Wednesday, March 31, 2021

505. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (5)

The three vignettes Ricketts designed for the deluxe editions of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis did not originally include that of the star over the ocean. First there was another third vignette, which I will deal with next week. So the vignette best known by its frequent later use is an afterthought, a replacement.

Oscar Wilde, The Duchess of Padua (1908)
Vignette designed by Charles Ricketts,
originally used for the deluxe editions of De Profundis

It is the only vignette derived directly from the text, as I wrote in blog 503 (17 March 2021) and perhaps that is because of the need to come up with a new design. There is an older vignette that may have served as an example. Looking for inspiration, Ricketts may have thought of a circular vignette used for the cover of William Allingham's Evil May-Day that was published in 1882. The title poem is about growing up in an age of science after the death of god, but Allingham opposes atheism and science's 'rigid formulae':

The rose, the primrose, and the hawthorn-flow'r,
The colours of the dawn or evening air,
The woodlands, and the mountains, and the meads,
Lakes, rivers, rivulets and rocky springs,
The varying ocean and the starry night,
Have in their beauty more significance
Than tabulated light-waves which impinge
On optic nerves and yield the brain a sense
Of red, blue, yellow - Science knows not how.

The vignette seems to be an illustration of that line: 'The varying ocean and the starry night'.

William Allingham, Evil May-Day (1882)

The appeal of this vignette was its connection with the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who probably had the greatest influence on Ricketts's early views on art and book design, along with James McNeill Whistler. Several of Ricketts's designs for bookbindings from the early 1890s can be seen as responses to Rossetti's decorations. Allingham brought Rossetti very close; he was a long-time friend of his and Rossetti designed some illustrations for his work. Only a watercolour remains of a design for a binding of Allingham's Day and Night Songs; it was not used for the binding in 1854 (it was used for a later book, but by then Rossetti was already dead).

Rossetti had designed circular devices for several bindings such as Algernon Charles Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon (1865) and Songs Before Sunrise (1871).

The friendship between Rossetti and Allingham had cooled by 1867 and it is therefore not likely that the vignette of Evil May-Day was designed by Rossetti, although it has been suggested from time to time (frankly only by antiquarian booksellers who have a certain interest in it - see footnote). Apart from that, Rossetti had died on 9 April 1882 and Allingham received his first copies of Evil May-Day in the first half of December of that year. 

That said, for a fan like Ricketts, even the meagre association with Rossetti may have helped, and, in any case, the similarities between the vignettes are striking: a lone star above an endless sea. Ricketts's rendering of the turbulent water is less realistic and shows traces of Art Nouveau.

Neither William E. Fredeman - in his Pre-Raphaelitism. A Bibliocritical Study (1965) - nor Mark Samuels Lasner - in William Allingham. A Bibliographical Study (1993) - have identified the  designer of the vignette.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

504. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (4)

A fourth instalment about a vignette on the Ricketts-designed bookbinding of the two deluxe editions of De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905) and Stuart Mason's Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1915) may come as some surprise, as there are only three vignettes. However, there are several reasons for a sequel: the reuse of the first vignette in the 1940s (the escaping dove), the inspiration for the third vignette (the star over the sea) and a fourth vignette not used for this book but designed at the same time as the other three.

Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Goal (1910):
dust wrapper with Charles Ricketts's vignette

Let's start with the reuse of the vignette that shows the dove flying out from between the bars. Methuen, who issued De Profundis in 1905, published a separate, sewn-in edition of The Ballad Of Reading Gaol in 1910. This was the first separate printing since the author's death, and it included a shorter version 'for the benefit of reciters and their audiences who have found the entire poem too long for declamation', as Robert Ross explained in his editorial note.

The cover was adorned with Charles Ricketts's vignette of the escaping dove. (See blog No. 501.

Toward the end of World War II, The Unicorn Press, a publishing house in London, began reprinting the works of Oscar Wilde and other decadent authors. Apparently these editions were not sent to the English copyright libraries; not all of them are included in the British Library collection. There were several publishing houses in London called the Unicorn Press. The first was the publisher of the magazine The Dome (1897-1900). Ernest J. Oldmeadow was the manager of the firm that was based at 26, Paternoster Square, and later at 7, Cecil Court. Founded in 1895 (as far as I know), it stopped publishing in 1908, and was probably dissolved around 1916. The second firm with this name began publishing in 1931 and existed until about 1938. This probably was not the same firm: it was owned by John Heritage, who also owned The Union Press. (By the way, Oldmeadow was still alive at the time, he died in 1949).

Frederick Gwynn, Sturge Moore and the Life of Art (1952):
advertisement for Wilde publications

The third Unicorn Press began publishing in 1944 with an edition of Oscar Wilde and existed until the early 1960s. Its director was Martin Secker (1882-1978)

According to John Trevitt, writer of the article about Secker in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Secker's original firm was sold in 1936, and continued under the name Secker and Warburg, and Secker stayed on to oversee production until 1938. Trevitt states: 'Secker then created the Unicorn Press, which published Arthur Symons's book on Aubrey Beardsley, Robert Hichens's The Green Carnation, and a collected edition of Oscar Wilde. He bought the Richards Press in 1937, formerly run by Grant Richards, his only close friend in British publishing [...]' It seems the chronology here is wrong, as the Unicorn Press books mentioned in his text were all issued after 1944. (Due to the lockdown, I have had no access to D. W. Collins's biography, published in British Literary Publishing Houses, 1881–1965 [1991]).

