Knowing that a Barbarian Press book is slated to show up in the mailbox in the coming days is tortuous. Like a small child when the gates of Disneyland open, I sprint to the mailbox to be the first in line. The postman leaves, I open my box, short of breath, and….nothing! Damn, I have to wait another 24 hours! Finally, the day arrives. As I begin tearing open the box, I am reminded of Shakespeare saying “Oft expectation fails“, but I have no concern of that here. Every Barbarian Press book I have been lucky enough to get has exceeded expectations. Be it the massive project that was Pericles, the pocket sized poetry great of The Eve of Saint Agnes, or an Endgrain Edition like that of Simon Brett, the books are wonderfully designed and executed. After a ‘careful’ 3 seconds tearing open the box, I find myself quickly immersed in The Ingoldsby Legends: A Gallimaufry while counting my blessings to be a subscriber to Barbarian Press.
My guess is that, for many of you, The Ingoldsby Legends is a work you have heard of, but, unless you are a lover of Victorian literature, may not have read. Written by Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845, pen name being Thomas Ingoldsby) around 1837, and first published in compiled book form in 1840, the work is a series of narrative ‘myth and legends’ based poems, often grotesque and nonsensical in style, done with a substantial dose of parody and satire. In the Afterword to this edition, Crispin Elsted tells us of the poems:
Most of them revel in the grotesque and the terrifying, overflowing with ghosts and demons, murderers, corpses carved up and reassembled and, in general, things that go bump in the night….The sounds of the verse caught me at once, with their cartwheeling rhythms & preposterous rhymes…
Drawn from an apparently inexhaustible store of ghost stories, saints’ legends folk-tales, & antiquarian anecdotes told to Barham by friends, or gathered by him from country folk, parishioners, & social acquaintances, the Legends are written with immense verve and brilliant technique.
…which show so absolutely the teeming liveliness of the Victorian imagination — their love of stories, their delight in the absurd, & their unassuming confidence.
These poems were wildly popular in the 19th century, though have unfortunately faded from popular imagination (though to this day they have never been out of print). The poems read in a similar fashion to fables and fairy tales, though in a wonderfully metrical manner. Funny and witty stories delivered in rhymes oozing oodles of rhythm and melody! What’s not to like?
Here is a sample from The Jackdaw of Rheims, showing the lyrical rhyming and wit typical in these poems, while providing an example of the information Mr. Elsted provides as a note:
The Cardinal rose with a dignified look,
He call’d for his candle, his bell, and his book*:
In holy anger, and pious grief,
He solemnly curs’d that rascally thief!
He curs’d him at board, he curs’d him in bed,
From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head!
He curs’d him in sleeping, that every night
He should dream of the devil, and wake in a fright;
He curs’d him in eating, he curs’d him in drinking,
He curs’d him in coughing, in sneezing, in winking;
He curs’d him in sitting, in standing, in lying;
He curs’d him in walking, in riding, in flying;
He curs’d him in living, he curs’d him in dying!
Never was heard such a terrible curse!
But what gave rise
To no little surprise,
Nobody seem’d one penny the worse!
* Mr. Elsted’s notes inform us that ‘his candle, his bell, and his book‘ was popular speech referring to excommunication from the Catholic Church. “After reading the rite, the priest closes the book, snuffs the candle, and rings the bell. The book symbolizes the book of life; the candle, the light of man, which becomes invisible after one is excommunicated; the bell, the passing bell rung at a funeral.”
Another random example of Barham’s style. I love the line on ‘stealing‘!
I’m not much of a trav’ler, and really can’t boast
That I know a great deal of the Brittany coast,
But I’ve often heard say
That, e’en to this day,
The people of Granville, St. Maloes, and thereabout
Are a class that Society doesn’t much care about,
Men who gain their subsistence by contraband dealing,
And a mode of abstraction strict people call ‘stealing’;
Notwithstanding all which, they are civil of speech,
Above all to a Stranger who comes within reach;
From The Lay of S. Aloys, a warning!
I think we may coax out a moral or two
From the facts which have lately come under our view.
First — Don’t meddle with Saints;– for you’ll find if you do,
They’re what Scotch people call, ‘kittle cattle to shoe!’*
And when once they have managed to take you in tow,
It’s a deuced hard matter to make them let go!
* Meaning “touchy, unpredictable, dangerous.”
From The Lay of the Old Woman Clothed in Grey, a bit more poking fun at the Catholic church:
Now I would not by any means have you suppose
That the good Father Basil was just one of those
Who entertain views
We’re so apt to abuse,
As neither befitting Turks, Christians, nor Jews,
Who haunt death-bed scenes,
By underhand means
To toady or teaze people out of a legacy,–
For few folk indeed, had such good right to beg as he,
Since Rome, in her pure Apostolical beauty,
Not only permits, but enjoins, as a duty,
Her sons to take care
That, let who will be heir,
The Pontiff shall not be choused* out of his share,
Of course, for a web site dedicated to classic literature and fine wine, I enjoyed this from The Bagman’s Dog: Mr Peter’s Story:
I’ve seen an old saw which is well worth repeating,
DESERVYTH GOODE DRYNKYNGE
You’ll find it so printed by Caxton, or Wynkyn,
And a very good proverb it is to my thinking.
There are references to Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Shelley and Byron (what do they all have in common? all were on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of the Catholic church!). Shakespeare, Virgil, Terence, Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith, James Fennimore Cooper, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Thomas Malthus and Benjamin Franklin, among others, make their presence in these pages. Mr. Barham was a very learned man, and we benefit greatly from his learning through his frequent and humorous allusions.
