1963 · Oxford
by Blake, William. Bentley, G.E. Jr.
Large folio. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1963. Large folio, xviii, 220 pp. 142 pages of plates. Gray cloth with gilt lettering to spine and upper cover, dust jacket worn and with tears and nicks, otherwise fine. § First edition thus. A fine production of the only facsimile of this huge manuscript. “The messy, complex manuscript of nearly 150 pages that has slowly settled into Blake’s oeuvre under its odd double name has resisted efforts to edit it satisfactorily in print, but for those who aim to grasp the full compass of Blake’s artistic, social, and spiritual aspirations, the manuscript is indispensable. Northrop Frye wrote that “There is nothing like the colossal explosion of creative power in the Ninth Night of The Four Zoas anywhere else in English poetry,” while the work as a whole is “the greatest abortive masterpiece in English literature” (Fearful Symmetry page 305). Indeed, there is that—but there is also, as Frye recognized, the pivotal place of VALA, or The Four Zoas in Blake’s creative life as writer and visual artist…Before he died, Blake gave the manuscript to his fellow artist, friend, and patron John Linnell, and it remained in the family until 1918. Ellis and Yeats borrowed it from Linnell’s sons and went to work trying to sort out the scrambled pages and untangle the mass of revisions so that they could present, in their third volume, a selection of crude lithographic reproductions and a complete (though unreliable) printed edition” (Blake Archive). Bentley, BB, 212.
(Inventory #: 110703)