B[LAKE]. W.[ILLIAM)] Poetical Sketches. By W.B., FIRST EDITION
Lot 24
Sold for £72,000 (US$ 121,019) inc. premium
Lot Details
Poetical Sketches. By W.B., FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED ON TITLE BY WILLIAM BLAKE ("at Mr. Taylors/Green St. Leicester Fields"), and with completion of the author's name ("lake") after his printed initials, further inscription in a different hand at foot of title "Paulum sepulta distat inertiae/celata virtus" (quotation from Horace's Odes), manuscript corrections on 5 pages (4, 7, 9, 15 and 29), without the final blank (K4, only present in 7 copies recorded by Bentley), some spotting, paperflaw touching letters on G1 and I3, B4 reinserted on stub, unevenly trimmed, blue crushed morocco gilt by Wood [Bentley 128; Keynes 26; Rothschild 413], 8vo, London: Printed in the Year MDCCLXXXIII [1783]



    Poetical Sketches is a collection of poems written by Blake between 1768 and 1777. "The octavo volume of only 70 pages was very modestly produced, at a cost of perhaps £5 for, say, 50 copies, and with very little in the way of proof-reading... Twenty copies are known today" (G.E. Bentley Jr., The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake, 2001). The cost of printing was paid by Blake's friends, including the hostess Harriet Mathew and the sculptor John Flaxman. "'The whole copy of this little work... was given to Blake to sell to friends, or publish, as he might think proper' [Smith], and he scarcely did either. The Flaxmans and others gave away copies on his behalf, in which Blake made perfunctory and erratic manuscript corrections, and Blake gave away a few copies over the course of the years, but kept the rest by him all his life, and when he died he still had a number of copies in unsorted, uncorrected sheets... Poetical Sketches was apparently never published in the sense of offered for sale" (Bentley, p.76).

    Our copy has the importance of not only being clearly given by Blake but, with the provision of his address at the time of 'publication', gives dating to the presentation. The title-page is inscribed by Blake "at Mr. Taylors/Green St. Leicester fields"; it was shortly after his marriage to Catherine Boucher in August 1782 that Blake took up lodgings in the house of Thomas Taylor at 23 Green Street, near Leicester Fields, where they "lived together with a servant at a very small expence" (Bentley, Biography, p.70), until moving to Broad Street in July 1784 following Blake's father's death. In his census of the known copies, Bentley notes Blake may have given one to his friend George Cumberland (D) at the time of printing, "but it was probably or certainly much later that copies passed 'To Charles Tulk Esq.re from William Blake (C), Samuel Palmer (G-H, R, U), Crabb Robinson (o), and John Linnell (T)" (Bentley, p.76). The present copy has corrections in black ink on 5 pages (deletion on p.4; correction to first letter of letter "F" of running title on p.7; "behold" on p.9; mispelling "birds" for "beds" on p.15; deletion of "before it" on p.29).

    Despite the inauspicious early history of Poetical Sketches "a few of the poems [in it] were as fine as anything written in the second half of the eighteenth century" and display an "extraordinary range in verse form and subject: lyrics, seasons poems, dramatic sketches, created mythology, and experimental prose, just one step removed from blank verse. Most of the works with original mythological subjects such as 'Samson' and 'Contemplation' do not go anywhere, but a few clearly anticipate his myth of Urizen..." (Bentley, p.71).

    Provenance: Descendent of Frederick R. Jones, of "Eastbury", Thames Ditton, Surrey, bookseller and antiques dealer, later of Adwell House, Torre, near Torquay.

Saleroom notices

  • The consensus of several scholarly oppinions is that the inscriptions on the title are not in the hand of William Blake.
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