As Adam explained in last week’s post, the most recent task for many project assistants has been to search out misspelled words across extant Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly issues and make emendations where needed. While Microsoft Word provides the first indication of potential errors, we proceed line-by-line through wordlists and judge whether a word is actually misspelled or is merely unrecognized because of different linguistic origins or obsolete spelling variations. The wordlist on which I’ve been working these last few weeks contains every rare word beginning with capital letters I through R. To give you a sense of the size of this grouping, I’m still solidly in the “I” portion of a document 16,479 words long, a list containing everything from expressions of “Illustration” in four different languages to my own last name in the editorial matter beneath articles.

Among the list members underlined with Word’s distressing red squiggles were several erroneous versions of a Latin word that speaks to our current work with BIQ: “Ignotus”; or is it “Ignatus”? “Ignotis”? “Igtnotus”? According to the Latin dictionary available through Tufts University’s Perseus Digital Library, “ignotus” has four simple translations: “unknown, strange, unrecognized, unfamiliar.”[1] How fitting that the Latin word for “unknown” would produce across the BIQ archive a number of “unrecognized,” “unfamiliar,” and even “strange” misspellings. While I came to realize that the mistakes included above were all variants of this term, the unfamiliarity of the items as they appear in my wordlist led to the process I complete with each unknown word as I attempt to discover its context and determine what change, if any, should be made to render it correctly in the digital edition of BIQ.

The first of these variants, “Ignatus,” is perhaps the best example to discuss here since it presents a number of possibilities. Since “Ignatus” is not a word in English and is incorrect as a Latin expression, I need to find another explanation for Word’s rejection of it. In a wordlist where each initial letter is capitalized, I’ve found that many “misspellings” are simply proper nouns that Word doesn’t recognize. Such logic suggests that “Ignatus” could easily be “Ignatius” with the second “i” omitted. If, however, we’re not talking about the Apostolic Father, another possibility arises: “Ignatus” is not a misspelled name at all, but an improper rendering of the Latin “Ignotus.” A quick text search across all extant BIQ issues confirms this hypothesis, and we quickly see that the other two variants, “Ignotis” and “Igtnotus,” are also incorrect renderings of this same Latin word. After checking PDF scans of the original BIQ issues in which these errors occur, I emend the XML files, update the emendations list, and jot down a brief note in my ever-growing report. This particular “unknown” has been solved.

ignotus screenshot

A screen capture of my I-R wordlist and notes on the  variations of “Ignotus.”

This error with “Ignotus” proves interesting not only because of the variety of misspellings that have cropped up in past BIQ issues, but also because of its importance for Blake studies during the last century and a half. The term, used by Robert Browning in his dramatic monologue “Pictor Ignotus,” famously became the subtitle of Alexander Gilchrist’s 1863 Life of William Blake. Gilchrist laments William Blake’s still relatively “unknown” status in the mid-nineteenth century, and the term “ignotus” becomes in Gilchrist’s text a subtle but useful linguistic touchstone. According to Gilchrist, the name of William Blake has been “perseveringly exiled” from collections of English poetry, and “Encyclopædias ignore it.”[2] Gilchrist’s use of the word “ignore” here reinforces his subtitle and the sense that Blake’s unfamiliarity was perpetuated by literary circles’ intentional and consistent relegation of him to the realm of the “unknown.” Interestingly, this first chapter of Gilchrist’s biography demonstrates the pervasiveness of Blake’s exclusion by appropriating it. The opening paragraph contains eight references to Blake’s name but never uses it. In fact, after the title, Blake’s name does not arrive until 155 words into the first chapter; it follows three other names, including that of his more popular contemporary, William Wordsworth. “Of the books and designs of Blake,” writes Gilchrist, “the world may well be ignorant”; Gilchrist again draws from that same Latin root.[3] He worries about Blake’s works having “never [been] published at all” in the popular sense, blaming their “unknown” status at least in part on their relative unavailability to the public.[4]

“With critics it has had but little better fortune,” laments Gilchrist about the work of this “Pictor Ignotus.”[5] As the impressive body of scholarship represented by more than fifty years of BIQ attests, however, Blake’s fortunes have greatly improved since the 1860s. In addition to the many print editions produced in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, Blake’s work has become known to us in the digital world through resources like the William Blake Archive and Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly. While the idiosyncrasies of his poetry and production methods may still be regarded as “strange,” Blake is no longer “unfamiliar” to scholars and students across the disciplines.

[1] “Ignotus,” Latin Dictionary Headword Search Results, Perseus Digital Library, ed. Gregory R. Crane (Tufts University, 2016), available from

[2] Alexander Gilchrist, Life of William Blake, “Pictor Ignotus,” With selections from his poems and other writings, 2 vols. (Macmillan and Company, 1863), I, 1; emphasis added. An important figure in articles across the years, “Gilchrist” returns 226 results in a text search of the BIQ archive.

[3] Gilchrist, I, 2; emphasis added.

[4] Gilchrist, I, 2; emphasis original.

[5] Gilchrist, I, 1.