Cover and For Better For Worse from The Bridal Souvenir 1857?. Chromolithography: Ashbee & Dangerfield. Illumination: Samuel Stanesby. Cover design: John Leighton. 8.7 x 6.85 cm. Inscription: “Hessie from EMM June 22-/64.” Collection of Ellen K. Morris, This item was catalogue no. 29. in Beckwith, Victorian Bibliomania (1987). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Commentary by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith

Behind the pomp and circumstance of royal weddings in the nineteenth-century were the very real political concerns of international alliances, and, in Britain, the attitude of Queen Victoria toward those regions where her children were members of the reigning family. The Bridal Souvenir celebrates the wedding of Victoria's first-born and favorite child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, to Frederick III of Prussia on January 25, 1858. With this event the existing bonds of marriage and lineage between Germany and England were strengthened. The connection with Germany, and Prussia in particular, has been interpreted as one of the reasons why Victoria convinced the Prussians and her own ministers to remain neutral and avoid war during the French and Austrian conflict over Lombardy and Venetia in the late 1850s. Yet another German link was forged in 1862 when Victoria's second daughter, Alice, married Frederick, Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1864 Prussia and Austrian joined forces against Denmark over the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, and Victoria again managed to help Prussia by keeping England neutral, even though her ministers and the general public favored the cause of Denmark, the homeland of Princess Alexandra, the new bride of the Prince of Wales.

The text of The Bridal Souvenir is an anthology of twenty-two poems and aphorisms about love and marriage by authors from Shakespeare to Washington Irving, including writers who are less well known today, such as Frederica Bremer and Lydia Huntley Sigourney. The American Mrs. Sigourney's contribution, "For Better For Worse," presents marriage as a duty done not for one's pleasure, but for God. By the third line of the poem we are plunged into a wintry view of wedlock which holds little hope for happiness until after death. Such an attitude seems personified in the lives of many of Victoria's nine children.

Beyond its political and sociological aspects, The Bridal Souvenir is an interesting example of the book arts intended for the general public. Samuel Stanesby created a combination of chromnolithographed illumination and photography, using all the technological advances available in the late 1850s when photography was still something of a novelty. His frontispiece is a photograph of The Princess Royal set in chromolithographed borders. His "For Better For Worse" page is Gothic or blackletter letterpress decorated with a block of four chromolithographed illuminated initials each of different design, but all inspired by historical ornament. The margins of the page are filled with his own curling penwork against which he placed naturalistic flowering vines. There is a sense of unity in Stanesbv's work, but it lacks the visual dynamism of his contemporaries Humphreys and Jones (cats. 30, 26).

John Leighton's white cloth binding, decorated with turquoise cutout paper onlays blocked in gold, is a splendid example of his ability to mix Orientalizing, medieval, and natural forms. Leighton signed the cover JL beneath the title. His signature was well known in the Victorian era, as he produced over 1,000 designs between the 1830s and 1880s, with his peak years falling in the late 1850s (Ball, Victorian Publishers' Bindings, 74). The Bridal Souvenir exhibits his characteristically geometric and symmetrical style, consisting of an accented center brought out to the sides by setting it in an extended ogee quatrefoil surrounded by a series of rectangular borders. The main feature of Leighton's cover is a pair of overlapping hearts with the title in the overlap. Quite probably, Leighton began with this appropriately symbolic shape and then worked out towards the outer rectangular border through the series of surrounds that take their form from the central motif, as in East Indian patterns. The result is stunning in its unity and decorative richness. His delicate flowers and leaves in the interstices do not defy the flat surface, yet they stand just at the border between realism and stylization. Leighton's interest in Indian art predisposed him to admire Oriental designs. He was an early advocate of Japanese art, giving a lecture on the subject at the Royal Institution in 1863. However, he did not enter into the application of Japanese design to mass-marketed books, for he stopped designing publishers' bindings at the end of the 1860s (Ball 81).


Beckwith, Alice H. R. H. Victorian Bibliomania: The Illuminated Book in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Exhibition catalogue. Providence. Rhode Island: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.

The Bridal Souvenir London: Griffith & Farran, 1857?. Chromolithography: Ashbee & Dangerfield. Illumination: Samuel Stanesby. Cover design: John Leighton.

Last modified 26 December 2013