• Full title:   A Select Collection of English Songs
  • Published:   1783 , London
  • Formats:  Book
  • Creator:   Joseph Ritson
  • Usage terms Public Domain
  • Held by  British Library
  • Shelfmark:   239.l.37-39.


Published in 1783, this is a collection of lyrics and music by the publisher Joseph Ritson, with eight plates engraved by William Blake

How does it relate to William Blake’s writings? 

The song shown has a strong similarity to ‘The Fly’ in Blake’s Songs of Experience (1794). It’s a drinking song, and is marked ‘Made extempore by a Gentleman, occasion’d by a Fly drinking out of his Cup of Ale’. 

In Blake’s poem the couplet, ‘For I dance/ And drink, and sing’, refers us back to the drinking song. We know for certain that Blake sang, since there are references to him performing his songs at gatherings. Blake uses the same metre as the earlier song, but has split the line in two, making it smaller and jerkier, like a fly and its movements. 

From 1779, soon after he had finished his apprenticeship as an engraver, Blake was commissioned to make engraved plates for printing by Ritson. These are copies of works by other artists, to be included as illustrations in books. The images in this book are engraved versions of paintings by the English artist Thomas Stothard.