Wednesday, March 14, 2018

346. Ricketts's Design of Oscar Wilde's Poems (1891) (1)

One of the audacious and elaborate early book designs by Charles Ricketts was requested for a reissue of Oscar Wilde's Poems in 1891.

The unsold (and unbound) sheets were leftovers of the 1882 edition. Bogue, Wilde's early publisher, sold around one thousand copies of the book before his bankruptcy. Sheets of the unsold copies were transferred to Chatto and Windus, and, later, to Osgood McIlvaine, before they were sold on to Matthews and Lane. This modernist firm acquired 230 sets of sheets, and as 10 were spoilt during binding, the new edition comprised 220 copies. These copies were signed by Oscar Wilde on the page with the limitation statement.

Ricketts had designed that page, the title page, the endpapers, and the binding. It is unclear who designed the half-title that was part of the new gathering that was added to the old sheets. 

Limitation statement in Oscar Wilde, Poems (1892)
The limitation statement has been reproduced after the written and drawn design by Ricketts. It starts with a motif that we have seen before in his work, a triangle of small flower decorations. There are eight rows of these, one line containing four flowers, followed by three lines having three flowers and two lines showing two ornaments, ending with two lines of only one flower.

A similar triangle of decorations can be found in the second issue of The Dial (1892). The last page in this magazine contained small bird decorations in four lines: three birds, two birds, one bird and another one in the last row. The decorative triangle was not placed on a blank page. To the upper right side of it, the name and location of the printer were mentioned, and under the triangle, somewhat to the right, the year of publication.

The Dial, No. 2 (1892)
In 1891, Ricketts had drawn a triangle of pomegranates for Oscar Wilde's A House of Pomegranates. This triangle - three lines with three, two and one element respectively - was facing the title page. Here, the ornamental triangle was positioned underneath the dedication by Wilde to his wife Constance Mary Wilde. Three words underlined with three pomegranates. The ornament also appeared between the text lines in the book, and fulfilled different functions in the book.

Another example can be found on the cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray, issued by Ward, Lock & Co. in 1891. The name of Dorian Gray is placed on top of a triangle of four, three, two, and finally, one depiction of a flower.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
In Poems, published later than these other books, the triangle points to the text of the limitation statement that starts next to the two rows of flowers at the bottom of it. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

345. The 2018 Alphabet: S

S is for Samson.
Samson, the strongest of the children of men,
I sing; how he was foiled by woman's arts,
By a false wife brought to the gates of death.

Charles Ricketts, initial 'S' for William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)

For the two Vale Press books with poems by William Blake, Charles Ricketts designed some wonderful initial letters. Three of those appeared in The Book of Thel (1897) - initials H, P and T - and four initials were especially designed for the Poetical Sketches (1899): O, P, S and T. They testify of Ricketts's admiration for Blake's works.

Charles Ricketts, opening pages in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)
The initials 'O' and 'P' were drawn for the opening pages. The other two illustrate one poem each. The 'S' is a woodcut that runs over 19 lines of text, measuring 89x43 mm. It is one of the larger initials that Ricketts designed. Three or four leaves form the curves of the letter S. The figure is not that of Samson, nor of the woman that brings him 'to the gates of death' (as Blake writes). It is the white-robed Angel:

O, white-robed Angel, guide my timorous hand to write as on a lofty rock with iron pens the words of truth, that all who pass may read.

The poetical sketches were presented in prose, however, the Vale Press edition has arranged them as poems.

The Angel is accompanied by the figure of a dove holding a palm-branch.

Charles Ricketts, page lxxxiii in William Blake, Poetical Sketches (1899)