The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of digital editions of The Book of Thel copy C from the Morgan Library and Museum, copies E and K from Yale’s Beinecke Library, and copy M from the New York Public Library. They are accompanied by proofs of five of Thel’s eight plates (2-5 and 7) that form copy a in the Morgan Library. These copies and proofs join copies B, D, F, G, H, I, J, L, N, O, and R. The Archive has now published all extant copies of this illuminated book except copy A in a private collection.
The Book of Thel is dated 1789 by Blake on the title page, but the first plate, which comprises the four questions of “Thel’s
Motto,” and the last plate, which includes ten questions emanating from Thel’s grave, were written in a different hand and appear to have been completed and first printed in 1790, while Blake was working on The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Copies C, E, K, and M are from the first of three printings of Thel, during which Blake produced at least thirteen copies, including copy A. Blake diversified his stock by printing copies in different inks; copy K was printed in green, copies E and M in raw sienna, and copy C in brown. All four copies were lightly finished in water colors and pen and ink. With the proof impressions of copy a, printed in black with enough pressure to pick up ink from the shallows, Blake was able to check the designs as well as the pressure of his printing press.
Copies of Thel from this first press run were certainly on hand when Blake included the book in his advertisement “To the Public” of October 1793: “The Book of Thel, a Poem in Illuminated Printing. Quarto, with 6 designs, price 3s.” Blake printed Thel again in c. 1795 (copy F) and 1818 (copies N and O).
With the publication of The Book of Thel copies C, E, K, and M, and proof copy a, the Archive now contains fully searchable and scalable digital editions of 104 copies of Blake’s nineteen illuminated books. They are the first publications in the redesigned Archive, which is faster and easier to navigate, is aesthetically more appealing, and offers a more robust search feature. Users may view color corrected digital images of Blake’s works at their true size, and enlarge and rotate these images to examine the text and illustrations in detail. The images are accompanied by diplomatic transcriptions and editors’ notes, as well as illustration descriptions that make it possible to search Blake’s works for visual motifs. The Archive also provides full bibliographic and provenance information for each digital edition it publishes. Though the Archive retains its focus on the material conditions of Blake’s art, presenting images in the context of works and copies, such as The Book of Thel copy C, the newly designed site contextualizes each work, copy, and object in a network of relations. Users of the site can view each Blakean object alongside objects in the same copy, objects printed from the same matrix, objects from the same production sequence, and objects with similar designs. This contextualization, which draws on the expertise of the Archive’s editors, enables comparisons across time, medium, and genre, and foregrounds the immense variety and the recurring themes of Blake’s art.
As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the University of Rochester, the continuing support of the Library of Congress, and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.
Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors
Joseph Fletcher, managing editor, Michael Fox, assistant editor
The William Blake Archive