Citizen Milton
Galanis's engraving of Satan from the Cresset Press edition.

Bodleian Library Bodleian Library, Oxford
Dec 2007 - Apr 2008

Text by Sharon Achinstein

Site designed by Richard Rowley

13. "By living Streams among the Trees of Life": Milton and the Book Arts

The Private Press movement in Britain, begun in the 1890s, revived the arts of the book as against industrialized, mass media. Artists, book illustrators, papermakers and type designers collaborated to fashion objects of lasting beauty and to reinstate a human handprint on their creations. Milton was an inspiration to many designers for his making another universe in art, as these book artists fashioned a distinctively British literary and tradition of ingenuity in applied artistic practice.

Milton, Early Poems (Vale Press, 1896)

This was the first book produced by Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) for the Vale Press in its inaugural year, 1896. Assisted in the Art Nouveau frontispiece by C. H. Shannon, Ricketts used natural forms to help revive the art of wood engraving,. Reacting against photography and the mass production of the printing press, and preferring a classical aesthetic against the medievalism of William Morris, Ricketts sought to endow books with value and meaning.
Shannon's Frontispiece to the edition.
C. H. Shannon's Frontispiece to the edition.
[Full size image]
Johnson d.2196. (or 27980 d.15)

The Doves Press
The Doves Press ideal of the Book Beautiful was a response not only to mass industrialisation and the feared loss of human scale and participation in the creation of books, but also to the medievalism of William Morris. Vaunting a return to the simplicity of clear type, excellent layout and perfection of presswork, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) cited the poet on the last page of his manifesto—"Beyond is all abyss, Eternitie, whose end no eye can reach"—appealing to Milton to represent the infinite possibilities of artistic and material creation. Cobden-Sanderson's ideas rivalled the originary divine impulse: "Do and undo, recombine, rearrange, and lo, ANOTHER UNIVERSE, not God's but man's."

For their edition of Paradise Regained (Doves press, 1905), Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker made an agressively simple type-face to convey the magnificence and mystery of Milton's work. When he was finished with his Dove type, he threw it into the Thames in 1909.

T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, Ecce Mundus: Industrial Ideals and the Book Beautiful (Hammersmith Publishing Society, 1902)

25805 e.22

Paradise Regained (Doves Press, 1905)

Bod. Don.d.14

Paradise Lost (Cresset Press, 1931), illustrated by Demetrios Galanis

With wood engravings by Athens-born French Academician Demetrios Galanis (1879-1956) and printed by Bernard H. Newdigate, these monumental two-folio companion Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained volumes were produced by the Cresset press, run by Dennis Cohen and A. I. Meyers, which produced fine editions and reprints of the classics and Continental literature. With title page and initials designed by Anna Simons, this was the final and finest book issued by the Cresset Press (1927-1931). The image from Book 1 shows a gigantic, human Satan roiling in a lake of burning fire, encrypted in the darkness of the wood engravings pierced by currents of light:
Shannon's Frontispiece to the edition.
[Full size image]
Arch. c b.11(1)

Paradise Lost (Golden Cockerel Press, 1937), illustrated by Mary E. Groom

The early, ten-book Paradise Lost was used for the magnificent edition of Paradise Lost, the most most expensive and the largest volumes produced by Golden Cockerel Press. The twenty-nine fine woodcuts of the young Mary E. Groom (1903-1958), who had studied with Leon Underwood, offer highly original artistic readings of the poem, revealing with peculiar intensity the density of the poem, using the technique of white lines on black.
Mary Groom woodcut, illustrating the opening lines of Paradise Lost
Mary Groom's woodcut, with the opening lines of Paradise Lost, in which she previews the themes of the poem.
[Full size image]
2799 c.59

Top image: Galanis's engraving of Satan from the Cresset Press edition (1931).