These are the first two sections of Thomas Sturge Moore's book, which is dedicated to Charles Ricketts, and was published in 1903. In the book itself, the account of the press is followed by full details of the sixteen books published by the press up to that time, and examples of the wood-engravings featured in them. A selection of the latter are shown here, with captions added. Click on all the illustrations for more information and larger images. — Jacqueline Banerjee
THOUGH soon the Vale Type will be withdrawn from circulation, the Eragny Press will continue its publications. The type will be that employed for the first time in the present volume. Collectors will perhaps be interested in a brief account of the origin of the Press & a bibliography of the Eragny books up to the present departure, since in future the books will not only be decorated and printed under the immediate supervision of Mr. Pissarro, but set up in a type of his design.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE ORIGIN OF THE ERAGNY PRESS
MR PISSARRO first learned to draw from his father, in the fields far from any art school. One day M Lepère, the well-known engraver, showed him how his tools were held, & finding him interested, gave him two gravers and a scorper. Thus furnished with the means he made a start and taught himself; with the result that in 1886 F. Q. Dumas, editor of the Revue Illustrée), commissioned him to illustrate a story, Maît' Liziard, by Octave Mirbeau. Four woodcuts appeared, but the subscribers to the Review expressed so much disapproval of these illustrations, conceived and executed in the uncompromising spirit of Charles Keene's work, which Mr. Pissarro greatly admired, that his collaboration was cut short there and then. He learnt later that this epistolary demonstration against his work, which inundated Mr. Dumas' office, was the work of some students in the atelier of a well-known painter. Disappointed, and having heard that in England there was a group of young artists who were ardently engaged in the revival of wood-engraving, he crossed the Channel with the intention of joining them, having in his pocket an introduction from Félix Fénéon to John [4/5] Gray, the author of Silverpoint. From this sprang his acquaintance with Mr. Ricketts, who had seen and appreciated his engravings in the Revue Illustrée); hence also his collaboration in the Dial. In 1894, in common with his new friends, he commenced his first studies in typography, and published The Queen of the Fishes, the text of which, written out by himself with a view to its harmonizing with the engravings, was photographically reproduced. In 1896, the first two pages printed in the Vale type, which Mr. Ricketts had designed, appeared. Mr. Pissarro feels he can never express sufficient gratitude for the generosity which placed it at his disposal for the production of his edition of the Book of Ruth & the Book of Esther in 1896, & has so long continued to allow him the use of it. His press was christened "Eragny," after the Normandy village where he had studied and worked with his father, Camille Pissarro.
NOTE ON THE RELATION OF THE PRINTED BOOK AS A WORK OF ART TO LIFE
Left to right: (a) The press's emblem, with initials for both husband and wife, unnumbered back matter in this book. (b) Ruth Gleaning, for The Book of Ruth and the Book of Esther (1896), p. 26. (c) Geese Preening, for Perrault's Deux Contes de ma mère l'Oye (1899), p. 38.
IT is no longer necessary to defend the beautiful printed book, because its price is established, and the collector appreciates its rarity. But it may not be altogether vain to say something in explanation of the ends that should be attained by reclaiming the book for beauty, and making it a work of art. Haste and hurry are the mortal foes of delicacy, discrimination, contemplation and refinement. In an age of motors art has untold enemies: the circumstances of our life are hostile to beauty; we are robbed right and left, but we have not the time to realize our losses. Our lives are so impoverished that we have scarcely leisure for a sigh. And those who have time upon their hands often seem best pleased when they are able to emulate the slaves of machinery, in some exercise originally designed to recreate, or in some self-imposed task which they are happy to entitle philanthropy, public spirit, or even science, even art. But life? that is forgotten, or only spoken of in terms that would lead one to suppose it was some prevalent malady. Youth indeed is loud in praise of life, but it seems to conceive of it as an external force, to which it is [6/7] delicious to abandon oneself as a bather to the wave, or a child leaning back on the wind.
