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Barbarian Press
Books Forthcoming

Wood engraving by Edwina Ellis
(from A Christmas Carol, 1984)

Pastoral Elegies
Thomas Gray’s
Elegy written in
a country churchyard

& Oliver Goldsmith’s
The Deserted Village
Spring 2024

Bordering on the Sublime
Ornamental Typography at the Curwen Press
Late 2024

Books Forthcoming from Barbarian Press
November 2023

As we have said before, this section on forthcoming books is always written with a certain determined wistfulness. We make books almost almost entirely by hand, often with substantial texts, and it is an occupation haunted by haps and mishaps. The books we announce and discuss here are indeed in process, and will be finished, but we have learned that projected dates are endlessly flexible – not because we wish them to be, but because those metaphysical bureaucrats, the Fates, become increasingly jocular as we get older. So we ask your patience, and invite your trust. The books will emerge. This, together with death and taxes, is sure.

Bordering on the Sublime: Ornamental Typography at the Curwen Press is now progressing steadily. David Jury’s opening section of text is completely printed, folded, collated, and packed. We are now (November 2023) well embarked on setting and printing Crispin’s section of the book’s text, which comprises a Preamble and four substantial sections: I. Historical Notes on Printers’ Ornaments; II. ‘The Visual World at Play’: Stanley Morison and the Type Revivals; III. Apropos the Unicorn: Curwen in the Twenties and Later; and IV. Bert E Smith, Compositor, and the Curwen Borders.

Chapter IV has grown to be considerably longer than we first imagined. Bob Richardson at St. Bride Printing Museum in London, who most generously offered to help us, and whose research on the subject has made this chapter possible, was able to discover some solid information about Bert E Smith – the compositor at Curwen who created most, if not all, of the borders – and it seems possible even at this late date that more will be forthcoming. We now know his full name, his date and place of birth, the year he began his apprenticeship, and the names of his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, along with some other facts about his life and interests, such as his love of gardening and his purchase of an Adana press for hobby printing upon his retirement. Given that at first we knew nothing at all about him apart from his name and the fact that he worked with ornaments at Curwen, it is wonderful to see how he has begun to take form beyond his reputation as a designer and compositor of brilliant and distinctive decorative borders. Bob was able to contact one of Bert’s grandchildren, and in the Autumn of 2021 he met her and several of her relatives to talk about Bert and glean some further facts.

The research and writing of this text took Crispin most of 2022 and the early months of 2023, and further revisions and some additions are still being made as the work is being set. Three appendices will follow, as will a complete index, which a book as complex and full of detail as Bordering on the Sublime will require: its omission would be unforgivably obtuse.

We estimate now that Bordering on the Sublime will not be completed until the summer of 2024, at the earliest – and by ‘completed’ we refer to the completion of the presswork; after that must come the folding and collating of the printed sheets, the hand-tipping of a great many inserts onto them, and finally the binding, which is certain to take several months.

This means that, if we are to survive financially, we must as usual produce some smaller books while the Curwen project is ongoing. While working on two projects simultaneously might be seen as distracting attention from both, in practice this is not the case. It is certainly true that ‘multi-tasking’ is too often touted these days as a desirable and admired skill when it is frequently only an indulgent excuse for not paying sufficient attention to anything one is doing. However, we find that this sort of balance between a large and complex book and a smaller, more homogeneous one can be mutually illuminating, one acting as a counterpoint or descant to the other, each allowing a chance to stand back and view the other objectively. We enjoy working on every book we produce. And it would be disingenuous not to point out that with Apollonia also working in the pressroom, we have two presses working nearly all the time.

Pastoral Elegies

The next ‘Curwen companion volume’ is Pastoral Elegies, which offers two of the great poems of 18th century England: Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ and Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘The Deserted Village.’ We have long wanted to publish these poems as a continuation of our ongoing project to re-introduce great poems from the canon in beautifully illustrated editions. (Earlier examples are Shakespeare’s songs from the plays and Venus & Adonis, Spenser’s Prothalamion and Epithalamion, Keats’ Eve of St Agnes and Odes, Clough’s Amours de Voyage, and of course The Ingoldsby Legends.) Of course Goldsmith’s and Gray’s poems beg for engravings to illustrate them, and we are very happy to have engaged Christopher Wormell to provide them. His work as an engraver is widely known – though perhaps not always recognized as his, since among other things the new design for the arms of the Royal Opera House is his, and he has provided jacket illustrations for many Penguin Books, including some for Philip Pullman’s novels. Visitors to Hampton Court will have seen his engravings marking the kitchens, wine cellars, and other areas, while supporters of Aston Villa F. C. will have toasted his version of the team’s Lion. More to the present point, he has illustrated several books from the Folio Society, notably Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. It was this last, in fact, which inspired us to ask him to illustrate Pastoral Elegies.

As of October 2023 Pastoral Elegies is in the press. The engravings are in hand, and the book should be off to the binder in the first months of the new year. Please see the page for the book in this section.

