William Blake is famous today as an imaginative and original poet, painter, engraver, and mystic. But his work, especially his poetry, was largely ignored during his own lifetime, and took many years to gain widespread appreciation. Blake wrote and sketched in this notebook, which came into his possession after his brother's death in 1787, for 30 years.

The closely-filled pages give a fascinating insight into Blake's compositional process, allowing us to follow the genesis of some of his best-known work, including 'London', 'The Tyger' and 'The Chimney Sweeper'.

Blake's 'Notebook' 

This small notebook (159 x 197mm; 58 leaves) contained a few drawings by Robert, Blake's brother, when it passed to William upon his death. Blake was to treasure it as a reminder of Robert throughout his life. It was also, however, a practical work book that Blake filled with sketches and drafts of poems, and which now provides an enthralling insight into the composition of some of Blake's most well-known and highly-regarded works.

It is believed that Blake first used the notebook in February 1787, starting from the front and entering a series of pencil emblems, framed in the centre of each recto page, under the tentative title 'Ideas of Good and Evil'. Blake's series of emblems in this notebook record man's journey from birth to death, and may well have been prompted by his reaction to Robert's own premature death. From this series, Blake was to select 17 designs that he engraved and published in a small volume entitled For Children: The Gates of Paradise (1793).

At around the same time, having reached the end of the book, Blake turned it upside-down, and used these pages to transcribe fair copies (later heavily annotated) of earlier drafts of poems, many of which would appear in Songs of Experience (1794). When he started to enter these poems, some of the pages were already covered with sketches for an aborted edition of illustrations of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Some of these sketches were preserved, while others were overwritten. Although Blake mostly worked in this notebook between 1792 and 1794, he kept it with him throughout his life. He picked it up again to draft further poems at the front from 1801, and was still composing as late as 1818.

To see more of the Notebook of William Blake please go to our award winning Turning the Pages™. 


  1. Transcript


    Tuesday Jany. 20. 1807 between Two & Seven in the Evening - Despair

    I say I shant live five years and if I live one it will be a Wonder June 1793


    To Engrave on Pewter, let there be first a drawing made correctly with black lead pencil, let nothing be to seek, then rub it off on the plate cover'd with white wax, or perhaps pafs it thro prep. this will produce certain & determined forms on the plate & time will not be wasted in seeking them afterwards


    To Woodcut on Pewter, lay a ground on the Plate & smoke it as for Etching, then trace your outlines [& draw them in with a needle]. and beginning with the spots of light on each object with an oval pointed needle scrape off the ground [and instead of etching the shadowy strokes] as a direction for your graver then proceed to graving with the ground on the plate being as careful as possible not to hurt the ground because it being black will shew perfectly what is wanted [towards]


    To Woodcut on Copper, Lay a ground as for Etching. trace [& &?] instead of Etching the blacks Etch the whites & bite it in

  2. Transcript


    Blakes Chaucer 117 60

    An Original Engraving by William Blake, from his Fresco Painting of Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims
    Mr B having from early Youth cultivated the two Arts Painting & Engraving & during a Period of Forty Years never suspended his labours on Copper for a single day Submits with Confidence to Public Patronage & requests the attention of the Amateur in a Large Work Stroke Engraving 3 feet 1 inch long by one foot high Containing Thirty original high finished whole Length Portraits on Horseback Of Chaucers Characters, where every Character & every Expression, every Lineament of Head Hand & Foot. every particular of [drop?] or Costume. where every Horse is appropriate to his rider & the Scene or Landscape with its Villages Cottages Churches & the Inn in Southwark is minutely Labourd not by the hands of journeymen but by the Original Artist himself even to the Stuffs & Embroidery of the Garments. The hair upon the Horses, the Leaves upon the Trees. & the Stones & Gravel upon the road: the Great strength of Colouring & depth of work peculiar to Mr B's Prints will be here found accompanied by a Precision not to be seen but in the work of an Original Artist 

    Sir Jeffery Chaucer & the nine & twenty Pilgrims on their Journey to Canterbury

    The time chosen is early morning before Sunrise, when

  3. Transcript



    the jolly Company are just quitting the Tabarde Inn.  The Knight & Squire with the Squires Yeoman lead the Procefsion : then the youthful Abbefs her Nun & three Priests. her Greyhounds attend her.

    “Of small Hounds had she that she fed

    With roast flesh milk & wastel bread”

    Next follow the Friar & Monk. then the Tapiser the Pardoner. the Sompnour & the Manciple.  After these “Our Host” who occupies the Center of the Cavalcade (the Fun afterwards exhibited on the road may be seen depicted on his jolly face) directs them to the Knight (whose solemn gallantry no [less lefs?] fixes attention) as the person who will be likely to commense their Task of each telling a Tale in their order.  After the host, follow the Shipman, the Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Franklin, the Physician the Plowman, the Lawyer, the Poor Parson, the Merchant, the Wife of Bath the Cook. the Oxford Scholar, Chaucer himself & the Reeve comes as Chaucer has described

    “and ever he rode hinderest of the rout”

    These last are ifsuing from the Gateway of the Inn the Cook & Wife of Bath are both taking their mornings draught of comfort.  Spectators stand at the Gateway of the Inn & are composed of an old man a woman & children

    The Landscape is an Eastward view of the Country from the Tabarde Inn in Southwark as it may be supposed to have appeard in Chaucers

  4. Transcript


    Verse and Prose by William Blake. 

    (natus 1757: obiit 1828 7.) 

    + + All that is of any value in the foregoing pages
    +has here been copied out. D.G.C.R.

    The Everlasting Gospel.

    The vision of Christ that thou dost see
    Is my vision's greatest enemy.
    Thine is the fare of all mankind, -
    Mine speaks in parables to the blind;
    Thine loves the same world that mine hates;
    Thy Heaven-doors are my Hell-gates.
    Socrates taught what Meletus
    Loathed as a nation's bitterest curse,
    And Caiaphas was in his own mind
    A benefactor to mankind.

  5. Transcript


    Both read the Bible day and night,

    But thou read'st black where I read white.  

    x x x x x x

    Was Jesus chaste, or did he

    Give any lessons of chastity? -

    Jesus sat in Moses' chair;

    They brought the adulterous woman there;

    Moses commands she be stoned to death.

    What was the sound of Jesus' breath?

    He laid his hand on Moses' law:

    The ancient heavens in silent awe,

    Writ with curses from Pole to Pole,

    All away began to roll.

    The earth trembling and naked lay,

    In secret bed of mortal clay,

    And she heard the breath of God

    As she heard it by Eden's flood.

    “Good and evil are no more:

    Sinai's trumpets! cease to roar;

    x This was spoken by my spectre to Voltaire, Bacon, &c.