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22 May 2014

The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of fully searchable and scalable electronic editions of the following works related to Blake’s development of his illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave:

In addition, we are republishing the following works, previously presented in our Preview mode, to make their designs fully searchable: Taken together, these works in a variety of media present a comprehensive overview of one of Blake’s major projects as an illustrator and exemplify his working methods as he developed rough sketches into finished water colors. The evolution of any one design can be traced via links presented under Related Works in the Archive on the pull-down menus, lower left on the main viewing page for each work.

In October 1805, Blake was commissioned by the engraver and would-be publisher Robert H. Cromek to prepare forty drawings illustrating Robert Blair's The Grave, a popular "Graveyard" school poem first published in 1743. Cromek originally planned to select twenty of these designs for a deluxe edition of the poem. Blake launched into the project with great enthusiasm, rapidly sketching out his illustrations in pencil, developing some into wash drawings, and then producing a group of more finished water colors for presentation to Cromek. In a first prospectus of November 1805, Cromek names Blake as both the designer and engraver of fifteen designs. Blake etched one image, Deaths Door, in white-line, but Cromek rejected it. The dark power of the print appeals to modern tastes, but was far from fashionable in the early nineteenth century. In a second prospectus, also of November 1805, Cromek announced that Louis Schiavonetti would engrave twelve designs for the new edition. Blake had lost the potentially lucrative commission to engrave his own designs; his relationship with Cromek descended into anger and argument. In spite of their disagreement, Cromek included a portrait of Blake as a frontispiece to the volume, published in 1808. Cromek promoted the book aggressively and the illustrations to The Grave became Blake's best known work through much of the nineteenth century.

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 with the University of Rochester, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, 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
Joseph Fletcher, project manager, Michael Fox, technical editor
The William Blake Archive

The Book of Urizen, copy G, plate 5, Library of Congress