Saturday, September 28, 2013


From the archives of the New York Public Library we find this Biographical/Historical Note on an associate of William Blake:
"Joseph Johnson, bookseller and publisher, lived in London from 1761 until the last few years of his life. A Dissenter, known for his progressive political views and for his role in bringing together many of the leading intellectuals of his time, Johnson was notable for publishing such writers as Maria Edgeworth, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft."

Illustration for Original Stories from Real Life
In 1796 Blake's engraving skills were engaged by Johnson to illustrate a volume by Mary Wollstonecraft titled Original Stories from Real LIfe; with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness.

Wollstonecraft's  reputation was built on writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which was published in 1792. She was among a group of influential writers including William Cowper, Thomas Paine, Henry Fuseli, William Godwin, and Joseph Priestly who gathered around Johnson's book shop in St Paul's Churchyard

In 1791 Johnson seemed to have been prepared to publish Blake's The French Revolution since a copy of a proof of the work exists. However the political situation seems to have been too precarious for publication of such a work.


The French Revolution, (E 285)

                 FRENCH REVOLUTION.  
                      A POEM,
                  IN SEVEN BOOKS.

                  BOOK THE FIRST.

           LONDON: Printed for J. Johnson, No 72,
              St Paul's Church-yard. MDCCXCI.
                 (Price One Shilling.)

PAGE [iii]


   The remaining Books of this Poem are finished, and will be
                published in their Order.

PAGE [1]
                 THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

                   Book the First.

The dead brood over Europe, the cloud and vision descends over chearful France;
O cloud well appointed! Sick, sick: the Prince on his couch, wreath'd in dim
And appalling mist; his strong hand outstetch'd, from his shoulder down the bone
Runs aching cold into the scepter too heavy for mortal grasp. No more
To be swayed by visible hand, nor in cruelty bruise the mild flourishing mountains.

Sick the mountains, and all their vineyards weep, in the eyes of the kingly mourner;
Pale is the morning cloud in his visage. Rise, Necker: the ancient dawn calls us
To awake from slumbers of five thousands years. I awake, but my soul is in dreams;
From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged men,fading away.

Troubled, leaning on Necker, descends the King, to his chamber of council; shady mountains
In fear utter voices of thunder; the woods of France embosom the sound;
Clouds of wisdom prophetic reply, and roll over the palace roof heavy,
Forty men: each conversing with woes in the infinite shadows of his soul,
Like our ancient fathers in regions of twilight, walk, gathering round the King;
Again the loud voice of France cries to the morning, the morning prophecies to its clouds."
A 36 page thesis titled Joseph Johnson and William Blake is available from the Oxford University Research Archive.

No comments: