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Cromek, Thomas Hartley, 1809-1873
Robert and Thomas Hartley Cromek papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
2 boxes, 176 items, and 0.8 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-2


Consists of nine bound volumes of personal papers of English father and son R. H. Cromek and Thomas Hartley Cromek, engraver and painter, respectively.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of nine bound volumes of papers of Robert and Thomas Hartley Cromek, father and son. It ranges in great detail over large tracts of art history from the early and middle parts of the nineteenth century, with firsthand information on the Cromeks, William Blake, Luigi Schiavonetti, J. M. W. Turner, John Pye, William Mulready, Thomas Bewick, John Constable, Thomas Stothard, and Clarkson Stansfield.

The volumes:

Bewick, Thomas: Album of original letters and manuscripts largely relating to Thomas Bewick. Letters and manuscripts tipped onto album leaves. 52 pages.

Cromek, R. H.: Album of original autograph letters collected by T. H. Cromek in preparation for the biography of his father. Original letters and documents tipped in.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley: A manuscript notebook by T. H. Cromek, in different styles of hand, ca. 150 pages. The first section to page 75 is dated 16 October 1851. With an essay on the origins of Stothard's Canterbury Pilgrims.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley:"Introductory Lessons in Hebrew Grammar." Manuscript. Signed"Thomas H. Cromek, November 6th 1861." 62 pages. THC published A Manual of Hebrew Verbs, 1851.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley:"Memorials of the Life of R.H. Cromek, Engraver, F.A.S. Edinburgh. Editor of the 'Reliques of Burns'; 'Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song.' With the unpublished correspondence on those works and other papers relative to his professional and literary career. Collected and edited by his son." Circa 200 pages. Preface dated Wakefield, 23 December 1864.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley: Quarto manuscript notebook. 80 pages. Neatly written. Signed"Thomas H. Cromek, May 1863" and entitled"Recollections of conversations with Mr John Pye, London 1864-4, with other matters relating to men of his time."

Cromek, Thomas Hartley: Extracts from articles and books in THC's autograph, chiefly from Gilchrist' Life of Blake, with THC's critical comments; transcriptions of letters, etc. ca. 115 pages. Dated December 1863.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley: Album of original letters from John Pye to T. H. Cromek. Signed"Thomas H. Cromek, Wakefield Dec. 8th 1864." Contains 22 ALsS from John Pye to T.H. Cromek from 3 September 1862 to 1 August 1866. Relating to R. H. Cromek, Turner, Pye, and the history of engraving.

Cromek, Thomas Hartley: A manuscript notebook in which is entered a formal chronological list of many hundreds of THC's watercolors, with details of titles, subjects, prices and purchasers; from 31 December 1834 to December 1872."Total from December 1834 to December 1872: - 478 pictures sold for £6777.12.0. i.e. average of £14-3-7 each. Maximum £80 (twice) 1847 and 1849." Purchasers include Prince Albert and Queen Victoria and Edward Lear. 61 pages.

Collection Creator Biography:

Cromek, Thomas Hartley, 1809-1873

Robert Hartley Cromek (1770-1812), engraver and publisher of prints, abandoned law for literary and artistic pursuits. He came to London in 1788 where he studied under Francesco Bartolozzi. He then undertook the engraving of book illustrations, many of which were created by Thomas Stothard and Henry Fuseli. In 1805 Cromek comissioned William Blake to produce designs for an illustrated edition of Blair's Grave for 20 guineas. When Blake submitted a samples, Cromek strongly disapproved of them. Cromek commissioned the Italian Schiavonetti, instead. Cromek travelled extensively to Scotland and the north of England promoting this project by which means he raised some 589 subscribers without any benefit to Blake.

During one of his tours Cromek picked up a volume of Chaucer and suggested to Stothard his famous picture of The Canterbury Pilgrims. According to Sir Leslie Stephen's article in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) "This statement was intended as an answer to the far more probable story that Cromek really took the hint from a sight of Blake's design for the same subject. Blake asserted that Cromek gave him a commission for the picture. Cromek replied that Blake must have received the commission 'in a vision'. It seems that on failing to get the design on the same terms as the designs for the Grave he offered Stothard £60 (afterwards raised to £100) to paint the picture without explaining the previous transactions with Blake. Cromek exhibited the picture in several towns, and sold it for £300. He excused himself from paying Stothard in full on the ground of money difficulties. Schiavonetti's death (7 June 1810) delayed the engraving and Cromek was much affected by the disappointment." The article in DNB concludes:"Cromek was a shifty speculator, who incurred the odium attaching to men of business who try to make money by the help of men of genius."

