Books and Manuscripts: 19th and 20th Century

Books and Manuscripts: 19th and 20th Century

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 23. William Blake | Songs of Innocence and of Experience, c.1832.

William Blake | Songs of Innocence and of Experience, c.1832

Lot Closed

December 14, 02:23 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 GBP

Lot Details


William Blake

Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. The Author and Printer William Blake, 1789 [but Frederick Tatham, c.1832]

54 relief etchings, including general title, titles and pictorial frontispieces each book, and 49 illustrated etchings of poems including 'The Divine Image', printed in reddish brown ink on wove paper (watermarked "J Whatman 1831"), 8vo (187 x 160mm), heavy red morocco gilt with a device of an owl on the upper cover and harp on the lower cover, edges gilt, slipcase, lacking one plate ('To Tirzah', plate 52), penultimate leaf ('Little Boy Lost') short, hinges splitting, wear at joints and corners

A CRISP, FRESH EXAMPLE OF A POSTHUMOUS PRINTING OF SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE. Songs of Innocence was Blake's first illuminated book of poems (1789) and it was followed five years later by Songs of Experience. Blake issued a small number of hand-coloured copies of the combined volume over the next thirty years but this key work of English poetry was barely known in its author's lifetime. After his death in 1827, his widow Catherine Blake went to live with Frederick Tatham, a friend of her husband and member of "The Ancients", and when she died the remaining stock of Blake's works - and his copperplates - passed to Tatham. He printed a few copies of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience - 16 copies are listed by the online William Blake Archive - before the plates were lost. The posthumous copies are printed in reddish brown (as here), sepia, or grey.

The current copy (copy c) is only the fourth copy to come to auction in forty years and is significantly more complete than either the Vershbow copy (Christie's, 2013) or the Cunliffe copy (Bonhams, 2014). The only copy listed by Bentley to have more plates than the current copy is the Buxton Forman copy (copy h).

Each copy of the book is unique, and this is one of only two bound copies that has the plate for 'A Divine Image' from Songs of Experience (the other being copy n). This plate is not found in any copy of the book issued by Blake. The sequence of plates is also distinct, and a number of the Songs of Experience are included here amongst the Songs of Innocence.

The sequence of plates in the current copy, following the numbering given by Keynes and Wolf, is as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 25, 11, 12, 9, 10, 19, 15, 8, 5, 20, 21, 16, 17, 22, 23, 27, 24, 34, 35, 36, 53, 26, 54, 13, 14, 18, 29, 28, 30, 44, 48, 39, 37, 45, 33, 47, 42, 40, [A Divine Image], 31, 43, 49, 46, 38, 51, 32, 50, 41.


Keynes, A Bibliography of William Blake (1921); Keynes and Wolf, William Blake's Illuminated Books: A Census (1953); G.E. Bentley, Blake Books (1977); The William Blake Archive (


Samuel Boddington (1766-1843), armorial bookplate; ?T.J. Wise (devices on binding); Rev. Stopford A. Brooke (1832-1916); his daughter, Maud, m. T.W. Rolleston (1857-1920), poet and founder member, with Yeats and C.G. Duffy, of the Irish Literary Society; thence by descent