The Stealing of the Mare, Translated by Lady Anne Blunt and Done into Verse by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, The Gregynog Press (1930)

{Ed. Note: This is another outstanding article from Books and Vines contributor Neil. The photo’s of the book below are marvelous, remember to click on them to get a close up view — especially the initial lettering which is as nice as any volume I can think of.}

The Stealing of the Mare is one of a cycle of tales forming the mediaeval Romance of Abu Zeyd which has been popular in Egypt for over 900 years. These tales record the adventures of the tribe of the Beni Helal around the beginning of the tenth century. This beautiful 1930 edition from The Gregynog Press is translated from the original Arabic by Lady Anne Blunt and done into verse by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.

Lady Anne Blunt (1837-1917) was the granddaughter of the poet Lord Byron.  She had a lifelong love of horses, was a skilled violinist, talented horsewoman, gifted artist and was fluent in Arabic, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) was an english poet and writer of political essays and polemics.  He served in the Diplomatic service from 1858 to 1869.  They married in 1869 and travelled through Algeria, Egypt, India, Spain and extensively in the Middle East, buying the Sheykh Obeyd estate in Egypt in 1882.

The Blunts shared a love of horses and travelled throughout Arabia and the Middle East (many times in rough and dangerous circumstances) seeking out pure-blooded Arabian horses  from the Bedouin tribesmen.  They founded the Crabbet Arabian Stud and, to this day, the vast majority of purebred Arabian horses trace their lineage to at least one Crabbet ancestor.

Despite sharing a passion for horses and all things Arabian the marriage turned out to be an unhappy one.  Lady Anne suffered frequent miscarriages, eventually giving birth to Judith Blunt-Lytton. They disagreed over how to manage their horses and Wilifrid had many mistresses and even moved one of them into their home in England.  They separated in 1906 and divided the horses and properties.  Lady Anne continued to spend time every year in Egypt at Sheykh Obeyd, moving there permanently in 1915.

The Blunts were fascinated by Arab culture and history and during their extensive travels they were crossing the Great Nefud of Northern Arabia when they were shown a track called The Road of the Helalat that was named in honour of a great trek undertaken by the Beni Helal.  The Blunts had a great admiration for the Bedouins and the epic tales that they had recited orally (in the same tradition as Homer in Ancient Greece) for countless generations and they felt that it was strange that no translation of the remarkable story of the Beni Helal had been undertaken.

With their knowledge of the Bedouin customs and language and an understanding of the oral tradition behind this epic, they decided to create an English version that presented it in its original prose/poetry form and represented the style and cadences of the Arabic original as closely as possible.

In this version of The Stealing of the Mare by the Blunts (first published in 1892) the Bedouins are portrayed as people of merit with many admirable qualities such as hospitality, chivalry and the defending of the weak and you can sense that he is telling the Westerners of his time that they deserve a more sympathetic investigation.

The Gregynog Press

In 1922 two very wealthy and philanthropic sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, established the Gregynog Press at their house, Gregynog Hall, in rural mid-Wales.  All of the operations of this private press were carried out in one workshop: Design, typecasting, printing, illustration and binding.  Robert Maynard and Horace Walter Bray were the first ‘in-house’ controllers and artists at Gregynog from 1922-1930.  They were fortunate in having the wonderful Herbert Hodgson as their printer, who was resident at Gregynog from 1927-1936.

About This Edition

What makes the Gregynog version of this tale special, apart from the standards of production and typography, are the beautifully executed hand-coloured wood engravings used for the frontispiece and the intial letters starting with an ‘H’ followed by twelve capital ‘A’s, some highlighted with gold as is the press-mark on the title page and the frontispiece.

  • Published by The Gregynog Press, Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales, in 1930
  • Engravings by R.A. Maynard hand-coloured at the press
  • Bound in quarter natural hermitage calf with printed paper sides designed by R.A. Maynard (Gregynog press Bindery stamp on rear pastedown)
  • Printed by Herbert Hodgson
  • Size: 310mm X 238mm, 100 pages
  • Garamond Typeface
  • Heavy Japon Vellum Paper
  • Limited to 275 copies – this is number 167

Pictures

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The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Cover and Spine
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Cover
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Spine
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Title Page
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Title Page
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1 (Preface)
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Detail View of Sample Illustration #1
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #1 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Initial Lettering #1
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #2 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #3 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Initial Lettering #3
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Initial Lettering #4
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #5 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #3
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #6 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Initial Lettering #7 with Text
The Stealing of the Mare, The Gregynog Press, Colophon

5 thoughts on “The Stealing of the Mare, Translated by Lady Anne Blunt and Done into Verse by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, The Gregynog Press (1930)

  1. ‘The Singing Caravan – A Sufi Tale’ was one of T.E. Lawrence’s (‘of Arabia’) favourite books and it was Lawrence who recommended it to Gregynog. Lawrence and the artist Blair Hughes-Stanton (who made some of his best wood-engravings for Gregynog books in the early thirties) seemed to have a mutual dislike for each other and Lawrence wrote about ‘the Singing Caravan’; ‘A Hughes-Stanton version of Tauz the great camel would not have been to my taste. Some essential points of a camel thoroughbred would have been overlooked: and besides the light fantasy of the poems would not go with wood engravings….I am glad you [McCance] are doing this book. H-S wrote to me that he did not like it: then he is a person of unusual mind, who demands a great deal of his books. The Caravan was too thin for him. probably he dislikes meringues and eclairs, trifles and omlettes souflees.’

    As much as I like B-H-S, I agree with Lawrence that B&W wood engravings would not have suited this book and the eventual design suited the text perfectly. The planning and production of ‘The Singing Caravan’ is covered in ‘Precious Caskets – the friendship of T.E. Lawrence and William McCance’ from The Fleece Press (2003).

    The ‘Caravan’ and ‘Mare’ books seem, to me, companion volumes because of their subject matter, design and the involvement of McCance.

    The book is in fine shape for its age – the books Gregynog printed on Japon Vellum paper are, nearly always, in great condition internally. The paper is very thick and durable and does not seem prone to foxing and the such.

    The illustrations for this book are very close to the style of Valenti Angelo (the undisputed ‘King’ of this type of illustration) and I agree that subjects like the ‘Stealing of the Mare’ are better represented by hand-coloured engravings and that add something to the text and make for a visually stunning book.

  2. This was truly the heyday of great private press books, and this is without a doubt one of the most exceptional examples I have seen. It’s a pity that with the exceptions of several books Valenti Angelo did for the LEC and Heritage Press, so few book designers have realized that these illuminations are so much better suited to some texts than illustrations as we normally think of them..

  3. What a stunning book!

    I had thought I was familiar with most of the Gregynog Press books but this is one title that has escaped me. Pity, because it is one of the few Gregynog books I would have had a keen interest in collecting. I have the same problem with Gregynog Press that I have with the Golden Cockerel Press, namely, many of their books do not travel well across the pond, i.e., many of their publications are appealing to their specific national audiences but are of less interest to an American audience. In Gregynog’s case, a disproportionate number of their titles also deal with obscure religious themes, also not my proverbial cup of tea. That said, I have always associated Gregynog Press with flawless typography and their superb special edition leather, hand tooled bindings.

    This is a book I find instantly appealing because it opens a window into a culture virtually unknown to Western audiences and one that is barely represented in English language publications. In a similar vein, I have collected Gregynog’s ‘A Singing Caravan – A Sufi Tale’ , not a Gregynog publication that is highly sought after. The wide margins to each page are appealing and the illuminated letters are spectacular. Looks as if I will have to add this book to my ever-growing ‘Wants List’.

    Thanks, Neil.

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