By Margaret Speer

In her May 14 post, “Blake’s ‘Catalogue’ and Descriptive Criticism,” my colleague and fellow undergraduate project assistant, Megan, impugned Blake, suggesting that his tone in the Descriptive Catalogue evinces a character somewhere on a spectrum between ridiculous and certifiable. I would like to offer a different response to, if not impression of, Mr. B’s insane aggression as manifested in the Descriptive Catalogue.


Megan and I have both been working for a while now on checking our transcription of the Descriptive Catalogue against our standard references: she, Bentley; I, Erdman (the Descriptive Catalogue is a typographical work—stay tuned for a possible blog post about the concept of transcribing typographical works by someone who knows more about it than I!). My disclaimer is that she has finished this checking, while I am about 20% done, which means that she has read through quite a bit more of Blake’s accusatory aesthetic rhetoric than I.

However, I beg to differ that Blake is either laughable or alarmingly mad in his disgruntled ramblings—I prefer adjectives like “adorable,” “justifiable,” or “endearing.” First off, I think the fact that Blake nicknames himself “Mr. B” deserves more attention than passing mention. William Blake refers to himself, in the third person, with a cute little pet name that sounds like it would fit a teddy bear well. How can you not want to defend Mr. B? For that matter, don’t you kind of want to snuggle him?

As for Blake’s invectives against the competition:

All is misconceived, and its mis-execution is equal to its misconception. I have no objection to Rubens and Rembrandt being employed, or even to their living in a palace; but it shall not be at the expence of Rafael and Michael Angelo living in a cottage, and in contempt and derision. I have been scorned long enough by these fellows, who owe to me all they have; it shall be so no longer.

I found them blind, I taught them how to see;

And, now, they know me not, nor yet themselves.

It seems to me perfectly reasonable that Blake rails against other artists, and I think it’s a great attention-getting strategy to sound totally insane while doing it. I think we ought to give Mr. B the benefit of the doubt. After all, time has proved that Blake was right; I, for one, have never heard of these questionable characters “Rubens” and “Rembrandt.” Who are those guys?