Wednesday, January 1, 2014

127. "The thread of the dreadful 'interview'"

Today, one hundred and ten years ago, Charles Ricketts sat to a portrait for Shannon, then wrote about the painter Watteau and read a book by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. In the evening he wrote in his diary: 'Felt a sort of unreasoning pleasure at the old year being done with'.

As to things over and done with, during an interview with Temple Scott, given many years earlier, in 1896, Ricketts gave the impression that he would be glad if it was over. The interviewer commented that on 'a wintry Friday night' he visited Ricketts and Shannon in their house for an interview that was published in the December 1896 issue of Bookselling. At the time, they were living at 31 Beaufort Street, Richmond, where Ricketts had a first floor studio. The interview took place at Shannon's studio, which was upstairs:

A comfortable arm chair was found near a lamp, and Mr. Ricketts edged himself away into the shadow, prepared to stand the siege of "interviewing."

After a long talk, dinner was served, and:

Dinner being over, we surrounded the fire to resume the thread of the dreadful "interview." We had rather let the interview alone if we could have got Mr. Ricketts to go on without our questioning. [...] However, there was nothing for it but to go on. 

Ricketts was not that unwilling to be subjected to an interview, and he even gave 'a welcome for another visit', but it seems that the dinner talk was far more interesting than the answers about the Vale Press books. The 'reminiscences of past struggels', the 'shrewd remarks' on contemporary art, and the 'delightful stories told of days when the "heart was young"' had been freely distributed at the dining table by Ricketts, who obviously delighted in telling those entertaining stories, but was not that keen to speak about the work he had under hand.

The window of 'At the Sign of The Dial', Hacon & Ricketts's shop at 52, Warwick Street, London
Bookselling, December 1896, p. 506): alas, it is impossible to see what  exactly is on display
At the time of the interview Ricketts was 30. The first seven books of the Vale Press had been published that year, the firm Hacon & Ricketts had opened a shop at 52, Warwick Street (near Regent Street), and his business was in need of the promotion that an interview could bring. 

The interview has now been re-published (in a corrected and standardized version) in Nicholas Frankel's anthology Everything for Art: Selected Writings (2013). The illustrations, including the press mark, and five illustratrions from Vale Press books, as well as a rare photograph of the shop ('At the Sign of the Dial'), have not been reproduced with it. 

When the shop was opened, in April 1896, it did not yet have the sign board painted by Shannon, but by June it was in place. Temple Scott, the interviewer for Bookselling, told of his first impression of Ricketts, which I quoted in blog 29: The Beautiful Forehead.

The interview was followed by a bibliography (in Bookselling, not in Everything for Art), including a section of 'Books in preparation'. Only one book was never realized.

The interview is important for several reasons. For example, Ricketts was asked whether he would have his type 'used in the printing of all books', and the answer is rather vague and long, but it comes out that only texts that 'deserve being so embodied' would be set up using his type. Secondly, the interview contains early comments on the shape of his letters, on the texts he wanted to print, and on the intentions and reception of The Dial. The thread of the article was the position of the artist in contemporary society, and Ricketts's position in the book business was clearly not that of a printer or regular publisher, but an artist.

'Books in preparation' (Bookselling, December 1896, p. 512)