William Blake. Europe [and] America. Lambeth: Printed by William Blake, 1793-4. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

William Blake. Europe [and] America. Lambeth: Printed by William Blake, 1793-4. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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William Blake. Europe [and] America. Lambeth: Printed by William Blake, 1793-4. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries

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Europe, a prophecy [and] America, a prophecy

Author: William Blake
Ref No: 1794 BLAK
Date Created: 1793-1974

Although the poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) is now regarded as one of the giants of the English Romantic movement, his contemporaries doubted his sanity and much of his verse might never have seen the light of day had he not printed it himself.

Only seventeen copies of America are known to exist and only twelve of Europe. The Library’s copies are bound together in one volume, which makes sense, for they are closely related works. Although America was inspired by the American War of Independence and Sir Isaac Newton appears in Europe, these poems are not realistic or historical in flavour but visionary. They share the same cast of mythical figures (Los, Urizen, Orc etc.) invented entirely by Blake.

A rather mysterious note in Grey's handwriting on the fly leaf records all that is known about the book's provenance. "I purchased this book at the sale of the effects of a deceased artist, (I now forget his name), who had obtained it direct from Blake". The vagueness of the note has frustrated subsequent researchers, although there are several possible candidates for the anonymous "deceased artist". One possibility is Frederick Tatham himself, if indeed he did print the copies. He died in 1878. G. E. Bentley in his Blake Records (2nd ed. 2004) suggests an artist called James Ferguson. Alexander Gilchrist in his Life of William Blake (1863) reported that Ferguson bought copies of a number of engraved books after Blake's death. Ferguson died in 1871, which perhaps makes Grey's memory lapse more understandable.

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