In addition to the other issues surrounding textual transcription discussed in earlier posts, Blake Archive assistants involved in manuscript transcription often run into the basic problem of deciphering Blake’s hand. We are sometimes led to question established readings through a process that involves, not only being familiar with the usual way in which Blake forms particular letters, but also the way in which he writes his letters on a particular manuscript page or the way his letters appear when written in a certain sequence. For example, here is line 31 from object 1 of the Tiriel manuscript (which will eventually be published on the Blake Archive):
G. E. Bentley, Jr. (in William Blake’s Writings, as well as his edition of Tiriel) and David Erdman (in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake) read this line as:
Look at my eyes blind as the orbless scull among the stones
The word in question is “scull”:
It is easy to see why Bentley and Erdman read this word as such. The first letter of the word is definitely an “s” and the fourth is an “l”. Furthermore, the last letter could be read as an “l” written over an accidental “d”. However, this example becomes more complicated when you take into account the fact that the second letter (which Bentley and Erdman read as “c”) resembles the way in which Blake writes the letter “e” when it follows the letter “s”. Look at the first “e” in the following image (the word is “serpents”, taken from object 1 of Tiriel):
The third letter in “scull” looks like a “u”. However, it could also be an “a” that is not fully closed at the top (in other words, the first and second upward strokes don’t meet). This actually happens elsewhere in this particular object (although the gap is not quite as pronounced). Note the first “a” in the first image below and the second “a” in the second:
Now, compare the “a”s above with the “u” in “thus” (also from the same object):
They are quite similar. This leaves us with a reading of “scull” as “seal_”. With regard to the last letter, I would suggest that—as opposed to Bentley’s and Erdman’s readings of (presumably) an “l” written over a “d”—we read the reverse or a “d” written over an “l”. The word in question then becomes “seald.” If this is the case, Blake wrote “seall” and then corrected himself. Now, “scull” is still a possibility (and will be noted in the eventual Archive publication). However, while it would be an easy slip for Blake to write “seall” (as in “seal”/present tense) when he meant to write “seald” (“sealed”/past tense), it is less likely (although, of course, still possible) that he would accidentally write the letter “d” at the end of the word “scull”/“skull”.
Finally, “seald” (like “scull”) makes sense in the context of the sentence. To paraphrase:
Look at my eyes, blind as the orbless/eyeless/dead sealed/interred/buried among the stones.