The publishing house was located at number 8, Charles Street near St James Square in London. June 1944 saw the first of a series of Wilde editions published by The Unicorn Press: Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest. Four Plays by Oscar Wilde. For the cover, the decorations designed by Charles Shannon for the first edition of the latter play were used. It was very successful and six reprints appeared. The same year, The Ballad  of Reading Gaol was also produced. It was followed by Intentions (February 1945), The Picture of Dorian Gray (November 1945), The Profundis (probably also 1945), Salomé (1947), Lord Arthur Savile's  Crime and Other Stories (1948) and A House of Pomegranates (1949). In 1951, an edition of Poems was in preparation, but it seems never to have appeared. 

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (left: 1905; right: 1945)

Of these books, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Intentions imitated Ricketts' s original binding designs. The same applied to The Profundis, which brought about the reappearance of the escaped dove, the vignette Ricketts designed for the first regular edition and its subsequent reprints. 

And here we encounter the renegade design again. This is quite puzzling, as the designs of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Intentions do appear to be neat reproductions of the original covers. Here, however, the publisher did not take notice of the first printing of De Profundis; instead, he relied on Stuart Mason's bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1915). This is also evident from the advertisement on the back of a Richards Press/Unicorn Press collaboration with the University of Kansas Press: Frederick L. Gwynn's monograph Sturge Moore and the Life of Art (1951). The back of the dust wrapper advertised "The Unicorn Press Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde". The text was surrounded by the three imitation vignettes on the binding of Mason's book. The same advertisement appeared on the cover of Charles Richard Cammell's Aleister Crowley. The Man, The Mage, the Poet (1951).

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905: above; 1945: below)

However, a 'Note' at the front of the book states: 'The small device on the cover, taken from the first edition, is the work of the late Charles Ricketts, R.A.' Although that vignette was the inspirational source, this device is the recreated version by an anonymous craftsman.

The blocks for these vignettes must have been transferred from the publisher of Mason's bibliography, T. Werner Laurie to The Unicorn Press, or new ones may have been made. They have the identical format, but the one of the free bird has been cleaned: the drop of 'blood' (bottom centre) has been removed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

503. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (3)

The third vignette on the deluxe editions of De Profundis, published in 1905, depicts a tempestuous sea with six high waves; above, in the centre, is a bright star in the sky.

Charles Ricketts, vignette for Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
(deluxe editions, 1905)

The combination of three vignettes (see blog 501 and 502) was reused in 1908 for the "First Collected Edition" of the works of Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde, The Duchess of Padua (1908)
(deluxe edition)

Whereas the other two vignettes were related to Wilde's imprisonment and release, the latter refers to the concluding paragraph of De Produndis:

Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with better herbs make me whole. 
(Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905, pp. 150-151).

In 1909, the first volumes of what has come to be called the Second Collected Edition were published. The first volume appeared in early September 1909, bound in green buckram: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories. These smaller format (foolscap) editions only used one of the three original vignettes by Ricketts, and bibliographer Stuart Mason asserted that the third vignette was used for these editions, that of the star over the sea. However, this is not entirely accurate.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1909)

The circumference of the circular vignette is now 25 mm instead of 23 mm due to the addition of an extra border. The image itself is unchanged: the star has a protruding point at bottom right, and swirls in several directions can be seen within the waves. 

Oscar Wilde, Salomé, La Sainte Courtisane, A Florentine Tragedy
(eight F'cap. 8vo Edition, 1927) (above)
Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
(Ninth Edition, 1920) (below)

Why was the block changed for the Second Collected Edition? Perhaps Ricketts felt it should have a more distinctive border, now that it was the only vignette decorating the binding? Subsequently, publisher Methuen used it for dozens of reprints through the early 1930s, and the vignette became the best known of the three. Buyers and readers of those editions will not have realized it was a Ricketts design, for his name was not mentioned. Possibly, several blocks may have been necessary for the later reprints.

The third vignette was also copied for Stuart Mason's Bibliography of Oscar Wilde in 1915.

Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1915)

The large middle wave clearly has a different curve, as do the other waves around it. Of the star, only the outline remains. 

The vignette has an extra round border, compared to De Profundis, 1905, and similar to the 1909 vignette. 

In short: all three vignettes used for Mason's bibliography needed new drawings for the maker of the block. 

The main question is: why on earth did Stuart Mason claim in his introduction that Ricketts's vignettes were used for his bibliography, when all three were copies only. Those new blocks were certainly not Ricketts's doing, as they lack subtlety and are clearly copied, not carefully drawn again.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

502. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (2)

The second vignette on the cover of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1905) - that is: the two deluxe editions, bound in buckram (200 copies) or vellum (50 copies) - depicts a free bird against the night sky. With its wings spread, the dove flies upwards, its beak open; on the left, a star stands above the landscape.

