The Story of Cupid and Psyche, The Rampant Lions Press (and Clover Hill Editions), William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones Illustrations

{Ed. Note: This article and pictures are from Books and Vines contributor Celtic (Neil).}.

The Rampant Lions Press was founded by Will Carter in 1924 and became a full-time private-press in 1949. Thanks to Will Carter (1912-2001) and his son Sebastian Carter (b.1941) the Rampant Lions Press had a long standing reputation as one of the best in the private press world and, by the time the press closed in 2008, it was the longest continuously running private-press in the world.  In 1984 The Rampant Lions Press published a book by Sebastian Carter called The Book Becomes: The Making of a Fine Edition.  This 96 page book is about the creation of a 1974 edition of The Story of Cupid and Psyche, with illustrations designed by Edward Burne-Jones, mostly engraved on the wood by William Morris, with an introduction by A.R. Dufty. The 1974 publication of Cupid and Psyche was an important event in the history of this renowned private-press, and there is an interesting story of how it came to be.

In 1971 Joseph Dunlap, secretary of the William Morris Society in the US, published a book called The Book That Never Was describing an early intention by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones to publish a fine-edition of Morris’s poem The Earthly Paradise, including Cupid and Psyche, illustrated by Burne-Jones.  The Earthly Paradise was printed, but without illustrations, at The Kelmscott Press in 1896. Very few people were aware that Edward Burne-Jones had drawn illustrations for Cupid and Psyche in the 1860’s and that these had been engraved on wood by William Morris (apart from a few borders and one illustration – the only blocks Morris ever cut).  Even fewer people knew that these blocks had survived.  The blocks had been stored at the Society of Antiquaries and from 1940, in a tea chest, in a basement, to protect them during the blitz!

Will Carter and Douglas Cleverdon (co-publisher of Cupid and Psyche through his ‘Clover Hill Editions’) were present at a talk given by Colin Franklin at a meeting of the Double Crown Club in 1969.  During this talk Franklin showed the proofs of the re-discovered Morris blocks.  Here was an unfinished book crying out to be completed and Carter and Cleverdon wanted to complete it.  Douglas Cleverdon had been a bookseller (Eric Gill made the sign for his shop), broadcaster/producer (he produced Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood), publisher (including works by Gill and David Jones in the 20’s).  In the 1960’s, after 30 years in broadcasting, Cleverdon went back to small-edition/fine book publishing under the Clover Hill imprint, initially to publish the works of David Jones (poetry, prose and engravings). The prospect of publishing  a ‘fine-press’ edition of Cupid and Psyche was exciting, and Carter and Cleverdon set to it.

After the Double Crown Club meeting , their first objective was to make contact with A.R. Dufty , who had rediscovered the blocks, to find out if the Society of Antiquaries would release them for printing.  After meetings, discussions, proposals and counter-proposals it was agreed that the blocks would be released and the book would be designed and printed at the Rampant Lions Press using the original blocks (which had survived in excellent condition), with the text in Morris’s original Troy type and with a scholarly introduction by Dufty. The book became a reality in 1974, designed and produced by Will and Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lions Press and jointly published by them along with Cleverdon’s Clover Hill Editions.

The result?

This edition of Cupid and Psyche was included in Hutner and Kelly’s Century for the Century : Fine printed books 1900-1999.  Here’s what they had to say about it: “This 1974 publication of William Morris’s translation of The Story of Cupid and Psyche was more than a hundred years in the making.  It began in the 1860’s when Edward Burne-Jones drew 44 illustrations for the story.  William Morris, then working with the Chiswick Press, was dissatisfied with the types available, so he abandoned the project.  The weak modern-style types available in the mid-nineteenth century were too light in combination with the strong wood engravings.  It was only when Morris founded his private-press and had his own proprietary typefaces cut that a suitable combination was possible.  In 1969, after hearing a talk by Colin Franklin, Will and Sebastian Carter became intrigued by the aborted project.  They received permission from the Society of Antiquaries and the Ashmolean Museum to print from the original woodblocks.  Since the Carters found that most types did not work well with the heavy engravings, they also sought – and got – permission from Cambridge University to recast type from Morris’s original Troy type matrices for setting the poem.  The end result is a beautiful book, following Morris’s style just enough to look “right” , while also combining all the elements in a novel way, making this a quintessential Rampant Lions Press book.  Here one can see the results of the Carters’ impeccable presswork – all the more remarkable considering that this book was printed two pages up on a platen press.”

My own opinion? The Carter’s designed this as a two volume set. The first volume containing the introduction and background, and the second with the poem and engravings.  The volume containing the poem and engravings is designed in a ‘pared-down’ Kelmscott style.  I find some of the Kelmscott volumes very beautiful, but very ‘busy’, and to see Morris’s Troy type and engravings without the borders and ornaments you typically find in Kelmscott books makes for a hugely attractive volume, as you will see in the pictures below.

