Special Collections and University Archives has recently enlarged its holdings of materials related to British designer William Morris (1834-1896), including the purchase of two printed leaves from Kelmscott Press’s The works of Geoffrey Chaucer and the cataloguing of a sixteenth century book printed by Wynken de Worde that was previously part of Morris’s personal library at Kelmscott House.
Ex libris: From the library of William Morris
During recent conservation work, staff noted the presence of William Morris’s bookplate in a copy of Andrew Chertsey’s translated Floure of the commandments of God (ESTC S117724). The notable printer Wynken de Worde (d. 1534) printed this book at his London print shop on Fleet Street on September 13, 1510. The text was translated from the French La fleur des commandements de Dieu (1496), and it recounts stories of disobedient behavior and terrible punishments, with the aim to frighten readers into virtuous living. The bookseller’s description is tipped in on the inside cover which states that, “every story almost, partakes of the marvellous to a greater or less extent, and as persuasives they should prove successful, provided of course the receptive mind had a little of the 15th century credulity in such matters.”
Floure of the commandments of God is printed in two columns of Gothic letter, with two woodcut illustrations and inhabited initials throughout, some with grotesque heads. It is a small folio, measuring 29cm tall, and bound in calfskin. It is not a perfect copy, lacking the first 12 leaves and the last two leaves in facsimile (including de Worde’s printer’s device). This condition is noted in the Sotheby’s 1898 sale catalogue, where it was sold during the dispersement of the bulk of Morris’s library. There are also traces of a previous reader’s censorship (crossing-out) of the word “Pope.”
We recognize William Morris as one of the previous owners of this copy through the presence of his bookplate on the interior cover that reads, “From the library of William Morris, Kelmscott House, Hammersmith.” In addition to Morris’s work in design and bookmaking with the Kelmscott Press, he also was an avid book collector and held many volumes in his personal library. His library included a wide range of books, from medieval manuscripts and incunabula to contemporary nineteenth century works. Most recently, scholars William S. Peterson and Sylvia Holton Peterson have been compiling a catalogue of Morris’s library to record the provenance and current locations of the books and manuscripts previously owned at Kelmscott House, which currently includes 2,400 entries.
UO Special Collections and University Archives also holds a second book bearing Morris’s bookplate from Kelmscott House, Astesano’s Summa de casibus conscientiae, a fifteenth century work on canon law. These two books from Morris’s library came to Special Collections and University Archives with the 1980 acquisition of Bishop William A. Quayle’s collection of books on the history of printing.
Specimen of fine printing: Leaves from Kelmscott’s Chaucer
Special Collections and University Archives also holds two printed leaves from Morris’s most celebrated work, The works of Geoffrey Chaucer, now newly imprinted, published in 1896 by the Kelmscott Press. The Kelmscott Chaucer is heralded as “the culmination of Morris’s work as a master craftsman and of his collaboration and friendship with Burne-Jones.”1 These finely printed leaves are specimen of Morris’s idealized “the book beautiful” and of book design during the Arts and Crafts movement.
The two leaves are printed in red and black ink on paper and measure 43cm tall. The first leaf (signed h6, pages 107-108) contains lines from “The Tale of the Wife of Bath” from the Canterbury Tales. The second leaf (signed ii2, pages -484) contains text from the second and third pages of the second book of Troilus and Criseyde. The latter leaf also includes an illustration cut by Pre-Raphaelite artist and Morris collaborator, Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). The decorative borders, initials, and font were designed by William Morris.
More Kelmscott works
These works supplement a modest collection of other works published by the Kelmscott Press and William Morris held by Special Collections and University Archives including: The Nature of Gothic: A Chapter of the Stones of Venice (1892), The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye (1892), Maud: A Monodrama (1893), The Wood Beyond the World (1894), Of the Friendship of Amis and Amile (1894), and The Shepheardes Calendar (1896) and others.
- Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. “Edward Burne-Jones’s Chaucer Portraits in the Kelmscott “Chaucer”. The Chaucer Review 40, no. 1 (2005): 1-38.