The Strange Unknowns of Spell-checking Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly

By Rachael Isom

“This error with “Ignotus” proves interesting not only because of the variety of misspellings that have cropped up in past BIQ issues, but also because of its importance for Blake studies during the last century and a half. The term, used by Robert Browning in his dramatic monologue “Pictor Ignotus,” famously became the subtitle of Alexander Gilchrist’s 1863

As Adam explained in last week’s post, the most recent task for many project assistants has been to search out misspelled words across extant Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly issues and make emendations where needed. While Microsoft Word provides the first indication of potential errors, we proceed line-by-line through wordlists and judge whether a word is actually misspelled or is merely unrecognized because of different linguistic origins or obsolete spelling variations. The wordlist on which I’ve been working these last few weeks contains every rare word beginning with capital letters I through R. To give you a sense of the size of this grouping, I’m still solidly in the “I” portion of a document 16,479 words long, a list containing everything from expressions of “Illustration” in four different languages to my own last name in the editorial matter beneath articles.

Among the list members underlined with Word’s distressing red squiggles were several erroneous versions of a Latin word that speaks to our current work with BIQ: “Ignotus”; or is it “Ignatus”? “Ignotis”? “Igtnotus”? According to the Latin dictionary available through Tufts University’s Perseus Digital Library, “ignotus” has four simple translations: “unknown, strange, unrecognized, unfamiliar.”[1] How fitting that the …read more