Blake Archive at ADE 2012

This past week in Charlottesville, I had the opportunity to attend two events hosted by the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE). The first of these was “camp edit,” or the Institute for Editing Historical Documents. In a week of seminars we covered a range of editing and publishing topics, from transcription, document search, and annotation to project management, modes of publication, and fundraising. I was glad to find this year’s program emphasized questions raised by digital technologies in addition to its core curriculum of transcription, annotation, proofing, indexing, project management, and publication. A session on digital tools for editing led by Andy Jewell, of the Willa Cather Archive and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was supplemented by conversations linking traditional scholarly editing topics to some of Andy’s experiences in the digital realm at UNL and before that with the Whitman Archive.

Some topics from the old core curriculum appeared less relevant to our work at the Blake Archive at first, but I found many underlying principles could inform our own practices, even where the means may be quite different. For example, during the session on indexing led by William Ferraro of the George Washington papers, I wasn’t sure that I would gain much practical knowledge as an assistant to a digital project without a traditional book index. As the seminar continued, however, I found myself thinking of indexing less as a way to direct users to specific pages in a book and more as a practice in the kind of constrained vocabulary description and document linking that power the searching, browsing, and sorting within a digital edition. We may have more options for how we structure those connections in a digital edition, but there is no less of a premium on transparency, usefulness, and efficiency for users in the way we structure relationships between objects and content.

Having previous to my ADE experience spent little time around historical editions, I never quite got used to all the talk of “documents” at camp edit or in the ADE meeting that followed it. At the Blake Archive we usually only say “documents” to refer to the documentation we generate in the process of editing “works” and “objects”. This difference in speaking had me thinking about the questions I wanted to address in my own presentation to the ADE regarding how the manuscripts and letters projects in the Blake Archive have brought about some interesting changes in the way that editorial definitions based on the earlier illuminated books and visual designs have been applied and rationalized. I gleaned from the enthusiastic reception of an earlier presenter’s questioning of the durability of digital editions (she said she’d migrate to a digital edition when someone could show her how to read an electronic text without electricity, bringing to my mind the Olympic ads for NBC’s upcoming post-apocalyptic “Revolution”) that my intended discussion of some of the peculiarities of our XML tag set for manuscript transcriptions might not be the most compelling choice for the group assembled. In my presentation about the letters in our edition not in Blake’s hand, titled “Complicated Correspondence: Editing the Letters William Blake Did Not Write,” I expanded on some of the less overtly technical repercussions of earlier precedents set in the Blake Archive to the work we’re doing now on new types of objects and works. My argument was that the usages of “works”, “copies,” and “objects,” even when used as literally and diplomatically as they have been in the Blake Archive, become another layer of technology mediating users’ access to content. As much a technology as the codex or digital machines used to flip or navigate pages, these terms require continual re-inspection as they are applied to new ends.

Along these lines, I am excited to hear our editors are planning to push more of the documentation for the Archive onto the public site in the near future. Hopefully such a move will encourage us to keep our editorial machinery well oiled, in addition to providing a resource for other editorial projects.

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Publication Announcement: The Song of Los (C and E)


Song of Los, Copy C, object 1

The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of electronic editions of The Song of Los Copies C and E, from the Morgan Library and Museum and the Huntington Library and Art Gallery respectively. They join Copies A and D from the British Museum and Copy B from the Library of Congress, giving the Archive five of the six extant Copies of this illuminated book.

The eight plates of The Song of Los were produced in 1795; all extant Copies (A-F) were color printed in that year in a single pressrun. Divided into sections entitled “Africa” and “Asia,” The Song of Los is the last of Blake’s “Continental Prophecies” (see also America [1793] and Europe [1794], exemplary printings of which are in the Archive). Blake abandons direct references to contemporary events to pursue the junctures among biblical narrative, the origins of law and religion, and his own developing mythology. Adam, Noah, Socrates, Brama, Los, Urizen, and several others represent both historical periods and states of consciousness. The loose narrative structure reaches towards a vision of universal history ending with apocalyptic resurrection.

Song of Los, copy E, object 1

Song of Los, Copy E, object 1

Plates 1, 2, 5, and 8 (frontispiece, title page, and full-page designs) are color printed drawings, executed on millboards and printed in the planographic manner of–and probably concurrent with–the twelve Large Color Printed Drawings of 1795, which are also in the Archive. Plates 3 and 4, which make up “Africa,” and plates 6 and 7, which make up “Asia,” were executed first, side by side on two oblong pieces of copper (plates 3/4, 6/7). Initially designed with double columns in landscape format, the texts of the poems were transformed into vertical pages by printing the oblong plates with one side masked. In Copies C and E, plates 5 and 8 are differently arranged: 8 follows plate 1 and 5 is placed at the end in Copy C; 8 follows plate 3 and 5 follows plate 6 in Copy E.

