Publication Announcement: Illustrations to John Gabriel Stedman’s “Narrative”

15 December 2008

The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of an electronic edition of Blake’s sixteen engravings in John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796). We are presenting two versions of these plates, one with the designs uncolored and one with the designs hand colored. These commercial copy engravings are presented in our Preview mode, one that provides all the features of the Archive except Image Search and Inote (our image annotation program).

Stedman’s Narrative contains a frontispiece to volume 1, an engraved vignette on the title page of each of the two volumes, and eighty numbered full-page plates (including three maps). Thirteen of the numbered plates are signed by Blake; a further three unsigned plates (7, 12, and 14) have been attributed to Blake by modern scholars. As both title pages indicate, the full-page plates are based on drawings by Stedman. None of the drawings on which Blake based his engravings has been traced, but it is likely that Blake made various minor alterations in Stedman’s amateur designs.

Blake began work on the Stedman plates in 1791. Stedman visited Blake in June 1794, and subsequently the engraver helped the author with various business matters, very probably including negotiations with the book’s publisher, Joseph Johnson. Blake’s attitudes towards slavery and colonialism were indebted to Stedman’s autobiographical narrative, as is particularly evident in the texts and designs of his illuminated books Visions of the Daughters of Albion and America, both dated 1793. Stedman’s relationship with a female slave, Joanna, may have influenced Blake’s complex representations of gender and sexuality.

Most, possibly all, of the large-paper copies issued in 1796 have hand-colored plates that include touches of liquefied gold and silver. This tinting was very probably executed by anonymous commercial colorists hired by Johnson. A second edition was issued in 1806 and reprinted in 1813. Some copies of these two later issues also have hand-colored plates, but in a style different from the 1796 coloring.

As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.

Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors
Ashley Reed, project manager, William Shaw, technical editor
The William Blake Archive

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