“True painting must call out to its viewer by the force and the great truth of its imitation, and ... the surprised viewer must go to it, as if to enter into conversation.” Roger de Piles, The Principles of Painting (1743)
Borrowing a book from William Blake entailed reading the printed text and Blake’s handwritten notes (marginalia). This project invites you to digitally browse Sir Joshua Reynolds’ seminal art theory book Discourses, a collection of annual Royal Academy lectures compiled by Edmund Malone, read Blake’s marginalia, and immerse yourself within historical contexts, images of the artwork discussed, transtextual information, intertextual connections, and a virtual conversation between two of the most influential British artists of the late eighteenth century.
RATIONALE OF THE PROJECT
“Hired to Depress: A Digital Scholarly Edition of William Blake’s Marginalia to Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Discourses” addresses several shortcomings in the scholarship on Blake, Reynolds, and late eighteenth century British aesthetics. A digital edition of Blake’s annotations provides contextual information surrounding Reynolds’ lectures that are absent in other, traditional print editions. Working in a realm beyond literature and Blake studies, scholars will also be able to develop critical viewpoints on neoclassical and Romantic visual culture of the late eighteenth century.
The initial phase of this project focuses on digitally reproducing the print and handwritten conversation between Reynolds and Blake. As an editor, I view the marginal comments as indicative of conversation, as the reader is addressed by Blake: “_____.” Between 1798 and 1808/9 Blake annotated The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Discourses on Art, edited by Edmond Malone published in London, 1798. The three-volume book is a compendium of essays, speeches, and a biography of the British painter. The copy owned by Blake is heavily annotated and held by the British Library. The annotations are indicative of his developing views on contemporary European art as well as the London art world. To better establish an understanding of Blake’s thoughts on the Grand Manner style, art education, and the eighteenth-century business of art, it is important that the text is digitally reproduced. Digital scans of the volume are available on each webpage, thanks to Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) as well as my own high-resolution digital photographs of the annotations.
While the editing process is inherently interpretive, the main purpose of this electronic edition is not to apply a specific critical lens to Blake’s aesthetic theories, but rather offer adequate political, aesthetic, historical, biographical, textual, and scholarly information and context for the marginalia.
Per Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines, this scholarly digital edition strives to present a reliable text established by:
- Accuracy (respect to texts)
- Adequacy (documenting principles and practice)
- Appropriateness (thoroughness to texts and editorial practices)
- Consistency (practicing organized and rational methods)
- Explicitness (transparency to editorial decisions)
USING THE NOTE FUNCTION
Each webpage displays the order of the pages in Blake’s edition of Discourses.
The upper-left box, labeled Box 1, represents the page and where Blake has left marginal commentary, indicated by the blue font. Click anywhere on the blue font.
Box 2 represents the pop-up that results from the click in step one. A preview of the content is displayed, including media.
At the bottom of Box 3, notice the “Go to note” link at the bottom-left of the preview pop-up. Click this link (once) to open the new page of full-size content.
Box 4 represents the page once “Go to note” is clicked. Blake’s marginal comment is transcribed here. If there is an editorial note or analysis, it is labeled as such and immediately follows the bolded header.
Creating a meaningful digital edition of Blake’s marginalia to Reynolds’ Discourses for all who have the means of access is the first and foremost goal of this project. I have decided to implement a variety of methods to ensure legibility and clarity for many kinds of scholars including but not limited to secondary education teachers, post-secondary instructors, independent learners, and individuals with learning disabilities. By similar reasoning, I have provided an extensive bibliography of reference works; biographies of Reynolds, Blake, and other artists; secondary criticism; a glossary of art terminology; and videos exploring art in the eighteenth century—these are intended to augment understanding for the variety of users this site has the potential to attract.
Blake's annotations have been diplomatically transcribed previously, for example, in David V. Erdman's The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (1988). Using this resource, scholars have quoted from Blake’s annotations to support an array of claims about Blake’s position concerning art, aesthetic theory, conceptions of genius, and the commercialization of visual culture during the Romantic period, yet they have often misinterpreted his viewpoints due to insufficient context. This project endeavors to provide the necessary information required for better understanding.
My decision to depart from Erdman’s treatment of the text using symbols for capitalization, bracketing, etc. is to provide straightforward approximations—searchable and analyzable representations. Abandoning elaborate typography and editorial jargon, each page allows users of all backgrounds to easily examine transcriptions beside reproductions of the original document. These decisions were in accordance with maintaining accessibility to a variety of users who may be unfamiliar with the editorial sigla utilized by other scholars.
Concerning editorial decisions about transcribing and presenting documents, I have heeded guidance from the MLA’s Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE). Transcriptions for Blake’s marginalia have been published previously and are used as a check to my independent transcriptions for the best interpretation possible. However, I transcribed the preface and Discourse I marginalia before I consulted Erdman’s transcriptions in The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake and the Descriptive Catalogue (1809). There are few differing interpretations but where there was conflict, Erdman’s reading is offered alongside my transcription. For more information on my editorial choice and rationale for transcriptions, see below.
This digital edition privileges and utilizes diplomatic transcription process. Instead of acting as interpreter of authorial intention, diplomatic transcription maintains highest fidelity to the original text. All transcriptions are taken from the editor’s experience with the original publication and high-resolution digital photographs of the primary document continue to be consulted and are available on each webpage for transparency. Additionally, the transcriptions were evaluated with regards to Erdman's Complete and the scanned document from Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).
- Capitalization: I have chosen to retain all original capitalization to preserve the integrity of authorial intention. However, some letters are more difficult to discern so other texts from the William Blake Archive are consulted to recognize traits of Blake’s capital letters. If I engage with this process, I make note of it in the annotation as well as a link to the document that was referenced to make the determination.
