ALKEN, Henry Thomas (1785-1851)
Illustrations to Popular Songs
London: published by Thomas M'Lean, Repository of Wit and Humour, 1825. Oblong folio. (9 7/8 x 14 1/8 inches). Letterpress title (verso blank), 1p. "address" with publisher's advertisement beneath (verso blank), otherwise engraved throughout: hand-coloured engraved frontispiece and 42 hand-coloured engraved plates, each within a pale wash border, all by Alken.
Expertly bound to style in red/brown half morocco over contemporary marbled paper-covered boards, contemporary red morocco title label on upper cover lettered in gilt, the flat spine divided into six compartments by single gilt fillets, yellow glazed endpapers
First edition, third issue: a fine copy of this evocation of Regency England.
The first issue of this work was published in 1822, a second in 1823 and the present in 1825. Each print is made up of from two to six vignette scenes, each scene illustrating in a humourous fashion a single line from a popular song of the day. It is not surprising that a number of the images are of hunting, shooting and horses, but also included are scenes from domestic life of all classes, fashion, town and country life, military and naval life, etc. The publisher describes the genesis of this work in the introduction: "'Swans sing before they die --- 'twere no bad thing / 'Should some folks die before they sing.' "So whispered a friend to Mr. Alken, when they were once compelled to hear the discordant notes of a volunteer at a convivial party. 'I wish it were so,' said the Artist, 'but the words of the Song furnish a good subject for a Sketch,' and he soon presented his friend with the Illustration of 'Begone Dull Care,' this was much approved of, and became the first 'Symptom' of the 'Illustrations of Popular Songs,' a Work intended to furnish the Amateur of the Fine Arts, and of Singing, with characteristic representations of his favourite subjects, that he may have the pleasure of beholding the Poet's fancy, embodied by the glowing warmth of the Artist's fertile imagination."
The artist Henry Thomas Alken was born into what became an artistic dynasty. He studied under the miniature painter J.T. Barber and exhibited his first picture (a miniature portrait) at the Royal Academy when he was sixteen. From about 1816 onwards he "produced an unending stream of paintings, drawings and engravings of every type of field and other sporting activity. He is best remembered for his hunting prints, many of which he engraved himself until the late 1830s ... To many, sporting art is 'Alken', and to describe his work or ability is quite unnecessary" (Charles Lane British Racing Prints pp.75-76).
Not in Abbey; cf. Schwerdt IV, p.4 (1822 edition with 40 plates); cf. Tooley 37 (1822 issue, noting four subsequent issues).