Wednesday, June 14, 2017

307. The 2017 Alphabet: H

H is for His.

His clothes were black, & also bare;
As one forlorn was he;
Upon his head always he ware
A wreath of willow tree.

Charles Ricketts, calligraphy for Atalanta (January 1891)
The small initial 'H' (4x4 mm) decorates the sixth verse of the ballad of Harpalus that was first published in the sixteenth century, and occurred in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry collected by Thomas Percy in 1885.

Charles Ricketts, illustrated ballad in Atalanta (January 1891)
This version of the ballad was published in the January 1891 issue of Atalanta, a magazine for young women and girls. Ricketts was asked to illustrate the ballad. The text in Atalanta was fragmentary: only six verses with two drawings appeared in this issue, the February issue contained two more drawings and another six verses. However, the original ballad went on for 26 verses; more than half of which were lacking in the Atalanta version, based, most probably, on a decision by the editor, L.T. Meade.

Contents in Atalanta (January 1891: detail)
Apart from the four larger drawings (two of which were full-page illustrations), Ricketts also produced a handwritten text of the ballad, including a long title: 'Of the Doleful Death, and Dirge, of Harpalus, and of Phillida's Love Bestowed on Corin, Who Loved Her Not'. The calligraphy is very close to what Ricketts would demonstrate, later that year, on the title page of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, including the decorations of flowers. There is no other printed text on the pages. The whole contribution is in Ricketts's hand, except for one added typographical intrusion on the second page of the first part: '(To be continued.)' The phrase is set in the same type as normally used for the many serial stories in the magazine.

The second part doesn't have small initials, the first part has two of them. The 'H' for the sixth verse is adorned with six small flowers, the initial 'B' for the second one mimics a more traditional rectangular decorated initial.

The drawings were reproduced (as process drawings) by the Art Reproduction Company, and signed with their mark 'AR Co'. 

Ricketts's own monogram or name doesn't occur in or beneath the drawings, but his name is mentioned on the contents page, a page that in most copies will have disappeared, as it sits among the advertisement pages at the front of the issue.

A relatively rare survival of an original issue shows that the magazine aimed at a readership of girls and women between 15 and 25. 

Contents page of Atalanta (January 1891)
The magazine also collected endowments for an 'Atalanta Cot' at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Rhyl, and supported other good causes. Prize competitions kept the relation with the readers alive. A Shakespeare doll competition was won by the 20 year old Beatrix M. Dunning for 'an elaborate and picturesque Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury ("Henry V.")'. There were other competitions for essays, pictures and music.

Front cover, Atalanta (January 1891)