Lincolnshire poet Tennyson’s special link with William Blake

The famous Lincolnshire Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson has an interesting link to another revered English poet and printmaker, William Blake.

According to Lincoln academic Dr Sibylle Erle, Tennyson had an original copy of William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job.

Published in 1826, the book holds a series of engraved prints by Blake, and had actually been held in the Tennyson Research Centre at Lincolnshire County Council for many years without Blake scholars realising.

Dr Erle believes it’s significant that the book was archived in Tennyson’s collection of Old and New Testaments Bibles.

There were only 150 copies of the book ever produced.

Dr Erle, Senior Lecturer in English at Bishop Grosseteste University, who made the discovery.

Dr Erle, Senior Lecturer in English at Bishop Grosseteste University, who made the discovery.

Dr Erle, Senior Lecturer in English at Bishop Grosseteste University, said: “This discovery is of international importance. It poses the question, what did Tennyson make of Blake?

“Tennyson probably acquired the book before the publication of the first major Blake biography in 1863, which reignited interest in Blake and his work in the mid-nineteenth century.

“It’s important to realise that Tennyson got hold of his copy before the Blake revival started. Tennyson has been compared to Blake but now there is evidence that Tennyson was interested in Blake.

“I’m still working on the implications of this possession. The interesting question is: who else would have seen it? The Rossettis? Tennyson kept it with some other illustrated books in a prominent position on his drawing room table on the Isle of Wight, where they would have been placed to entertain visitors and to stimulate conversation.

“The real discovery is the list of books on Tennyson’s drawing room table. Blake’s Job was one of many illustrated books Tennyson chose to have on display. Blake did his own illustrations but Tennyson couldn’t. Illustrations, of course, were crucial to Victorian book illustration.

“What did Tennyson make of Blake, his artistic independence and relationship with his audience? That is what I want to think about and find out about.”

Grace Timmins, Collections Access Officer at the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln, added: “It’s very pleasing when the unexpected significance of an item is discovered.

“Connections do emerge in the rich range of material here, but Dr Erle’s visits were particularly fruitful in an unexplored area.”

Dr Erle is now working on an exhibition about Tennyson’s copy of the book, which can be seen online.