Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #5 – The Folio Press Fine Editions (1987 – 1991) Part II

{Ed.Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl.}

A couple weeks ago  Books and Vines contributor DlphcOracl presented part I of series looking at The Folio Press Fine Editions, a fine press type collection produced by The Folio Society from 1987-1991. Part II now looks at:

The final installment, Part III, will follow in a couple weeks.

The Folio Press Fine Editions was FS’s first attempt to publish high quality letterpress books on a sustained basis, books that would be comparable to fine private press books published by much smaller publishers and printers costing hundreds of dollars. Quoting from Folio 60, the FS’s bibliography book covering 1947 – 2006: “The series was initiated to celebrate the Society’s 40th anniversary.  The aim was to produce slim volumes to the highest standard, using mould-made paper and letterpress printing, bound (with gilt top edges) and, where appropriate, illustrated in the private press tradition.”  These books can now be found on eBay or online marketplaces for fine & private press books (AbebooksviaLibri, etc.) and almost always be purchased for between $50 to $100 (40 to 65 GBP), the same or less than the cost of current FS publications.

We will take a look at each of the four books above in succession, including some thorough background on George Crabbe, since many of you may not be familiar with his work.

The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) is best known for his translation of Homer and for his satirical poems. The Rape of the Lock, first published in 1712, is his most famous poem. As for this edition from The Folio Society:

  • Illustrated by Peter Forster
  • Taken from Volume II of the Twickenham Edition, reproduced by permission of Methuen & Company
  • Set in Monotype Centaur
  • Text printed letterpress and the illustrations by lithography by Napier, Jones Ltd. of London
  • Mohawk Superfine acid-free paper
  • Bound by Hunter & Foulis Ltd, Edinburgh in Feincanvas cloth with Moire silk sides and hand-marbled endpapers from Mitchell & Malik

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Front Cover
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Front Cover
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Macro of Spine
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Macro of Spine
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Endpapers
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Endpapers
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 (Frontispiece)
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Title Page
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Title Page
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2 with Decoration
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #5
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Colophon
The Rape of the Lock, The Folio Society, Colophon

 

Poems of War, by Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen MC (1893-1918) was one of the greatest poets of the First World War. His descriptions of the horrors of the warfare he witnessed brings tremendous depth and realism to his work. He was killed in action in November 1918, one week prior to the signing of the Armistice. As for this edition from The Folio Society:

  • Taken from The Complete Poems and Fragments, by Jon Stallworthy, published in 1983 by Chatto and Windus – the Hogarth Press and Oxford University Press
  • Text set in Plantin type and printed letterpress
  • Illustrations are lithographed by Newson, Jones Ltd, London
  • Mohawk Superfine acid-free paper
  • Bound by Hunter & Foulis Ltd, Edinburgh in Feincanvas cloth with Moire silk sides and hand-marbled endpapers from Mitchell & Malik

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Poems of War, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Front Cover
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Front Cover
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Macro of Cover
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Macro of Cover
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Endpapers
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Endpapers
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Title Page
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Title Page
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Contents
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Contents
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Copyrights and Colophon Information
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Copyrights and Colophon Information
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Poems of War, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3 with Text

 

Peter Grimes, by George Crabbe

One’s initial reaction to the Folio society’s publication of George Crabbe’s ‘The Borough’ might be to dismiss it as another hopelessly obscure, minor work of literature buried within the Folio Society’s uninspired string of publications in their Folio Press Fine Editions series.  In this case, however, the Folio Society (probably inadvertently) found an author and poetical work that have nearly completely unfairly fallen off of 20th and 21st century literary radar screens,  an overlooked gem worth a read.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) was an late eighteenth century/early nineteenth century author and poet born in the small seacoast village of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK in 1754.    He was apprenticed reluctantly by his alcoholic father to a physician at the age of 14, subsequently spending as much time doing farm chores as learning medicine,  all the while maintaining an interest in reading classic English literature and writing poetry.  In his early twenties he moved to London to practice medicine but was unsuccessful in developing a practice and forced to move back to Aldeburgh.  He continued practicing as a surgeon and met with little success due to lack of specialized skills, decided that he was ill-suited to a medical career, and returned to London in 1779 to pursue a full-time career as a poet, his first love.

Crabbe wrote poetry about the people of his small provincial town of Aldeburgh (although not specifically named), poetry revolving about their unglamorous lives, their vices and frailties, and their daily struggle to make ends meet.  Despite moving to and working in London he was never far removed from the poverty, hardship and unpleasantness of his youth and adolescence which he described as “very miserable and miserably treated”. His poetry was infused with a hard-edged realism and brutal honesty that was found wanting for an audience in London which preferred to read about an idealized, sanitized version of rural life.  Within a year he found himself heavily indebted, starving and suicidal. Threatened with imprisonment he sent a sample of his poetry to the British statesman Edmund Burke in 1781, asking him for support and patronage.  Surprisingly, Burke responded affirmatively and not only paid off Crabbe’s heavy debts but took a personal interest, introducing him to important members of London’s cultural circle.  Burke not only found him a publisher but prudently arranged for him to take Holy Orders and become a curate, providing a second career and (presumably) a more reliable stream of income.

In a twist of fate worthy of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, his first religious post procured was as curate to the rector of Aldeburgh.  His return to Aldeburgh proved far from popular with the townspeople who were angered by his poems that they believed portrayed his town and its people unflatteringly and jealous of his new-found success and rise in social station through Burke’s intervention.  Crabbe found himself isolated, unpopular, and was once again rescued by Edmund Burke who took the unusual step of finding him a position as Domestic Chaplain to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.  During this time he published his first major poem The Village, an unsparing look at rural life which was well received by both the public and literary critics.  In this poem he is unapologetic toward that segment of the public and critics who preferred to have their glimpse of small town life sweetened with a lump or two of sugar, famously declaring he would “paint the cot as truth will paint it, and as Bards will not.

