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

The Blake Trust Gray Catalogue and the Blake Trust Facsimiles

In Blake Newsletter 24 (Spring 1973) recently issued, Professor G. E. Bentley, Jr., has published an article in which he chooses to question the accuracy of the facsimiles of Blake’s Illuminated Books published by Mr. Arnold Fawcus of the Trianon Press on behalf of the Trustees of the William Blake Trust—a non-profit-making educational charity founded with the help of a bequest from the estate of the late Walford Graham Robertson and greatly assisted by generous contributions from Mr. Lessing J. Rosenwald and Mr. Paul Mellon. Professor Bentley’s object was to rebut a favorable review (Newsletter 21) of the Catalogue of the Tate Gallery Exhibition of Blake’s Illustrations of Gray’s Poems, issued for the convenience of the visitors to the exhibition. As Chairman of the Trustees I would like to reply.

Professor Bentley writes that he has detected “some serious minor defects” in the Catalogue, the plates of which he regards as having been “simply falsified.” This “tampering” with the reproductions he says brings into question the reliability of all the Blake Trust reproductions. It seems that the begin page 65 | back to top excellence of the color-plates in the Catalogue has led him to assume that it was a typical example of the work of the Trianon Press, which is carried out in most instances by a subtle combination of collotype printing with hand-coloring done through stencils. As a matter of fact the Catalogue was a mass-produced volume hastily put together at the last moment, the color-plates being printed by a four-color offset process at another machine shop in Paris. It had no pretensions to being a facsimile of anything, being designed as an inexpensive guide to the exhibition trying to give some idea of the quality of the real thing—as should have been evident from the price at which it was sold.

The most serious “inaccuracy” found by the Professor was an inscription added to the jacket of the book which carried a reproduction of Blake’s title-page. Publishers do not commonly provide a careful hand-colored facsimile on so ephemeral an object as a book-jacket, but do often add information on this expendable feature. The other inaccuracy was in another inscription made by Blake in dim pencilling on the same title-page. This would have been invisible when reproduced by the offset process and was consequently rewritten slightly changed by a workman in the offset shop.

On this totally erroneous basis Professor Bentley makes the unjustified suggestion of deliberate tampering by Mr. Fawcus and thereby throwing doubt on the value of all the Blake Trust facsimiles.

I am glad to be able to acknowledge that Professor Bentley has written a letter to Mr. Fawcus expressing regret for any distress he may have caused, but follows this with a series of other complaints which seem designed to undermine still further the status of the Blake Trust facsimiles and I feel that further explanation is needed.

Professor Bentley complains that in the black-and-white reproduction of Jerusalem (1953) the plate numbers have been moved in half the plates from the right side to the left. Again, this volume was not designed as a perfect facsimile. It was a mass-produced book (1700 copies) at a low price, in which the plates were printed on both sides of the leaves instead of on one side only. The numbers were moved to aid users by placing them on each leaf where they would expect to find them.

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He complains further that in the eclectic facsimile of There is No Natural Religion (1971) the size of the pages is not exactly that of Blake’s original leaves. In none of the facsimiles is the leaf guaranteed to be of exactly the same size as that of the original copy. Blake himself varied this relation of print to leaf, and in any case it seems to me to be immaterial to the value of the color print. It is almost the equivalent of complaining that the pulp of which the paper is made is not of the same composition as that used by Blake. In fact the paper was specially made in an attempt to produce an approximation to Blake’s paper, though with a distinctive watermark.

Professor Bentley also refers to the slight inaccuracy in the facsimile of All Religions are One (1970) in that the various shades of green are not quite true to the unique original. This may well be so, and the reason for it will be obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the difficulties of reproduction. As was stated in my description of the plates, the reproductions had to be made from photographic ektachromes of each plate except one, which were supplied by the H. E. Huntington Library because they were unable to loan the original. The implication was that subtle variations of this kind could not be caught. The single original print available from my collection had to be used as the standard for color. This partial failure should be attributed to the regulations under which public institutions are administered and not to the craftsman. Private owners can allow themselves to be more co-operative, and the Blake Trust has been fortunate in enjoying this generous co-operation in every other instance.

Professor Bentley concludes with a solemn warning against accepting any reproduction as “perfect.” This seems hardly necessary, since the term “facsimile” in its usual acceptation carries with it the assumption that no reproduction is so perfect as to be the equivalent of a forgery. This very small degree of imperfection is wholly desirable and I have no wish to claim that any of our facsimiles have surpassed it. Yet the Trustees are satisfied that during the last twenty-five years they have been able to rely absolutely on the integrity of Mr. Fawcus in his efforts to produce facsimiles which are extraordinarily faithful to Blake’s work. This is the more remarkable in view of the volume of work turned out and of the technical difficulties presented by some of the subjects. Brinkley, 6 May 1974

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