In 1896, E. J. Ellis first proposed the formation of a Blake Society. It was intended to be a society of scholars, recovering texts & cataloguing the paintings. Nothing seems to have come of this proposal.
Around 1900, Richard C. Jackson founded the William Blake Society of Art & Letters. He attracted a host of prominent individuals as vice-presidents of his Society, though there seem to have been no ordinary members. Publications include The Book of Thel (rather oddly printed in capital letters throughout) & Little Tom the Sailor (the illustrations in facsimile, the text in ordinary lettering).
Thomas Wright, of Olney, founded the Blake Society with an initial meeting at “Old Wyldes”, Hampstead Heath on 12 August 1912. The Society was open to all, held annual meetings, issued numerous publications, & was responsible in 1927 for the memorial stone in Bunhill Fields. When Thomas Wright died in 1937, Mrs J. O. Cleaves of 28B Belsize Park Gardens, NW3, took over as secretary, but I’ve seen nothing from the Blake Society after 1939. The Blake Society had been very much Wright’s creation & though it was kept going for a few years after his death, it did not survive the disruption of the Second World War.
Around 1940, Mrs Laura DeWitt James of Palo Alto, California, founded a William Blake Society on a quasi-Masonic model. There were three degrees of initiatory membership. I do not know what became of the Society or of its membership. Mrs James went on to publish William Blake: the Finger on the Furnace (New York: Vantage P., 1956), later reissued as William Blake & the Tree of Life (Berkeley: Shambala Publications, 1971).
The present Blake Society was founded in 1985 on the instigation of Donald Reeves, the then rector of St. James’s Piccadilly, to honour & celebrate William Blake. The Society has met regularly in London ever since, with monthly speakers, including many of the most eminent scholars in the field of Blake studies.
Written in March 2008 by Keri Davies, to whom further information (and corrections to this text) should be sent.
Last modified 28/03/2008 22:33.