Linton- Life in the Collections
William James Linton:
48) Bob-Thin or Poorhouse Fugitive.
London & Hamden, CT. 1845/1897
The four copies represent various stages of publication:
- A: The complete version (40 pages), with all pictorial side notes. Original hardcover binding. First edition. London 1845: (consists of two parts: 1) Bob Thin (illustrated by T. Sibson) 2) The Poorhouse Fugitive. (illustrated by Edward Duncan, William Bell Scott and Linton. This part is divided into three sections: Morning – Hymn To The Sun - Song Of The Stream.) This is a special presentation copy that Linton had dedicated to his second wife Emily Wade Linton in 1846. The cover has a handpainted design
and the following lettering: BOB-THIN 1845.
- B: Same as A. New binding. First edition, London 1845: hand-signed: “The Editor of the ‘Morning Herald.’ With the author’s compliments.”
- C: The Life and Adventures of Bob Thin. A Poor - Law Tale. With thirty odd cuts. pub. by James Watson, London. n.d.: Brochure, 32 pages. This edition with an abridged choice of the pictorial side notes
consists only of the first part, without the following “Fugitive” section.
- D: The Poor-House Fugitive. Being The Life And Adventure Of Bob Thin. 1840. First printed in 1845. n.d./ n.p.: This non-pictorial version in the form of untrimmed printed sheets is part of a large selection of Linton’s political poems, ranging from 1840 to1870. It was printed on his private press in New Hamden in 1897.
“This poem established Linton as a people’s poet and became part of the repertoire of radical reticers. It narrates the bloody history of the rise of private property and feudalism and then concentrates on the story of a starving weaver of Bethnal Green and his final degradation and death in a workhouse.” (F.B. Smith) A first draft of the mock-epic was written in 1840, but its central idea, to parallelize the social decline of an individual member of the working class with a fallen state of history, seems to be an outcome of his collaboration with Thomas Sibson. In 1842 they planned to produce an illustrated history of England “in which the social life of the English people should be dominant, and its epochs so distinguished, instead of by the reigns of Kings”. (Memories)
This plan for a pictorial history “seen from below” eventually failed due to Sibson’s poor health, but its remnants can be found in the doggerel rhymes and the images of this poor-law tale. In his concept of illustration, Linton seems to respond to William Blake’s idea of the Illuminated Books by establishing a kind of multi-layered, storyboard-like pictorial comment. Moreover, Shirley Dent and Jason Whittaker detected also topical parallels between Bob-Thin and Blake’s poem London, „both in geographical location and in displaying a tapestry of social injustice (...). Linton’s and Blake’s poems correspond to each other. Blake’s published London is manifested in metaphysical definition, the very streets configured by imagination ensnared. Linton’s poem is politically defined, almost to the point of satire. Yet both London and Bob-Thin create a symbolic context that is recognisably the same. They are almost inversions of each other. Symbolic inversions in which the general in the one is the particular in the other; (...) Linton and Sibson take Blake’s metaphor and apply it to the page of the text, printing visual representations of the social and metaphysical enslavement of humanity. It is literally Blake’s visionary London turned upside down.“
Whereas the first part, Bob-Thin, reflects a reality of urban misery, the second one, The Poorhouse Fugitive, evolves a Queen Mab-like vision of a communitarian Utopia, which is settled in the rural paradise of an Owenite cooperative. Obviously, the whole framework of the poem has to be conceived as a contribution to the debates on land reform that circulated in the radical circles since the times of Thomas Spence. But with the launching of Feargus O’Connor’s Land Plan in 1845, who started to distribute small rural allotments to industrial workers, the theme became of topical priority.
In fact Linton’s vision does not reflect O’Connor’s idea of separated properties, but a more communitarian system that may result from his idea of a nationalization of land. But in complete accordance with O’Connor’s scheme, Linton’s poem suggests that the problems of industrialisation and urban miseries might be solveable by a regression to a rural economy, an idea that proved to be utterly wrong.
The drawings of the complete version were executed by four different artists, representing an ideal of cooperation of a very unique heterogeneity and individuality. Besides Linton himself and his friend Sibson, the history painter-poet William Bell Scott was involved, and Edward Duncan, a painter of seascapes. As Iain Haywood has stated, each of the graphic parts appropriates another genre: The children’s pictorial alphabet, the ‘floriculture’ of urban gardening, the radical Utopia, and the ‘Condition of England’ fable.
Bob-Thin version A: Original hardcover binding. First edition. London 1845
Version C: The Life and Adventures of Bob Thin. A Poor - Law Tale. With thirty odd cuts. pub. by James Watson, London. n.d.: Brochure, 32 pages.
Version D: The Poor-House Fugitive. Being The Life And Adventure Of Bob Thin. 1840. First printed in 1845. n.d./ n.p.( New Hamden, 1897)
Original block of Initial M of the Human Alphabet in “Bob Thin” (version A, p. 15): The initial was designed by Thomas Sibson and engraved by Linton. Linton kept parts of the blocks in his home in Hamden, CT.