Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press (1894); also Corvinus Press (1945)

{Ed. Note: See below the pictures of the Kelmscott Press edition, for newly added pictures and comments concerning the Penitential Psalms edition from the Corvinus Press from Books and Vines contributor Dlphcoracl.}

The first Kelmscott Press work that I was lucky enough to add to my collection was Psalmi Penitentiales, published by William Morris in 1894. As stated in the colophon, this edition contains a:

Rhymed version of the Penitential Psalms found in a manuscript of ‘Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis’ written at Gloucester about the year 1440, and now transcribed and edited by F. S. Ellis.

Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis is a Book of Hours, which were manuscripts from the Middle Ages used by Christians for devotional purposes. Books of Hours were unusual in that they were meant for personal use when most people, outside of a few social classes, could not read.  Because they were often meant for the illiterate, pictures were typically used to help tell the stories. Those created for rulers and the wealthy class were often done in a very luxurious manner, resulting in visually stunning works.

The origin of Books of Hours can be traced to the Psalter through the breviary, ultimately resulting in a selection of texts in pretty standard form by the Middle Ages. As summarized on Wikipedia, the typical Book of Hours contained:

The Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis generally follows this pattern in including the Calendar, Gospel lessons, prayers to the Virgin, Hours of the Virgin, Penitential Psalms, Litany of Saints, Hour of Holy Cross, Hour of the Holy Spirit, and miscellaneous prayers. It was written in the Kentish dialect of the 14th century. From within this, as mentioned, William Morris choose to publish the Penitential Psalms as ‘transcribed and edited’ by Frederick Startridge Ellis. Ellis (1830-1901) was a friend and associate of William Morris, along with being an associate and sometimes publisher of others from the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements (including John RuskinDante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones).

This is not the article for attempting to write about William Morris and his enormous influence on a wide range of art and culture from the Victorian Era, including the private press movement. He was well known in his life as a poet, though his reputation today stems more from his designs, especially in textile arts, including wallpapers and fabrics. An ardent socialist, he was opposed to industrialization, and abhorred the lack of beauty that mass mechanization was inflicting on the natural, artistic and crafts world. As such, and as reflected by his works published by his Kelmscott Press, he eschewed what he saw as a soulless modern production methodology, instead producing works by hand, placing value on the craftsmen who produced the works and on the inherent beauty of the materials used in creating works. For instance, he believed that the kind of paper, the quality of the ink, the type, the ornaments, and text/page placement were all essential to the worthiness of any publication. In other words, design matters if beauty and utility are to remain paramount.

Psalmi Penitentiales is an excellent example of this philosophy and methodology. The design is relatively simple and delicate (compared to much more elaborate productions such as the famous Kelmscott Chaucer), exuding beauty and utility. As you will see below, the spacing on the page is fantastic. The text, printed in black and red Chaucer type, is stunning. Each has the first couple of lines of Psalms in Latin in red text, followed by the Middle English translation of the complete Psalm in black. There are numerous 3 to 6 line woodcut initials and three-quarters woodcut borders which, along with the type and coloring, add enormous beauty to the production. My copy seen below is bound in period green half morocco over cloth, with the spine gilt-lettered and with raised bands. Copies of this seem to run between $1200 and $2200, depending on condition.

About the Edition

  • Printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, November, 1894
  • Translation by Frederick Startridge Ellis
  • Printed in Chaucer type in black and red
  • Numerous 3 to 6 line woodcut initals and three-quarters woodcut borders
  • Period green half morocco over cloth, spine gilt-lettered with raised bands
  • Includes glossary at the rear
  • 63 pages, 21 cm
  • 300 copies printed on paper, 12 on vellum

Pictures of the Edition

(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.)

Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Slipcase Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Slipcase Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Cover and Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Cover and Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Spine
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Cover
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Cover
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Endpapers
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Endpapers
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #1.1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #1.1
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #2
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #2
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #3
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #3
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #3
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #3
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #4
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #4
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #4
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #4
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #5
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #5
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #6
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #6
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #6
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #6
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #7
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #7
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #7
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decorations #7
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #8
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Sample Text and Decorations #8
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Colophon
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Colophon
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Colophon
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Macro of Colophon
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Glossary
Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press, Glossary

 

Penitential Psalms from the Corvinus Press

Thanks to Books and Vines contributor Dlphcoracl, here are photos from another beautiful private press edition of the Penitential Psalms from the Corvinus Press.  This edition utilizes the translation and form given to it by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 to 1542) , an English lyrical poet who introduced the sonnet into English literature and translated many of Petrarch’s sonnets into English.  Wyatt paraphrased the seven penitential Psalms, publishing them in 1549 as part of a translation of Pietro Aretino’s Parafrasi (1534).

The Corvinus Press was a small short-lived British private press in operation from 1936 to 1944.  It was the creation of George Lionel Seymour Dawson-Damer (aka Viscount Carlow).  He counted T.E. Lawrence amongst his friends and he published several of his works including his diaries, also publishing original works by James Joyce among others.  Carlow was an avid book collector and his press was a sidelight to bring his interest in experimental and avant-garde type to life. He bought new types from the Bauer typefoundry in Frankfurt as well as several other small European foundries, favoring an elegant flowing type similar to those created by Jan van Krimpen, e.g., Lutetia, Romanee, and Romulus type family (especially the Cancelleresca Bastarda), types subsequently used to great effect by the Stanbrook Abbey Press.  The Corvinus Press has a bibliography of about 50 works, nearly all issued in very limited numbers well under 100 copies.  This edition of the Penitential Psalms was limited to only 30 copies and the typeface featured is 30 point Corvinus Light Italic.  The Corvinus Press abruptly ceased operation in 1944 when Viscount Carlow, performing diplomatic duties as a member of the Intelligence section of the Air Ministry, died in a plane crash near Newquay, Cornwall, U.K.,  en route to a new post in Yugoslavia to visit Marshall Tito.

Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Spine and Cover
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Spine and Cover
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Cover
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Cover
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Title Page
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Title Page
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Sample Text #1
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Sample Text #1
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Sample Text #2
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Sample Text #2
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Sample Text #3
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Sample Text #3
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Sample Text #4
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Sample Text #4
Penitential Psalms, Corvinas Press, Colophon
Penitential Psalms, Corvinus Press, Colophon

2 thoughts on “Psalmi Penitentiales, Kelmscott Press (1894); also Corvinus Press (1945)

  1. Boone:

    The Halcyon Press and the Stanbrook Abbey Press featured similar types (elegant and flowing) in their private press publications as well as an occasional book from the Allen Press.

  2. Really enjoy the type on he second edition featured. It is very pleasing to the eye in an elegant, comfortable sort of way that I think mus make reading easier on weary eyes.

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