University of Virginia Library

Method of Restoration

The technique that finally yielded results was a fairly simple one, though infinitely time-consuming. Fortunately it is scientific in the sense that it can be tested and repeated, and persons who have followed a demonstration of the processes involved have been able to shed the doubts that are naturally inspired by a claim to have deciphered the supposedly indecipherable.

The method used relies on the demonstrable fact that Blake's script, on the pages in question, simulates printing so precisely that the shapes of letters, the shapes of words, and the spacing between particular letters or strokes on any given page are extremely uniform. Photostatic enlargement brings the words or fragments of words up to a size convenient to use under a sheet of transparent acetate (the kind called "workable") upon which a tracing can be made with modern india ink.[4]

Jerusalem 3 is reproduced below (Illustration I) in a slight reduction, but even in this size the restoration of some readings can be demonstrated. To test, for example, the hypothesis that "forgive" is the correct reading of the deleted word in the center of line 19 (two lines above the rhymed stanza) a tracing was made from the word "forgiveness" five lines above it and superimposed upon the deletion. Confirmation was immediate in this case, because the crumbs of "forgive" are sufficient for each letter, including the dot of the i and the ascender of the f, though not the descender of the g.


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If no counterpart of the hypothetical "forgive" had been present on the page, a model could have been constructed from "for" in the next line, the "rg" from "energetic" in the same line, the spacing of "gi" from the "gh" in "righteous" (line 15), the "ive" from "live" (line 30). The labor consists, essentially, in extending this process by applying an ink-traced hypothetical word to each group of dots in the deleted area that appears to be a discrete word, until the word attempted fits the dots. Good guesses at this stage are of utmost importance. Actually the single words that have long since been recovered are not in themselves easier to read than most of the words in the large "impossible" area of lines 7-10. The difficulty in reading this larger deletion arises chiefly from the lack of good contextual clues to supply hypothetical readings to be tested against the fragments. But the difficulty has been enhanced, for Plate 3, by some wrong guesses embedded in the Nonesuch Blake — the editor having given the word "engraving" where he should have read "arroganc[e]" and "accurs'd" where the right reading is "absorb'd" and "ideas" where it is "Gods". These were fairly close guesses, for shape and length, though the g plainly visible in the center of the first word should have ruled out the first guess. Enlargement brought out the three ascenders of "absorb'd" and ruled out the second guess.

The precision of the present method makes possible a confident restoration of the deletions in the first rhymed couplet on this page (here given in italics):

Reader! lover of books! lover of heaven,
And of that God from whom all books are given
but two famous guesses would long since have been dismissed as untenable if anyone had thought to measure them against the space available. (See Illustration II a.) Swinburne offered the reading "things" for the word in the second line now reconstructed as "books", and Professor Damon, looking more closely at the crumbs visible in the Morgan copy but not thinking of measurement, proposed "hymns".[5] The other words in the couplet are fairly legible. The s and the ascenders of b and k in "books" are there to be made out; but the ovals of "boo" are cut up beyond recognition. Only when "books" is traced from the line above and superimposed on these remnants does the exact fit demonstrate this to be the correct reading. Simple measurement of Swinburne's guess, however, or a tracing made of "thing"


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(to be found alone and in "nothing" just below) with an added s, would show that as Blake wrote "things" it would be a whole letter too long for this space; and a Blakean "hymns" would be almost exactly as long as the word "heaven" in the line just above. (In Illustration II a, "books" and a composite "hymns" traced from parts of nearby words have been placed below the deletion to show their respective fit and lack of fit.) Here context was perhaps too helpful; it will support any of the three readings somewhat, though once the right reading has been found it can be seen to fit most snugly of all, not merely into the broken outline on the plate but into the meaning of the whole passage: see the ensuing references to "Sinais awful cave", "the wondrous art of writing", and "my types". (Incidentally we may now abandon the suspicion that Swinburne had access to a more legible copy of this page, now lost.)

With so many crumbs of letters remaining in this portion of Plate 3, although the labor of arriving at correct solutions was long, the testing and retesting of these solutions took very little time. But a further complication should be mentioned. At times Blake laced his text with interlinear drawings, such as the small flourishes in the last paragraph on this plate: "**But * I *soon found . . . syllables. ***Every *word . . ." (to represent each letter-width of drawing by an asterisk). Very early in my scrutiny of the erased passage at the top of the plate, I suspected that a little trefoil of dots in the second line (between "entrusted" and "their love") and a sort of loop-and-a-half of serpent in the third line (between "I have" and "who Acknowledge") might be remnants not of words but of ornamental drawings. I tried stubbornly to think of words that could fit these dots, but as my deciphering of words gradually closed in on these spots, it became impossible to hold out for their representing tiny words. The snake would have had to be a two-letter word, and it was not any of those I could think of.

The same or similar methods,[6] with the varying degrees of success reported below, were applied to deletions on Plates 1, 2, 4, 15, 35, 36, 47, 73, 77, 82, 91, and 96. Deletions too thorough to be recoverable by any means are noted on Plates 24, 83, and (possibly) 93. Also dealt


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with are various mendings, deletions, and additions, most of them involving no difficulties of reading, on Plates 7, 8, 11, 22, 24, 28, 29, 37, 45, 51, and 61.

Beneath the large picture on Plate 95 were discovered traces of the text now on Plate 94 and some pictorial evidence that the matter begun on a single plate had been extended to occupy two plates. Plates 96 and 99 were found to contain similar palimpsest traces of earlier use — some engraved writing on 96 and extensive pictorial matter on both plates.