In the past month, I’ve transitioned from working on Blake’s letters and begun transcribing and building the BAD for “The Phoenix,” a newly discovered work by Blake whose provenance is (most conveniently) recorded in Bentley’s Blake Books supplement, one of BAND’s go-to reference works. Written in various shades of colored ink (and in a careful, vastly neater hand than Blake’s normal handwriting), “The Phoenix” is a brief, charming piece of verse dedicated to Mrs. Elizabeth Butts, wife of Thomas Butts, a clerk in the office of Britain’s Commissionary General of Musters and one of Blake’s main patrons from the years 1794-1806.
Aside from its simplicity and whimsical, lighthearted tone, what interests me most about this piece is how it reveals Blake’s dependence on—and consequently, the necessity of expressing generosity towards—the small circle of patrons who commissioned work from him. When we look at Blake’s e to stay in the small cottage he shared with his own wife, Catherine, in the pastoral town of Lambeth. He also occasionally writes verse to both Mr. and Mrs. Butts in the text of his letters, perhaps to flatter as well as honor their long friendship. Fortunately, Blake’s relationship with Butts remained amiable; in …read more