Sibylle Erle
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‘On the very Verge of legitimate Invention’
Charles Bonnet and William Blake’s illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave (1808)
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This chapter discusses William Blake’s response to Johann Caspar Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (1789­98) and awareness of Charles Bonnet’s ideas about the afterlife in order to highlight the complexity of Blake’s illustrations to the new edition of Robert Blair’s The Grave published by R. H. Cromek in 1808. Blake was extremely fond of drawing souls. It is, however, often impossible to tell a rendering of living soul from a dead one. This chapter examines Blake’s relationship with the Gothic’s preoccupation with death and dying and explains, via the European context, how the impact of Blake’s images supersedes the Gothic and visual quality of language of Blair’s text. Blake’s drawings of the spiritual are not spontaneous sketches but evidence for his awareness of Lavater’s physiognomical theory and specifically the European debate about the immortality of the soul.

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