Like all the illuminated books in the Archive, the text and images of The Song of Los Copies C and E are fully searchable and are supported by our Inote and ImageSizer applications. With the Archive’s Compare feature, users can easily juxtapose multiple impressions of any plate across the different copies of this or any of the other illuminated books. New protocols for transcription, which produce improved accuracy and fuller documentation in editors’ notes, have been applied to all copies of The Song of Los in the Archive.

With the publication of these copies of The Song of Los, the Archive now contains fully searchable and scalable electronic editions of seventy copies of Blake’s nineteen illuminated books in the context of full bibliographic information about each work, careful diplomatic transcriptions of all texts, detailed descriptions of all images, and extensive bibliographies. In addition to illuminated books, the Archive contains many important manuscripts and series of engravings, sketches, and water color drawings, including Blake’s illustrations to Thomas Gray’s Poems, water color and engraved illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, the large color printed drawings of 1795 and c. 1805, the Linnell and Butts sets of the Book of Job water colors and the sketchbook containing drawings for the engraved illustrations to the _Book of Job_, the water color illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave, and all nine of Blake’s water color series illustrating the poetry of John Milton.

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, 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

Ashley Reed, project manager

William Shaw, technical editor

The William Blake Archive

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Publication Announcement: Hayley Illustrations

The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of an electronic edition of Blake’s etchings and engravings of his illustrations to Designs to a Series of Ballads, Written by William Hayley (1802) and to the 1805 edition of Hayley’s Ballads.  These nineteen plates, all but two of which are based on Blake’s own designs, are presented in our Preview mode, which provides all the features of the Archive except Image Search and Inote (our image annotation program).

While Blake was resident in Felpham on the Sussex coast, beginning in 1801, his new patron William Hayley began to write a series of ballads to be illustrated by the artist-engraver.  These were published in 1802 as quarto numbers, each with a frontispiece, headpiece, and tailpiece by Blake.  As the general title page indicates, the poems all deal with “Anecdotes Relating to Animals.”  In his preface, Hayley states that his plan was to issue one ballad a month “and to complete the whole series in fifteen Numbers.”  The letterpress text was printed by the Chichester printer Joseph Seagrave; the plates were printed by Blake and his wife Catherine on their own rolling press.  Although two book dealers, P. Humphry and R. H. Evans, were selected to sell the ballads, most copies seem to have been sold by Hayley to his friends.  Sales were less than brisk and the project ceased after only four ballads were issued.  Blake designed and executed twelve plates, including a frontispiece for the general title page and a tailpiece to the preface, both issued with the first ballad.  Two further plates were engraved by Blake after designs on antique gems (plates 5 and 11, the tailpieces to “The Elephant” and “The Lion”).

We are also publishing a closely related work, Blake’s five illustrations for the 1805 edition of Hayley’s Ballads.  In January 1805, Hayley contacted the London bookseller Richard Phillips about publishing a new, octavo edition of the ballads.  Blake began to execute engravings for this edition no later than March and completed five plates by June.  For this 1805 volume, Hayley added twelve ballads to the four published in 1802.  Blake engraved new, smaller plates of his designs for three of the 1802 ballads (plates 1, 2, 3) and both designed and engraved new illustrations for two of the additional ballads (plates 45).  Blake and Phillips were to “go equal shares… in the expense and the profits” (Blake’s letter to Hayley of 22 January 1805, Erdman page 763), but it is unlikely that Blake made any profit.  Robert Southey’s mocking review of Hayley’s poems and Blake’s illustration to “The Dog” (plate 1) appeared in the Annual Review for 1805.

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 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
Ashley Reed, project manager, William Shaw, technical editor
The William Blake Archive

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Blake: Illuminated Printer, DIY Zinester

This past weekend, I attended the Buffalo Small Press Book Fair, held annually at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. As in years past, some of my favorite booths are the letterpress vendors, but there are lots of great handmade books, zines, comics, screenprinted posters, and small press books of local history, poetry, and prose. This year, there were also workshops on book binding, screen printing, and zines. Rochester artist, illustrator, and designer Peter Lazarski ran the zine workshop, which included a brief history of zines and an easy tutorial on crafting a small, 8-page booklet. Peter also passed around a copy of Watcha Mean, What’s a Zine? (by Esther Watson and Mark Todd) and I was surprised to see Blake mentioned in “Great Moments in Zine History.”

But of course, it makes perfect sense. Through illuminated printing, a process of relief etching, Blake believed he had solved two major problems in c18 print culture: the separation of text and image, and the difficulty of self-publication. I’ve posted his 1793 prospectus to the public elsewhere, but I’ll repost here. Advertising his new process, Blake writes (emphasis mine):

The Labours of the Artist, the Poet, the Musician, have been proverbially attended by poverty and obscurity; this was never the fault of the Public, but was owing to a neglect of means to propagate such works as have wholly absorbed the Man of Genius. Even Milton and Shakespeare could not publish their own works.

