Wednesday, November 16, 2011

17. An Unpublished Symposium

For the Vale Press Ricketts projected quite a few publications that never saw the light of day, one of which was an edition of Plato's Symposium. He officially announced the book in a Notice, which was issued after April 1895: 'During the year a want will be met by the publication of an edition of Propertius, the text of which has been prepared by Mr. Owen. We feel that the nineteenth century should not allow an exception to the hitherto invariable coincidence of a re-edition of the classics under current scholarship with revival in printing. The Symposium of Plato, for instance, will follow shortly after the Propertius.'

Notice of Vale Press publications, 1895 (detail)
These editions did not materialize. Earlier, Ricketts had mentioned the Plato edition to the American publisher F. Holland Day (a letter from October 1894) and, before that, to his new Dutch friend, the artist and book designer Richard Roland Holst, who visited Ricketts and Shannon in London at the end of the year 1893. Roland Holst wrote a long letter about this visit to his fiancĂ©e: 'hij sprak over Plato, dat hij de oude Eng. vertaling van de Symposium wilde uitgeven, met hoofdletters, en met een band die heelemaal bij dat wonder pastte...' Ricketts had told him about the Plato edition, for which he wanted to design initials and a binding that would fit the wonderful text.

No initials, nor a binding design, have survived, but there is a silent witness of Ricketts's intentions: he finished one drawing (sold at auction in 1986, and, again, in 1997), he made the woodblock for the illustration (now at the Fitzwilliam Museum) and in 1917 a number of proofs were printed from the block (one copy now in the British Library). This illustration was published by Malcolm C. Salaman in The Graphic Arts of Great Britain, a special number of The Studio in 1917.

Wood-engraving for Plato's Symposium by Charles Ricketts (from The Graphic Arts in Great Britain, 1917)