Linton- Life in the Collections
William James Linton:
40) Claribel and Other Poems.
Linton had dedicated his first book of poetry to his old friend “William Bell Scott, painter and poet.” It had been edited in Brantwood, printed in Leeds and distributed in London. “1865 is the middle of his literary life, and henceforth we find him more time given to poetry and engraving than to politics and society. The strenuous efforts of his earlier years were succeeded by a calmer period, though not a less prolific one.” (Kineton Parkes) The selection comprises Linton’s lyrical production of the last twenty-five years, the earliest being Song of the Streams, an excerpt of the Bob- Thin or Poorhouse Fugitive poem. Examples of the cycle Rhymes and Reasons against Landlordism are to be found, as well as other poems and songs which he had created for The Nation, The Red Republican and The English Republic. The literary critic Arthur Henry Bullen preferred Linton’s lyrical efforts to his political ones: “Among the more noticeable poems are, Grenville's Last Fight, an unadorned but impressive narrative, in blank verse, of the glorious exploit which Tennyson celebrated many years afterwards in his ballad of The Revenge; Harry Marten's Dungeon Thoughts; Eurydice, a fervid and passionate lament; and Iphigenia at Aulis, which seems to have been inspired by Landor’s Hellenics.” The opening title poem is a verse dramatization of a poem by the enigmatic Charles Jeremiah Wells. Some of the latest poems reflect his depressing familial situation. After the successive deaths of his two partners, the Wade sisters, the marriage with the writer Eliza Lynn proved to be a debacle.
The volume has dozens of small vignette engravings, “making it probably the first book of poetry since Blake to be wholly written and decorated by its author.” (F.B. Smith) William Bell Scott would follow him in this ambition only ten years later. The elaborate head and tailpieces meant much more than the usual decoration, which he decried in his preface as “printer’s furniture and the slave work, grind of illustration.” They represent autonomous works of art, which can be conceived as a genre of its own, a kind of pictorial poetry, which combines the indigenous charm of Bewick’s tailpieces with the refined grace of the works of a Luke Clennell or Charlton Nesbit. The degree of sensibility and inventiveness, which Linton had achieved here, was never matched again in the history of xylography. He used these blocks as a pictorial base stock for all his later poetical compilations.