Charles Ricketts, vignette of free bird
front cover of Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905)

The copies bound in buckram show that the texture of the fabric does not do the image justice; Ricketts must have had a finer fabric in mind, or designed it for the vellum edition. For comparison, here are the images on vellum and on a wrapper of two volumes of Oscar Wilde's collected works from 1908.

Charles Ricketts, vignette for Oscar Wilde, The Duchess of Padua
(copy bound in vellum) and Intentions and The Soul of Man (wrapper) (1908) 

The replica of the block used for Stuart Mason's Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1915) shows a different image.  

Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1915):
wrapper (above) and buckram binding (deluxe edition)

There is an additional border framing the circular image. 

In the original image, the left wing (right for us) is depicted loosely, so that the bird's opened beak is clearly visible, the pigeon's head tilted backwards. The cry of joy for the regained freedom that is expressed in this way is absent from the copy. 

Ricketts drew the tail of the bird moving upward at the end. To separate the shape of the bird from the landscape that begins at the top left of the tail and continues right under the wing (using a kind of yin-yang image) he drew a clear gap between tail and landscape. In the copied drawing, the tail has disappeared; we no longer see a flowing line from the head to the tail of the bird.

Finally, in the landscape below the dove, there is damage to the block. It looks as if the dove is losing a drop of blood - contrary to what the image is meant to symbolise.

One might think that publisher Methuen had to make new blocks in the course of years, but that is not the case. When Ricketts's vignettes were used again in 1922, for a work that was wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde, For Love of the King (1922), the original images from 1905 turned out to be intact.

Charles Ricketts, vignette for the wrapper of
For Love of the King (1922)

This second vignette, like the first (see blog 501), is a rough adaptation of Ricketts's subtle drawings.

[Thanks to Robbert-Jan Henkes for his astute comments.]

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

501. The Designs on the Cover of 'Bibliography of Oscar Wilde' (1)

In 1914, Stuart Mason (pseudonym of Christopher Sclater Millard, 1872-1927) published his Bibliography of Oscar Wilde in a regular one-volume edition and in a limited deluxe edition of one hundred numbered and signed copies. Publisher Thomas Werner Laurie had started his business in 1904, and issued the bibliography as if it belonged to the first edition of Oscar Wilde's collected works. The design of the books was almost identical, especially the deluxe edition whose white linen bindings with gold printing imitate those of the multi-volume collected edition. The calligraphy of the titles - designed by Charles Ricketts - is not copied, but replaced by a typeset title. Ricketts's three vignettes with doves, stars and the sea adorn the front cover, dust jacket and endpapers.

Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914):
deluxe edition, cover of volume 1

The collected works were published by Methuen and Co. in 1908. The design by Charles Ricketts was the same as the one he especially made for the first edition of De Profundis in 1905. The regular copies of that book were issued in blue cloth with one vignette, the two deluxe editions had three vignettes. 

Stuart Mason's 'Preface' acknowledges Methuen's rights to the design:

Thanks and acknowledgments, formal though none the less sincere, are due to [...] Messrs. Methuen & Co., for many courtesies, including permission to use the designs on the cover of this volume; [...].

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905):
deluxe edition in buckram binding
with designs by Charles Ricketts

Methuen still used the designs for reprints, especially the star in the sky above the 'great waters', while the one with a dove escaping through prison bars was best known from the reprints of De Profundis. The third design (all were described by Mason in his bibliography) is 'the bird flying free'.

Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914):
deluxe edition, dustwrapper of volume 1

The dove escaping through prison bars 

Remarkably, Methuen's original binding tools have not been used. New, different stamps have been made that more or less resemble the earlier ones, but they lack all subtlety. They are, frankly, rather crude imitations.

Vignette 1, designed by Charles Ricketts:
a dove escaping through prison bars
on the front cover of the first edition of
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis (1905):
deluxe edition in buckram binding (above)
and deluxe edition in vellum binding (below)

The impression on the vellum binding of the most luxurious edition of De Profundis (1905) shows best what Ricketts meant. The impression on the paper wrapper of the deluxe edition of Mason's bibliography shows best what went wrong in reproduction.

Vignette 1, designed by Charles Ricketts:
a dove escaping through prison bars
on the front cover of the first volume of
Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914): 
deluxe edition in buckram binding (above)
and brown paper wrapper of the same volume (below)

The most striking difference is the drawing of the bars over the pigeon's body; they are much too thick in the new block, and have a crossbar that is not there in the original. As a result, there is actually no opening for the dove to fly through. 

The transition from the pigeon's breast to the right wing is also too thickly accentuated, so that it is no longer visible that the pigeon is opening its beak, in other words, gasping for breath.

Above the left wing, against the circle, Ricketts drew a larger open space in the original design than was done in the reproduction. There, just above the wing, a horizontal bar has been drawn.

All these changes show that the new block maker did not understand that the design depicts not a captured dove, but a dove escaping, symbolising freedom. All the modifications actually restrict the pigeon's freedom of movement to such an extent that its spread wings can no longer be understood. The image now resembles a bird that has been pinned to the bars.