Jasmine Furmston

LNADSEER, T. Ten Etchings Illustrative of the Devil’s Walk  

(London, 1831) 

The images in this book are illustrations depicting scenes from a poem called “The Devil’s walk”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. “The Devil’s walk” is in fact a later version of “The Devil’s Thoughts”, published by Coleridge and Southey in The Morning Post and Gazetteer, 6 Sept 17991.

Front Cover

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‌The image itself is a circle; however looking at the marks on the cover I believe the writing was also part of the engraving. The image, like all of the pictures in this book, is in black and “white”, which allows for play with tones. It is a grim, dark picture; we see many swirling flames which spiral and rise up. A dark figure appears in the middle of this chaos, the devil. He looks to be as much shadow as substance, his form filling in the gaps between the flames of hell.  I believe this image shows the very beginning of the poem, where the devil is just starting his journey. At the top we see what appears to be the moon.

I believe that all of the images are etchings (a method of printing), for a few reasons. The MET museum in New York has a copy of this book, and they described the images as being the work of etchings2.  There is also a rectangular mark around the image and text, which is often a side effect of the printing process. Etchings were a popular form of printing in that time period, largely because of how they enabled batch productions of images. But the most convincing piece of evidence for me was that the title of the book says that they are etchings. 

On the front cover, though not on the image, is a small piece of material. This material has the number 917 on it, which suggests that it was at one point in someone’s personal library, and was added on after the manufacturing process.

He came into London by Tottenham-court road

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‌This is a scene part from part of the Devil’s walk on earth. For the first time, someone saw him, Brother the Prophet. On the pavement, along with the devil, is a row of poor beggar people. On the road, looking at the devil, is presumably Brother the Prophet. Who Brother the Prophet is meant to be is unclear, but I think he is more than just a man, for I doubt a man can simply look at the devil and know who he is looking at. 

This image, like all images in this book, is an etching. An etching is a method used to print lots of identical images. To create an etching, you would need a sheet of metal, often copper or steel, and coat it with some sort of acid resistant barrier, such as wax. The artist would scrape in the design he (normally a he at the time) wanted, and place the metal into some acid. The acid would eat away at the exposed areas, leaving the design at a different height to the rest of the plate. After the wax or whatever barrier was cleaned off, the plate would be coated with ink. The inked up plate would then be placed onto the paper that was due to be printed on, and both would be passed through the press. If all goes well, the image would be on the paper3.

He saw an Apothecary on a white horse

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‌Here, the devil is shown looking at an apothecary riding what has to be said to be a thin, over worked horse. In the background we can see figures going about their grey lives, one of whom is carrying a coffin. The passage below the image describes death being pleased at the image, as it reminds him of death. In Revelations, death is described as riding the white horse, but this might not be where the comparison ends. The figures in the background look thin, haggard and ill, while the apothecary looks to be in good health. Given his work of using chemicals and medication, it is likely he has the power to also inflict death should he choose to.

At the bottom of this image (and all of the images except for the title page and introduction) is the word Proof. This was added onto items which were not yet finished4. If you also take into account that apart from the front cover picture, all of the images were printed onto an individual piece of paper before being pasted into the book, it suggests that this was a prototype, a pre-first edition if you like.

  1. Maurice Carpenter The indifferent horseman; the divine comedy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge London, (Elek Books, 1954) page 157

  2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/90020608 Last accessed 7th May 2013

  3. Bamber Gasconigne How to identify prints; a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to ink jet (London : Thames and Hudson, 1986)  page 34

  4. Walter Chamberlin, The Thomas and Hudson manual of wood engraving (London : Thames and Hudson, 1978)  page 143

     

Jasmine Furmston