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“With intellectual spears, & long winged arrows of thought”


The Blake Trust Gray catalogue, reviewed in Blake Newsletter 21, was a very remarkable bargain when sold in London in paperback at £1.75 ($4.20) with its 116 small monochrome designs and its nineteen large color plates, particularly compared with the North American hardback price of about $25. The large plates in particular give an excellent idea of the originals. Comparison of the one color plate in Mrs. Tayler’s Blake’s Illustrations to the Poems of Gray (Princeton, 1971) with the similar one in the Blake Trust catalogue makes it clear that the latter is very markedly superior in faithfulness to the original; for example, the foxing is plain in the Blake Trust reproduction but is quite invisible in Mrs. Tayler’s plate.

There are, however, some serious minor defects in the Blake Trust catalogue reproductions. A number of the reproductions have been significantly cropped at one or more margins—among the color plates, Gray pp. 58-59, 70, 85, 126, 150, 158, and, among the monochrome plates, Gray pp. 50-51, 53, 151. More importantly, two reproductions seem to have been simply falsified. The Blake Trust cover reproduction of Blake’s design for Gray’s titlepage bears at the bottom right in an eighteenth-century hand the words “Drawings by William Blake,” but these words do not appear in the original design or in the two other reproductions of the design to be seen in the Blake Trust catalogue and in Mrs. Tayler’s book. They have been added by a modern begin page 96 | back to top hand, presumably at The Trianon Press, to emphasize Blake’s part in the work. These words do appear in manuscript on the Gray titlepage (not on Blake’s design), but they appear in markedly different forms in the two color reproductions of it in the Blake Trust catalogue; in particular, the “W”, “ll”, and “B” are formed quite differently in the two color reproductions of the Gray title page. Such tampering with the reproductions is likely to reduce considerably our implicit faith in the reliability of these plates. A hasty survey has not, however, revealed any further such alterations.

These are, it is true, minor details. They do, however, bring into question the reliability of the Blake Trust reproductions. Peculiarities such as these should make us cautious in trusting the minute fidelity of Blake Trust (i.e., Trianon Press) reproductions—or, indeed, of any others. Such reproductions can be useful guides to remind us more or less faithfully of the originals, but they must never be trusted in place of the originals for the minute details upon which the most responsible scholarship depends. Blake students have ample cause to be deeply grateful to The Blake Trust and to The Trianon Press, for excellent substitutes for the originals—for facsimiles which are available and beautiful, but not perfect.

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