Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


British Museum
Little Tom the Sailor

A greatly enlarged view of the image can be obtained by right clicking on picture, selecting view in new window, and clicking on image.

 An example of Blake's alternate engraving techniques is found in his broadside Little Tom the Sailor which was executed soon after his arrival in Felpham on September 18, 1800. Hayley had devised a project for providing financial support for the family of a boy who had been killed at sea. Hayley wrote a sentimental poem which would be illustrated and printed by the Blakes and sold for the benefit of the boy's family. Perhaps Hayley provided the pewter for the project which made it more complex than Blake's method of relief printing on copper which he had developed for his 'illuminated books'. Four separate sections comprise the single sheet.  

Quoting from Engravings of William Blake, Archibald G B Russell (1912):
Page 82
"The ballad was written by Hayley, 22nd September 1800, for the widowed mother of a Folkstone sailor lad, named Tom Spicer, who had been drowned at sea...Ballad and imprint are executed in the ordinary method of relief-etching employed by Blake in the engraved books. The pictorial designs are examples of what he called 'woodcuts on pewter'". 

In his notebook Blake wrote two undated memoranda on the use of pewter in engraving. Note the care required to avoid extraneous marks.

Blake's Notebook, (E 694)
To Engrave on Pewter. Let there be first a drawing made correctly with black lead pencil, let nothing be to seek, then rub it off on the plate coverd with white wax. or perhaps pass it thro press. this will produce certain & determind forms on the plate & time will not be wasted in seeking them afterwards" 

To Woodcut on Pewter. lay a ground on the Plate & smoke it as for Etching, then trace your outlines & draw, them with a needle. and beginning with the spots of light on each object with an oval pointed needle scrape off the ground. [& instead of etching the shadowy strokes] as a direction for your graver then proceed to graving with the ground on the plate being as careful as possible not to hurt the ground because it being black will shew perfectly what is wanted"

Blake depended on Catherine to execute the more routine aspects of his productions including some printing and coloring. Her assistance was engaged in this project in spite of the distractions on her of settling into a new home and coming down with an illness. Hayley apparently had business in London which required his attention.

Letters, [To William Hayley], (E 714)
"Felpham 26th November, 1800
Dear Sir,
     Absorbed by the poets Milton, Homer, Camoens, Ercilla,
Ariosto, and Spenser, whose physiognomies have been my delightful
study, Little Tom has been of late unattended to, and my
wife's  illness not being quite gone off, she has not printed any
more  since you went to London.  But we can muster a few in
colours and  some in black which I hope will be no less favour'd
tho' they are  rough like rough sailors.  We mean to begin
printing again  to-morrow.  Time flies very fast and very
merrily.  I sometimes  try to be miserable that I may do more
work, but find it is a  foolish experiment.  Happinesses have
wings and wheels; miseries  are leaden legged and their whole
employment is to clip the wings  and to take off the wheels of
our chariots.  We determine,  therefore, to be happy and do all
that we can, tho' not all that  we would.  Our dear friend
Flaxman is the theme of my emulation  in this industry, as well
as in other virtues and merits.  Gladly  I hear of his full
health and spirits.  Happy son of the Immortal  Phidias, his lot
is truly glorious, and mine no less happy in his  friendship and
in that of his friends.  Our cottage is surrounded  by the same
guardians you left with us; they keep off every wind.  We hear
the west howl at a distance, the south bounds on high  over our
thatch, and smiling on our cottage says: "You lay too  low for my
anger to injure." As to the east and north I believe  they cannot
get past the turret.    
     My wife joins me in duty and affection to you.  Please to
remember us both in love to Mr. and Mrs. Flaxman, and believe me
to be your affectionate,
Enthusiastic, hope-fostered visionary,
[From the Gilchrist Life]

Russell on page 39 tells us that: "The lower of the two pictorial designs which accompany the a beautiful example of Blake's quieter and often happier mood."

In another letter (E 724) to Hayley written after his return to London, Blake expresses this sentiment:

"Engraving is Eternal work
 I curse & bless Engraving
alternately because it takes so much time & is so untractable.
tho capable of such beauty & perfection"

No comments:

Post a Comment