr. Ryskamp’s introduction, a brief essay on “The Great Collections of Blake’s Books” followed by a list of important collectors past and present, and a concluding selection from Blake’s writings. This last part is clearly directed at the general reader, but even the informed Blakean should find much to value in the list of collectors where Bentley records the copies of the illuminated books, with their Census designations, owned by the collectors. Many of the copies now owned by Mr. Paul Mellon were acquired after the publication of the Census, and thus their recording here can help in updating the work of Keynes and Wolf. The thirty high-quality monochrome plates were chosen with care in order to illustrate aspects of Blake’s art unique to the Thorne collection and some of the variants listed in the catalogue. After seeing the Job engravings reproduced over and over again, one is pleased to come upon plates which open up some new vistas. Of particular interest are the two sets of the same page from different copies of an illuminated book, begin page 28 | ↑ back to top one color printed and the other water colored. Some of the differences between the two coloring methods are revealed by these comparisons, although monochrome reproductions, and even most color reproductions, never do justice to the richness of color printing. Unfortunately, these important illustrations were published too late to be included in my Finding List of Blake reproductions, Blake Newsletter, 5 (Summer and Fall, 1971).
Bentley has written an excellent catalogue, setting a high standard for future bibliographies of important collections. This book is a paper-back, but the value of its contents and the quality of the sewn binding, paper, and illustrations justify the price. A good deal of space in this review has been devoted to pointing out probable errors, but to my mind these do not seriously hamper the great usefulness of Bentley’s work. It has already become an essential part of any Blake library.