Birds, Beasts and Flowers by D.H Lawrence; Wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Cresset Press (1930)

{Ed. Note: This article, the second in a week highlighting a book from The Cresset Press, is from Books and Vines contributor Neil.  Birds, Beasts and Flowers by D.H Lawrence with wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Cresset Press 1930.}

D.H. Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire, England.  He was an essayist, novelist, poet and short-story writer.  Lawrence is best known for his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Although he is better known as a novelist, his first-published works (from 1909) were poems.

His stark and immediate poetry is often about the physical and inner lives of plants and animals and his evocations of the natural world have influenced many other poets. He was a rebellious writer with radical views and regarded nature, the primitive subconscious and sex as cures to the evils of industrialized society.

Lawrence, through his writings, had trouble with the censors and suffered some persecution in his own country.  As a consequence, Lawrence and his wife Frieda spent much of their time travelling to Australia, Ceylon, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Tahiti and the United States.  It was during these travels that Lawrence wrote the poems for Birds, Beasts and Flowers, starting to write them near Florence, Italy in 1920 and completing them whilst staying in New Mexico three years later.

The poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers was first published in its entirety in 1923.  Lawrence viewed the collection as some of his best poetry and the critics agreed. Many of the poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers are found in poetry anthologies (especially Fish), but they give a greater experience when they are viewed in the context of the whole collection.  Lawrence uses his encounters with the natural world to explore some of his recurring concerns: the need to reclaim instinctual life from the intellectual abstractions of the modern world, the ‘otherness’ of the natural world and the need to maintain individuality in love.

Blair Hughes-Stanton, alongside the likes of Eric Gill, Gertrude Hermes and Agnes Miller Parker, was a major figure in the English wood engraving revival in the first half of the twentieth century.  He was the son of an artist and painted himself, but will be remembered for his wood engraving, particularly those used to illustrate books. He learned wood engraving alongside Gertrude Hermes and Henry Moore at Leon Underwood‘s school in London. Hughes-Stanton wrote:

I do seem to get my imagination from words, and even when I am doing things of my own, it is as if it comes to me in words like a poem, and I put it into forms.  All the time that I work, I seem to feel word rhythms, and that is why I like to work to books.

Blair Hughes-Stanton and his wife Gertrude Hermes came to know D.H. and Frieda Lawrence through Frieda’s daughter who had attended the Leon Underwood School as had Hughes-Stanton and Hermes.  Blair Hughes-Stanton had a great deal of admiration for Lawrence and they appear to have got on well together.  Hughes-Stanton must have found Lawrence exciting and liberating, especially when you take into account that they met shortly after the controversy over Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  In August 1930 Lawrence wrote to Hughes-Stanton:

      “……………Perhaps you aren’t quite bold enough, in your work: one has to be downright take-it-or-leave-it……….But I am very pleased for you to make drawings for ‘Birds Beasts’. Don’t know anything about the Cresset Press – but if they are going ahead, tell them not to approach Secker direct, but to write to L.E. Pollinger.  Curtis Brown Ltd. 6 Henrietta St. W.C.2 and get him to arrange it…………”

Here was a collaboration that Hughes-Stanton wanted and his engravings in the Cresset Press folio of Birds, Beasts and Flowers carry a high emotional charge.

The book was published just after Lawrence’s death in 1930 and the depth of Hughes-Stanton’s regard for him and his grief at his death can be seen in in the block he engraved that year entitled ‘A Man Died’ showing Lawrence towering above his own body which is being castrated by ‘the Press’ and stabbed by chortling critics.

The Cresset Press

Dennis Cohen (1891-1970), who was an early member of the Double Cown Club, founded the Cresset Press in 1927.  Between 1927 and 1931 he published a number of fine books, paying scrupulous attention to matching fine hand-press work with enterprising illustrations and high production standards.  He commissioned some of the finest presses, printers and artists of the day to produce his books.  The best known production from the Cresset Press is Gulliver’s Travels illustrated by Rex Whistler.  Other notable books produced by Cresset were The Pilgrim’s Progress illustrated by Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-StantonThe Apocrypha illustrated by a number of the best wood engravers of the day and the folio of Bacon’s Essays printed at the Shakespeare Head Press containing, arguably, Bernard Newdigate‘s finest typography.  When the market for expensive books collapsed in the early thirties, the Cresset Press turned to general publishing.

About the Edition

  • The Cresset Press, 1930
  • Printed by the Shenval Press
  • 204pp, 336mm X 216mm
  • Mould-made paper
  • Quarter-bound in vellum with light marbled paper boards
  • 530 copies – this copy number 439

Pictures

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Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Spine and Cover
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Front Cover
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Title Page Macro
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Contents #1
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Contents #2
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #1
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #2
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #3
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #4
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #5
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #6
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #7
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Sample Text #8
Birds, Beasts and Flowers, The Cresset Press, Limitation Page

7 thoughts on “Birds, Beasts and Flowers by D.H Lawrence; Wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Cresset Press (1930)

  1. Blair Hughs-Stanton’s illustrations here seem very similar in style to his work in “Doctor Faustus” for The Golden Hours Press.

  2. Shame the Cresset Press couldn’t continue with books like these! I have a copy of On the Eve by them (Turgenev) from 1950 which while nowhere as splendid as this is still a handsome reading copy and more enjoyable than a paperback

  3. Another fantastic post — thank you!
    Your copy of this book is in absolutely superb condition. This binding generally hasn’t aged well and I haven’t found a copy yet without some discolouration to the vellum. Congrats!

  4. It looks good… the drawings are amazing… Never read any of his work and I feel a bit shallow for wanting to because of the amazing illustrations… but I don’t care, that’s how I liked those illustrations.
    Thanks for the blog

  5. Excellent article by Neil with regard to a concise summary of D.H. Lawrence, his life and the controversy surrounding his beliefs and his literary works. The book is stunning and Blair Hughes-Stanton’s wood engravings are a perfect match with Lawrence’s ‘in-your-face’ poetry. These illustrations certainly rival the best work of the Golden Cockerel Press.

    1. Don’t care for Lawrence’s poetry at all (and not a big fan of his novels, either), but these illustrations are fabulous! Why couldn’t the printer and illustrator put their efforts into a book of Yeats?!

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