William Blake (1757–1827) was a Romantic poet, artist and engraver. This small notebook (159 x 197 mm; 58 leaves) belonged to Blake’s brother, Robert, who died in 1787. While a few drawings in the notebook are in Robert’s hand, the majority of sketches and writing are by William who was probably writing in it from February 1787. 

Blake continued to work in the notebook for over thirty years, starting from the front and drawing a series of emblems in pencil under the title ‘Ideas of Good and Evil’. These emblems record the journey of man from birth to death and may well have been prompted by Blake’s reaction to his brother’s premature death.

From this group of emblems, Blake selected seventeen designs which he etched and published in a small volume entitled For Children: The Gates of Paradise (1793). When Blake reached the end of the notebook, probably in about 1793, he turned it upside down and began working from the end on the back of each leaf. He used these pages to transcribe fair copies (later heavily annotated) of earlier draft of poems, many of which would appear in 'Songs of Experience' (1794).

When he started to write these poems into the notebook, some of the pages were already covered with sketches for an aborted edition of illustrations of John Milton's Paradise Lost. While some of these sketches were preserved, many 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.

The closely-filled pages of this notebook 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'.

The provenance of this notebook ties it to two other well-known British artists. It was presented by Blake's widow in 1827 to William Palmer, the brother of Blake's pupil, the artist Samuel Palmer. William Palmer sold it to the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti for ten shillings in 1847.

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  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.