Wednesday, June 24, 2020

465. A Number of Books: 50 Years of Quaerendo

Last week, the jubilee issue of the magazine Quaerendo, founded fifty years ago, was published, and it is a double issue (volume 50, no 1-2) that was supposed to appear during the congress of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, in Amsterdam, but because of Covid-19 the conference has been postponed to next year. Luckily, the issue is available, and not only on paper - all texts in this volume are in open access at Brill publishers.

Quaerendo (volume 50, no. 1-2)

The issue contains my article A Number of Copies. The Flexible Function of Limitation Statements, which deals with the numbering of copies within an edition, exploring the peculiar development from not numbering to numbering over the course of two centuries, and, of course, Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde are mentioned. 

The abstract gives a gist: 

During the twentieth century, a limited edition is usually numbered, in contrast to limited editions of around 1800. This article examines a number of turning points in the history of limitation statements and copy numbering: the disappearance of copyright related numbering versus unnumbered editions of private presses (around 1800), the advent of numbered prints (1850-1900), and numbering of luxury editions and private press editions (1880-1910). The stabilization of a new tradition of numbering occurs around 1930. The development of private press publications is examined in a broad context of copyright and the production of prints, while practices in the English-speaking world are shown to differ from those in other cultures, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.

Nowadays it goes without saying that a limited edition consists of numbered copies, but at the beginning of this bibliophile trend, such editions were not numbered, see for example, the books of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses. Morris nor Ricketts issued numbered copies. 

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891): deluxe copy
[The Morgan Library & Museum, New York]

Parallel to this development and starting in the same year as Morris, a modernisation of the literary book took place, among others at The Bodley Head (from 1889). Artists such as Charles Ricketts and Aubrey Beardsley changed the look of the contemporary book. An example is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In addition to an ordinary edition, a deluxe edition of 250 copies appeared in a larger format, numbered and signed. The regular edition did not mention that there was also a deluxe edition; that was only stated in the latter, which reveals something of the publisher's intentions. Only the owner of a deluxe copy would read the colophon stating that there were 250 signed copies. This brings exclusivity and scarcity to another level. Scarcity here is closely linked to a practice of intimacy, secrecy, elitism, where a certain degree of familiarity and knowledge is shared by an in-crowd of lovers of decadent poetry and prose. Owners of a deluxe copy could almost consider themselves intimate friends of the author. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

464. Othello: Fainting or Dying

New Shakespeare editions are always controversial. Because of the complicated text history of the plays, an editor has to make decisions about countless details. 

William Shakespeare, Othello (1900)

Academic editions are, of course, scrupulously examined, but for private press editions aesthetic views play a significant role. The graphic design of plays is a profession in its own right, and by no means simple, due to the presence of several layers of text: the spoken texts themselves, which can be of a poetic or prosaic nature; but it must also be clear who is speaking and what the stage directions are.

In some university libraries, private press editions may be accessed in open stacks, surrounded by popular, cheaper editions. That's the place to look for private press books with handwritten notes by readers, which I found, for example, in copies of Michael Field's plays in the University Library of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (a nice topic for a future blog.) 

Although the 39 volumes of the Vale Press edition of Shakespeare's poems and plays (1900-1903) will have been purchased mainly for decorative purposes, other Vale Press editions were bought for their texts as well, and Ricketts intended these editions to fill gaps in collections. Some buyers actually did read the whole series, or at least parts of it.

And there were readers who also considered the edition with an eye for textual accuracy.

The academic magazine Notes and Queries of August 1900 contains a note by Maurice Jonas, called 'An Error in the Vale Press Shakespeare'.

In the beautiful edition of Shakespeare’s works in the Vale Press, now in course of publication, occurs a peculiar mistake. In iii of “Othello,” after Montano has been wounded by Cassio the proper stage direction is, “He faints,” but in the Vale Press edition “He dies” is substituted.

Maurice Jonas was right, but still he was too kind. Not only, has the act of fainting been substituted by the death, the stage direction has become part of the spoken text, so it is not Montano who faints (or dies), but Montano who tells us that his opponent dies or must die. This is followed by another stage direction that I did not find in the editions which I consulted. Something went wrong here in terms of design. 'He dies' is wrong, but, moreover, this text should have been placed in the line below Montano's speech.

It's quite rare to find a textual commentary on a private press book, but here's one.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

463. Charles Ricketts & John Gray?

John Gray was one of the close associates of Charles Ricketts who, after Gray became a Catholic, even a priest, and began to write religious poems, held a soft spot for him. They continued to correspond throughout their lives.

Charles Ricketts, opening pages for John Gray, Spiritual Poems (1896)
Gray edited several publications of Ricketts's Vale Press. One of the early editions was a collection of translations - 'chiefly done out of several languages' - by Gray: Spiritual Poems (1896). The book contains eleven poems by Gray, the others are translations and include religious poems by Jacopone da Todi, Saint Ambrose, and Saint John of the Cross.

Initially, Gray compiled the book for The Bodley Head and a letter to John Lane shows that Ricketts was going to 'build the book', just like he did for the famous Silverpoints. In fact, 'there has been some talk of his doing an "emblem" for a frontispiece but I think this may possibly not come to much'. (Letter in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library).

