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Sibylle Erle, Blake, Lavater and Physiognomy

Tristanne Connolly

“Surely gold-dust may be descried in these notes,” Gilchrist wrote about Blake’s annotations to Lavater’s Aphorisms on Man. “To me they seem mentally physiognomic …. We, as through a casually open window, glance into the artist’s room, and see him meditating at his work, graver in hand” (1: 66-67, cited in Erle 8). Sibylle Erle’s book explores how professional work on Lavater’s publications may have inspired Blake’s meditations as he, “graver in hand,” worked on the Urizen books. What is most impressive about her study is the careful detail on the publication history of Lavater’s work and the personal relationships involved. These practical aspects of the development of physiognomy inform Erle’s theorizing as much as the concept itself does. She uses physiognomy as a framework for thinking through a range of metaphysical and textual relations: original and copy, body and soul, (divine) creator and creature, text and image, work and edition, writer and reader.

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