The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of an electronic edition of Blake’s etchings and engravings of his illustrations to Designs to a Series of Ballads, Written by William Hayley (1802) and to the 1805 edition of Hayley’s Ballads. These nineteen plates, all but two of which are based on Blake’s own designs, are presented in our Preview mode, which provides all the features of the Archive except Image Search and Inote (our image annotation program).
While Blake was resident in Felpham on the Sussex coast, beginning in 1801, his new patron William Hayley began to write a series of ballads to be illustrated by the artist-engraver. These were published in 1802 as quarto numbers, each with a frontispiece, headpiece, and tailpiece by Blake. As the general title page indicates, the poems all deal with “Anecdotes Relating to Animals.” In his preface, Hayley states that his plan was to issue one ballad a month “and to complete the whole series in fifteen Numbers.” The letterpress text was printed by the Chichester printer Joseph Seagrave; the plates were printed by Blake and his wife Catherine on their own rolling press. Although two book dealers, P. Humphry and R. H. Evans, were selected to sell the ballads, most copies seem to have been sold by Hayley to his friends. Sales were less than brisk and the project ceased after only four ballads were issued. Blake designed and executed twelve plates, including a frontispiece for the general title page and a tailpiece to the preface, both issued with the first ballad. Two further plates were engraved by Blake after designs on antique gems (plates 5 and 11, the tailpieces to “The Elephant” and “The Lion”).
We are also publishing a closely related work, Blake’s five illustrations for the 1805 edition of Hayley’s Ballads. In January 1805, Hayley contacted the London bookseller Richard Phillips about publishing a new, octavo edition of the ballads. Blake began to execute engravings for this edition no later than March and completed five plates by June. For this 1805 volume, Hayley added twelve ballads to the four published in 1802. Blake engraved new, smaller plates of his designs for three of the 1802 ballads (plates 1, 2, 3) and both designed and engraved new illustrations for two of the additional ballads (plates 4–5). Blake and Phillips were to “go equal shares… in the expense and the profits” (Blake’s letter to Hayley of 22 January 1805, Erdman page 763), but it is unlikely that Blake made any profit. Robert Southey’s mocking review of Hayley’s poems and Blake’s illustration to “The Dog” (plate 1) appeared in the Annual Review for 1805.
As always, the William Blake Archive is a free site, imposing no access restrictions and charging no subscription fees. The site is made possible by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the cooperation of the international array of libraries and museums that have generously given us permission to reproduce works from their collections in the Archive.
Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors
Ashley Reed, project manager, William Shaw, technical editor
The William Blake Archive