A post I wrote on the train yesterday as a big sun was beginning to set across the Pennines, and the last vestiges of snow drifts were melting on the hillsides.
I am en route back to Manchester after spending three days in Leeds. The main purpose of my visit was to take part in a conference at the School of English and the Leeds Library on creativity in dissenting and evangelical communities in the period 1750-1830 which is part of an AHRC network “Creative Communities 1750-1830.”
I travelled over the day before the conference to visit the University’s Special Collections to consult the letters of the Blake scholar Ruthven Todd. I’d been tipped off about this material unexpectedly, and it was a bit of a shot in the dark as to whether I would find much of use. Todd was a Scot, born in 1914, but spent much of his life abroad, first in America, then in Mallorca, where he died in 1978. He was quite an eccentric which is reflected in the tone of many of his letters. I was hoping I might find some useful insights into some of the images I am looking at through his correspondence with various cultural institutions which hold Blake’s images, and I did find a few useful snippets. I had to be careful not to get too distracted by amusing banalities and bickering. In years to come there is probably a fascinating research project on the exchange of ideas and research in these letters.
The conference itself was an unusual format – the first day was mostly seminars, based on readings we had been given in advance. I had a crash course in Barbauld, who featured prominently throughout the two days. The second day was a more traditional format of papers and responses, held in the marvellous setting of the Leeds Library, which is the oldest subscription library in the country and where I would probably take up residence as a workspace were I based in Leeds. I gave a paper which explored how a notion of community might be at work in some of Blake’s images, which gave me occasion to think about some of my material from an angle I might not have otherwise, which in itself was a useful exercise. And, as ever, there were lots of interesting people involved and I came away with plenty of food for thought from the various sessions and speakers.
Next weekend I am off to Cambridge for another conference in the Faculty of English which will be a good opportunity to give some other work an airing, as well as being a chance to catch up with old friends from my own time there. So I have to get the material into a presentable format, plus I expect to have some emails to catch up on.
My train’s slowing down in to Manchester now so it’s time to sign off.