This difficulty has been obviated but the Author of the following productions now presented to the Public; who has invented a method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered, while it produces works at less than one fourth of the expense.

If a method of printing which combines the Painter and the Poet is a phenomenon worthy of public attention, provided that it exceeds in elegance all former methods, the Author is sure of his reward.

Self-publishing multi-media work is clearly in line with current DIY crafting aesthetics; MAKE magazine has both a tutorial on illuminated printing and an article on Blake’s self-publishing (thanks to Laura for the link!).

It was certainly possible to print images and text together in c18, but it was difficult to do so. As Joseph Viscomi explains in his essay “Illuminated Printing:”

Technically, such integration was possible in conventional (intaglio) etching… but the economics of publishing had long defined etching as image reproduction and letterpress as text reproduction, so that the conventional illustrated book was the product of much divided labor, with illustrations produced and printed in one medium and shop and separately inserted into leaves printed elsewhere in letterpress on a different kind of press. Even when words and images were brought together on the same leaf, divisions in production were maintained.

Conventional intaglio printmaking involves incising designs into the surface of a copper plate; etching uses acid, and engraving uses sharp, hard tools. (For a great video of intaglio printmaking, check out this video from the Minnesota Institute of Art.) Throughout the c18, many illustrations were engraved reproductions of original works of art, including statuary, paintings, water colors, sketches, and drawings. Engravers developed many techniques to emulate the look of original works; with their tools and techniques, they could imitate wash drawings, chalk lines, light washes of color, and the texture of pencil. (For more about imaging technologies in the c18, see William Ivins’ Print and Visual Communication.) They also developed techniques of line systems, such as cross hatching and dot-and-lozenge, which allow them to imitate a range of tones and lines. You can see below a detail of one of Blake’s commercial engravings showing dot-and-lozenge (from Viscomi’s “Illuminated Printing“).


Detail “Orlando Uprooting a Pine,” engraved by William Blake after Thomas Stothard

Unlike the straight lines of engraving — or the “neat, tidy, characterless and fashionable net of rationality” (as Ivins calls it) — Blake’s process allows a more fluid line, integrated text and image, and ultimately more creative control over the entire process. Instead of cutting straight lines into copper, Blake can draw, write, and paint with pens and brushes.

In practice, Blake wrote texts and drew illustrations with pens and brushes on copper plates in acid-resistant ink and, with nitric acid, etched away the unprotected metal to bring the composite design into printable relief. (Viscomi, “Illuminated Printing“)

Illuminated printing united the work of the poet and the artist by giving him more direct control over the whole process. And despite the fact that Blake could make multiple prints of each plate (thereby creating “exactly repeatable” verbal and visual statements — one of the defining characteristics of print culture), the illuminated books look handcrafted: Blake and his wife Catherine hand-colored many of the images after printing, there is a lot of variation in the color palettes between individual copies of a book, and the poetry — written backwards by Blake onto the plate — resembles handwriting, not standardized typography.


Image from Wikimedia Commons


Image from Wikimedia Commons

If you want to see more, go to the Blake Archive, and select any illuminated book. If the Blake Archive has published more than one copy of a work, be sure to hit the “Compare” button beneath the image, and you can see how that page looks in each copy.

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Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly

Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly (sometimes known as the Blake Quarterly, BIQ, or just Blake) is an academic journal that was founded in the late 1960s by Morton Paley at UC Berkeley; in the years since, its production offices (actually office) have moved first to the University of New Mexico and then to its present home at the University of Rochester with the other editor, Morris Eaves, who is also co-editor of the Blake Archive.

We are currently print only, but are negotiating the journey from hard copy to an electronic existence. Our first task is to digitize our back issues, currently cloistered in a windowless storeroom but before long hopefully available on the web. After that we’ll turn our attention to getting new issues online.

Along with chronicling this transition, I’ll post about Blake-related events that come to our attention. This year, the Tate is planning to display works from Blake’s one-man exhibition of 1809, and from April to June there will be a major exhibition in Paris.

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The Humanities Project (UR): Dryden Online

In 2006, the University of Rochester started The Humanities Project, “an interdepartmental endeavor designed to champion work by Rochester faculty in all fields of humanistic inquiry.” Each year, several projects are selected to receive funding to sponsor speakers, films, symposia, conferences, panels, and exhibitions.

Last fall, one of the projects was on the work of John Dryden (Restoring Dryden: Music, Translation, Print). Faculty from the departments of English, Modern Languages and Literatures, Art/Music Library, and Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation planned a series of events that included relevant undergraduate courses (on drama, literature, translation, and the history of the book), evening concerts (chamber arrangements, arias, and songs), dramatic readings, and panel discussions of Dryden’s poetry and drama.

