Blake’s earliest work, Poetical Sketches, is printed in a typographically traditional way, which made reproducing a digital edition of Sketches a little anomalous. Noting and describing Blake’s handwritten emendations and other printing errors initiated questions that went beyond typical Archive standards.
Even for a typographic work, Sketches has some peculiarities; the print run was small, uncareful, and, while there are theories, the printer is unknown (see note under “publisher” in the Copy Information Tab). Furthermore, it seems that Blake had not proofed the collection before printing. Throughout the work, there is a sizable array of misspellings, wrong words, and even whole phrases that are out of place. In an effort to amend these errors, Blake corrected as many of the mistakes as he found before gifting copies to friends and colleagues. These emendations varied from copy to copy: some are parallel across a number of copies, others unique to a specific copy. To make matters more tangled, there are corrections that are difficult to attribute to Blake without some doubt.
Of the speculated 50 (ish) original copies, only 24 are extant, and of those, 12 contain pen and ink emendations. Copy C, the copy that we created our transcription from (and used by Bentley for his), has four corrections. There are dozens of these emendations across those 12 copies. Normally, the Archive would include/note only the corrections that belong to Copy C. But after some debate, we decided it would be unlikely that we’d publish another copy of Sketches and therefore we would be justified in collecting–via editor’s notes–all the emendations across the affected copies. This makes the Archive’s edition of Poetical Sketches one of the best available. It’s easily accessible and accounts for all known corrections, including those found in Copy Y, uncovered in 2011.
A Look at the Corrections
Because we didn’t have access to all the copies’ images, we did our best to include physical descriptions of the handwritten corrections when available from our sources; i.e. pen and ink replacements or erasures made by scraping off the paper’s surface. Moreover, a few of these corrections may (or may not) belong to people other than Blake. In step with Bentley, we keep the emendation notes as neutral as possible. See the object note on all affected objects for further information.
This exact correction is made in Copy C, Q, and V, and is undisputed to be Blake’s largely because it’s consistent across multiple copies. However, because we note emendations that do occur outside of Copy C (the one we used for our transcription) let’s touch on a slightly more ambiguous instance for the object below:
The change is found in Copy F, but the same page in Copy C is pictured for reference. Our note reads: “Line 13: Bentley notes that in the margin of Copy F, “black” is changed to “ill” with pen and ink by a contemporary hand (Writings volume 2, page 761n).” As this correction is unique to Copy F and Bentley hints that the handwriting is unlikely to be Blake’s, we stuck to presenting only the facts at hand.
The emendations of Poetical Sketches have had limited documentation throughout the decades, and much of it is outdated. The most comprehensive resources are Michael Phillips’ “Blake’s Corrections in Poetical Sketches”, Erdman’s notations (846-48, largely based on Phillips’ article), and the accompanying footnotes in Bentley’s transcription (749-99). Essick’s “Blake in the Marketplace, 2011” records the formerly unaccounted for emendations in Copy Y.
None of these sources are perfect; Erdman’s notations are sparse, and while Phillips’ 1970 list is detailed, describing the medium used and physical qualities of the corrections, it is incomplete. Eight years after Phillips, Bentley offers the most extensive account, noting almost all corrections by both Blake and others as well as some physical descriptions of the handwritten marks. A comprehensive digital edition of Poetical Sketches and its emendations became not only necessary but invaluably convenient for comparing a correction across copies. And if ever another stray copy is recovered from the dust and dearth of time, it would be easy for the Archive to update its edition.