Birmingham: Cornish Bros. 1895. First edition. Quarto (10 1/2 inches tall), original slate blue paper boards, uncut. Bookplate. Boards lightly toned, corners bumped, spine ends worn, minor abrasion to rear joint, plates fine. An excellent unrestored copy. Item #794
"THEREFORE, CHRISTIAN MEN, BE SURE / WEALTH OR RANK POSSESSING / YE WHO NOW WILL BLESS THE POOR / SHALL YOURSELVES FIND BLESSING"
Scarce limited printing of the first illustrated edition of John Mason Neale's popular Christmas carol—featuring six fine woodcut plates by Arthur J. Gaskin and an Introduction by William Morris. The first book printed by the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft Press.
A proponent of the romance of Ritualism. John Mason Neale was a major contributor to the Catholic Revival of the nineteenth century. Dr. Neale's "capacity for translating the riches of the ancient and medieval hymnody gave him a significant role in the transformation of Anglican worship and in the communication of the patristic tradition and sacramental doctrine to ordinary congregations" (Geoffrey Rowell). Based on the St. Stephen's Day legend of Duke Vaclav Wratislaw, the medieval patron of Bohemia, Good King Wencelas first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide (1853) with lyrics by Neale and melody by Thomas Helmore. Neale's "skill as a translator of hymns showed itself particularly in his capacity to reproduce the rhythm and metre of the original so that the ancient plainsong melodies could be used for his English versions" (Rowell).
Said to be one of only 125 copies printed at the Press of the Guild of Handicraft, Gaskin "made six woodcut illustrations, all full page, using the common Arts and Crafts device of cutting the text, decoration and illustration as a whole unified design onto the woodblock He personally printed the initial limited run on hand-made paper." A contemporary review (in The Artist) described the illustrations "as vigorous as the northern wind which shaped the mediaeval legend as it spread, and refreshingly beautiful as the illustrated books which issued from the North Italian presses at the end of the fifteenth century" (The Work of Arthur and George Gaskin Catalogue). The plates are preceded by a short Introduction by William Morris (dated, "September 1894") in praise of Gaskin's "beautiful pictures " and Neale's Ritualistic admiration of Medievalism: "The legend itself is pleasing and a genuine one, and the Christmas-like quality of it, recalling the times of my boyhood, appeals to me at least as a happy memory of past days." Geoffrey Rowell. The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism.