Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homer and the Fabulous Foulis Brothers Top the Charts With "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1756-1758, Robert and Andrew the Younger, the Foulis brothers, printers in Glasgow, hooked up with Homer, a poet from Greece, and produced a number one hit, one of the great antiquarian golden oldies, critically acclaimed upon its release and since as one of the most esteemed volumes to ever make the rare book Top 40 - Printing.

"I give it a ten. It has great typography and you can dance with it" (Dick Clark, American Bookstand).

I'm with Dick, though I don't recommend swingin' 'n swayin' it to the Lindy Hop. The layout, margins, line spacing, font -  I can't understand a word on the page but I can't take my eyes off the leaves; drawn in and spellbound, at times I feel like I'm actually reading them. Aesthetically and practically it's  very easy on the eyes. It's no wonder people can't stop talking about it.

"Robert Foulis (1707-1776) and Andrew Foulis (1712-1775) were at the forefront of the print trade in 18th century Glasgow and they contributed greatly to the development of Enlightenment print culture in the city…The editions of the classics produced by the Foulis brothers were renowned for their textual accuracy and the beauty of their type. Their greatest publication achievement is said to be that of a folio edition of Homer (1756-58) which contemporaries recognised as a masterpiece of literary and typographical accuracy" (Young, John R. The Glasgow Story).

"The partnership of the Foulis brothers marked the most significant period for Glasgow in publishing and printing during the eighteenth century. They printed some 586 editions together during their active partnership, 1744–75, producing books at a rate which varied from nine in 1764 to forty-three in 1751, an average of almost seventeen a year. Their connections with the university formed the basis of their success, with works written or edited by Glasgow professors such as Francis Hutcheson, George Muirhead, James Moor, and William Leechman dominating the British authors, and classical texts required for studies in the college such as Cicero, Xenophon, Epictetus, and the poets of the Anacreonta, frequently reprinted or re-edited by the brothers...

"Of greatest significance, however, were the four volumes of the works of Homer issued in 1756–8 in folio...The Homer was financed by an informal group of professors at Glasgow led by William Rouat...The texts were printed in a new fount of Greek type designed and cut by the Glasgow typefounder Alexander Wilson. After three sets of corrections at the printers' expense, the text was proof-read, sheet by sheet, by professors Moor and Muirhead: the corrected proofs are now in the National Library of Scotland. Despite the importance of the edition for classical scholarship and the history of printing and publishing in the Enlightenment, the venture was a financial disaster for the brothers" (Oxford DNB).

"Edited by [University of Glasgow] Professors James Moor and George Muirhead, whose prefaces are dated Ides November 1756 (Illiad) and Ides May 1758 (Odyssey)...{It was] awarded the Silver Medal of the Select Society of Edinburgh in 1756 and 1757" (Gaskell).

"'One of the most splendid editions of Homer ever delivered to the world' says Harwood, 'and I am informed that its accuracy is equal to its magnificence.' The reader, on perusing the preface, will see with what pains this sumptuous work was executed; each sheet, before it was finally committed to the press, was six times corrected by various literary men" (Dibdin).

The copy at Cambridge appears to be that submitted for judgment as an example of fine typography. Within it is a manuscript note stating: "We are of the opinion this edition of Homer's Odyssey is entitled to the prize for the best printed & most correct Greek Book," apparently signed by two of the judges.

I had a copy with marvelous, eye-popping provenance pass through my hands. It had been originally owned by William Danby (1752-1833), the extravagantly wealthy, accomplished scholar and writer of Thoughts, Chiefly on Serious Subjects (1821), Ideas and Realities, or, Thoughts on Various Subjects (1827), Extracts from and observations on Cicero's dialogues De senectute and De amicitia (1829), and a translation of his Somnium Scipionis, with notes (1829), and Thoughts on Various Subjects (1831).

Later, Bloomsbury member, biographer and literary critic Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) possessed it.  The next owner was head of publishing house Secker & Warburg, Roger Senhouse (1899-1970),  who possessed Lytton Strachey.

In The Letters of Lytton Strachey, edited by Paul Levy (2005), it is revealed that Strachey and Senhouse had a torrid, long-term sado-masochistic love affair. With Senhouse the sadist, the two would enact an erotic recreation of Christ's crucifixion, Strachey blissfully absorbing the wounds. (Levy, Paul. Bloomsbury's Final Secret, in the Telegraph, March 14, 2005).

A video of that twisted tune has yet to surface on YouTube.

HOMER. [Works in Greek] Tes Ton Homerou Illiadae… [et] Tes Tou Homerou Odysseias… [Transliterated from the Greek]. Rurus, Quid Virtus, et Quid Sapientia Possit, Util Proposuit Nobis Exemplar Ulyssem. Glasguae: In Aedibus Academicis, Excudebant Robertus et Andreas Foulis Academieae Typographi, 1756-58.

First edition. Four tomes in two folio volumes (12 7/8 x 8 in; 200 x 325 mm). [2, blank], 312; 336, [2, blank]; [2, blank], 297, [1]; 336, [2, blank] pp on fine laid paper watermarked Pro Patria. Separate title pages. Commonly lacking the general title ("Rarely found" - Gaskell).

Gaskell 319. ESTC T090250. Dibdin I, p. 385. Rothchild 2674.

Images courtesy of Blackwell's Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. to ensure accuracy they also pinned up proof sheets in the halls of Glasgow university, offering a guinea to any student finding a typo


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