William Blake and Liverpool

The recently opened exhibition at Tate Britain: William Blake: Artist includes Liverpool’s copy of the Meditaciones poéticas by José Joaquin de Mora (1783-1864), the only copy known in a UK library of this work, designed for the South American market.

This 1826 publication was inspired by one of the most famous poems of the 18th century, Robert Blair’s The Grave, and has plates based on illustrations by William Blake originally designed for a extensively promoted subscription edition (1808). Our loan features in the Independence and Despair section of the Tate exhibition, focused on Blake’s illustrations to ‘The Grave’ which came to define his reputation. The book, in the Tate curator’s words, is “a remarkable and unique demonstration of Blake’s penetration of the non-English world.”

Design by William Blake in José Joaquin de Mora, Meditaciones poéticas, 1826. SPEC H9.13

Liverpool’s copy (SPEC H9.13) has the University College Liverpool 1881 bookplate, with a presentation note: bequeathed by the Rev. John Hamilton Thom. The work is listed in the 1895 catalogue of Thom’s bequest: In memoriam John Hamilton Thom. List of books bequeathed by the late John Hamilton Thom to the Tate Library of University College, Liverpool with separate index of the books once belonging to the late Rev. Joseph Blanco White.

Thom (1808-1894), a prominent Unitarian minister in Liverpool, was also the executor of Joseph Blanco White (1775-1841). White and Mora were fellow Spanish emigrés, and both worked for the publisher Rudolph Ackermann: the connection probably explains the presence of Mora’s work in Special Collections.

Liverpool University Library was collecting works by William Blake (1757-1827) even before Thom’s bequest of the Meditaciones poéeticas: in 1892 the Liverpool solicitor and MP, A. F. Warr, gave his “delightful and almost complete series of reproductions of William Blake’s works” and the Library purchased the 1826 edition of Blake’s Job.

It is no coincidence that 1892 was also the year John Sampson (1862-1931) became the first full-time librarian at University College (later the University of Liverpool). Sampson was a renowned Blake scholar and in 1906 the Liverpool Courier, reviewing his then definitive critical edition of Blake’s Poetical Works, described the “broadening of public taste” in relation to Blake and of “the prominence of the part Liverpool has played in this essentially modern movement”.

Sampson’s scholarship was complemented by a more light-hearted approach to Blake’s poetry; in addition to a popular edition of a selection of Blake’s poems (1906) he also wrote Blake parodies (SP9/4/1/3), such as ‘Songs of Idiocy and Insanity’ and ‘The Girl’.

John Sampson’s parodies of Willimam Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Sampson archive SP9/4/1/3
John Sampson William Blake parody ‘The Girl’. Sampson archive SP9/4/1/3

Liverpool University Press published a posthumous collection of Sampson’s work, In Lighter Moments: a book of occasional verse and prose (1934) and the Sampson archive holds drafts for the volume including unpublished work such as “After William Blake but before the new racing regulations.” (SP9/4/2/22).

The William Blake collections continue to be notable for facsimile editions of Blake’s work, including the important Trianon Press series, contemporary editions of works with engravings by Blake, and works on the critical reception of Blake as poet and artist, dating from Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake (1863), described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as, “arguably the most important work ever published on Blake”.

Sampson’s scholarly contribution to William Blake studies is described by Angus Fraser in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  as, “the restoration of the text of William Blake’s lyrics, long overlaid and ‘improved’ by editors. In the Poetical Works (1905) he established the definitive text, with much critical and bibliographical apparatus, and in the edition of 1913 included ‘The French Revolution’, never before published, and long selections from the ‘prophetic books’. Partly for his work on Blake, but more for his linguistic studies, he was awarded an honorary DLitt at Oxford in 1909”.

John Sampson’s editions of Blake from 1905 (centre), 1913 (right) and 1947 reprint (left)

New Exhibition: Liverpool University Press: ‘Forward-looking for 120 years’

This exhibition celebrates the 120 year anniversary of the conception of the Liverpool University Press (LUP) in 1899. Drawing on archival material held within the Liverpool University Press archive and LUP publications held within Special Collections and Archives and the University Libraries, this exhibition seeks to document and display the key points in the rich history of the Press.

As with the scholarly communities it serves, LUP’s fortunes have waxed and waned over many decades but the unfailing commitment of Press staff, authors and editors, and a wider community of scholars who understood the distinctive and important contribution of university press publishing, have helped to lay the strong foundation on which LUP stands today.

Publishing more than 150 books a year, 34 journals and a number of digital products, and still the only university press to have won both The Bookseller and IPG awards for Academic Publisher of the Year, Liverpool University Press has been widely acclaimed for its willingness to embrace change. To that end, the team at LUP have chosen to celebrate the future as well as the past in 2019 with the strapline ‘Forward-looking for 120 years.’

