Over the past year, the Archive’s publication of existing Blake letters has offered a unique perspective on the personal history of Blake, which complements the view his professional character through his numerous illustrations and engravings.
To this point, the Blake Archive has published two batches of letters, with a third on the way in the coming months.
Working with and reading the letters, we often get a cheap thrill in the office by joking about what Blake was doing on a particular day a couple hundred years ago. (Yes, we realize how sad this is.) More often than not, Blake is pretty damn cold.
But being that the spring warmth is finally in the air, I thought it might be safe to revisit Blake on this day in history, to a letter from May 28, 1804. This particular letter survives through William Gilchrist’s 1808 Life of William Blake, which accounts for the type (rather than script) you see below.
So what’s Blake up to?
Well, as you can see, he’s writing to good ol’ William Hayley about some popular reading choices and the divinity of George Washington to the [newly minted] American people. But the letter soon heats up as Blake turns to professional gossip, namely the questionable talents and practices of a Mr. Johnson:
Fightin’ words! To Blake’s credit, he offers several examples of Johnson’s corruption in the letter.
Apparently, the printing biz in 1808 London is pretty heated. Blake even goes as far as describing the environment of “Engravers, Painters, Statuaries, Printers, Poets” not as a “field of a battle” but a “City of Assassinations.”
It doesn’t seem that Blake was ever comfortable with this fact, but letters like this one show he was, at least, pretty good at playing the game. Go on, check out the letter yourself. Blake has a few good zingers.