Wednesday, September 28, 2011

11. The mysterious Hélène

This week's blog is a contribution by Paul Delaney. We met in 1986, when he lived in London and I well remember the study where he was then writing the biography of Charles Ricketts that appeared in 1990 (Clarendon Press) and that, twenty years on, still is the authorative work on the life of Ricketts. 

The mysterious Hélène de Sousy, mother of Charles de Sousy Ricketts

Every biographer knows that he risks getting things wrong, and tries his best to guard against this. Sometimes, however, you are led astray by the most unexpected things.

Dustwrapper for J.G.P. Delaney, Charles Ricketts. A biography (1990)

When writing the biography of Charles Ricketts, I had difficulty in pinning down Ricketts's mother. Only rarely did he mention her; and he said almost nothing about her family. He said that 'he was born of a French mother, who was bred Italian & had Spanish blood by her father'. He revealed that her full given names were 'Hélène Cornelia Pia Diodata'. His maternal grandfather, he said, had known Rossini. These were the sole references to her family or origins.

However, Ricketts's parents married in a civil ceremony in London on 20 January 1868. The date of this marriage was puzzling, as Ricketts was two years old at the time. In the certificate, Hélène described herself as the widow of a man called Jouhan, and the daughter of Louis, marquis de Sousy; occupation: nobleman. Finally, this was something concrete to go on. There was indeed one French noble family titled de Sousy, which had included a marquis, who was too old to be Hélène's father, and his grandson, a count called Louis of the right period. This was the only possibility, despite the discrepancy in the title. As this was a military family, I found a dossier on Louis, comte de Soucy in the military archives at the Chateau de Vincennes in Paris. One document listed his daughters. None of them was called Hélène Cornelia Pia Diodata.

Charles Robert Ricketts, father of Charles (1838-1883)

In such circumstances, one must formulate a hypothesis that explains all the known facts. As Hélène bore no title, as she had no money, as she seemed to have no inherited possessions and no grand family connections, such as she should have done if she had been the daughter of a marquis, I concluded that she must have been illegitimate. This seemed confirmed by the fact that the marquis's family's name was actually 'de Fitte'; 'de Sousy' was their title. So, had Hélène been legitimate, her name should have been Hélène de Fitte de Sousy. The late marriage also worried me: I guessed it had been a remarriage for legal reasons. So many elements did not quite fit. Clearly, however, something was amiss here.

A few years ago, a woman contacted me claiming that she was a descendant of Ricketts's mother. This intrigued me. I had been told by Ricketts's cousins that his sister's two sons had left no descendants. Yet, there was still the mysterious first husband called Jouhan mentioned in her marriage certificate.

The story of Ricketts's mother that she revealed to me seemed incredible. At first, I refused to believe it. The weight of the evidence eventually persuaded me. Everything that I wrote in my biography about Ricketts’s mother was wrong. The information she had given in her marriage certificate was false. Her maiden name was not 'de Sousy' at all. In fact, Ricketts had no family right to his middle name. She was not 'born French', as Ricketts had claimed. What's more, she had abandoned a first family, a husband (who was not called 'Jouhan') and four children, causing a huge scandal, and disappeared from their lives. As this first marriage had never been dissolved, her marriage to Ricketts's father was bigamous. The only true information in her English marriage certificate was that her father was of noble origin, though he was not the marquis de Sousy.

At the moment, I am not at liberty to reveal more than this. The descendant of Ricketts's mother and I are preparing an article, which will set the record straight.

What intrigues me the most about all this is how much Charles Ricketts knew about his mother's true origins.
                                                                                               Paul Delaney

A signed copy of Delaney's biography of Ricketts
The publication of the full story will be noted in a future message. Thanks are due to Paul Delaney who has kindly written this invited contribution to the blog, which is open to other writers on the subject as well. Please contact me at the address stated in the right-hand column of this page.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

10. Book design from the Middle Ages to the future

The University of Antwerp is organizing the conference Book Design from the Middle Ages to the Future on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 September 2011. It will be preceded by the Twelfth Miræus Lecture on Wednesday 28 September in the Nottebohm Hall of the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience. The lecture will be held by Yuri Cowan (Ghent University) and is entitled 'The Mirror of Everyday Life: Morris' Book Collecting and the Kelmscott Press'. This lecture, according to the programme, will draw on original research into Morris's collecting practices to chart the influence of his library on his and his collaborators' theories in the field of book design.

