[London : Dalla Stamperia di Gul. Bulmer, 1801]. Thick 4to, , , pp. 1-721. Printed in English and Italian. Contemporary red straight-grained goatskin, flat spine banded with double gilt rules, single gilt rule to the margins of the boards, some foxing to the preliminaries, binding repaired and refurbished, still showing some scratches and stains, but still an attractive copy. A.e.g. Only edition, of absolute rarity (two copies recorded, none at auction or in the marketplace). Maggs wrote of this copy: "Written by an associate of William Blake, this is a profoundly eccentric production, full of the revolutionary spirit of the times, combining mysticism, philosophy, electricity and magnetism. One of an unknown number of copies privately printed for the author, without a title page, by George Bulmer, all of them intended for presentation to the author’s friends, this copy bearing the 19th Century ownership inscription ‘Girdlestone’, for whose identity there are several candidates, none completely convincing.
It is in two parts, the first An Investigation into Principles, written in English, is a series of reflections on the nature of elements, gravitation (“the pressure of the general ethereal fluid against our orb”), time (“Look for time in the vast expanse, Eternity will start to view, and time revolve no more”) tides, earthquakes and the lack of salt in rain (when raised into the sky by waterspouts, it is sweetened by the action of electricity). His logic is baffling at times, demonstrating the wisdom of a forward five year old or of an experienced haschischan : for instance he observes that gravity isn’t all that Newton cracked it up to be, since water “from a known principle in hydraulics” rises to the top of mountains, which truth he derives from the fact that rivers never run dry. “On the Barleycorn”, is a dialogue between Mata and Ata based on a conversation [with George Finch, Earl of Winchilsea], concerning wisdom, folly, genius, reason, the individuality and the faculty of the soul.
The second part is titled On the Soul. On Magnetism. Magnetic Productions and comprises the transcripts of Avena’s automatic writings (see below), in Italian, many with English introductions, and some untranscribed writings dismissed as “too confused to merit attention”. There are a total 51 sessions in the first year, dated to “Alessandria 1796”, 52 in the second year, and 27 in the third and last year. The last two years have almost no English narrative.
In researching this book, we [Maggs] rely heavily on the intoxicating and brilliant essay by Marsha Schuchard "Blake’s Healing Trio: Magnetism, Medicine, and Mania" published in Blake, an Illustrated Quarterly, Vol 23, Issue 1 which explores Blake’s relationship with the “eclectic network of illuminés, which included Swedenborgians, Freemasons, and Cabalists who shared his interest in animal magnetism spirit-communication, and erotic trances”. George Baldwin was one of these, and is included, as “Baldwin of Egypt’s Lake” in a vicious later (1808 - 1811) poem attacking their lack of commitment to his studies.
Baldwin, born in 1744, was an author and diplomat who became very wealthy in the later years of the 18th century, establishing trade links for the East India Company with Egypt, owning a monopoly of the British trade route through Suez, demonstrating remarkable prescience about the importance to British trade of this route to the east. He was British Consul-General in Egypt from 1786 to 1796, in which position he warned the British Government of French plans to take over Egypt, a warning which was largely ignored. When the French invaded Egypt in 1798 he left the country for Italy, leaving behind substantial property in Alexandria, which was seized by the French. He was of considerable help in the planning of the British counter invasion, returning to Egypt in 1801 with the British forces, and claimed the credit for the decision to breach the canal in Alexandria and flood Lake Mareotis to hinder French navigation, which played a significant role in the recapture of Egypt - this is what Blake refers to when he mentions “Baldwin of Egypt’s Lake.” It is attractive to think of a time in which a man could be a senior servant of the state as well as indulging in such arcane personal tastes.
Baldwin’s wife, Jane Malpass, a famous Greek beauty, sat for her portrait to Sir Joshua Reynolds and to Richard Cosway, who introduced Baldwin to English devotees who believed in healing by magnetism, which, although he was a popular figure in English society, made him the subject of some ridicule. Some Blake scholars believe that Jane Malpass is one of the figures in Blake’s ‘Vala’ manuscript. Baldwin had come across what he claimed were many cures in Egypt using magnetism, and experimented on himself with, he said, considerable success. His Magus, so to speak, was an itinerant poet, one Cesare Avena di Valdieri, who passed on his gifts to Baldwin during magnetic sleep. The ’Principles’ begins in English with a history of the development of Animal Magnetism, then turns to Italian and intertwines the further exploration of the theme with the story of Baldwin’s ’contact’ with the spirit of his lost first love through the mediumship of Valdieri in a magnetised trance. Both Blake and Baldwin believed that the same Muse that dictated spirit writings to them also inspired Milton in the writing of ’Paradise Lost’. Baldwin was in London from 1781-6 where he must have first encountered the English school of Animal Magnetism, a fashionable science begun largely by Franz Anton Mesmer who was for a while very successful as a practitioner in London society. It is highly likely that Baldwin made the acquaintance of Blake during these years. Mesmer was soon eclipsed by his disciple Dr. John Bonniot de Mainaduc, who became a very rich man treating the great and the good of British society, from Royalty downwards. Mainaduc published in 1798 a series of lectures (with a frontispiece by Cosway) where much of the phraseology bears a striking resemblance to the writings of Blake. Baldwin was back in Egypt in 1786, from where he ordered many publications on Animal Magnetism, and on his interest in ’native’ medicines with their use of magic and trance states. He set himself up as a practitioner and claimed much success as a healer - it is thought that a drawing from Blake’s notebooks showing a cloaked man wearing a turban treating a young crippled girl represents Baldwin. Baldwin even claimed to be able to heal the plague, rife in Egypt at the time, mainly by the use of massage with olive oil. This publication originated with Baldwin’s meeting with Valdieri and his consequent magnetisation of the poet, who poured forth the verse printed here, dictated to him by spirits. In 1797 Baldwin was visited in Egypt by the art connoisseur Thomas Hope, a devotee of Animal Magnetism. The copy of this book in Emory University Library is inscribed to Hope’s brother Henry, a wealthy banker and disciple of Mainaduc. The inscription reads ’To Henry Hope Esq from his humble servant George Baldwin author of the English part of this work and editor only of the Italian’. Baldwin himself categorises the principles of the title as ’the discovery of a spiritual influence on the physical temperature of man’.
Worldcat reports only two copies in institutions worldwide, Emory University and the University of Chicago, but a deeper poke reveals a mis-catalogued copy in the British Library. Not in Crabtree, Animal Magnetism early hypnotism, and psychical research, an annotated bibliography. 1766-1925."
DNB notes: "Baldwin was welcomed into London society as an exotic newcomer. He was described by Wright as 'lolling on oriental cushions, amid strange hangings' (T. Wright, Life of William Blake, 1929, 2.31) and had some interesting pictures to share. Baldwin became intrigued by Cosway's keen interest in the therapeutic powers of magnetism as expounded by John de Mainauduc. Baldwin's presence was noted in William Blake's lines:
Cosway, Frazer and Baldwin of Egypt's lake,
Fear to associate with Blake,
This life is a warfare against evils,
They heal the sick, he [Blake] casts out devils."
Bentley, BBS, 495 (p. 404). Item #122733