The Grave, A Poem.

"The door of death is made of gold, that mortal eyes cannot behold": Rare first edition subscriber's copy of Robert Blair`s The Grave; illustrated by William Blake

The Grave, A Poem.

BLAKE, William. Blair.


Item Number: 109096

London: Printed by T. Bensley for R.H. Cromek, 1808.

Rare first edition subscriber’s copy of Robert Blair`s famous poem, which initiated a fashion for mortuary poems, illustrated with 11 etchings by William Blake. Quarto, bound in three quarters morocco, marbled endpapers, with the famous engraved frontispiece portrait of William Blake after the painting by Phillips, engraved title page, with 11 additional plates engraved by Louis Schiavonetti after Blake’s drawings, designed at the request of Cromek. With the poem dedicated to the Queen by Blake, list of subscribers, four-page prospectus for the Procession of Chaucer`s Pilgrims to Canterbury by Thomas Stothard at rear. In very good condition. Ownership inscription. Rare and desirable.

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).

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