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An Early Allusion to Blake

Among William Blake’s first engravings for the booksellers was his head of Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777), which was used as a frontispiece for Thomas Henry’s Memoirs of Albert de Haller, M.D. (1783). Of Henry’s extant letters there is one at the Bodleian to his bookseller, Joseph Johnson, containing a brief allusion to Blake; the letter (Ms. Engl. theol. C.50, f. 182) is dated 13 April 1783, making it one of the earliest known references to the engraver.

1 According to Pendred’s Directory both Clerk or Clark and Newton were Manchester booksellers. 2 Simmons was Henry’s collaborator on the Memoirs. The work referred to is Henry’s English edition of Lavoisier’s essays addressed to the Paris Academy.

Dear Sir

The Author of the Sermons which come to you with this letter is a very worthy Clergyman, and the particular Friend of all your Friends here. You will agree with me that the Discourse is an excellent one, and written in a good cause. It will be of some importance to him to have it more known, and you are desired to advertise it in some of the papers and, if you can, introduce it to the London [Unitarian] Association. You will oblige us all by attending to it, and forwarding the Sale.
I hope the Magnesia [Alba] arrived—There had been some accident to one of the Waggons which delayed it—
Pray hasten the Head of Haller—The Book is finished, and very neat, and the Season is advancing rapidly. The heads might come in Clerk’s parcel, or in Newton’s. The One deals with Bew, the other with Rivington—1
I have got Memoires de P. Acad: from the R[oyal] S[ociety] by Dr. Simmons2—Yr’s very truly
Thos Henry

It is conceivable that Henry was familiar with Blake. In 1780 he had engraved a plate for William Enfield’s The Speaker which Johnson published. At this time Enfield was a tutor at the Warrington Academy, and along with the other teachers there, was certainly known to Henry through their mutual religious, scientific, and literary interests. Concerning the delay in sending the head to Henry, only inference can offer assistance. Johnson had a reputation for being dilatory, but only after about 1795 when his health began to fail. Earlier he enjoyed the confidence of authors and customers for being attentive and honest. Blake’s work on the plate, though, falls between his marriage in 1782 and the setting up of his print shop in 1784. So possibly he had other matters on his mind than finishing a small engraving for a bookseller.

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