In Memory of Morris Eaves

March 5, 2024

Trustees and friends of The Blake Society pay tribute to the late, great Morris Eaves.

Morris Eaves was one of the most influential Blake scholars in the post-war period, both in terms of his original contributions to knowledge, but also through his editorial work which was incredibly farsighted. He was probably known to most readers through his comprehensive revision of A Blake Dictionary, which offered a golden thread through the complexities of Blake’s often esoteric philosophy and mythology, while his editorship of The Cambridge Companion to William Blake brought together many of the most important scholars of the day to illuminate all aspects of Blake. As an art historian, he transformed our thinking regarding Blake’s works, first by examining Blake’s own ideas more thoroughly in William Blake’s Theory of Art, and then exploring in brilliant detail the trials and tribulations that Blake faced during his lifetime in his 1993 book, The Counter-Arts Conspiracy: Art and Industry in the Age of Blake, in which year he also worked on The Tate/William Blake Trust edition of The Early Illuminated Books alongside Robert Essick and Joseph Viscomi.

If his publications on Blake were immensely valuable, his work as an editor was nothing short of astonishing. In 1970, he began co-editing the Blake Newsletter with Morton Paley, who had started it in 1967, and over the years this grew and flourished into Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, the journal of record for all those interested in Blake studies. This itself would be sufficient for most academics with an interest in the Romantic artist, poet and printmaker, but in 1996, when the web was barely out of its swaddling, he, Bob Essick and Joe Viscomi, launched the William Blake Archive, an exceptional contribution to digital humanities and the first time since Blake’s death that all of his works could be considered in all their multi-faceted complexity. 

On a very personal note, Morris – along with Shirley Dent – bears most responsibility  for completely transforming my own writing. In the mid-nineties, I was bound up with the so-called ‘New Historicism’ that was then all the rage in academia, tracing Blake’s relations to his contemporaries in minute detail. Just before the new millennium, I read his paper ‘On Blakes We Want and Blakes We Don’t’, published in 1997. This was the first account I had ever read in which a scholar admitted – the horror! – that many times he struggled to understand Blake’s convoluted systems. In our book, Radical Blake: Influence and Afterlife from 1827, Shirley and I took up that honesty as our principle to understanding how Blake moves us profoundly, but also often obscurely. Only a guide as honest as Morris could be so willing to turn to Blake’s own words and art and, through works such as the William Blake Archive and A Blake Dictionary, show us that ‘Every thing in Eternity shines by its own Internal light’ (Milton a Poem, 10.16).

– Jason Whittaker, author of Divine Images: The Life and Works of William Blake and Jerusalem: Blake, Parry and the Fight for Englishness, Treasurer of The Blake Society and Bibliographer (music) for Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly.

I only ever met Morris through his writing. I am thinking specifically of his ‘The Editorial Void: Notes toward a Study of Oblivion’ (2017) and, of course, ‘On Blakes We Want and Blakes We Don’t’ (1995), which I keep returning to. For me Morris was a constant presence in Blake scholarship and an important part of what we take for granted: there were references galore to The Early Illuminated Books (1993) and The Cambridge Companion to William Blake (2003) in my students’ essays and what would life have been like without Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly or, indeed, The Blake Archive?

– Sibylle Erle, Chair of the The Blake Society and Review Editor for Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly.

I remember clearly the names on the covers of the books I bought in New York, intending to initiate a modest Blakeana. Morris Eaves was obviously there, as the editor of The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Soon other tomes were added to the collection, like the excellent Counter-Arts Conspiracy and William Blake’s Theory of Art. His holistic and integrative approach provided aspiring scholars like me with a better understanding of Blake’s unique view of the aesthetics and artistic movements of his times from which his own theory of Arts emanated. Morris was unquestionably one of the most relevant Blake luminaries of the twentieth century and thanks to The Blake Archive, which he co-developed ‘to publish (Blake’s) madness more largely’, the words and designs of our most beloved artist are more ubiquitous than ever.

– Camila Oliveira Querino, Trustee of The Blake Society and contributor to Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly.

It’s astonishing to think that the period I spent working with Morris on Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly was not even half of his tenure as co-editor of the journal, during which time he shepherded it from manual layout to the digital age. He was invariably funny, irreverent, and insightful. He fostered a culture that valued everyone’s contributions, and he was quick to bestow trust, which meant that I could do my job with a great degree of latitude. I soon learned not to ask him anything to which I secretly wanted the answer to be ‘no’, but rather to present him with a fait accompli–not ‘Should we keep all those old files?’ but ‘I threw out all those old files.’ I envied his writing style and ability to turn a phrase, and would like to believe that I became a clearer communicator by absorbing his copyediting comments on submissions over the years. It was my great good fortune to fall in with Morris, and I will carry his generous spirit with me always.

– Sarah Jones, Managing Editor of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly.

I first saw Morris Eaves at the Tate Conference accompanying the Tate Blake Retrospective in 2000. I was a PhD student and this was the first time I saw Blake originals and had a taster of Blake studies, including the American minds behind the Blake Archive: Morris, Bob Essick, and Joe Viscomi. At the time I was working on Fuseli, but I had been spending a lot of my time with Morris’ brilliant book The Counter-Arts Conspiracy: Art and Industry in the Age of Blake, which was so fundamental to understanding the field of art, so I was so curious to put a face and a voice to the book, but I was shy, and did not talk to him, and I doubt that I ever told him how important his book has been to me. With the Atlantic in between, the times I actually met him in person I can count on one hand, but it has been such an honour and a pleasure to work for him as Exhibitions Editor at Blake Quarterly since 2018. I always look forward to hearing what he thinks and to the exchanges with him, Morton Paley, and the invaluable editing of Sarah Jones, which make writing for the Quarterly such a transformative experience. I can’t imagine Blake Studies without him.

– Luisa Calè, Exhibitions Editor for Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly.