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Vol. 51 no. 2: Fall 2017

The “Linnell” Adam and Eve Asleep: The Case for the Defense

  • Martin Butlin
29 September 2017
29 Sep. 2017


With the combined condemnation of three of the most visually sensitive of Blake specialists, one is tempted to roll over and surrender. But doubts arrive, and a combination of misstatements, misunderstandings, and disputable arguments, to say nothing of actual contradictions of fact, has tempted me to return to the fray. To begin with, there is the problem of “copying.” Comparisons with the original watercolor from the Butts collection are one thing, those with the copies done for Linnell another. In the case of the first, as reflected in the relatively faint pencil drawing under the later work in pen and watercolor, it is hardly surprising, though not accurate, to talk of the copying as being “meticulous” or “slavish.” That is the usual intention when one copies another work. Both Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi go on to demonstrate details of where Blake departs from the original, usually for the worse. It would be tedious to go through every example they quote, but one may suffice. This is the small twig bearing leaves apparently with no connection to any branch or tree, on the righthand side of the picture, more or less on the horizon. I myself find the freedom of this motif rather refreshing, and there are precedents in other Blake works, in particular the first series of illustrations to the book of Job (Butlin 550 1 and 19; see also Butlin 551 19).