(reference D80/5/2)

The exhibition is available to view at Special Collections and Archives, Ground Floor Grove Wing, Sydney Jones Library. It will run from September 2019-January 2020. We are open Monday to Friday, 9:30am-4:45pm.

Tweet us at @LivUniSCA & @LivUniPress; alternatively, contact us at scastaff@liverpool.ac.uk for more information.

This Weeks War: 124

Aside

Glad of your letter, and Nan’s.  Will you thank her for it.  I don’t know when I shall find the time to write all the letters I should. 

12 December 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/92].

This week’s war: 122

Aside

I had a sad letter from Mundays mother this morning saying that she has had official notice that her son, previously reported “missing” has now been reported “killed in action”. It is only what we feared, but all the same it is bad to realize as a fact. He was the only son of his mother and she a widow

Last night shortly after 11 o’clock the lights suddenly went down, and, as I was going to bed, almost out. I did not associate it with a warning as to Zeppelins at the time, but now find out this was the idea. There is no news in the paper and I daresay there will be none.

28 November 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/86].

This Week’s War: 118

Aside

I saw Harvey Gilsan today, bragging and brash worse than ever. An unfortunate officer who lives in his terraces & met him one evening in a mackintosh was rash enough to demand why he hadn’t saluted. “I will salute you Sir, if you are of higher rank than myself. May I enquire what you rank in?” “I am a captain” “And I Sir am a Lieut. Col.!!!” You can imagine how visibly H.G swelled as he recounted this.

[SP8/1/2/11/79, November 2nd 1916, John Sampson Letters].

This week’s war: 116

Aside

Another lecturer is dead – killed of wounds – Handyside lecturer in Philosophy. Strangely enough he took over the very platoon vacated by Herdmen.

23 October 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/75].

New Exhibition: Local Literary Landscapes

This year sees the exciting launch of the inaugural Liverpool Literary Festival, running 2830 October 2016. To celebrate, a new exhibition at Special Collections & Archives is highlighting the work of those literary figures who have sought inspiration from Liverpool and the surrounding area, particularly local poet Matt Simpson. His newly-acquired archive provides the bedrock for the exhibition and reveals just how much his work was influenced by Liverpool; his verses are full of the city and its people.

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Matt Simpson returns to his childhood street

Simpson (1936-2009) grew up in Bulwer Street, Bootle, where he attended the local grammar school.  He went on to study English at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and returned to Liverpool in the 1960s after his marriage to German actress Monika Weydert. He taught in various schools and colleges, including Christ’s College (now Liverpool Hope University). He published many collections of poetry, including some for children, as well as critical essays and monographs. He also undertook a poetry residence in Tasmania, which inspired his collection, Cutting the Clouds Towards (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998). But it was the city where he grew up and lived most of his life which would be his most enduring inspiration.

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 : Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

SPEC Merseyside Poets I.S615.M23 :
Matt Simpson, Making Arrangements (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1982)

The exhibition also includes impressions of the city recorded in the poems, autobiographies and travel diaries of a host of others, from novelist Daniel Defoe to physicist Oliver Lodge, social reformer Josephine Butler to poet Donald Davie.

The exhibition will run until the end of the year. In 2017 we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mersey Sound, the anthology of poems produced by the ‘Liverpool Poets’ Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri.

This week’s war: 113

Aside

We have a great deal of the last air raid. It seems certain that they got to Preston, Wigan and Bolton (some say Warrington) and some suburb of M’chester and did a lot of damage, Dora’s maid told them that “There was not a soul left alive in Wigan”!!! I have half a mind to go there this afternoon and see for myself.

27 September 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/69]. This week’s war: 113.

This week’s war: 111

Aside

What gorgeous news from the Western front. In case you hadn’t seen I sent you this morning the [Liverpool] D[aily] Post with Philip Gibbs’ Chronicle despatch, which is full of delightful fun about the ‘Tanks’. […] I like to think of the Tommies laughing.

18th September 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife, Margaret Sampson [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/68]. This week’s war: 111.

This week’s war: 104

Aside

There is no doubt that our move has begun. Everyone says so. Panes, who has just returned from the front, says that he left them straining in the leash just waiting the word to go. Dora says that the Adjutant in charge of the camp at Aintree announced yesterday (Sunday) at parade that our advance troops were in Lille, which would be splendid indeed, and I have heard the same, on less authority, from others – among them…a man of the Defence fort at Crosby.

[…]

I hope we may be in time to prevent the fall of Verdun, which seems imminent otherwise.

26 July 1916. Letter from John Sampson, University Librarian, to his wife [Sampson Archive SP8/1/2/11/64]. This week’s war: 104.