In this assessment Stephen appears to have been guilty of a considerable misjudgment. The new entry for Cromek in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) by Dennis M. Read (2008) goes only some way to correcting the picture. There it is stated:"It is not possible to determine definitively whether Cromek or Blake first conceived of painting and engraving this subject." Peter Ackroyd's Blake, (1999) however, goes much further. His account is summarized as follows: In the summer of 1806, Cromek approached Thomas Stothard to produce a painting based on The Canterbury Pilgrims. (Stothard had himself thought of just such a design as early as 1793). Blake, however, always insisted that Cromek had stolen the idea from him. He told the story of how he had trustingly shown Cromek his sketches for the subject and how Cromek had gone away delighted with the idea. Shortly afterwards he learned that Stothard had been commissioned to paint the same picture; it was the clearest proof of Cromek's double-dealings. However there was no evidence that Blake sketched any designs for a Chaucerian fresco before 1810 - a year after Stothard's painting was finished.

The true story is that Blake, piqued by Stothard's and Cromek's success and still smarting from The Grave humiliation, set out, after the event, to produce his own version and outface Stothard. Even in his last years Blake was still accusing Stothard of plagiarism and theft - to such an extent that Stothard, the most peaceable and just of men, eventually refused to have anything to do with him. When Blake did produce his own version the Miller is said to be based on Cromek:"A terrible fellow, such as exists in all times and places, for the trial of men." Blake was paranoid and a fantasist and it is quite possible that he came to believe his own version of events. Certainly Blake focused his disappointments on the figures of Stothard, Schiavonetti and Cromek and when Cromek died he savagely exulted:"Come Artists knock your heads against This stone/For Sorrow that our friend Bob Screwmuch's gone."

The bitter conflict between Blake and Cromek over The Grave and"The Canterbury Pilgrims" came to a head in May 1807 when, in response to a letter from Blake, Cromek wrote a letter back which has become one of the most celebrated documents in Blake literature and which is quoted in full in T.H. Cromek's manuscript account of his father:"When I first called on you, I found you without reputation; I imposed on myself the labour, and a herculean one it has been, to create and establish a reputation for you. I say the labour was herculean, because I had not only to contend with, but I had to battle with a man who had predetermined not to be served. What public reputation you have, the reputation of eccentricity excepted, I have acquired for you... I have some reason to embrace your wild opinion, that to manage genius, and to cause it to produce good things it is absolutely necessary to starve it; indeed, this opinion is considerably heightened by the recollection that your best work, the illustrations of The Grave, was produced when you and Mrs Blake were reduced so low as to be obliged to live on half a guinea a week! Before I conclude this letter, it will be necessary to remark, when I gave you the order for the drawings from the poem The Grave, I paid you far more than I could afford; more in proportion than you were in the habit of receiving, and what you were perfectly satisfied with; though, I must do you the justice to confess, much less than I think is their real value..." Why did you so furiously rage at the success of the little picture of 'The pilgrimage' Three thousand people have now seen it and have approved of it. Believe me, yours is 'the voice of one crying in the wilderness!'" (See Letters of William Blake pages 127-130.)

In 1808 Cromek visited Scotland to collect information about Burns. The result was his Reliques of Burns, consisting chiefly of original letters, poems, and critical observations on Scottish songs, 1808. This was followed by Select Scottish Songs, ancient and modern, with critical observations and biographical notices by Robert Burns edited by R. H. Cromek, 1810. Cromek made a second collecting tour in 1809, and then met Allan Cunningham who provided him with 'old songs', in fact of his own manufacture. Cromek printed these (with perhaps little knowledge of their true nature) in Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway song, with historical and traditional notices relative to the manners and customs of the peasantry, 1810.

In 1810 Cromek, as secretary to the Chalcographic Society, promoted a scheme to sell twenty engravings of British art to 170 subscribers for 100 guineas under the aegis of a Society for the Encouragement of Engraving. Blake derided it and, in response, wrote a vituperative draft"Public address to the Chalcographic Society" in his note book.