A paper by Gerard Unger also mentions Morris, whose revival of Jenson's type influenced modern typography and Unger poses the question: 'Does typography on screens need a new William Morris?'

Ricketts's Defence (1899) among other credo's, including several editions of Cobden-Sanderson's The Ideal Book, published by Frederic W. Goudy, G.A. Beale, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and Gallery 303.

In my own paper, 'Reprinting the Ideals of the Private Press', I will mention almost all private presses from the 1890s, including the Vale Press and the Doves Press. I will talk about a specific group of publications, the private press credos, and especially about their position between nineteenth-century printers' manuals and twentieth-century typographic manifestos.

Ricketts's Defence of the Revival of Printing is among these credos, as is The Ideal Book, the famous tract written by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. Ricketts's book was reprinted a few times, but Cobden-Sanderson's text, which was far more visionary and less practical than that of Ricketts, was translated, reprinted and summarized many times and extracts from the text appeared in several fine editions.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9. Transitions

The University of Groningen is organizing a conference on the transfer and integration of English culture in the Netherlands and Belgium around 1900. The seminar takes place from 22 to 23 September, see the website Lopende vuurtjes (Spreading like wildfire).
Front cover of the programme for 'Lopende vuurtjes'
The border on the front cover of the programme is taken from the most famous Kelmscott Press edition, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896, p. 9) and the two different ornaments that are used for the programme were copied after Morris's printer's flowers No. 1 and No. 2 (as described by William S. Peterson in A Bibliography of the Kelmscott Press, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985, reprint, p. xxxiii). Lieske Tibbe will talk about the relations between Dutch journalists and politicians, such as Leo Simons and Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, and William Morris. They had met Morris in London.

The critics Jan Veth and Hermine Marius wrote about English art in several papers and magazines - there will be a talk about this subject by the organizer of the conference, Anne van Buul - but they did not write about Morris before his death in 1896 and his private press work was not well known in the Netherlands. Veth advocated other artists, especially Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, and wrote long laudatory articles about their books (Daphnis and Chloe, Hero and Leander) and their magazine The Dial.

The early Dutch praise for Ricketts and Shannon was summarized by J.G. Paul Delaney in his biography Charles Ricketts (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 91). Veth's articles led to a series of exhibitions containing their work and in 1895 Van Wisselingh's gallery in Amsterdam devoted an entire exhibition to Ricketts and Shannon - a recognition they had not yet experienced in England. My talk at the Groningen seminar will mention Ricketts repeatedly. I will try to shed light on the slow transfer of the private press ideals to the Dutch book world.

Programme for 22 and 23 September 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

8. A great artist

In the decade that Ricketts published his studies The Prado and its Masterpieces (1903), Titian (1910) and Pages on Art (1913), it was not yet customary to include a list of references or footnotes to disclose one's sources. Quotations were not easy to verify. Ricketts's Titian does not include a bibliography.

In France, the notion that an art-historical study ranks as 'belles-lettres' lived longer than in England. The same goes for a biography, which could apparently do without footnotes, references, or an index, without being seen as a fictionalized life (vie romancée).

Camille Mauclair (born as Séverin Faust, 1872-1945) wrote a book about Titian as well: Titien (Paris, Éditions Nilsson, 1925). Mauclair initially was a poet and, in 1898, he wrote a novel, Le Soleil des Morts, portraying several important fin-de-siècle artists.
Cover of Titien (1925) with the cover title: Le Titien
Camille Mauclair went on to write biographies and travel books. His book about Titian appeared in a series of 'Maîtres anciens et modernes' (Old and Modern Masters) and there are no footnotes or references. In a 'Note' at the end, however, he writes: 'Les références sont multiples' and he only mentions two authors whose books were easy to come by, one by Maurice Hamel and one by Henry Caro-Delvaille. Camille Mauclair knew about Ricketts's study, though, and he sent a copy of his own book to the British connoisseur.

Title page and frontispice of Titien (1925)
The book is printed on paper that is not destined for eternity and the pages show the marks of its ageing process. In Ricketts's copy the author of Titien (or Le Titien, as the cover has it) has written an autograph dedication: 'Au grand artiste Charles Ricketts avec l'admiration et la sympathie de Camille Mauclair'. Did Mauclair use Ricketts's book on Titian? Has Ricketts read Mauclair's biography? The dedication copy of this book was recently sold at auction and acquired by a private collector.
Dedication page in Titien (1925) [private collection]