Surprisingly, despite the success of ‘The Village’ Crabbe believed himself to be a novelist rather than a poet and he spent the next decade writing and destroying a succession of novels that were never submitted for publication.  Twenty-two years would elapse before Crabbe returned to poetry and his childhood home of Aldeburgh with publication of The Borough in 1810, another long poem divided into twenty-four segments or ‘letters’ in which each ‘letter’ is a story poem about an individual in this forlorn town.  The long poem is made especially memorable by the four Borough Poor who are wards of the town: Jachin, the parish clerk; Ellen Orford, a widow; Abel Keane, a teacher’ and Peter Grimes, a fisherman.  Although The Borough was highly successful a segment of society and critics were still shocked and offended by Crabbe’s focus on “low-life characters” and “moral degradation, filth and corruption”.  Although Crabbe’s poetry was admired and viewed favorably by many of his literary peers, notably Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson, Jane Austen and Alfred Lord Tennyson his reputation steadily declined during the remainder of the 19th century following his death in 1832, fading into near-complete oblivion into the twentieth century,

Crabbe’s work would be all but unknown if it hadn’t been accidentally discovered by British composer Benjamin Britten in a Los Angeles bookshop in 1942.  Britten, who was also born in a small seacoast village (Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK) about twenty miles north of George Crabbe’s  Aldeburgh, famously commented after reading Crabbe’s poetry: “I suddenly realized where I belonged and what I lacked.”  Upon returning to the UK Britten would use Letter XXII of ‘The Poor of the Borough‘, i.e., the brutal fisherman Peter Grimes, as the centerpiece of one of the twentieth century’s greatest operas (Peter Grimes, of course) which received its first performance in 1945 and Britten later founded the Aldeburgh Music Festival in Crabbe’s honor.

Ironically, the brutal realism of Crabbe’s poetry is better suited to modern-day readers than it was to his contemporaries.  ‘The Borough‘ presaged an American classic that would be written nearly one-hundred years later, Edgar Lee Masters‘ collection of poems known as the Spoon River Anthology, published in 1915. Similar to The Borough, Masters dissects the life and inhabitants in a small town (in this case, a small town in central Illinois, undoubtedly based upon the town of Lewistown, Illinois, near the Spoon River which ran near his home), in an unflattering manner, chronicling the foibles of two hundred and twelve separate characters in two-hundred forty-four poems, shattering American illusions of life in a quintessential American small town. Additionally, modern twentieth and twenty-first literary audiences have been conditioned to accept the stark realism of Crabbe’s poetry.  Beginning with World War I, the “war to end all wars”, the modern public has been exposed to a level of brutality that is no longer shocking.  This was only reinforced by World War II, the unimaginable redux that put the lie to “the war to end all wars”, a truly global conflict of unimaginable scale and brutality involving all corners of the globe in a way that World War I did not.  From a literary point of view, the advent of modernist poetry with T.S. Eliot’s groundbreaking poem The Waste Land in 1922 in which Eliot decries the steady moral and cultural decline of Western civilization following World War I, re-establishes the poet’s role as unsentimental social critic.

Although certainly not George Crabbe’s intent, The Borough now takes on an historical importance by providing a window into the difficult lives of poverty and despair encountered by many UK residents in the first half of the nineteenth century, raising social issues and concerns that would later be taken up and addressed by Charles Dickens in the nineteenth century’s latter half.  Crabbe’s honesty and direct, forthright poetry deserve a second look that should be of interest to modern readers.

As for this edition from The Folio Society:

  • The narrative poem Peter Grimes is taken from George Crabbe‘s book The Borough
  • Introduction by Kevin Crossley-Holland
  • Printed in Garamond Type at the Stamperia Valdonega
  • Typography by Martino Mardersteig
  • Magnani mound-made paper
  • Lithographs printed at The Senecio Press, Oxfordshire, England
  • Bound by Legatoria Torriani, Milan, in quarter cloth and patterned paper sides, printed on Fabriano Ingres

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Front Cover
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Front Cover
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Endpapers
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Endpapers
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 (Frontispiece)
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #1 (Frontispiece)
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Title Page
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Title Page
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #2
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #4
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Illustration #3
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #4
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Sample Text #4
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Copyright and Colophon
Peter Grimes, The Folio Society, Copyright and Colophon

 

The Greek Anthology, Translation by James Michie

  • Introduction by Peter Levi
  • Printed in Pastonchi and Upright Greek Types at the Stamperia Valdonega
  • Typography by Bernard Roberts
  • Ornaments designed by Giovanni Mardersteig
  • Magnani mould-made paper
  • Bound by Legatoria Torriani, Milan, in quarter cloth and patterned paper sides, printed on Fabriano Ingres

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Spine and Covers
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Front Cover
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Front Cover
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Endpapers
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Endpapers
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Title Page
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Title Page
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #1 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #1 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #2 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #2 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #3 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Decorations #3 and Text
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #4
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Sample Text #4
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Colophon and Copyright
The Greek Anthology, The Folio Society, Colophon and Copyright

3 thoughts on “Affordable Treasures and Pleasures #5 – The Folio Press Fine Editions (1987 – 1991) Part II

  1. Good to see these minor classics get some recognition, and while there are plenty of nit-picking points on which one might have a conversation with your reviewer, an excellent job has been done in this article. Many thanks indeed, Graham Moss

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