Mr. Elsted, in the Afterword, also takes on the topic of political correctness when applied to works from the past. Barham’s writing, like many in his age, contains infrequent but occasional ethnic or racial slurs. Mr. Elsted refers to an essay by Paul Fussell called “The Purging of Penrod,” in which “inverted bigotries” from political correctness result in the “pusillanimous transformation of the innocent into the cautious, knowing, calculating, and offensive….The past is not the present: pretending it is corrupts art and thus both rots the mind and shrivels the imagination and conscience.” (As an aside, as a ‘free-range parent’ I chuckled mightily when coming across “It is a fond idiocy of young parents and a credulous society to suppose that children are a species of sensitive plant.“)
The Barbarian Press edition of The Ingoldsby Legends provides a selection of eight of these poems. From this edition I learned that Victorians might have termed such a selection a ‘gallimaufry’, hence its use in the title! Of the eight legends selected, six are done so to match up with specific engravings, as will be discussed below. Two others were added as favorites of the Elsted’s. Reading these poems now, nearly 200 years after they were written, is an amazingly entertaining way to immerse oneself into Victorian popular culture. Because of the rhyming and flow, they can be read quickly. However, a slow reading is much more rewarding so to really soak in the constant allusions to Victorian culture, classical learnings, and to things, people and events that were common knowledge at the time but have faded from our collective consciousness. This edition enables that careful and thoughtful reading due to extensive scholarly notes throughout, researched and written by Crispin Elsted. One closes the book having been entertained and educated!
Mr. Elsted designed this edition and hand-set the type (Poliphilus and Blado with unidentified Victorian initials and Goudy Thirty for display). Jan Elsted, as always, has done fantastic work printing the edition on Heine mouldmade paper for the type, and Zerkall Cream Smooth for the tipped in engravings (printed from the original blocks). The paper has an extremely soft and smooth feel, yet remains substantial to the touch. The type forms a nearly perfect impression on the page. This along with the generous side margins, makes it a pleasure to read. The book is bound by Alanna Simenson of Mad Hatter Bookbinding. The deluxe edition comes in quarter natural calf with patterned paper from ornaments over boards, slipcased with an accompanying portfolio containing strikes of all the engravings, including one not used in the book and a titling block too large to be used. The standard edition comes in quarter deep red silk with patterned paper. Besides the notes mentioned above, Mr. Elsted also provides a thoughtful and educational Afterword which discusses Barham and The Ingoldsby Legends, as well as Victorian trade engraving.
As for the engravings, they were engraved by the famous firm of the Brothers Dalziel (pronounced “dal-iel”) sometime in the 1860’s or 1870’s. The firm was founded by George and Edward Dalziel in 1839, with John and Thomas Dalziel joining a later (1852 and 1860, respectively). They were leading engravers of the Victorian era, working with many notable Victorian artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Tenniel, Arthur Rackham, John Leech, George Cruikshank and James McNeill Whistler. Besides the brothers themselves, they also worked with the greatest draughtsmen of the day such as Frederic, Lord Leighton and Sir John Everett Millais.
In fact, the idea for this edition sprung from a discovery, at the Massey College, Toronto, of nine engraved woodblocks the Dalziel brothers had created for The Ingoldsby Legends for an edition that apparently was never published. They had been donated to the library by Robertson Davies from his own collection. The images themselves seem to have been drawn by another artist with the initials ‘JLR’ (all the blocks have these initials engraved into them). Speculation is that ‘JLR’ stands for John Lewis Roget, a British artist who was the son of Peter Mark Roget, famous as the compiler of the Thesaurus. The Librarian of Massey College, P.J. McDougall, loaned the nine blocks to Barbarian Press for this edition. The nine blocks illustrate eight of the legends, six of which are part of the ‘Gallimaufry’ included in this Barbarian Press edition. The seventh block is used as the frontispiece, while the eighth is included in the portfolio of prints in the Deluxe edition. The ninth block is actually the engraved title, used for the title page in this edition. The block itself says only ‘Ingoldsby Legends‘ so Mr. Elsted decided to have the engraved title from the wood reproduced in a necessarily reduced size, and had graphic designer Ivo Marchand draw the word ‘The’ in a matching style to go with it. He then had a photopolymer plate made of the titling in a suitably smaller size with the added ‘The’. Outside of the engraving used for the frontispiece, none of these engravings has ever been published. So this Barbarian Press edition of The Ingoldsby Legends is the debut of these 145 year old woodcuts by the premier engravers of the Victorian era!
This is an important edition due to its inclusion of the never before published Dalziel engravings and the scholarly research and notes which make the work not only entertaining, but intellectually accessible. Not to mention the beauty, charm and quality that all works from the Elsted’s are born with. The limitation for this edition is 90, of which 45 are deluxe and 45 are standard. Barbarian Press books always sell out very quickly. Those with interest should move quickly!
About the Edition
- Designed and hand-set by Crispin Elsted
- Printed by Jan Elsted
- Selected and Edited, with an Afterword and Notes, by Crispin Elsted
- Illustrations printed from the original blocks
- Hand-set in Poliphilus and Blado with unidentified Victorian initials and Goudy Thirty for display
- Printed on Heine mouldmade paper, with the engravings tipped in on Zerkall Cream Smooth
- The books are bound by Alanna Simenson of Mad Hatter Bookbinding; deluxe in Quarter natural calf with patterned paper from ornaments over boards, slipcased with an accompanying portfolio containing strikes of all the engravings, including one not used in the book and a titling block too large to be used; Standard in quarter deep red silk with patterned paper, and not slipcased
- Deluxe comes with a portfolio printed with the engraved title block, containing strikes of the seven engravings included in the book, with one additional print.
- 7.5″ x 9.0″, 165 pages
- Limited to 90 copies, 45 each of Deluxe and Standard
Pictures of the Edition
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