Letters between George Cumberland and William Blake, 18-19 December 1808


These letters show something of the business side of William Blake’s life. By 1803 he had realised he was unlikely ever to enjoy financial stability and would have to search for commissions – ‘I suppose that I must go a courting, which I shall do awkwardly’. It paid off, as between June 1807 and January 1808 he was doing fairly well. Here Blake’s friend George Cumberland asks for copies of all his ‘illuminated books’ for a collector, and offers to show a work to visitors to his house. He also suggests that Blake publish an account of his method of making relief etchings, and even offers to prepare the work for publishing.

How did Blake reply to the letter?

In his reply Blake thanks Cumberland, and says he is busy pursuing ‘new vanities, or rather new pleasures’. These prevent him from ‘reviving my former pursuits of printing’, and promise ‘new profits’ which ‘preclude all possibility of promising any thing’. This may refer to Blake’s exhibition of his work in 1809. Despite saying he was wasn’t pursuing printing, he writes how he has already begun the business of publishing an account of relief-etching and that he already has a publisher ready. The account in question may be the Descriptive Catalogue of 1809, but if not, this planned publication was never realised.

Full title:
Letters between George Cumberland and William Blake, 18-19 December 1808
18-19 December 1808
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
George Cumberland, William Blake
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 36501

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