Friday, March 1, 2013

Sangorski & Sutcliffe Celebrate Elizabethan Poets

by Stephen J. Gertz

Around  1920, Sangorski & Sutcliffe, the famed London bindery established in 1901 by Francis Sangorski (1875-1912) and George Sutcliffe (1875-1943), designed and bound a first edition copy of Charles Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived About the Time of Shakespeare, published in 1808.

It's an extravagant theme binding in full teal crushed morocco with double fillet, gilt-rolled dog's tooth and dotted borders surrounding an inner band of onlaid crimson morocco with quote by vicar and poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) in gilt with gilt tools, and a gilt-tooled frame with gilt cornerpieces enclosing a central medallion of massed gilt tools encircling an onlaid crimson morocco disc featuring stylized gilt initials, "C.L." (Charles Lamb) to the front cover. The spine is in black morocco.

The rear cover reiterates the design but with a different Herrick quote and a wreath/torch/bow & arrow motif in gilt to the central crimson disc, rather than Lamb's initials.

Deep purple morocco doublures with quote in gilt by Herrick (to upper) and lyre and laurel gilt-tooled cornerpieces highlight the inner covers, the whole framed by multiple gilt-rolled borders. Mauve silk free-endpapers with gilt-rolled border are an attractive detail. Gilt rolled and ornamented compartments, gilt ruled raised bands, and top edge gilt finish it.

The quotes by English poet, Rev. Robert Herrick, that adorn the covers and upper doublure  are pulled from his poem, Upon Master Fletcher's Incomparable Plays (1647). To upper cover band: Here's words with lines, and lines with scenes consent / To raise an Act to full astonishment. To lower cover band: Here melting numbers, words of power to move / Young men to swoon and maids to die for love. To upper doublure: To Master Fletcher / Apollo sings, his harp resounds; give room / For now behold the golden Pomp is come / Thy pomp of plays.

Elizabethan poets whose work is represented by Lamb include Thomas Sackville; Thomas Kyd; Christopher Marlowe; Thomas Decker; Ben Jonson; William Rowley; John Fletcher; Francis Beaumont; etc.

Charles Lamb was born in London in 1775. He studied at Christ's Hospital where he met and formed a lifelong friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When he was twenty years old he endured a bout of insanity and was confined to an asylum. The next year, 1796, his sister, Mary Ann, murdered their mother and was declared a "lunatic." She, too, was confined to an asylum but was eventually discharged into the care of her brother. Charles became friends with a group of young writers who supported political reform, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Hazlitt, Henry Brougham, Lord Byron, Thomas Barnes and Leigh Hunt.

In 1796 Lamb contributed four sonnets to Coleridge's Poems on Various Subjects (1796). This was followed by Blank Verse (1798) and Pride's Cure (1802). He worked for the East India Company in London but moonlighted as a contributor to several journals and newspapers including London Magazine, The Morning Chronicle, Morning Post and the The Quarterly Review. He is best known for his pseudonymous essays for London Magazine, collected and published as Essays of Elia (1823), and for Tales From Shakespeare (1807), a wildly successful collaboration with his sister. Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived About the Time of Shakespeare went a long way to re-introducing and popularizing Shakespeare's contemporaries. He died in 1834. 

Stamp-signed to lower doublure.
S&S were proud of this binding;
it is rare to find "Designed and bound"
in their signature. "Bound by" is the usual.

Robert Herrick was a 17th century poet of the tempus fugit-carpe diem school who wrote at least one poem that has earned enduring fame in English literature, with an immortal first line known to everyone even if they don't know the poem or poet.

by Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
    To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
    The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
    And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
    When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
    Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
    And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
    You may for ever tarry.

[SANGORSKI & SUTCLIFFE, binders]. LAMB, Charles. Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived About the Time of Shakespeare. With Notes. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1808.

First edition. Octavo (7 1/8 x 4 1/4 in; 181 x 108 mm). xii, 484 pp.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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