Edward Young. The complaint, and the consolation or, Night thoughts. London, 1797. [Illustrated by William Blake]

Edward Young. The complaint, and the consolation or, Night thoughts. London, 1797. [Illustrated by William Blake]

It was probably in late 1794 or early 1795 that the publisher Richard Edwards commissioned William Blake (1757-1827)  to illustrate a new, deluxe edition of Edward Young's long meditative poem, The Complaint, and the Consolation; or, Night Thoughts, first published in 1742-45. This was the largest commercial project for which Blake was ever employed.

With what must have been enormous energy, he executed 537 water colours illustrating the poem's nine sections, which Young called "Nights." The water colours were probably completed in 1796 and Blake began, by the spring of that year, to etch and engrave a selection of forty-three designs illustrating the first four Nights. These were published in 1797 as the first of four intended folio volumes. Before any further volumes could be produced, Edwards closed his publishing business. Blake's disappointment must have been profound. He was paid the paltry sum of twenty guineas for his water colours.