Stratford-on-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1930. Limited edition. Small folio (11 3/4 inches tall), original gilt calf spine, marbled paper boards, vellum corner tips, uncut. Morocco bookplate. Housed in a custom brown cloth chemise and morocco slipcase. Very minor soiling to bright boards. Fine. Item #909
Superb limited edition of the Venerable Bede's chronicle of England's sixth-century conversion to Christianity—one of only 475 folio copies printed by the Shakespeare Head Press. Printed in red-and-black throughout and illustrated with a full-page map of "Bede's Britain" (illustrated by W.F. Colley) and three original woodcuts (re-engraved for this edition by John Farleigh). Composed in Latin at the Benedictine monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow and completed in 731, the Anglo-Saxon monk’s history "will probably continue to stand in the first rank of literary works because of its simple unaffected style, and its sure handling of the picturesque and the dramatic" (Frank N. Magill). Though Bede mentions the Irish monk Columba's founding of Iona in western Scotland (in 565), his sympathies are clearly more Roman than Celtic, and so it is Augustine of Canterbury who emerges as the central figure in the advent of the English Church. Augustine was dispatched by Pope Gregory, who was inspired, as Bede's famous anecdote relates, by the sight of captured Anglo-Saxons in a Roman slave market. Gregory saw the fair-haired slaves and was told that they were Angles from the island of Britain. The blond youths were "not Angles," Gregory replied, "but Angels." Augustine's mission to England in 596 led to the conversion of King Elbert of Kent and spread across the island, largely overtaking the contemporary Celtic Church. The text for this edition is taken from the English translation by Thomas Stapleton as first printed in Louvain in 1565. After a "brilliant career at Oxford," Stapleton was ordained and became "one of the foremost scholars and theologians of his day." Stapleton left England after Elizabeth’s accession to the throne and spent time with Cardinal William Allen and the English Catholic college at Douai. Stapleton's status as a Catholic exile is reflected in his lengthy dedicatory letter to Queen Elizabeth (printed here with an engraved headpiece), imploring her to commit to the "restoring of the one catholike and Apostolical faith of Christendom, to the extirping of schisme and heresy."
Founded in 1904, the Shakespeare Head Press was taken over by Basil Blackwell in 1920. The Stonyhurst-educated Bernard Newdigate was engaged as designer for the press, and for the next two decades Shakespeare Head became a leading producer of English privately printed books. This edition was produced precisely in the middle of the 20-year period during which Colin Franklin says that Shakespeare Head was "the most mature and sophisticated of the private presses." Edited by Philip Hereford with a valuable Appendix, containing an Index of Proper Names & Glossary of Obsolete Words and a Note to the Present Edition (dated "December 8th, 1929"). Hereford describes the omissions and additions to this edition and declares Stapleton's English translation ("the first since King Alfred") as the first modern translation of Bede. The purpose of this edition was "to rescue from oblivion a splendid piece of English prose" after it was superseded by other editions in the eighteenth century. The text concludes with the Prayer of St. Bede, printed here in the original Latin ("Oratio Bedae Ad Christum"): "I implore you, good Jesus, that as in your mercy you have given me to drink in with delight the words of your knowledge, so of your loving kindness you will also grant me one day to come to you, the fountain of all wisdom, and to stand for ever before your face." Complete with the original tipped-in half-sheet with a note on the binding. The spine has been "made from fresh skins of English calves by G.W. Russell & Co. of Hitchin, who, advised by Mr. Douglas Cockerell, have succeeded in producing skins with the natural surface unimpaired, which, it is confidently expected, will prove to be as durable as the 'calf' used for binding in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." Magill. Masterpieces of Christian Literature, Ransom. Private Presses, 16-17, Colin Franklin. The Private Press.