Joseph Johnson

John Bugg (ed.), The Joseph Johnson Letterbook

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8. To Erasmus Darwin, 23 July 1791

London, July 23, 1791

Dear Sir,

    It is not the expense of purchasing Bartolozzi's plates that is any object; they cannot be copied without Hamilton's consent, being protected by act of parliament.1

Blake is certainly capable of making an exact copy of the vase, I believe more so than Mr. B[artolozzi], if the vase were lent him for that purpose, & I see no other way of its being done, for the drawing he had was very imperfect. This you will determine on consulting Mr. Wedgwood, & also whether it should be copied as before, or reduced & brought into a folding plate.2

I have no wish in this case but to do what you desire. It is not advisable to publish before the winter, yet I will do it as soon as the work is ready if you desire it.

The reason Mr. H[amilton] assigns for not allowing his plates to be copied is that he is a considerable sum out of pocket, the sale not having indemnified him for his expenses.3

I believe that if Dr. P had been found by the high-church mob he would have been murdered.4 We hope that part of his library and some Ms. have been saved from the wreck by the activity of his son & some of his friends.

  • I am Sr.,
  •       Yr. obedt.,
  •           J. Johnson

I could wish for particular instructions for the engraver.

Text: CUL DAR 227:3.39. Published: Geoffrey Keynes, Blake Studies: Essays on His Life and Work, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 60–1. This letter is in response to an inquiry from Darwin. 'I wrote to Johnson to desire to know what he had done in respect to the pg 8engravings of the vase', Darwin explained to Josiah Wedgwood on 25 July 1791, 'which I think should be at least agreeable, and told him that I would pay for Bartolozzi's prints, if necessary' (The Collected Letters of Erasmus Darwin, ed. Desmond King-Hele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 386).

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Francesco Bartolozzi (1727–1815), an Italian artist who lived in London for the last four decades of the eighteenth century, was a founding member of the Royal Academy. With artist Giovanni Cipriani (1727–85) he produced engravings of the Portland Vase that were published in 1786 at the direction of William Hamilton (who had purchased the vase in Rome four years earlier). On the vase's provenance, see Milo Keynes, 'The Portland Vase: Sir William Hamilton, Josiah Wedgwood and the Darwins', Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 52.2 (1998), 237–9.
Editor’s Note
2 Geoffrey Keynes concludes that Blake likely 'obtained access to the Portland Vase itself, or had the loan of a Wedgwood replica, during the autumn of 1791' (Keynes, Blake Studies, 61). Blake made four engravings of the Portland Vase (the 3rd Duke of Portland loaned it to Josiah Wedgwood, who produced replicas).
Editor’s Note
3 Johnson may refer here to the £1000 that Hamilton paid for the vase in 1782, or to the Cipriani and Bartolozzi publication that Hamilton organized in 1786 (John Boydell published the work).
Editor’s Note
4 A reference to the Birmingham Riots of July 1791 (see Introduction). Joseph Priestley's son William had tried to salvage some of his father's books and manuscripts.
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