In conjunction with the humanities project, Pablo Alvarez curated an exhibit in The Rare Books Library (John Dryden and the Book: 1659 – 1700). While this brick-and-mortar exhibit consists of real books in glass cases, Alvarez also highlights several of Dryden’s books in the Rare Books virtual exhibit, the Book of the Month. Alvarez presents really nice digital images of each book, and gives a thorough bibliographic account, including relevant biographical information of the author, printer, and other key figures in the book’s production, contemporary catalog descriptions, general plot summaries, a bibliography of sources, and how the item ended up in the collection.

The selected Dryden works are here:

A bit of Blake trivia: Blake made woodcuts for Thornton’s Pastorals of Virgil (1821). Proofs from these woodcuts were at one time bound with Blake’s manuscript An Island in the Moon, although they have no relation to the content of the MS, and were removed in 1978 (when the MS was rebound).

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Blake beats

A discussion on the listserv for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) has turned up some fascinating musical adaptations of Blake’s work, ranging from indie rock to garage to singing Beat poets. Contributors to the discussion and the links they provided are below.

James Rovira: The discussion began with his announcement of a CD put together by William Blake and the Human Abstractions, which includes some of their work for an Blake exhibit at the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College last June. Information about ordering the CD is available on their MySpace page. You can hear two songs from the CD, “Spring” and “The Sick Rose,” on the page. Rovira notes that the CD, according to the exhibit’s curator, will include “Spring,” “The Sick Rose,” “Night,” “The Human Abstraction,” “Chimney Sweeper,” “The Ecchoing Green,” “Ah! Sunflower,” “Little Boy Lost/Found,” “Infant Joy/Sorrow,” “Hear the Voice of the Bard!”, and an improvisational piece, “Wings of Fire” (also the title of the exhibit). Although the MySpace page gives the release date as Fall 2008, I was unable to locate any further information about whether or not it’s actually out. You can e-mail brkirchner_AT_hotmail.com for more information. Songs are also available for purchase on iTunes, although I’m having some trouble searching for it. An iTunes search for “William Blake” did, however, pull up some Patti Smith songs, including “My Blakean Year,” which is well worth a listen.

Dennis Low pointed the list to this interview with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous from the BBC Culture Show, who has been heavily influenced by Blake’s poetry in his life and music. The interview includes a performance of “London,” as well as Linkous reading an excerpt from “A Poison Tree.”

Avery Gaskins noted that The Fugs, a folksy band with a good dose of garage rock/psychedelic sound, set “Ah! Sun-flower” and “How Sweet I Roamed” to music. I was able to find a recording of “How Sweet I Roamed” on Last.fm.

Peter Melville provided a link to Kevin Hutchings’ essay on the musicality of the Songs of Innocence and experience from Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (RaVoN). Hutchings has also released a CD, “Songs of William Blake,” available for purchase here.

Misty Beck brought up Greg Brown’s versions of some of the Songs, as well as Allen Ginsberg’s renditions, recorded in New York December 15, 1969, and available for your listening pleasure at PennSound. Beck also reminded me of Iron Maiden’s cheesy, and oddly catchy, adaptation of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Steve Jones points us to poet Anne Waldman singing “The Garden of Love,” for the Romantic Circles Poets on Poets series. Download the MP3 here.

Dorothy Wang and David Latane both suggest classical composer William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, available at Amazon.

Nelson Hilton mentioned the Songs hypertext site, hosted by UGA. Choosing a song pulls up the page along with a piper icon in the corner. By clicking on this icon, you can access musical adaptations of that song by musicians like Finn Coren, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ginsberg, and Gregory Forbes.

Timothy Morton brought up Jah Wobble’s album, The Inspiration of William Blake, available on Last.fm here. Tangerine Dream’s version of “The Tyger” is also available on last.fm via this YouTube video that is sure to liven up any party.

Last but not least is Joseph Viscomi’s stage adaptation of An Island in the Moon, with songs by Margaret LaFrance set to flute, piano, and voice in traditional 18th century ballad formats. The play, performed at Cornell in 1983, is available here.

Update: Melissa J. Sites and Dave Rettenmaier, the Site Manager for Romantic Circles, has consolidated all the recommendations from the NASSR post within the Scholarly Resources section of Romantic Circles, including some of the adaptations I didn’t get to for folks like Byron and Percy Shelley. The list, Pop Culture Interpretations of Romantic Literature, also includes suggestions from an earlier discussion (about 10 years ago) on the same subject.

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Blake’s Eternal Legacy

Joe Viscomi, at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, recently brought these two videos to our attention. The first is an old promotional short from the Tate Britain, and the second is an artistic reinterpretation of one of Blake’s most famous works, “The Tyger,” from the Songs of Experience.

– Ali McGhee

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