This letter is from William Blake to his good friend George Cumberland, who was also involved in printmaking. Cumberland was exploring ways of developing new printing processes, and in this letter Blake describes how to lay a varnish of wax evenly onto a metal plate.
What is the process that Blake describes?
The process Blake describes is for preparing a plate for etching. Wax is laid on a plate, which is then scratched into gently, clearing lines that can then be bitten into with acid, creating grooves to hold the printing ink. Blake talks about creating a surface that will ‘receive any impression minutely’, a process similar to transferring with carbon paper. Lines could be drawn on fine paper laid on the wax, and the lines would show on the wax on the plate. With the paper removed the design would remain on the wax.
There may be a joke in Blake’s question as to what animal produces ‘virgin’s wax’ – it was merely refined beeswax, originally virgin wax; in other words new wax.
What else does Blake say?
Blake reveals a little about how his home life contributed to his work, writing ‘Peace & Plenty & Domestic happiness is the Source of Sublime Art, and prove [proof] to the Abstract Philosophers that Enjoyment & not Abstinence is the food of Intellect’.