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The Influence of Wynne’s Emblems on Blake

In a footnote on page 9 of the D. V. Erdman and D. K. Moore edition of Blake’s Notebook (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), reference is made to Wynne’s Choice Emblems Natural, Historical, Fabulous, Moral and Divine, For the Improvement and Pastime of Youth . . . (London: Printed for George Riley, 1772) as a possible influence upon Blake. Some of the details in this note are inaccurate. John Wynne’s second name was Huddlestone, not Middleton. Emblem 2 is not dropped from later editions of the work. It appears in the 2nd edition, 1775 (British Museum). The only later editions I have seen are the 6th, 1788 and 7th, 1792 (Cambridge University Library), and it is also in them. As for other changes between the 1st and 2nd editions: the frontispiece is indeed different. Emblems 12 and 13 are dropped and others substituted, number 47 goes to the end as 53 and 47-52 are new. The only plate which has been re-engraved, as far as I can tell, is Emblem 27, “Of Vain Pursuits.” (All have the addition of a bow of ribbon on top, but that is unimportant.) The differences between the 1772 and 1775 plates of Emblem 27 are as follows: the picture has been reversed, the shape of trees and bushes has been changed, the house lacks its chimney, and the area of the boy’s shadow has decreased. But none of these seem to me to matter in regard to the question of the emblem’s influence upon Emblem 4 of the Notebook.

I wish now to consider the question of whether Wynne’s emblems did influence Blake’s, and if so which edition. I do not think there is any evidence for choosing one edition rather than another, from the 1st to 6th (the 7th being too late). All the begin page 47 | back to top emblems which may have influenced Blake appear in all the editions I have seen, and since the 6th has more emblems than the 2nd but has not deleted any, I suppose that the relevant emblems are to be found in the intervening editions. The comment on the 1772 frontispiece in Erdman’s footnote reads: “The frontispiece, a woman instructing children in the cultivation of ‘the Human Plant’ and in the importance of tree to vine, is a useful approach to the educational symbolism in the frontispiece to Songs of Innocence.” Wynne’s frontispiece shows a boy holding a book under his arm and a woman standing with her arm round a girl and pointing towards a tree supporting a vine. The lines beneath the text are the moral from Emblem 21 “Of Education”:

This prudent care must rear the Youthful mind,
By Love supported and with Toil refin’d,
‘Tis thus alone the Human Plant can rise,
Unprun’d it droops, and Unsupported dies.
The frontispiece to Songs of Innocence has a woman seated with a book in her lap, two children at her knee, and a tree with an unidentifiable twining plant. Blake’s sketch for this Notebook 55 shows the woman with one child. The standard image of Education in, for instance, Ripa’s Iconologia has a seated woman teaching a child to read, and a young tree supported by a pale. There are, therefore, many pictures graphically closer to Blake’s than Wynne’s frontispiece (the closest I have seen being in J. B. Boudard’s Iconologie [Parma: Philippe Carmignani, 1759], but I have no evidence that Blake knew this work).

To me the strongest evidence for supposing that Blake had seen Wynne’s emblems seems to be the appearance in the illustration to the “Argument” of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell of the unsupported vine from Emblem 21, a detail which Erdman mentions elsewhere as belonging to the emblem tradition.11 “Reading the Illuminations of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” in William Blake: Essays in honour of Sir Geoffrey Keynes, ed. M. D. Paley and M. Phillips (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973), p. 169. Daphne as an emblem “Of Chastity” (Emblem 35) is a commonplace with little graphic variation. I can see no thematic reason for connecting Emblem 2, “Of Silence” (a nude man standing, hand to lips, before a pyramid and obelisk) with MHH 21, in spite of the visual coincidence. Pyramids are a standard symbol of the glories of this world (or, in Ripa, of the Glory of Princes). The traveller in “Of the Use of Self-Denial,” Emblem 24, does not move “in the manner and direction” of Blake’s in Notebook 15, and many another pilgrim is depicted dressed like Blake’s traveller. Only the serpent around the leg of Wynne’s figure seems a possible influence—on Drawing 13a.

There is an emblem graphically closer to the Notebook Emblem 4 (later GP 7) than Wynne’s “Of Vain Pursuits.” Wynnes’s picture is based on Emblem 22 of Bunyan’s Divine Emblems: or Temporal Things Spiritualized. Fitted for The Use of Boys and Girls,22 This is the title of the illustrated editions of this work. The “9th edition,” 1724, is the first extant one with illustrations, though the 3rd edition of 1707 was advertised as being “ornamented with cuts.” This edition has crude illustrations lacking in detail. The edition I have used for comparison with Wynne is the “10th edition,” 1757. I have not yet located copies of the editions of 1732 and 1770 listed in CBEL. entitled “Of the Boy and Butter Fly,” as Wynne’s emblem is in his Contents list. The only significant difference is the one that establishes the connection with Blake: Wynne’s boy has his hat on his head, whereas in the Bunyan emblem the boy is using a hat, like the Blake one, to chase the butterfly.

I should add that what I have said about the Education motif involves no criticism of Erdman’s view that Blake was considering from early in the Notebook an emblem book for children—indeed Blake’s work counters the current vogue for rationalistic, moralistic, educational books for children by offering a very different concept of education. Also interpretative conclusions about Gates of Paradise 7, based on the assumption that the small figures are personified butterflies, are in no way changed by my citation of a different source, especially since Bunyan’s and Wynne’s themes are the same.

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