Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) is best known as one of the leading poets of the First World War. Sassoon enlisted in the Army for the war, though soon became horrified at the realities he witnessed. He protested against the continuation of the war which landed him in a military psychiatric hospital, where he was to meet and become a mentor to Wilfred Owen. His strong and public anti-war actions were courageous and should be understood in context of equally courageous behavior on the battlefield. Robert Graves, who befriended Sassoon while both served in the 1st Battalion in France, described Sassoon as engaging in suicidal feats of bravery (see here). Sassoon single-handedly captured a German trench in the Hindenburg Line. He often volunteered to go out on night raids and bombing runs. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in action. This dichotomy of enlisting and showing extreme bravery in battle, with that of rebelling against and becoming a focal point of dissent against that very war, is quite understandable as Sassoon paints in his Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man:
To him, as to me, the war was inevitable and justifiable. Courage remained a virtue. And that exploitation of courage, if I may be allowed to say a thing so obvious, was the essential tragedy of the War, which everyone now agrees, was a crime against humanity.
It his experience of the war that formed his writing in the decades after the war. He was truly and deeply horrified at the madness of it all: rotting corpses, body parts, filth, and inhumanity. His war poetry reflects these horrors. While Sassoon is often considered “a poet first and novelist second,” his fictionalized three volume auto-biography known as the Sherston trilogy, made up of Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936), won him considerable acclaim and are now recognized as classics. Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man, first published anonymously in 1928, was an immediate popular and critical success winning the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Award. As stated in the Limited Editions Club Monthly Letter (ML), the work has a “peculiar sense of charm, tempered with rich nostalgia.” The work is a perfect example of “Lost innocence literature” so common to English writers who had lived through the Great War. I read this book for the first time for this article and truly enjoyed it substantially. Sassoon’s writing is frank, honest, witty and thoughtful. Here are some snippets.
How many father’s have learned the hard way of the truth of this statement:
Good advice seldom sinks into the wayward mind of a young man…
Sassoon looks back at his youthful state, a state in which the future is not something much thought of (just as most teenagers live today):
I very much doubt whether anybody wants to look ahead unless he is anxious to escape from one condition into another more desirable one…the word maturity had no meaning for me. I did not anticipate that I would become ‘different’; I should only become ‘older’. I cannot pretend that I aspired to growing wiser. I merely lived, and in that condition I drifted from day to day.
It is melancholic thinking back to when life’s ultimate realities had not yet impeded the bubble of youth:
It is with a sigh that I remember simple moments such as those, when I understood so little of the deepening sadness of life, and only the strangeness of the spring was knocking at my heart.
All the sanguine guesswork of youth is there, and the silliness; all the novelty of being alive and impressed by the urgency of tremendous trivialities.
My immature mind, as was natural, conjectured something magical in such allurements of prosperity. It was the spectacle of vivid life, and I was young to it.
As the War began, reality quickly sets in.
Never before had I known how much I had to lose. Never before has I looked at the living world with any degree of intensity. It seemed almost as if I had been waiting for this thing to happen, although my own part in it was so obscure and submissive.
For those serving, what was youth is now seen for what it was:
For anybody who allowed himself to think things over, the only way out of it was to try and feel secretly heroic, and to look back on the old life as pointless and trivial.
The aura of excellence that pervades the first few decades of work from the Limited Editions Club (LEC) is often thought somewhat tarnished when it comes to their 1970’s era publications. After decades of leadership by George Macy and, after his death, by his wife Helen, the LEC was sold and bounced around somewhat listlessly (first bought in 1970 by Boise Cascade Corporation, who then sold to Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, who then sold to Cardavon Press) until purchased by Sidney Shiff in 1978. None-the-less, there are still very nicely done books to be collected from this period of the LEC, Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man being one excellent example.
For this edition, the LEC was able to get Sir Geoffrey Keynes to write the introduction. Keynes had been a friend of Sassoon, and he had written a bibliography of Sassoon’s works and designed some of his books of poetry. Keynes was 90 years of age when he agreed to write this! Incidentally, Keynes was the younger brother of John Maynard Keynes. He first wrote an Introduction for the LEC for 1939’s Religio Medici, following that with another for 1941’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Keynes correctly calls Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man “a classic of English pastoral literature.”
The edition is illustrated with twenty monochrome drawings and eight full page illustrations in color by English artist Paul Hogarth (1917-2001). Hogarth taught drawing and illustration at Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and was head of the Department of Illustration at the Royal College of Art, also in London. Hogarth, a descendant of William Hogarth, studied under James Boswell and worked with a number of the twentieth centuries greatest authors. He was a member of the Royal Academy and was awarded the OBE in 1989. His work here is marvelous, perfectly reflecting the mood and setting. Illustrations from someone with the stature of Hogarth deserved reproduction by someone equally great. For this edition, master-lithographer Stanley Jones directed the color plates being reproduced by auto-lithographs in eleven separate printing at The Curwen Studio in London. The results, as seen below, speak for themselves!
The typographic plan by John Lewis centered around the use of Monotype Walbaum twelve on thirteen point. It was printed letterpress on Unicorn Wove paper (made specially for this book by Grosvenor Chater in North Wales) at the Curwen Press, one of the great presses of the twentieth century. The LEC ML says of Walbaum that it “is a handsome typeface, not commonly available and therefore not often seen. It was first used by the LEC in ‘Lavengro,’ which was also printed at the Curwen Press, in that instance by Oliver Simon.” In this case, Walbaum looks appropriately serious, and matches quite well with the color illustrations. I find it very readable. The spine is done in red cowhide stamped in gold, while the sides are covered in fine buckram stamped with two design, in gold, by the artist.
The LEC ML, it its typical hyperbole, says of this edition that it is “The most handsome edition of this most handsome book ever to be made.” The general point being made is quite accurate. This is a handsome book, handsomely done. The book was limited to 1600 copies, and is signed by Paul Hogarth. Despite now being 40 years old, the high limitation means it is quite easy to find in near fine or better condition. Better yet, it will only cost you $30-50. It is simply CRAZY for you not to have this true classic packaged in an edition with the involvement of people such as Paul Hogarth, Geoffrey Keynes, and Stanley Jones at such a low price.
About the Edition
- Introduction by Sir Geoffrey Keynes
- Illustrated with twenty monochrome drawings and eight full page illustrations in color by Paul Hogarth
- The monochrome illustrations were printed by offset-lithography at the Curwen Press
- Color plates reproduced by auto-lithographs in eleven separate printings under the direction of master-lithographer Stanley Jones at The Curwen Studio in London
- Typographic Plan by John Lewis
- Text composed in Monotype Walbaum twelve on thirteen point, and has been printed letterpress at the Curwen Press
- The paper is Unicorn Wove, made specially for this book by Grosvenor Chater in North Wales
- The book has been bound by Tapley-Rutter Company, the spine in cowhide stamped in gold and the sides covered in fine buckram stamped with two designs by the artist
- 7″ x 9 7/8″, 300 pages
- Limited to 1600 copies, signed by Paul Hogarth
Pictures of the Edition
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