A SIGNIFICANT EARLY REVIEW OF BLAKE
In A Blake Bibliography by G. E. Bentley, Jr., and Martin K. Nurmi, there are recorded only 102 type-printed references to William Blake or his works through 1827, the year of his death.1↤ 1 This figure, derived from the “Table of Type-Printed References to Blake before 1863” (p. xvii), may be slightly askew; that list’s entry for the year 1789 is, for instance, a mistake. Suzanne R. Hoover has added one allusion (for 1796) in her “Fifty Additions to Blake Bibliography.”2↤ 2 Blake Newsletter 19, 5 (Winter, 1971-72), 167-72. Of these items, only a handful comment substantively on Blake’s poetry or his designs, fewer name him, and even fewer comment favorably.
The addition of even a brief notice favorable to Blake as an artist is, therefore, of some value. The following short notice of one of Blake’s least significant publications is the second earliest published notice, I believe, to comment favorably on Blake’s art3↤ 3 The single earlier favorable mention listed by Bentley and Nurmi occurred in passing in the Analytical Review’s notice of Mary Wollstonecraft’s translation of C. G. Salzmann’s Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children (1791). But the question of Blake’s participation in that work is still open. See Bentley and Nurmi, item 402A (pp. 149-50). and is certainly the first to name him in doing so. It appeared in the European Magazine and London Review for August 1802 (42: 125-26).
Designs to a Series of Ballads written by William Hayley, Esq. and founded on Anecdotes relating to Animals, drawn, engraved, and published, by William Blake. With the begin page 95 | Ballads annexed by the Author’s Permission. Two Numbers. 4to. Printed at Chichester.
It appears by the Preface to this work, that Mr. Hayley is now busily employed in rendering an affectionate tribute of justice to the memory of Cowper the Poet, and that Mr. Blake has devoted himself with indefatigable spirit to engrave the plates intended to decorate the work. To amuse the artist in his patient labour, and to furnish his fancy with a few slight subjects for an inventive pencil that might afford some variety to his incessant application, without too far interrupting his most serious business, Mr. Hayley proposed to furnish him with a series of ballads for a few vacant moments’ employment, to be published periodically, and to be completed in fifteen numbers. Two of these are now before us. The subjects, the gratitude of an elephant, and the heroism of a mother in rescuing her child from the fangs of an eagle. The artist has executed his share of the undertaking much to his credit; and from Mr. Hayley’s pen, though carelessly employed, the Public will not be disappointed in their expectation of elegant, chaste, and pathetic compositions. To the inhabitants of Chichester, where it is printed, this work is inscribed.
I came across this notice while preparing my nine-volume edition of facsimile reprints of reviews of the Romantic poets and their circles, The Romantics Reviewed (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1972). Though tempted to include it, together with the few other substantive early comments on Blake, I concluded that the notices of Blake did not belong with those of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats both because the reviews of Blake deal primarily with his work as an artist and because—had I followed uniform criteria for inclusion—most of the critical comments on Blake would have been excluded as passing references in reviews of books by others. Moreover, inasmuch as I came across the European Magazine notice while looking for something else, I concluded that a systematic search of periodicals might turn up a few more items to add to the items reprinted by G. E. Bentley, Jr., in Blake Records (Oxford, 1969). Blake’s name does appear, for example, in the lists of painters and engravers in Leigh Hunt’s Literary Pocket Book for some though not all of the annual issues of that pocket diary.