Don's Diary: Michael Phillips

December 8, 2000

Saturday
Installation at Tate Britain. It is two years since being invited as a guest curator to recreate Blake's life and work in Lambeth during the 1790s. We have been lucky, obtaining more than 400 exhibits - the largest ever number. For the past week, crates and couriers have started to arrive from all over the world. Watch with curators who have flown in from America to see their loans unpacked and placed in their cases. It is all part of a carefully honed plan that ensures all the exhibits for a particular case arrive at the same time.

Sunday
This is the first time an exhibition will show how Blake produced his illuminated books and prints. My plan to recreate the ground floor of Blake's house at 13 Hercules Buildings, to show a cutaway of his studios, is reduced due to cuts. At the centre of the Lambeth section is an 18th-century engraver's wooden rolling press like Blake used. Exceptionally, the British Library has loaned Blake's Manuscript Notebook - unseen for more than a generation - displaying two of his works, London and The Tyger. On either side are copper plates and impressions of the poems to illustrate the stages of their creation from manuscript draft to Blake's method of illuminated printing. Surrounding displays illustrate the social and political contexts that prompted him to write and design such works.

Monday
Black tie drinks and dinner in the gallery with sponsor. Omnibus programme is broadcast while at dinner. Later find myself reduced to 30 seconds from six hours of filming.

Tuesday
Private view and reception. A chance to say thank you to friends who have helped.

Wednesday
Fly back home from London.

Thursday
Exhibition opens. Interviews for BBC World Service and World Today in the midst of final proofing for British Library on the creation of Blake's Songs .

Friday
To London again to lecture at the Tate. Great to see Martin Butlin in the audience, curator of the last Blake exhibition of 1978. The quality of the audience, full of Blake scholars and enthusiasts, makes it all worthwhile.

Saturday
Lecture at the Durning Library, south London, on Blake's Lambeth. We are a short distance from his house, razed in 1918. More than 100 in the audience. And Blake, or his spirit, there at the back shouting: "I didn't come for a geography lesson, I love Blake and this is not what I came for." From this comment the evening took off: a real debate, hearts in it - what Blake was all about and still is.

Michael Phillips is reader in the department of English, University of York, where he teaches an MA on Blake. William Blake The Creation of the Songs from Manuscript to Illuminated Printing is published this week by the British Library and Princeton University Press, £30.00 and £16.95. Blake at Tate Britain runs until February 11, when it transfers to the Metropolitan Museum, New York in March.

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