Chichester: J. Seagrave, 1805. Octavo, measuring 6 x 4.25 inches: , 212, . Late nineteenth-century full blue crushed morocco gilt, boards triple-ruled in gilt, raised bands, spine compartments richly decorated in gilt, all edges gilt, gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers. Five plates designed and engraved by William Blake, including frontispiece; index at rear. Bound without half-title, several signatures uniformly toned.
First edition of this collection of fifteen ballads for young readers by English poet William Hayley (1745-1820), each devoted to a different animal, offering adventure, pathos, and predictable moral lessons: “Ye, whom a friend’s dark perils pain, / When terrors most unnerve him, / Learn from this Elephant to strain / Your sinews to preserve him.” The enduring interest of the book lies in the remarkable copper engravings contributed by William Blake, a partner in the venture, “which Hayley seems to have invented as a make-work project for Blake” (Morgan Library). In 1802, Blake produced engravings to accompany a proposed quarto edition of Hayley’s ballads to be issued in fifteen parts; only four parts appeared, for lack of sales. For this 1805 octavo edition, Blake re-engraved three of his earlier plates (“The Dog,” “The Eagle,” and “The Lion”) in a smaller format, and produced two new designs: “The Horse” and “The Hermit’s Dog.” The immediately recognizable, dreamlike quality of Blake’s vision elevates (and effectively disrupts) an otherwise conventional volume of verse. A near-fine copy, handsomely bound by Riviere.