As an aside, Sebastian Carter describes what he thinks of the term ‘fine-editions’ by saying “At the Rampant Lions Press we use the term sparingly, because it seems to lay a claim to some excellence in the result, rather than simply define a kind of work.  We feel that the excellence of the result is best judged by others; but the printer must decide on the kind of work , and that includes the level at which it is to be done: he has to make decisions, chiefly in the choice of materials, which will determine how ‘fine’ the result will be.  Ideally his choice will be made according to the merits of the work in hand; in practice it is more usually made for him by the mundane matter of his budget.  But if he decides to go for the best, or somewhere near it, we must, whether we like it or not, use the term ‘fine printing’ or some synonym. A clean impression on smooth paper may be good printing; what elevates it to fine printing is a robustness of feel, produced by a clear and perceptible impression of the type into a good rag paper.  The fingertips must judge it as much as the eyes, but it is important that the eyes be satisfied as well: the strength of the materials will not excuse inept presswork or bad design”.

About the Edition

  • Joint publication of Clover Hill Editions and The Rampant Lions Press, 1974
  • Long Title – William Morris : The story of Cupid and Psyche, with illustrations designed by Edward Burne-Jones, mostly engraved on the wood by William Morris ; the introduction by A.R. Dufty
  • Short Title – The Story of Cupid and Psyche
  • Two Volumes in a slipcase.  348mm X 250mm
  • 400 copies;  130 in full leather with a set of proofs, 270 bound by John P. Gray, Cambridge, in quarter-cloth with boards covered in Morris designed paper, in a matching cloth and paper slipcase (this is copy no 160 of these)
  • There was also 100 portfolios of the 44 engravings
  • The Engravings : William Morris engraved on wood at least 35, and possibly 40, of the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ scenes.  A number of his helpers engraved the remainder, fewer than ten.  Both May Morris and S.C. Cockerell recorded the attributions, which will be found on pages 19-20 and in note 67 on page 34 in Volume One: they differ slightly, but Morris’s major contribution is not in doubt.
  • Volume One :  The Introduction. Designed and printed by Will and Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lions Press, Cambridge, in Monotype Ehrhardt ; the plates were printed by the Cotswold Collotype Company ; and the paper was made by J. Barcham Green.
  • Volume Two :  The Story of Cupid and Psyche, the poem with the engravings. The text with the engravings was designed by Will and Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lions Press, Cambridge, in the Kelmscott Troy types cast at the foundry of the Oxford University Press from the original matrices in the possession of the Cambridge University Press, on paper made by J. Barcham Green.  Engravings printed from the original blocks.

Pictures

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The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Books in Slipcase
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Title
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Colophon Info
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Contents
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Lists of Plates/Engravings
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Sample Text (Introduction)
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Macro
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 List
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Sample Illustrations #1
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 1 Sample Illustrations #2
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Volume 2
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Macro
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Title
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, About the Engravings
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #1
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Illustrations #1 with Text
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #2
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #3
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Illustrations #2 with Text
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #4
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #5
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Text #5
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Sample Illustrations #4 with Text
The Story of Cupid and Psyche, Clover Hill Editions/The Rampant Lions Press, Vol. 2 Colophon

7 thoughts on “The Story of Cupid and Psyche, The Rampant Lions Press (and Clover Hill Editions), William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones Illustrations

  1. It is easy to see why this famous publication was included in the Grolier Club (New York City) exhibition and subsequent publication, “A Century For The Century”. As Celtic (Neil) astutely noted this publication is leaner and more spare than a typical William Morris/Kelmscott Press production, in more ways than one.

    The absence of the extraordinarily busy, dense, floral ornamentation around the periphery of the pages and the absence of elaborately carved initial letters seen in the Kelmscott Chaucer makes this book eminently readable and the eye is not distracted needlessly. The page layout is superb with proper balance given between the wood-engravings and text. The typeface is perfectly matched to the illustrations. Best of all, William Morris’ poetic translation is fluid, elegant and readable in contrast to the archaic, impenetrable language that was the norm in his fantastical literature which he later published with the Kelmscott Press, e.g., The Roots of the Mountains, The House of the Wolfings, The Story of the Glittering Plain, etc. Add in the finest presswork the Rampant Lions Press is capable of and one indeed has a ‘Holy Grail’ book with this publication.

    Kudos to Celtic (Neil) for taking the time to include as many illustrations as he has. They are a feast for the eyes and this is certainly one book I hope to add in my collection in the not-too-distant future.

  2. I see what you mean about the heavy illustrations and type. The LEC Mariage of Cupid and Psyche, illustrated by Dulac, is much lighter and more fanciful. The paper covering the boards of this version really goes well the rest of the book.

    As I rebind various LECs, I find that the paper and book cloth options are tremendously limited. Talas is now selling some Cockerel paper which is unique. I am using a Cockerel paper for the first time in a rebinding of The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

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