A previously unknown copy of a very rare book of early poems by William Blake is for auction at the Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs sale at Bonhams in London on 22 March. It is estimated at between £60,000-80,000.
The poems in Poetical Sketches were written between 1768 and 1777 when Blake was in his teens. In 1783, a group of his friends banded together and paid for them to be printed in a slim 70 page volume.
Approximately 50 copies were printed but the whereabouts of only around 20 are known so the discovery of this copy – one of a very few in private hands – is highly significant. Blake was given the print run to sell or give away but he seems not to have been very active in promoting them because several copies were found among his possessions when he died.
His friends, who included the sculptor John Flaxman, were keen to spread the word of Blake’s talent and gave some volumes away on his behalf but the copy for auction was actually given by Blake himself. It carries his inscription and his address near Leicester Fields (present day Leicester Square) where he lived from 1782 until July 1784 so he must have given the copy away fairly soon after it was printed. The identity of the recipient is not known.
The book itself was littered with errors, some of which Blake corrected before handing copies out. Although it never went into commercial publication during Blake’s lifetime, the book, which includes works such as ‘Mad Song’ and ‘To the Evening Star’ is seen as a significant part of his output, anticipating the style of his mature work and the development of his symbolic language.