A Scanty Plot of Ground

A further venture into the canon of English poetry is planned for publication in the summer of 2024. A Scanty Plot of Ground will be a compilation of sonnets by two of the greatest proponents of the form in English: John Donne (?1572-1631) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89). Donne will be represented by his sequence of ‘Holy Sonnets’ – of which the best known is ‘Death be not proud’. Hopkins’ selection will include about twenty sonnets ranging from ‘The Windhover’ and ‘Felix Randall’ to his six so-called ‘Terrible Sonnets’.

Those who know anything about these two men will see the connections, and the reason for our including them together in one book: both were priests – Donne an Anglican, and Dean of St Paul’s in London; Hopkins a Jesuit, ordained later in his brief life, a curate and a teacher. Both were troubled by a sense of conflict between their love of beauty and its pleasures and the denial required by their vocations. Both wrote poems celebrating life in its fullest sense, but published few poems during their lifetime. Donne wrote witty, erotic, and sensual love poems which nevertheless made metaphorical connections to the divine, as well as many openly ‘divine poems’ such as the ‘Holy Sonnets’. His poems have been praised and cherished ever since their first appearances, collected in many editions after his death. Hopkins wrote poems in praise of God couched in some of the most exalted and sensual celebrations of nature’s beauty in the language, but was forbidden by the Jesuit order to publish them during his lifetime: his poems first appeared in a collection edited by his friend Robert Bridges in 1918, and had a stunning impact. Dead for thirty years when the book appeared, Hopkins was hailed as the first great modernist in English poetry. His influence has been profound.

The combined selections of their sonnets will provide revealing portraits of both poets, and at the same time will offer an opportunity to consider the sonnet itself as a central form in poetry in English. The book will include biographical notes on both poets and an afterword on the history of the sonnet, its formal functions, and a discussion of its importance.

Abigail Rorer is the creator of her own exquisite editions from her Lone Oak Press, as well as the subject of Endgrain Editions Two, illustrator of our edition of Amours de Voyage, and contributor to The Marriage of True Minds. To our delight, Abbie has agreed to engrave portraits of Donne and Hopkins for A Scanty Plot of Ground. We anticipate publication in the mid summer of 2024.

. . . and more . . .

Other projects are in the planning stages, but at this point we have only limited information about them. Nevertheless, here is a taste of three of them:

The Art of Eric Bergman

We have firm plans with the family of Eric Bergman, the brilliant German-Canadian engraver and block-printmaker of the mid-century, to publish a major book on his work, which we have long admired. This will include over 80 engravings printed from the original blocks, which have been carefully preserved by his grand-daughters, Karen Paul and Norma Bergman. Eric Bergman was a close friend of the painter and printmaker W. J. Phillips, who is well known as an engraver, but who is also credited with introducing the Japanese-style colour woodcut into the Canadian art scene between the wars. Bergman learned this technique from Phillips, and as well as his extant engravings, printed from the blocks, our book will include a number of examples of his colour woodcuts. These will be printed from inks applied with brushes to blocks and hand-rubbed in the Ukiyo-e style by Sean McLachlan, a young printer from Winnipeg who is studying Ukiyo-e methods, and is a friend of the Bergman family. We hope that Sean will come to the press and work in our studio with us. Karen Paul and Norma Bergman have written a biographical essay on their grandfather, and Canadian Art Historian, Curator, and retired Canadian Senator Patricia Bovey has provided a critical appraisal of Bergman’s work. The book will include photographs and reproduced plates of other works. Discussions and plans for this are ongoing, and it will go into the press immediately following the publication of Bordering on the Sublime.

The Shepherd’s Calendar

We have long wanted to publish an edition of John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, to be illustrated with engravings by Andy English. Andy has long wanted to illustrate this jewel of pastoral and romantic poetry, and the project has been the subject of many conversations over the past ten years. This will certainly come along in the future, but at the moment we have no more details to offer.

Ovid – Englished by Arthur Golding

And of course – beyond all these there looms, tantalizingly, our planned edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the 1567 ‘Englishing’ of Arthur Golding, with engravings by Peter Lazarov, about which we – and Peter – are very excited. This will be another major work in at least two volumes. The text is fascinating, written in high style in ‘fourteeners’, a favourite largely pre-Shakespearean meter. As fourteeners are difficult for a modern reader to sound out without galumphing, we intend gathering a group of professional actors to record several of the best known stories from Golding’s version of the Metamorphoses, probably including such favourite episodes as Daphne and Apollo, Echo and Narcissus, Pyramus and Thisbe(!), Actaeon and Artemis, and one or two others. We imagine this will inspire readers of the book to read the poem for themselves with greater ease and subtlety.

We have had several conversations already with Peter Lazarov about the illustrations, and anticipate extraordinary results.

We will continue to post news of ongoing developments here, with the hope that something irresistible will catch the unsuspecting eye.