I’ve always been a fan of those “On This Day” features you often see in newspapers and now online. This is probably picked up from my Dad who has a wonderful memory for dates and can usually be relied upon to find and remember the most random coincidences (for example, did you know that Kublai Khan and Bruce Springsteen share a birthday?). As we get ready for 4 July celebrations here in the US, I thought I’d spend this post thinking about today, a less remembered date but significant in its own way.
So here we go: On This Day, 2 July, the Battle of Marston Moor was fought, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, a UFO crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, and Hermann Hesse celebrated his birthday. Also on 2 July (note that seamless transition), Blake wrote a letter to his patron and friend, George Cumberland.
We’ve talked a lot about the letters on this blog, but I think that this really speaks to the endless fascination we have with them. From descriptions of Blake’s various ailments to discovering how much he was paid for his work, the letters seem to revel in the juxtaposition of charmingly unexpected events and facts. Another aspect of letters that I like is that they can pinpoint an activity in time and space, thanks to the convention of inscribing each manuscript with a date and an address. So not only do we know that Blake was writing this letter on 2 July 1800, but that he was in his home at 13 Hercules Buildings in Lambeth.
Here at BAND, we record the date and location of the letter’s composition in each BAD and hope that one day this metadata will be searchable so that we can generate maps and timelines that will present Blake’s life and work in new ways. In the meantime though, doing this work manually can still be rewarding: Hercules Buildings was demolished in 1912, and the spot is currently occupied by the William Blake Estate – just down the road from Lambeth North tube and next door to a pub, which according to Google maps is rather exotically called ‘The Pineapple’. So in the spirit of random associations and my love of “On This Day”, please spare a thought for Blake writing his letter to Cumberland 214 years ago today, whether you are in Chicago, Tokyo or Ithaca, NY when you read this blog post. And while you’re at it, think about the south Londoners who might be popping into The Pineapple for a quick pint after work.