“THE RARE IMAGINATIVE POWER OF WILLIAM BLAKE”: WILLIAM BLAKE’S ILLUSTRATIONS FOR BLAIR’S GRAVE, ONE OF ONLY 589 COPIES
(BLAKE, William) BLAIR, Robert. The Grave. London: T. Bensley for R.H. Cromek, 1808. Quarto, mid-19th-century full maroon morocco rebacked with the original gilt-decorated spine laid down, raised bands, elaborate gilt-stamped cover-borders, with ornamental and lettered centerpiece, all edges gilt.
First edition to be illustrated by William Blake of Blair’s singular poetic achievement, with 12 wonderful plates by Blake and engraved frontispiece portrait of Blake. One of only 589 copies published by subscription, with armorial bookplate of subscriber’s family.
In October 1805, Blake was commissioned by the engraver and would-be publisher Robert H. Cromek to prepare 40 drawings for Robert Blair’s Grave, from which Cromek planned to select twenty for this deluxe edition of the poem. While The Grave originally appeared in 1743, this 1808 edition was to become famous for its illustrations, demonstrating “the rare imaginative power of William Blake” (Magnusson, 162). A dispute over a preliminary etching “in white-line” called “Death’s Door,” which Cromek rejected, resulted in Blake’s being prevented from engraving his own designs, so the 12 drawings eventually selected were rendered by Louis Schiavonetti “with a mingled grace and grandeur which won for them a wider popularity… Never has the theme of death been handled in pictorial art with more elevation and beauty” (DNB). The edition was printed on Whatman paper in 589 copies for subscribers only. It includes Blake’s dedicatory poem “To the Queen,” a prefatory comment on the designs by Henry Fuseli, and a concluding section “Of the Designs.” This copy contains the four-page prospectus for Stothard’s Canterbury Pilgrims at the rear, often lacking. Keynes 81. Bentley, Blake Books 435B. Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England 6. Armorial bookplate of William Grice (Joseph Grice of Handsworth was the subscriber).
Only light scattered foxing, several minor finger-marks. Early Victorian binding lovely. A near-fine copy of a classic in book illustration.