Charles Ricketts, opening page for John Gray, Spiritual Poems (1896)
However, Ricketts designed two wood-engravings for the opening pages. The left-hand page depicts a figure surrounded by amorphous swirls that have been compared to the graining of wood. The central figure is a nun (to quote from Brocard Sewell's 1983 description:) 'standing by an altar, holding a taper with which she is taking a light from a sanctuary lamp hanging from a bracket on the wall'. The facing page contains the first stanza of Gray's poem 'The Tree of Knowledge', surrounded by symbols of the Passion: the cross at the top, the crown of thorns and other objects at the foot of the page.

Not all, but many of Ricketts's wood-engravings for Vale Press books are signed. The two facing pages of Spiritual Poems show the monogram on the left-hand page, outside the border, in the lower right-hand corner. After the rediscovery of the 1890s in the 1970s, the monogram was read as a double signature.

Charles Ricketts, detail of opening page for John Gray, Spiritual Poems (1896)
In 1972, the Houghton Library catalogue The Turn of a Century 1885-1910. Art Nouveau, Jugendstil Books stated: 'Frontispiece and border designed and cut by Ricketts; frontispiece signed with initials CR and JG', and explained: 'Since John Gray's initials were added to Ricketts', he must have played a role in the formation of this design.'

Seven years later, the exhibition catalogue Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. An Aesthetic Partnership (Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham) asserted: 'The full page frontispiece, signed CR and JG[ray]'.

This attribution of the wood-engraving to artist and author has continued to circulate ever since. See for example, Susan Ashbrook's dissertation The Private Press Movement in Britain 1890-1914 (1991): 'John Gray’s initials join those of Ricketts on the lower right, which, it has been suggested, indicates that Gray was a participant in formulating the design.' I repeated this dual authorship 'CR & JG' in my 1996 checklist, as did Maureen Watry in The Vale Press (2004).

For my review of the latter book, I took another good look at the (minuscule) monogram and saw that the intertwined letters did not represent the ampersand (&), but the letters T and O: 'CR TO JG'. In other words, the artist dedicated the wood-engraving to his friend the author.

Ricketts's monogram in John Gray, Spiritual Poems (1896)
Actually, it couldn't be otherwise, because, as Gray himself later wrote to Gordon Bottomley, he only saw Ricketts's designs after the book had been printed. During the production Ricketts was rather secretive about his decorative plans and kept his designs out of the authors' sight.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

462. The 1898 Exhibition of Wood-Engraving

A few weeks ago I was approached by an Italian scholar, Francesco Parisi, who enquired about the 'First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving', held at the Dutch Gallery in London in 1898. 

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898)
Parisi (born 1972) teaches at the Academy of Macerata, the Accademia di Belle Art di Macerata in the Marche region, and prepares a course on Ricketts and wood-engraving at the end of the nineteenth century. His publications include an essay on Austin Osman Spare and a monograph about Japonism, Giapponismo.

For this new course, he needs images of the catalogue of the 1898 exhibition. A digital version is not yet available, which is why I am happy to comply with his request. In return, he promises to keep us informed about his research on Ricketts - there are not that many Italian Ricketts scholars!

'Original' wood-engraving refers to works that were executed by the artist himself (and not by a studio or professional wood-cutter). The show was opened on 3 December 1898. For a review, see my blog no. 426. Exhibition Catalogue Design 1898.

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page ii]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page iii]
The short introduction in the catalogue (page ii-iii) refers to predecessors such as William Blake, but the exhibition concentrates on wood-engravings from the last ten years, with works by T.S. Moore, Ricketts, Shannon, Alphonse Legros, Lucien Pissarro, J.F. Millet, William Nicholson and Reginald Savage.

In opening the first exhibition of original engraving it may not be out of place to point out that early in the nineteenth century the used of the graver superseded that of the engraving knife, and that this change happened in the hands of an Englishman. Ever since it has been in England that we find the greatest number of original wood engravers, and, on the whole, the keenest sense of the resources of the medium. The names of Blake, his pupil Calvert, and Bewick have become household words. The woodcuts collected here have been done during the last ten years - a period given up almost wholly to processes - and have for the most part been already shown in the art centres of Holland and Germany. The popular impression that the noble wood-cuts of Germany were engraved by their designers is now a belief of the past, and during almost two centuries of activity two admirable artists only can be certainly associated with a series of original wood-cuts, namely Altdorfer the German and Livens the Dutchman. This is the more strange since Dürer recommended all artists to engrave their own work. In recent times, Jean François Millet made some experiments with his brother. The set of Vale Publications here exhibited illustrate the use of wood engraving in the decoration of books. In England only has this subject been given serious attention; and in this case the engravings are without exception original.

We may assume that Ricketts himself is the author of these introductory words - his arbitrary spelling of names such as the one of Lievens can betray him, and the leaps in time and geography also characterise his style.

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page iv]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page v]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page vi]

The First Exhibition of Original Wood Engraving (1898) [page vii]
The last page was blank and served as a back cover. The catalogue was published at a time that wood-engraving was considered too laborious for a commercial practice. Ricketts's claims are critically reviewed by Joanna Selbourne in her book British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940 (1998). She prefers the work of Pissarro and Moore and asserts that Ricketts understood nothing of the medium: 'neither he nor Morris understood the true nature of wood or its creative potential'.