It has always seemed odd to me that, while the man of past ages provided the utmost ... of beauty or elaboration for such books in his possession as presented escape to him from the actual, or stimulus, or refreshment, to-day, with the accumulation of literature, no thought whatever should be spent upon the shaping of work inconceivably more stimulating & precious to us than those illuminated books of piety or admonition upon which so much beauty had nevertheless been bestowed. [A Defence of the Revival of Printing, 17]
Our books, even though so much more precious, are not read and re-read as those books were. We have no longer the expectation on which the habit was built up. Those ages which laid the foundations on which the belauded Renaissance was run up, are treated unthankfully by many who contemplate that prodigal period, and see no reason for its extinction other than the necessity by which a flower withers on its stalk. The will to interpret life, to read a reason into history, is supposed vain, because life and history appear interminable, and a result is infinitely postponed, while the beginning has receded out of sight. It only now dawns in a few minds, that the habits founded on the legends which then blocked the past & [7/8] the future are justified to us by what they cre ted: the men who spetit that accumulated force of character on the monuments of the Renaissance. Renaissance of what? Of Grecian culture, which we now perceive to have been raised on a very similar foundation. For effectiveness there is no human creation to compare with a good habit, as there is none so certainly ruinous as inconstancy. To occupy the mind with the same thoughts every day, is as wise as is for an artist the daily use of his implements: skill and character are effects of precisely parallel disciplines, the first cannot go far without the second. "I did love the Moor to live with him," says Desdemona; and to love our books to live with them would seem as obviously right. If they are precious, honour them, be liberal for them. We must have fewer then; but those few shall be beautiful upon the table, on the shelf, in the hand; while we muse on the meaning the eye shall rest happily on the page where fair proportions have been sought and established between margin and text, between type and page. The young make many acquaintances, they try all tempers, and apply themselves indiscriminately; but if they do this merely by way of pastime they waste their youth and become dissipated, whereas if they do it in order to learn with whom they can live [8/9] to mutual advantage, they gain a kingdom and content. It is vain to suppose that we can live with all and any; each palate has a different range, every appetite is limited; as with food, so with knowledge, so with affection. Books & friends must be chosen. Here is the answer to those who complain of expense: the wise sell all they have to buy what they really value. The result achieved by self-discipline and a sound nature is precisely parallel to the result achieved by the artist's painstaking and native gift; it is beauty. Nor are the two beauties independent, nor can they be without loss disassociated; for to starve the eye is to impoverish the spirit & "quand notre mérite baisse notre goût baisse aussi." This then is why it is folly or misfortune to read ugly books, just as it is to read trash. This is the relation of the beautiful book to life. The alternative lies between effort to keep going and effort to create: every man fails who is not at least an artist in regard to himself; to aim at mere maintenance is to think to solve the problem of perpetual motion, a result which all who think must perceive to be insignificant even if it be not a dream.
In what does the plastic beauty of a book consist?
The beauty that has been tracked home through the suggestions of the world about us, the beauty that has been built up in [9/10] the the ardently fostered & anxiously chastened imagination these, singly or combined, form the subject-matter of all arts; but the materials that embody such discovery or such vision, they also have individual and inherent loveliness: they therefore may be used clumsily & against the grain, or be employed with that intuitive sensitiveness that bespeaks the born craftsman.
The chief beauty for the discovery of which a book offers a field, is the most abstract, perhaps the most essential, of all those which man has tracked home: beauty of proportion. Everyone feels the impressiveness of Milton's Adam: "Fair indeed, and tall under a platan," since Keats pointed it out. A tall man, a lofty tree, the relation between them has power over us, we feel its beauty; and so for the relation between the blank margins and the square of type, or between blank spaces ruled off by lines, a trained sense has a quick preference, is impressed by austerity in one proportion, is charmed by others, and is repelled by the violation of its sentiment in regard to them, or by indifference to it The power of architecture is an appeal to this delight in the beauty of proportion. It cannot be explained; it is an arbitrary choice, to which the consent of a number of gifted natures alone gives authority.
Natural forms can only be used in the de[10/11] coration of a book with extreme caution; their variety and subtility are a constant menace to the narrow conditions imposed by the necessary materials, & these must never be violated if art is to result. Akin to the delight we take in well-proportioned spacing is that derived from the harmony & contrast between different surfaces, paper & leather, vellum & ivory, or between colours in agreeable quantities and relations. Both these pleasures are within certain limits, appealed to by the builder of a book. Moreover to one permanent element in a book beauty of form and rhythm is also necessary, namely, the characters. These must have a comely consonance one with another, the search after which deals with such delicate modulations of form and rhythm that it has rightly been called precious, for it needs the nicety of a labour of love. "De cette préccupation du précieux poussée aussi loin que possible, de cet effort 'tout d'affection' résulta une connaissance plus profonde des ressources de l'ornementation, mais surtout de l'anatomie de la lettre" (De la Typographie et de William Morris, p. 7). There must be no violence in the conception, birth, & bringing up of this family of forms, which the letters of an alphabet must constitute in order to form a beautiful printed page. No caprice, no indifference, no deadening by mere routine; every de[11/12]velopment must proceed from an exquisitely adjusted influence of the tools & materials employed on the conventional sign. The form cut in steel should not simulate that traced by the flowing quill, and the artist's sense is required to direct the labour of every new implement employed, that the contact of each with the developing forms may be cordial & kindling.
