A leading figure of the Romantic era, William Blake (1757-1827) displayed artistic talents in the diverse fields of engraving, painting, and poetry. After beginning a career in engraving, Blake studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in order to pursue his interests in creating original art. Prone to experiencing visions since childhood, Blake claimed that an apparition of his deceased brother Robert instructed him how to execute “relief etching,” a process that allowed Blake to paint both an image and a poem directly onto a copperplate, which could then be inexpensively printed. Blake identified these creations as “Illuminated Books.” Blake’s famous Songs of Innocence and Experiences and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell were originally produced in this manner, as were his slightly more obscure works, The Book of Thel and The First Book of Urizen. Never very wealthy, Blake was supported by various patrons and engraving commissions until his death.
The University of Tulsa’s collection of Blake materials was generously donated by Professors Roger and Kay Easson, in honor of Dr. Winston Weathers, a former faculty member of the university. The collection includes facsimile editions of Blake’s “Illuminated Books,” including The Marriage of Heaven and Hell as well as The Book of Thel. Since Blake’s “Illuminated Books” seamlessly unite illustration and text, they are of particular interest to students of book history and graphic design.
Also featured are a number of first edition texts that include Blake’s original engravings, notably Robert Blair’s The Grave: A Poem and William Hayley’s Ballads: Founded on Anecdotes Relating to Animals. o
One extraordinary acquisition is Edward Young’s The Complaint, and the Consolation; Or, Night Thoughts. Night Thoughts was originally published in 1742-6, but it was tremendously popular during Blake’s lifetime and in 1795 Blake was contracted by the publisher Richard Edwards to produce a series of engravings to illustrate the text.Through his imaginative engravings, Blake created his own commentary on the poem. In 1797, Night Thoughts was published with Blake’s engravings, and the University of Tulsa is proud to house one of these editions in the Blake Collection.