Leonora. A Tale, Translated and altered from the German of Gottfried Augustus Burger.
1796. London: by S. Gosnell for William Miller, 1796.
Slim 4to, xi, 16 pp. With a frontispiece and 2 illustrations (headpiece and tailpiece) designed by Blake and engraved by Perry. Later full red straight-grain morocco, gilt-lettered backstrip, a fine copy with a faded inscription on the title-page "Sophia Baillie".
§ First edition with Blake’s illustrations, ridiculed in the press upon publication. One of the rarest letterpress books to contain illustrations designed by Blake. Four copies have sold in the last 40 years; two have appeared at auction. The year 1796 saw three translations of Burger’s Lenore, one by J. T. Stanley, one by H. J. Pye, the Poet Laureate, and a third by W. R. Spencer, with designs by Lady Diana Beauclerk. Blake was commissioned to create three illustrations for the Stanley translation, including the frontispiece, “Lenore, clasping her spectral bridegroom,” which is famous for supposedly having hung as a separate print in C.G. Jung’s office. The British Critic for September, 1796, spitefully compared Lady Diana’s pictures with those of Blake’s: “We are highly impressed by the propriety, decorum and grace which characterizes all the figures of this elegant artist [Lady Beauclerk], even those of a preternatural kind; forming a most striking contrast to the distorted, absurd and impossible monsters exhibited in the frontispiece to Mr. Stanley’s last edition [i.e. Blake’s design]. Nor can we pass by this opportunity of execrating that detestable taste, founded on the depraved fancy of one man of genius, which substitutes deformity and extravagance for force and expression, and draws men and women without skin, with their joints all dislocated; or imaginary beings which neither can nor ought to exist.” The Analytical Review chimed in with comments including “perfectly ludicrous, instead of terrific.” Lenore had a profound effect on the development of Romantic literature throughout Europe and a strong influence on the English ballad-writing revival of the 1790s. According to German language scholar John George Robertson,
[Lenore] exerted a more widespread influence than perhaps any other short poem in the literature of the world. [...] like wildfire, this remarkable ballad swept across Europe, from Scotland to Poland and Russia, from Scandinavia to Italy. The eerie tramp of the ghostly horse which carries Lenore to her doom re-echoed in every literature, and to many a young sensitive soul was the revelation of a new world of poetry. No production of the German "Sturm und Drang"—not even Goethe's Werther, which appeared a few months later—had such far-reaching effects on other literatures as Bürger's Lenore; it helped materially to call the Romantic movement in Europe to life.
In a similar tone, English literature scholar Marti Lee claims that:
"Lenore" had tremendous influence on the literature of the late eighteenth- and early [n]ineteenth-centuries, and in fact, today's popular horror books and movies are still feeling the reverberations. [...] In short, Bürger’s achievement, while minor in itself, helped father an international movement that led directly to the massive popularity of Gothic works then and now. [...] As the Gothic novel borrowed many of its original conventions from the German ballads, as popularized by "Lenore," we can fairly say that Bürger is one of the most influential founding fathers of the Gothic and horror genres.Bentley, Blake Books, 440. Easson and Essick, William Blake Book Illustrator, vol. 2, XLVI. Bindman, Complete Graphic Works of Blake, 380-382. Item #124644