Select Collection of English Songs by Joseph Ritson


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

How does it relate to Blake’s writings? 

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

In Blake’s version the couplet, ‘For I dance/And drink, and sing’ refers us back to the drinking song. We know for certain that he 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, Blake was commissioned regularly to make engraved plates for printing by the publisher Joseph 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 artist Thomas Stothard.

Full title:
Select Collection of English Songs
1783, London
Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Joseph Ritson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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