Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

William James Linton:

32) Famine: a Masque.

New Haven 1875 / ca. 1887

This Shelleyan masque, which consists of the litanies of eight symbolic incorporations, analyzes the correlations between labour, trade and famine, and between waste and usury. It was written in the midst of the Long Depression with its high rates of unemployment. The fact that the prices of grain fell by nearly seventy percent imposed great hardships on farmers and planters in Europe and North America.

For his illustration, Linton fell back again on a design by William Blake, but this time he did not credit him. The ornamental drawing he used as an exposition was taken from a kerography, which he had made for Gilchrist’s Life of Blake (Vol. I, p. 127). It shows two angels from Blake’s prophecy Europe pouring out the blight from their horns, which adulates the harvest. “The title page of Famine: A Masque is a synthesis of conventional typographic reproduction and the design for plate 9 of Blake’s Europe. This synthesis forms one of the most spectacular examples of radical textual transmission in the history of Blake in the nineteenth century.” (Shirley Dent & Jason Whittaker)  


Blake > Linton > Mackmurdo

Linton had “added the word FAMINE to the block in his distinctive, spiky, slightly curved lettering, giving the design an immediate resemblance to a fully developed art nouveau page of the 1890s. It precedes by almost a decade Arthur Mackmurdo’s famous title-page for his book of Wren´s city churches, normally accepted as the earliest art nouveau page composition and a landmark in the evolution of the style. (..) A leading student of art nouveau, Dr. Robert Schmutzler, has recently postulated that the style derives from Blake. Linton, whom Dr. Schmutzler does not mention, would seem to be an important link. Given Linton’s detailed knowledge of Blake’s design, his connections with Walter Crane, and the interest which the late-nineteenth-century design group took in his work, there is a reasonable possibility that Mackmurdo had seen the Famine engraving before making his own. However, as so often with Linton’s activities and associations, conclusive evidence is lacking. (...) Yet the very existence of the engraving, together with the quality of his other printings, suggests that his printing activities have more importance than students of the craft have recognized. In England Bullen and Emery Walker knew his work, while the great men in the history of fine printing in America, Theodore De Vinne, Walter Gilliss, and D.B. Updike, must all have been acquainted with his press-work through their links with the magazine publishing-houses and the Century and Grolier Clubs. Linton’s private press at Appledore is contemporary with the Gilliss Press and predates by nearly twenty years Updike’s Merrymount Press of 1893.“ (F.B. Smith)


“The very presence of Blake’s visual art in such innovative and unexpected settings is a silent testimony to artisan volition and the political power of the made (and remade) symbol. Linton’s Blakes are not dead but resurrected: they are the choir invisible of hope beyond nation. (...) Linton’s use of Blake’s designs in his work creates a continuum of political symbolism, which has specific meaning of the secular, particularly Republican politics of the 1870s. In Linton’s work, the material presence of the book recognises the indivisibility of art from politics.” (Shirley Dent & Jason Whittaker, Radical Blake)