1797. London: R. Noble, 1797.
Large 4to, viii, , 95,  pp. with 43 full-page engravings by Blake after his own designs surrounding the letterpress text. “Explanation” leaf bound in at the back. Half brown morocco, backstrip gilt, gilt top, by Riviere; a very large copy measuring 16 1/2 x 13 inches thus preserving almost all the imprints. A near fine copy with very occasional toning and offsetting; binding lightly worn.
§ First edition with Blake’s illustrations, complete with the leaf of “Explanations.” Essick and LaBelle explain in their commentary how Blake, virtually in a frenzy, completed 537 watercolor designs when he was commissioned by the publisher Edwards to illustrate Young’s masterpiece. Edwards issued only the first four “Nights” (or sections) and had Blake etch and engrave 43 plates to test the market. The response must have been poor since no further engravings were requested of Blake and Edwards ceased business shortly thereafter. Ironically, today the poet Young, once compared with Shakespeare and Milton, is largely forgotten save for this edition. Colored copies are known in two palettes, the earlier of which may have been colored under Blake’s direction. Bentley, BB, 515. Easson and Essick, WBBI, Vol. I, IV. Essick and LaBelle, Night Thoughts, Dover, 1975. Bindman, Complete Graphic Works of Blake, 357-379. Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England, 3. Item #123299