The Cynic Sang: The Blake Archive and Blake Quarterly Blog

May 25, 2016

Details, Disagreements, and Decisions

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsingles @ 3:06 pm

While finishing up work on a set of Blake’s letters from the Westminster Archives, I ran across a question that has made me a minor expert on a very minor piece of history: the difference between wafers and wax seals in nineteenth century England. My curiosity about the difference in these two methods of sealing letters came about when I encountered the following seal on Blake’s Letter to Mr. Butts, 10 January 1802:

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Without glancing at Bentley’s Annotated Catalogues of William Blake’s Writings, I noted in the letter’s provenance information that a wax seal was used for this letter. I then turned to check my description with Bentley’s who, you guessed it, disagreed. He claims that the seal pictured above is actually a wafer. This was the first time I have been forced to pause and ask myself what the difference between these two types of seals is, as I’ve always either agreed with Bentley’s observation or somehow felt that I could discern the kind of seal on a letter with a quick glance.

Since asking this question to myself last week, I have visited a few historical and antiquarian websites and have learned some interesting details about letter seals.  

Wax seals were made by the melting of lac or rosin with turpentine and pigments, and they were applied by first melting wax with a wax taper and then applying the softened stick of wax to the part of letter where the seal was to be placed. The seal was made by pressing down hard, without movement, in the center of the softened wax. As might be expected, this often caused drips and wax runs and was the messier of the two options. Also, wax seals were usually used for important or official correspondence throughout the entire nineteenth century.

A wafer is an early predecessor of the sticker, usually made from wheat flour, which was mixed with water so as to form a thin paste. In short, wafers are a kind of dry paste disk, which were used in less official correspondence in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the middle of the century, wafers became generally used, but later in the century they faded from popularity when wax seals made a popular come-back in the 1880s and 90s.

With these definitions and a sense of these seals’ history, I returned to Blake’s letter to Mr. Butts, and I am still inclined to disagree with Bentley and record this as a wax seal primarily because of what appear to be red wax stains from drops or runs on the bottom of the first page.

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Nevertheless, I will seek further advice on this question before definitively landing on an appropriate seal description. Source Sites:

May 19, 2016

Curating a Blake exhibition: Part 1

Filed under: Blake Quarterly — Sarah Jones @ 3:17 pm

Every so often I publish a Q&A, and today’s guest is Michael Phillips, guest curator of the William Blake: Apprentice & Master exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 2014-15. I had a very murky idea of how an exhibition comes to life, so thought I’d find out. (more…)

May 13, 2016

“only the Contents or Index of already publish’d books”

Filed under: Blake Quarterly, Uncategorized — Sarah Jones @ 11:40 am

Today I published a new version of the journal’s index. I update the index every time we publish an issue, and I don’t usually draw attention to the fact, so you may be wondering what’s special about this occasion.  (more…)

May 6, 2016

Blake’s spectacles

Filed under: Blake Quarterly, Uncategorized — Sarah Jones @ 3:29 pm


Blake’s eyeglasses now live at the Fitzwilliam Museum—here’s the museum’s catalogue record. There’s an image of them in the checklist of publications and discoveries that appeared in our spring 1996 issue (vol. 29, no. 4), at p. 141. (more…)

May 4, 2016

The “Manual” Humanities

Filed under: BAND, Uncategorized — Tags: , — Laura Whitebell @ 11:30 am

One of the things we’ve been endlessly debating in our Team Marginalia meetings has been how to “categorize” the various kinds of inscription we’ve found in our examples of Blake’s annotated books. And this is not to mention the ongoing conversation about how to handle text on the page that is not by Blake, such as the original work itself or editorial apparatus such as page numbers. In an attempt to halt the merry-go-round that these related discussions have become, we tried a new approach at our last meeting, one that we might even call “The Manual Humanities.” (more…)

April 29, 2016

Poetry from the archives of the Blake Quarterly

Filed under: Blake Quarterly — Tags: — Sarah Jones @ 11:29 am

While working on the journal’s index this morning I noticed how many poems we have published over the years. We might go from one year to the next without any verse, but over nearly fifty years we have enough for a chapbook. Since the Blake blog is usually quiet on Fridays, I thought I could use the space to draw attention to some of these poems. (more…)

April 28, 2016

Publication Announcement – Past issues of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly published from 1980-89

Filed under: Publications — Tags: , , — Andrea H. Everett @ 2:10 pm

In 2014 the William Blake Archive added a new wing devoted to searchable HTML and PDF editions of back issues of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, beginning with issues from the years 2000-2009. In 2015 we added the forty issues from 1990 to 2000 and five issues published since 2010.

The Archive is now pleased to announce the publication of the quarterly’s forty issues from 1980 to 1990. (more…)

April 26, 2016

Quirky punctuation?

Filed under: Uncategorized — oishanisengupta @ 7:53 pm

Working on Blake’s receipts has given many of us the occasion to think of small and easy-to-miss problems. Alison’s post about the stamps, demonstrating her detailed observation of their variations and intricacies, is a perfect example. The receipts are a fascinating place for speculation about the fluctuations of Blake’s income as well as a constant source of surprising relief about his consistently neat and legible writing. In this post I thought I’d make a note of an interesting irregularity that I’ve encountered in all the receipts I’ve transcribed: Blake’s placement of the period.When writing Mr., Blake often places the period or a colon in the same space under a superscript “r”:

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This phenomenon is difficult to transcribe, and the standard references don’t deal with this problem in a systematic way. In a BAND meeting, we decided to attach a note with each receipt discussing the specific usage and add anything that Bentley or Keynes might say about this, but there is often a  great deal of variation in Bentley and Keynes’ treatment of Blake’s punctuation. Sometimes Blake Records reproduces Blake’s writing exactly, but not at other times. Bentley often places the period or colon after the superscript, and Keynes omits it quite frequently. Thus, we have many nearly identical notes about minute differences in punctuation, but not much discussion of the fact that the differences in punctuation is such an important aspect of the receipts.This issue led me to think of two questions about how we could address this. First, would it be more useful to have individual notes on each of the receipts that have any such punctuations and record the varying transcriptions in each case, or to have a set of notes that cover the entire set of receipts and discuss recurring issues like interestingly placed periods in greater detail (and I’m thinking about the stamps here as well)? The second question is more generally about a particular project or publication: should a project like the receipts include a list of issues that are specific to it and the decisions they led to as an aid to others working in digital archiving?

April 19, 2016

Four Zoas: In the Zone

Filed under: BAND, XML — Eric Loy @ 5:18 pm

The past few weeks have seen considerable progress in the development of our revised Four Zoas schema. As we expand our sample set of objects, we’re testing our XML structure in new situations and uncovering new complications. The good news: our <stage> approach to modeling layered revisions in the manuscript has held up well when applied to these new objects. Whenever difficulty arises, it’s the usual editorial problem of reading a messy manuscript. But the bad news: our <zone> element has struggled to keep up.


April 14, 2016

Isolating Vocabulary in Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mary Learner @ 5:20 pm

Lately my task has been to comb through lists of words, generated by Adam McCune’s scripts that run through Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly to search for misspellings, a task which he recently described in another blog post. My section includes all unique terms that begin with lowercase s-z. I evaluate each word, particularly lingering on red squiggles that signal the unsanctified according to Microsoft Word. I time-travel through the journal as I investigate contexts for alphabetically-organized misspellings, reading blips of scholarship that span the past fifty years. (more…)

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