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Gerald E. Bentley, Jr., William Blake’s Conversations: A Compilation, Concordance, and Rhetorical Analysis

Alexander S. Gourlay

Abstract


Most of the primary material in William Blake’s Conversations will be familiar to those who have studied Gerald E. Bentley’s two editions of Blake Records, Blake Records Supplement, and his 2001 biography, The Stranger from Paradise, but the scholarly alchemy effected by distilling reports of Blake’s spoken words into a compact volume and adding an array of related tools has created something rich, strange, and likely to prove enduringly useful. Because many of the reports come to us from within a generation or two after Blake’s death, they are strongly colored by the late Georgian/early Victorian conception of him: these Blakeish words often seem to reflect the minds of the reporters as much as they reveal the mind of Blake, and as the intervening years and layers of reportage multiply, the share of credible Blake content diminishes. A snippet of Blake’s conversation that was worth retelling or recording is likely to have been one that conformed to, or at least resonated with, the other stories about Blake in circulation at the time. Gathered together in largely unmediated form, these reports constitute a portrait of a fellow we might call Anecdotal Blake, a somewhat different being from the persona we moderns know through his works in ink and paint, Autographic Blake. Ironically, Autographic Blake was not very well known to some of the original constructors of Anecdotal Blake—even to ones who knew Flesh and Blood Blake himself. Those modern readers who are thoroughly acquainted with Autographic Blake may find the shimmery Anecdotal Blake who rises in these pages to be an uncanny and alien creature, but it is intriguing to hear his voice, and like any chatty ghost he may have things to tell us beyond the grave.


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