University of Virginia Library

The following investigation began as an attempt to restore the textually significant deletions in William Blake's Jerusalem, notably the conspicuous deletions on Plate 3. It has gradually extended, in the rather surprising absence of any thorough collation of all copies of the work, into a critique of every discernible or alleged deletion or alteration that might be of value in determining the chronology of copies or the order of plates — or that might contribute significantly to our still scanty knowledge of those aspects of Blake's etching process which limited his control over his text. More or less valuable restorations of text and more or less technical analyses of mended plates fall side by side in the following plate-by-plate report, but this seems the most useful arrangement.[1]

Appended are a corrected List of Copies and some notes on Catchwords, on Plate Sizes, on Blake's Numbering of the Plates,[2] and on the Dating of Blake's Script.


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Before Blake published his maturest Prophetic Book in "Illuminated Printing," Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion, at least before he printed any of the copies now available for inspection (none earlier than 1818-1820 according to dated watermarks), he had erased from the copper plates from which he printed them a number of words and whole lines, most conspicuously in the prose and verse of his prefatory third plate addressed "To the Public". His method of erasure was to run a sharp tool across the raised surfaces of the copper, the printing surfaces of his relief etching. A vigorous gouging could level these surfaces beyond recovery, as it did on Plate 84. But in many instances Blake did not carry his negating beyond a few strokes, leaving a stubble of metal that would print broken outlines of letters and ghosts of words when the plates were inked and pressed.

On Plate 3 most of the single-word deletions remain fairly legible, and Blake's modern editor has been able to indicate with italics his nearly certain reconstructions of such passages as: "Therefore, dear Reader, forgive what you do not approve, & love me for this energetic exertion of my talent."[3] Yet a large erasure of nearly four lines in the center of the first paragraph has remained undeciphered, and the absolute blanks that show up in the excellent facsimiles of the Rinder and Mellon copies recently published by the William Blake Trust confirm the impression that this large deletion must forever defy reconstruction. Whether as Blake's "Public" we think of ourselves as "Sheep" or "goats" — words he added to Plate 3 with the same tool, perhaps with the same impulse, that deleted his expressions of love and friend-ship — it would seem we must resign ourselves to a less than perfect text.

Looking at the Morgan Library Jerusalem a few years ago, however, I noticed that there were no complete lacunae on this plate but visible crumbs of letters in every part of the erasure, from which a full restoration was, theoretically, possible. The curators allowed me to examine the page under their low-power microscope and under ultraviolet radiation. Photostatic and photographic copies of this and other pages, positive and negative, on high contrast and low contrast papers, enlarged by two and by three and four diameters, were "bruized and knocked about without mercy, to try all experiments," as Blake said of some of his "experiment Pictures." Through the owner's courtesy I was able to borrow the Rosenbloom copy for several weeks, collating it directly with the Morgan copy and keeping it near at hand for


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photographic comparison with other copies. This posthumously printed copy, heavily inked and firmly impressed, is clearer in some plates than the other copies and, like the other posthumous copies, lacks the obscuring vines and washes that Blake applied to many of the deletions in the copies he printed himself.

The upshot is the following report, which for a time I hoped to be able to entitle "Jerusalem Restored." The major passage on Plate 3 has yielded to ocular and photographic attack, and lesser but significant and sometimes astonishing passages have been recovered on other pages. There remain, however, several places where I have been unable to go beyond conjecture, some where even conjecture must be silent.