The Cynic Sang: The (Un)Official Blog of the William Blake Archive

June 14, 2012

Transcribing A Descriptive Catalogue

Filed under: Uncategorized — Laura Whitebell @ 1:59 pm

As Nick has discussed in a previous post, preparing transcriptions of typographical works presents its own, unique set of challenges; challenges that I’m starting to realise multiply exponentially as we tackle more and more different works.

A few weeks ago, I began work on a transcription of A Descriptive Catalogue, a prospectus written by Blake to describe an 1809 exhibition of his works. It is a printed text, and so I was feeling (fairly!) prepared to encounter the various types of issues that I had seen in Gilchrist’s Life, such as deciding whether or not to transcribe elements like page numbers and running headers that are part of the book, but not written by Blake. However, I soon discovered that the Catalogue includes a few short annotations by Blake handwritten directly onto the printed page.

This result is a text with two different “hands” (one printed and one handwritten) and two very distinct moments of writing and possibly of composition. We can’t guess whether Blake is inserting a correction because the printed book contains an error or whether he is editing his own prose at a later stage. Is it enough to merely point out that these annotations exist in an editorial note because they are an addition to the printed text made after its publication?  Or should they be included formally as part of the textual transcription because they are by the same author?  The Archive’s commitment to providing a transcription that is “specific to individual objects” could point to either solution.  Given the nature of printed books, should we consider all books from one print run to be a single object, or does it mean each different copy? If it is the former, then I should probably transcribe the printed text and include the handwritten addition as a sort of editorial curiosity; if it is the latter, then including the annotation as part of the transcription would be the best plan.

Either way, this is neither the first thorny transcription question, nor is it the last! So expect more, and hopefully some decisions and solutions along the way too.

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