- Punctuation: All original punctuation is maintained. Marginalia punctuation fluctuates and functions in informal rules, so forcing standards in the editorial statement does not suit original intentions well.
- Spelling: If an error is not consistent, I have tagged it as a “correction” and corrected it. If it is consistent (in the document or in the writer’s canon), I have treated it as an eighteenth-century usage or idiosyncrasy and retained it.
- Letter Form: The most frequent variant letter form is the long s (ſ), which I have tagged as such, and changed to contemporary use. This decision is so that readers unfamiliar with the character or researchers using modern orthographic practices can find this information easily.
- Word Division: Original word division practices (spacing and hyphenating) are retained in this edition.
- Page Layout: This refers to the arrangement of the text on the page. Line breaks are recreated in the HTML text on the page as it was in Discourses to preserve the annotations by Blake. Resituating the line breaks and footnotes accurately is key to accurate representation of the text he referenced.
- Errata: Unless otherwise indicated, I have retained all slips of the pen, such as: when Blake inverts letters, writes one letter for another, or leaves out a letter. While there are few, there may be an occasional uncrossed t or a crossed l in a document, and I have noted and emended them. Sometimes, Blake corrects himself by marking a singular line through the error. Strikethrough script is represented with strikethrough text and the new word following directly after. For example: [link]
- Deletions/Insertions: In various annotations, Blake will forget a word or add one in later using caret symbols. This is difficult to render but the new text of letter is placed in left angle and right angle brackets (< >).
- Underlining: retained underlining, which appears as underlining not italics.
- Dashes: Em and en-dashes are difficult to ascertain in manuscript, so width, darkness of mark, and diplomatic assessment of em or en-dash is recorded.
- Illegible/Unclear Words or Marks: If there is uncertainty when ascertaining either the letter, punctuation, word, etc. I check Erdman’s transcriptions, the scans available from ECCO, and other secondary sources for additional frames of reference. If a conclusion cannot be reached through this process, I provide explanation for possibilities and why I do not posit an answer in the annotation.
- British/American English: British spelling is maintained in Reynolds and Blake’s spelling whereas editorial commentary utilizes American English practices.
Ensuring the accuracy of the materials in the digital scholarly edition is paramount. I have turned off all auto-correct features of Microsoft Word before beginning the transcription. To ensure the accuracy of the materials in the scholarly edition, I established and followed a rigorous transcription and reviewing process. I transcribed each annotation or mark from the original alongside a facsimile of the document and Erdman’s transcription of the marginalia. This layered approach to reading the marginal commentary is to allow for thorough examination and discernment of different interpretation/reading.
Straying from facsimile representation, I embrace Walter Benjamin’s idea that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (220). In order to best engage this seminal work of understanding Blake’s aesthetic theory, the text is placed into context of the art, conversations, intertextuality, political history, aesthetic history, educational and valuation practices of art, etc. Each annotation is embedded in several sources of information, some layered, some overlapping, and some discrete, but all directly relevant to the discourse of art. This multiple vision reading is intended to create the most fruitful reading experience for the user regardless of their field or level of scholarship.
Abbreviations and Standards of Reference
To maintain brevity, these standards and abbreviations are given here for later annotations. This allows for annotations to remain not only brief, but also clear of clunky MLA citations. All quotations from the Bible are from the King James online version, with appropriate links provided. Abbreviations are as follows:
DC A Descriptive Catalogue [link to bibliography entry]
E The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, edited by David V. Erdman. [link to bibliography entry]
TECHNICAL PLATFORMS AND SERVICES
This project is built on the free, open source authoring and publishing platform Scalar, created by the University of Southern California. Scalar enables lengthy works to take advantage of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. Additionally, Scalar also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary which is all moderated for safety of the site. The only comments that are inherently deleted or dismissed will be spam, non-human comments, and inappropriate content. This project demands to be in a hypermedia format and Scalar supports embedding and native support for the following, but not limited to, media formats:
- Maps: KML
- Audio: MPEG-3, Ogg, WAV
- Image: GIF, JPEG, PNG, DZI
- Video: FLV, M4V, MPEG-4, Ogg, WebM, QuickTime
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Internet Archive
- Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library
- Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive
- Critical Commons
I have selected to use Scalar 2 for this project to create a greater visual impact for readers on all devices and accessibility concerns. This new reader interface for Scalar boasts an interactive main menu; more robust visualizations; new ways to add media to pages; a new page editor and many more page layouts. While the accessibility and navigation of the interface is much improved, this project has created an interface guide for the reader. One of the factors in selecting this interface is because of the focus on media for the page. The old interface had few options for inline media but now the size of the object displayed can be manipulated for impact purposes ranging from:
- Small (206px wide)
- Medium (412px wide)
- Large (620px wide)
- Full (maximum width of page)
- Native (original size of media, up to maximum width of page)
Another benefit of using Scalar 2 would be the optimization for a variety of devices. The original Scalar interface worked best for desktop computers in traditional browsers like Internet Explorer. However, Scalar 2 not only works well in a variety of internet browsers like Mozilla FireFox and Google Chrome, it also works efficiently on tablets, mobile phones, and even smartTVs. The variety of viewing experiences expands the reach of this project immensely.
Copyright and Fair Use Information
The scholarly annotations are my own original material and analysis. Many images are not my own property but are linked to the original sources or have source access information in the metadata that can be rolled-over in the “Details and Citations” feature. The high-resolution digital photographs of the annotations are my own material. The second revised editions of Discourses can be found on open-access repositories and I used Archive.com to provide accurate page layout information.