Left to right: (a) Salomé, for Jules Laforgue's Moralités Légendaire Tome I (1897), p. 28. (b) Ophelia, for Jules Laforgue's Moralités Légendaire Tome II (1898), p. 30. (c) Deer, frontispiece for Gustave Flaubert's La Légende de Julien L'Hospitalier (1900), p. 40.
When the agreement of the letters has at last resulted in the sweetness of a well-proportioned page, if there are to be any decorations or illustrations these should be of a similar origin to the type itself, cut with like tools, designed with similar strokes; and should constitute
La note aigüe, la pointe lumineuse, dans l'harmonie qu'est une page, sans s'en écarter pourtant. La sympathie patiente du décorateur trouvera, à chaque endroit où une lacune se présente dans la mise en train définitive d'une page, l'occasion de déployer toutes ses resources d'ingéniosité et le tact exquis de son travail. [De la Typographie et de William Morris, p.13]
L'imprimeur peut exprimer la nature de sa pensée par l'usage du blanc et du noir seulement; devenant par cela ou austère ou gai. Avec l'usage de I'ornement, il peut forcer la note seulement suggestive de la couleur: un volume de Baudelaire peut jouer de I'effet superbe et orné à l'égal d'un livre ecclésiastique; à une edition de la Pléiade, l'usage des [12/13]fleurs menues de l'automne donnerait cet aspect particulier propre à un livre compris à un point de vue d'art.[De la Typographic et de William Morris, p. 15]
After this we can understand the work of William Morris, which has never been better appreciated than in these words from the same source:
Bien qu'ornémentaliste admirable, il préférait à l'ornement la simplicité structural ou la sobriété des matières bien travaillées. A une époque presque perdue d'inattention et de bruit, il exigeait le précieux dans le travail, presque du recueillement dans la compréhension et l'appréciation d'une chose d'art: le vide, le convenu lui étaient aussi détestables que le ronflant. [De la Typographie et de William Morris, p. 20]
The opening page of Margaret Rust's The Queen of the Fishes: An Adaptation in English of a Fairy Tale of Valois, the first book produced by Lucien Pissaro and the Eragny Press, published by Charles Ricketts in 1894.
Though his work will assuredly remain as the first harvest, in this revival of the beautiful book, there is room for many developments, for new beauties are a result of life, which implies wholesome growth. The shades of distinction and charm obtainable by an artist in the building of books are doubtless as many as the pearly hues on the neck of a pigeon, passing by as imperceptible degrees from the gay to the solemn.
The small edition is as essential to this art as the high price; but the choice of books must be very wide if many cultured souls are by elective affinity to make their lasting choice. Therefore there is room for many masters, so long as [13/14 they be masters in very deed.
Men will always be found who have the minds of old world nurses & desire to swaddle an art so tightly as to keep it for ever at the point which first exhausted their meagre interest. These are barren souls and wish to substitute a law for love, preferring what they call correctness to beauty. Their carping spleen is only less dangerous than the gross extravagance of the ignorant & tasteless, who imitate without flattering & admire without encouraging, who contaminate & stifle in their efforts to foster and crown; whose name is legion and whose unrestricted activity is always a stampede to the abyss. May all who create or love beauty escape to a safe distance from such well- wishers and helpmates as these.
Moore, T. Sturge. A Brief Account of the Origin of the Eragny Press & a Note on the Relation of the Printed Book as a Work of Art to Life. Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 18 August 2020.
Rust, Margaret. The Queen of the Fishes, An Adaptation in English of a Fairy Tale of Valois. London: Ch. Ricketts, 1894 (by the Eragny Press). Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 18 August 2020.
Created 16 August 2020