This letter was written by William Blake to George Cumberland, a lifelong friend and supporter of the poet. Cumberland inherited a legacy that enabled him to travel to Italy and spend the rest of his life as an artist. He owned several copies of Blake’s works, including the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). He was one of the early proponents of a national gallery of art.
What does Blake say in the letter?
Blake and Cumberland maintained an interest in each other’s work, particularly in the technicalities of printing. Both also disparaged the established, or academic, style of painting of the time. Blake writes about some plates for etching or engraving that have been on his shelf for so long he has forgotten whose they are. Blake encourages Cumberland in his work, both in simple terms and in the sometimes visionary language of his writing. Just as Blake felt all his visions to be real, he slips easily between conversational writing and the style of his poems.
At the end of the letter, Blake signs himself ‘Will Blake’ and wishes his friend a merry Christmas.
I have lately had some pricks of conscience on account of not acknowledging your friendship to me before immediately on the receit of your. beautiful book. I have likewise had by me all the summer 6 Plates which you desired me to get made for you. they have laid on my shelf. without speaking to tell me whose they were or that they were there at all & it was some time (when I found them) before I could divine whence they came or whether they were bound or whether they were to lie there to eternity. I have now sent them to you to be transmuted, thou real Alchymist!
Go on Go on. such works as yours. Nature & Providence the Eternal Parents demand from their children how few produce them in such perfection how Nature smiles on them. how Providence rewards them. How all your Brethren say, The sound of his harp & his flute heard from his secret forest chears us to the labours of life. & we plow & reap forgetting our labour
Let us see you sometimes as well as sometimes hear from you & let us often See your Works
Compliments to Mrs Cumberland & Family
Lambeth Yours in head & heart
23 Decembr 1796
a Merry Christmas Will Blake