Tennyson, Blake, and the Book of Job

A Times Literary Supplement review drew my attention to an

A Times Literary Supplement review drew my attention to an online exhibition of Tennyson’s copy of William Blake’s engraved edition of the Book of Job. The exhibition is from the Tennyson Research Centre and is associated with Lincs to the Past, a website that catalogues heritage material from all over Lincolnshire. The exhibition will be available until 30 September 2013.

What you’ll find

Edward Lear self portraitOn the site you’ll find not only Dr Sibylle Erle’s exhibit on the Book of Job, but also illustrations from The Moxon Illustrated Edition of Tennyson’s Poems, some of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs of Tennyson, and some of Edward Lear’s drawings. The Blake exhibition is particularly important because as Dr Erle points out, scholars have long compared the two poets, but now we finally have proof that Tennyson was interested in Blake.

Blake Revival

Blake fans will know that his reputation had a revival after Alexander Gilchrist’s The Life of William Blake was first published in 1863. You can read a later edition (1907) online here. What is perhaps most significant about Tennyson’s interest in Blake is that it began before this revival. According to the 1859-61 Farringford library catalogue, compiled by Tennyson with amendments in Emily Tennyson’s hand, their copy of Blake’s Book of Job was prominently displayed on their drawing room table. In this position it would have frequently caught the attention of both the family and their visitors.

Blake’s Influence on Tennyson

As you explore the exhibition of Tennyson and Blake you’ll come across a page called ‘Tennyson Doodling’. This page includes a picture of Tennyson’s copy of Blake’s Poetical Sketches with a drawing, added by Tennyson, that is reminiscent of the cover of Blake’s Book of Job. As the website states, the similarities between Tennyson’s drawings and Blake’s show the influence of Blake on Tennyson.

Clearly, Tennyson is thinking about Blake’s artworks as a whole, not just the words in the poems. This is not surprising considering how much interest Tennyson took in the illustrated editions of his own works. Though Tennyson could not illustrate his own poems, he understood how important the relationship between poem and image was in published volumes of poetry.

Scholars are still trying to work out what Tennyson made of Blake. What do you think of Tennyson’s interest in Blake? How do you see Blake’s influence on Tennyson’s poetry? How do illustrated editions of poetry impact your reading of the poems?

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