Edmonton, London: William Muir, 1884-1885. Two large quarto volumes, measuring 11 x 9 inches, original blue-grey wrappers with white paper spines, manuscript titles, tissue guards, uncut. Prefaces in both volumes; 33 hand-colored lithographs in Songs of Innocence, including colophon; 28 hand-colored lithographs in Songs of Experience; general title to both works in Songs of Experience. Light edgewear to wrappers of both volumes. Housed together in custom chemises and half-morocco slipcase.
First color reproductions of William Blake's illuminated Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), preceded only by the hand-colored copies printed by Blake himself. Startlingly vivid and direct, these short visionary lyrics include “The Lamb," “Night," “The Chimney Sweeper," “The Clod and the Pebble," “Ah! Sunflower," “London," and “The Tiger": “When the stars threw down their spears, / And watered heaven with their tears, / Did he smile his work to see? / Did He, Who made the lamb, make thee?" Few nineteenth-century readers had any sense of how Blake's poems were originally presented, each text etched within a vividly hand-colored image in the technique Blake called “illuminated printing." In 1884, William Muir set out to produce a series of color reproductions of Blake's illuminated works, beginning with Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Working in lithography, he printed fifty copies of each volume, which were then colored by hand in imitation of Blake's originals. For Songs of Innocence, Muir followed the example of the Pearson copy (originally presented by Blake to Flaxman), and for Songs of Experience, the Beckford copy. This set comprises number 49 of Songs of Innocence and number 32 of Songs of Experience, both copies signed and numbered by Muir, and marks an important step in the popular and critical recognition of Blake’s originality. Fine bright copies of landmarks in English Romanticism.