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They are done as if by a child; several of them careless and incorrect, yet there is a spirit in them, humble enough to move simple souls to tears.

Edward Calvert, quoted in A Memoir of Edward Calvert by his Third Son (1893 )

In 1818 Linnell introduced Blake to his friend and family physician Dr Robert John Thornton (best known for his sumptuous publication The Temple of Flora, 1798-1807). Thornton had published his school edition of Virgil in 1812, with a second edition printed in 1819. This included not only Virgil's Latin verses but also 'imitations' of Virgilian poetry by other authors. One of these was Ambrose Phillips, who had written an imitation of Virgil's first Eclogue (or pastoral poem composed in the form of a dialogue). Blake was commissioned to illustrate Phillips's verses for the expanded third edition of Thornton's Virgil for which he provided seventeen wood-engraved designs, fourteen of which are in the Gallery's collection.

In wood-engraving the composition is incised into the wood block instead of being gouged out so as to stand in relief (as in a wood cut). The resulting effect is of a white design against a dark ground. Blake had never used this technique before though it had been brilliantly employed in the 18th century for small, graceful book illustrations. Blake's illustrations, however, are far from being elegant vignettes. Bursting with intensity, they have a freedom and ruggedness that is astonishing for their time. For this reason they seem to have been unappreciated by Dr Thornton. They perfectly capture the poetry's mood of rustic simplicity with its melancholy overtones.

Initially the woodblocks were slightly larger, but they had to be cut down to allow them to be accommodated four to a page in Thornton's small format volume.


Thenot Remonstrates with Colinet

Thenot Under a Fruit Tree

Thenot Remonstrates with Colinet, Lightfoot in the Distance

Colinet Departs in Sorrow,A Thunder-Scarred tree on the Right

Blasted Tree and Blighted Crops

The Good Shepherd Chases Away the Wolf

Sabrina's Silvery Flood

Colinet's Fond Desire Strange Lands to Know

Colinet Resting at Cambridge by Night

Colinet Mocked by Two Boys

Menalcas' Yearly Wake

Thenot and Colinet Sup Together

With Songs the Jovial Hinds Return from Plow

Unyoked Heifers Loitering Homeward,Low


(c)1999 National Gallery of Victoria