Four Poems by John Milton, Wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Gregynog Press 1933

{Ed. Note: This is another excellent article from Books and Vines contributor Neil. Four Poems by John Milton, wood-engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, The Gregynog Press 1933.}

John Milton (1608-1674) was born at Bread Street, London and attended St. Paul’s school before spending seven years at Christ’s College, Cambridge.  His next six years were spent at Horton in ‘studious leisure’ as preparation for his life’s work as a poet which culminated in his great works – Paradise Lost (published in 1667), Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (both published in 1671). During his time at Cambridge and Horton he wrote L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Arcades and Lycidas, the four of which are included in this edition.

L’Allegro and Il Penseroso are usually ‘paired’ as they are both pastoral poems, each spanning a day in time, and with contrasting themes.  L’Allegro translates as ‘the happy man’ and Il Penseroso as ‘the melancholy man’.  It is uncertain when they were composed, but it is believed that they were written shortly after Milton’s time at Cambridge – they were first published in 1645.

L’Allegro is playful, invoking mirth, joy and merriment.  Il Penseroso is an invocation of melancholy, with the main character devoting his time to allegory, classical and christian hymns, philosophy and tragedy. Lycidas was written in 1637 and published in 1638.  It was dedicated to the memory of Edward King, a friend from college who drowned when his ship sank in the Irish sea, close to Wales in 1637.  It is a pastoral elegy. Arcades is a masque and was written for Alice Spencer, the Countess Dowager of Darby.  The masque was first performed in 1634 and established many of the ideas and themes to be found in Milton’s other masque, Comus.

Blair Hughes-Stanton

Blair Hughes-Stanton (1902-1981), 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.

Hughes-Stanton learned wood engraving alongside Gertrude Hermes and Henry Moore at Leon Underwood‘s school in London. He was commissioned to provide engravings for T.E. Lawrence‘s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1926.  Following this he made engravings for three books from the Cresset Press: The Pilgrim’s Progress (1928), The Apocrypha (1929) and D.H. Lawrence’s Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1930). Hughes-Stanton married Gertrude Hermes (who had also provided engravings for The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1928) in 1925 and they became the resident artists at The Gregynog Press alongside the other husband and wife team of William McCance and Agnes Miller Parker in 1930.  During his stay at Gregynog he designed bindings and books and made some of his best engravings for Comus by John Milton, Four Poems also by John Milton, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine and The Lamentations of Jeremiah, amongst others.

The Davies sisters, who owned the Gregynog Press, had some reservations about Hughes-Stanton, feeling that his art was ‘too erotic’, and they were upset when he started an affair with the poet Ida Graves in 1930 and who he brought to Gregynog and eventually married following his divorce from Gertrude Hermes. Blair Hughes-Stanton set up his own Gemini Press with Ida Graves following his departure from Gregynog in November 1933.  He produced a book (Epithalamion) with Ida’s poems and his own engravings printed by himself.  He also contributed engravings for books published by the Golden Cockerel Press, the Golden Hours Press, The Folio Society and, in later life, the Allen Press of Lewis and Dorothey Allen.

Four Poems

Blair Hughes-Stanton is known for the very fine white lines in his engravings.  They present a considerable challenge to pressmen and that is one of the reasons most of his work is to be found in private press books.  He favoured printing his engravings on Japon Vellum paper and his work at Gregynog (including Four Poems) is invariably printed using this paper.  In Four Poems the quality of the typography is very good, but it seems to be designed, mostly, to  show off Hughes-Stanton’s engravings.  To quote his daughter Penelope Hughes-Stanton:  “The Exuberant images of frolicking nymphs and shepherds are almost certainly a celebration of the unconventional, unrestrained and now unfettered love affair between BHS and Ida Graves…”

About the Edition

  • Printed by William MacCance at the Gregynog Press 1933
  • Text edited by the Rev. H.C. Beeching, M.A with consent of The Oxford University Press
  • 260mm X 165mm
  • Hand-set in Gill Perpetua type by John Hugh Jones and Idwal Jones
  • Japon Vellum paper
  • Format arranged and Wood-engravings designed and engraved by Blair Hughes-Stanton
  • Bound in Hermitage Calf with an engraving derived from the frontispiece blocked in blind on the front cover
  • 250 copies – this is number 66

Pictures

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Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Cover
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Cover Close-Up
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Spine
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Title Page
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Illustration on Title Page
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #1
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #3
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #2
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Four Poems by John Milton, The Gregynog Press, Colophon

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