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BLAKE, William (engr.); GAY, John.


London: John Stockdale, 1793 Stock Code: 140405
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"When, wrinkling with a sneer his trunk - Friend, quoth the Elephant, you're drunk"

First edition thus, with 12 plates engraved by William Blake; these are sometimes stated to have been designed as well as engraved by Blake, but the illustrations are based largely on designs from earlier editions, particularly those of John Wootton and William Kent for the first edition of 1727. Keynes notes that the first Blake plate, "The Shepherd and the Philosopher", is the most characteristic example of his work. Gay's Fables "have had long-running success, going through more than 350 editions, mostly before 1900. Their popularity relies less on ironic wit than on their anthropomorphic and proverbial charm, but at court Gay's female friends were delighted" (ODNB).

This attractive copy is from the library of Charles William Vane, third marquess of Londonderry (17781854), with his elaborate bookplate; his arms, with hussar supporters, including his many military awards. A brave but not particularly brilliant soldier - Sir John Moore described him as "a very silly fellow" - Vane served with variable distinction throughout the Peninsular War. His Narrative of the War (1828), based on his correspondence with his half-brother Lord Castlereagh, was not uncontroversial. His dashing and dandified portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence is at the National Portrait Gallery.

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2 volumes, octavo (240 x 141 mm). Contemporary marbled half sheep, smooth spines divided by gilt wavy-line and ornamental rolls, gilt lettered direct in second and fourth compartments, remainder with alternating central arrow-and-feathers and spear-tip foliate motifs, Shell on Stormont pattern marbled paper sides, yellow edges.


Engraved title in each volume and 67 plates, of which 12 were engraved by William Blake, the others by Audinet, Cook, Grainger, Lovegrove, Mazell, Skelton and Wilson.


Endpapers toned and foxed. A superior copy, tall and clean, in a most appealing period binding.


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