Verse and Prose by William Blake

William Blake

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1850?


◦ Erdman and Moore, eds., The Notebook of William Blake (1977)

◦ Fredeman, ed., Correspondence 51. 11n., 60. 46 and n., 61. 65 and n.

◦ Gilchrist, Life of William Blake (1863)

Scholarly Commentary


DGR's transcription of the prose and verse in Blake's famous Notebook represents his selection of “All that is of any worth in the book”, as he wrote at the beginning of his transcription. The comment perfectly illustrates the attitude toward editing posthumous materials that was prevalent until the twentieth-century. Like Todd and Higginson when they edited Emily Dickinson some thirty years later, DGR saw it as his duty to Blake to select and improve materials that had been left in an unpolished condition.

The transciption is a document of first importance for assessing the way Blake was being read at this crucial point in his reception history. DGR was a key figure not only in the rediscovery of Blake, but in the process of transmitting him and his work to people like WMR, Swinburne, and Yeats. WMR and Swinburne both used the Blake Notebook and DGR's transcriptions when they were editing and writing about Blake.

Textual History: Composition

DGR acquired the Notebook in 1847 from William Palmer (the brother of Samuel Palmer), borrowing the purchase price of 10 shillings from his brother. From the crossed out pencil signature DGR put at the begining of his transcription “D.G.C.R.”), as well as the style of the calligraphy (compare his transcription of Ancient CHristmas Carols), it is clear that the transcript was made very early—perhaps in 1850 or even earlier.

DGR did nothing with it until 1860 when he made the acquaintance of Alexander and Anne Gilchrist. DGR began helping Gilchrist in 1860 in the final stages of Gilchrist's work on his biography of Blake. As his letter to Gilchrist of 27 August 1861 shows, DGR at that point began studying the Notebook closely and started making copies of the poetry, initially “of Auguries of Innocence, omitting parts & transposing others so as (to my thinking) the better to make its merits tell. I send it you in case you should agree with me & adopt the version” ( Fredeman, Correspondence 61. 65 ). (This would be DGR's approach to all of the Blake texts he would transcribe and eventually publish, from his transcriptions, in the Gilchrist biography, both the 1863 edition and the later 1880 edition.) After Gilchrist died at the end of November 1861, his widow asked DGR to assume the task of editing the selections of Blake's verse and prose that would go into the biography. DGR had placed himself (and his brother) at her service to help in any way he could to see that the biography would be expeditiously published (see his letter to Anne Gilchrist of 15 January 1862, Fredeman, Correspondence 62. 9 ).

The Notebook remained in DGR's possession until his death, after which it was sold for £110.5.0 in the (1882) sale of the contents of DGR's house.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 3-1862.raw.xml