University of Virginia Library

Plate 28 ("Chap: 2.") (Illustrations IV a, b)

This plate is described in such a way in the Keynes-Wolf Census (p. 106) as to suggest that there were four states of the copper. I find only two states, one represented by the proof on 1802 paper which is tipped into the Morgan copy, the other represented by the adjacent page in the Morgan copy itself and by all other copies including the posthumous ones, in which the exact condition of the copper plate may be seen. The "states" noted in the Census are variants of coloring and inking; they establish no sequence of issue.

Unhappily the Census descriptions of each "state" are erroneous in major details. A correction of these is of importance both bibliographically — this being the only plate in Jerusalem thought to contain evidence establishing priorities among more than two groups of copies — and, in a sense, semantically or textually: for although the actual text is unchanged, the picture which fills the top half of the plate and announces a new chapter is radically changed in its second state. Most of the implications of this change do not fall within the present discussion, but one of them is potentially chronological. To put it simply, the primary change Blake made in this plate, picturing female and male figures embracing in the center of a "lilly of Havilah", involved turning the legs of the two nude figures from a position in which they can be assumed to be copulating to one in which they cannot. The change was made by extensive additional engraving of the etched and engraved plate. The secondary changes, both in the engraving and in the retouching in the British Museum, Mellon, and Morgan copies, are largely consequent upon it.

Joseph Wicksteed in his Commentary (pp. 159-160 and 204) is extravagantly impressionistic in his interpretation and in his details but appears to have grasped the primary change correctly. The Census, while reporting the degrees of clearness with which certain (to me invisible) "genitals" appear in various "states" of the plate, assigns to the male and female figures a position in the first state which would be as essentially chaste as their position in the later.

Confusion of left and right may cause some of the difficulty, and confusion of references to the "woman" (presumably the smooth-faced figure on the left) and the "man" (the short-haired figure on the right, on whom Wicksteed sees a beard, and whose back muscles are knotted in the first state). In the 1802 proof, according to the compilers of the Census, "the woman's right thigh [is] visible parallel to and underneath her left; the man's left leg encircles her body; the moulding of the man's back is clear; a caterpillar is below the figures on the leaf."


Page 19

Correction: Only in the second state does the woman have two visible thighs, parallel. In the first state only her right thigh is visible — not underneath but above and parallel to the left thigh of the man. His leg does not encircle her but is bent back at the knee so that his foot is, quite visibly, beneath his left buttock. It is his right arm that encircles her waist, for we see what must be his right hand resting on her right hip. No right leg for the man or left leg for the woman is in the picture. The caterpillar, on the petal ("leaf") below the man, is not attached to him, though grossly phallic if you will.

Census: "In the second state . . . the woman's right thigh and the man's left leg have been removed; only ineffective cross-hatching remains on the man's back; the caterpillar has been removed; the man's genitals are defined."

Correction: In the second (and final) state of the plate the woman has two visible thighs, for the first time, a left thigh having been created for her out of what was the man's left thigh, so that she now appears to sit side-saddle on the petal. The man's left leg below the knee has been removed by an upward spread of the petals he rests upon; he has been given a right thigh, and his buttocks have been (ineffectively) moved round to the left, so that he is now sitting side-saddle and turned the other way from the woman. His back muscles are flattened (and his spine surely broken). The caterpillar has been (almost) removed by additional engraving of all the petals. In neither state can any genitals be seen on either figure; curiously enough even the compilers of the Census see that the man has his back to the viewer in either state.

They cite "copy D" (the Harvard) for this "second state" (skipping the Rinder) and find a "third state . . . in copy F" (the Morgan), with "the genitals less clearly shown; the leaf below Chap. 2 . . . lightened, and the white lines increased on the lower part of the leaf on which the woman's leg extends." Laborious comparison of photographic copies with each other and with the originals in turn has failed to disclose the slightest difference in any part of the picture except for ink lines added in a few places in the British Museum and the Morgan copies and more elaborate drawing in the Mellon copy. The posthumous copies make it clear that no lines were added to the plate or subtracted from it. (Patchy inking in the Harvard copy does give a vaguely phallic appearance to a portion of the female's right leg, but comparison with other copies makes evident the accidental nature of this effect.)

Keynes and Wolf discern, nevertheless, a "final state" in the colored (Mellon) copy "and all the posthumous ones": "all indications of the genitals removed; the man's right hand . . . eliminated." Here theory supplants observation, for the right hand is painted over in the Mellon copy — but reappears in the posthumous plates.

Wicksteed's Commentary makes out a tremendous difference between the Rinder and Stirling (Mellon) copies, defining the male and female as "almost completely mingled" in the first state and as "distinct individuals,


Page 20
whose bond is expressed by the embrace of their arms and not by amalgamation" in the later: a distinction implying that intercourse destroys individuality. Graphically, from the waist up, the two figures are just as much "distinct individuals" in one state as in another, even if we include "states" made by supplementary coloring.[16]

As for the bibliographical deduction that seems possible the drastic change implies, I should think, a revised attitude toward copulation (or increased sensitivity to moral disapproval from dear Readers) which in turn may imply the passage of years rather than days. Though admitting of more than one explanation or interpretation — as does the early date, "Edmead & Pine 1802", of the paper of the proofs of Plates 28, 45, and 56 — the point is worth bearing in mind. Some day enough biographical, stylistic, and graphic evidence may accumulate to make it useful.