Cromek began to show signs of consumption in the winter of 1810, and died of the disease on 14 March 1812 at the age of only 42. In 1813 The Grave was re-issued with lives of Cromek and Schiavonetti. Cromek's widow subsequently made a large sum of money from publishing a print after Stothard which proved a huge success. Cromek's posthumous reputation, as reflected in the article in the DNB, appeared to have been blighted by an acceptance of Blake's version of events. In the early 1860s, his son T. H. Cromek set out to collect materials which would enable him to present a fair account. His manuscript was never published. But the substantial manuscript biography described below and original supporting materials - the major extant archive of Cromek father and son - now provide the detailed evidence for that reassessment.

T.H. Cromek's manuscript collections were not known to G.E. Bentley when he produced Blake Books, (1977). T.H. Cromek does not appear in the index. In 1995 Bentley produced his Blake Books Supplement and here the index does contain a number of references to Cromek junior. Most relevant, on page 255, is a reference to"T.H. Cromek, MS Memorials of the life of R.H. Cromek (1865) p. 9 in the possession of Mr. Wilfred Warrington" which refers to one of the volumes in the present archive. See (1) below. This shows that the existence of the manuscript biography (but not the accompanying volumes?) is now known to Blake scholarship.

Dennis Read (author of the new DNB entry for R.H. Cromek) had sight of T.H. Cromek's Manuscript Biography of his father at some time in the 1980s, while it was owned by Paul Warrington (It is cited as a source). Michael Warrington wrote the ODNB article on T. H. Cromek and he also refers to this manuscript source. In the last decade there has been a scholarly debate between Dennis Read and G.E. Bently Jr about the origins of the"Canterbury Pilgrims" (a central issue in the archive below). Read, relying on"new information" (i.e. these manuscripts?), shows that the idea for the drawing originated with Cromek, not Blake. G.E. Bentley puts counter arguments. (See G.E. Bently Jr Blake Books Supplement page 619). The debate, therefore, is still alive. There can be no doubt that the manuscript biography with the extensive accompanying material described below, almost all of it unpublished, provides in detail the evidence necessary to support the reassessment of Cromek (and Blake) and to support the account given by Holroyd - though, he, apparently, had no knowledge of these manuscripts.

Thomas Hartley Cromek (1809-1873), painter, only son of the engraver and book-illustrator Robert Hartley Cromek. In 1830 he set out for Florence and Rome where he did much drawing and sketching. In 1834 he journeyed to Greece. Arguably this journey to Greece prompted some of his finest drawings which reveal a freshness of colour and an originality of method. Cromek returned to England in 1835 and in January 1836 was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Cromek's biographer, James Fowler, records that by 1836 his reputation as a painter was fully established and at this time he gave lessons to Edward Lear. Between 1840 and 1849 in both Florence and Rome he received a constant flow of commissions and gave lessons to many of the distinguished visitors then flocking to Italy. Back in London in the summer of 1843 he was summoned to Buckingham Palace to show his drawings to the Queen and Prince Albert, both of whom bought pictures. When the artist Peter De Wint heard of this he jealousy remarked that"the Queen has no taste" a comment which, naturally enough terminated his friendship with Cromek. Despite the friendship of Clarkson Stansfield and others Cromek never maintained in England the level of success he had achieved in Rome. By 1861 his health had so deteriorated that he lost the use of his hands and no paintings are recorded after this date. He died in Hatfield Street, Wakefield, Yorkshire, somewhat impoverished, on 10 April 1873. The ODNB article by Michael Warrington who gives, as among his sources,"T. H. Cromek. Reminiscences at home and abroad, 1812-1855. Unpublished MS, priv. coll."

Collection History


Purchased from John Hart Books in March 2009 (AM2009-104).

Custodial History

By descent from T. H. Cromek. T. H. Cromek's daughter married John Warrington of Newland Hall, Wakefield. He was the father of Austin Warrington, whose son Paul Warrington inherited the Cromek archive and left the archive on his death to his wife, Jeanne Warrington, in 1992, who in turn left the archive to R. H. Cromek's great-great-great grandson Ian Warrington on her death in 2007, who sold the archive at Sothebys London in July 2008.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by John Delaney on April 6, 2009. Finding aid coded by John Delaney on April 7-8, 2009, based on the descriptions of John Hart and Chris Johnson.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

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Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Robert and Thomas Hartley Cromek papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
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Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-2