Edmund Spencer – Elizabethan Renaissance Poet

Edmund Spenser ‘The Faerie Queen: the Shepheards Calendar together with The Other Works of England's Arch-Poet, Edm. Spenser’ collected into one Volume, 1611. The general title with figurative woodcut borders with dedication to Queen Elizabeth I.
Edmund Spenser ‘The Faerie Queen: the Shepheards Calendar together with The Other Works of England’s Arch-Poet, Edm. Spenser’ collected into one Volume, 1611. The general title with figurative woodcut borders with dedication to Queen Elizabeth I.

I have long admired the work of the Elizabethan writer Edmund Spenser (1552/53 -1599) so I was delighted to see an early collection of his work, published in 1611, in Toovey’s last specialist sale of Antiquarian and Collectors’ books. . The single volume included ‘The Faerie Queen, ‘The Shepheards Calendar’ and other works.

Edmund Spenser attended Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1569. He studied the Classics in Latin and Greek as well as Italian and English literature. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1573 and a Master of Arts degree in 1576.

Spenser’s ‘The Shepheards Calendar’ published in 1579/1580 is often described as being the first work in the 16th century English literary Renaissance and is influenced by the Roman poet Virgil’s pastoral Bucolics.

‘The Shepheards Calendar’ is formed of twelve short poems each named after a month in the year and is beautifully illustrated with woodblock vignettes. The elegantly constructed verse gives expression to a series of conversations between simple shepherds. Paradoxically these conversations form satirical, sophisticated commentaries on the questions and ambitions of the day.

‘Aprill’ from ‘The Shepheards Calendar’

For example ‘Aprill’ speaks in praise of the shepherdess Elisa who Spenser uses to represent Elizabeth I. Edmund Spenser was a protestant and supporter of Elizabeth I. He gave voice to the importance of upholding and protecting the national and moral purity of the Elizabethan church. The good and bad shepherds act as metaphors for reformed and catholic clergy respectively.

Spenser’s poem ‘The Faerie Queene’ is considered to be one of the greatest in the English language. It is an allegorical work in praise of Elizabeth I who is represented by the Faerie Queene, Gloriana. The poem provides a celebration and critique of the Tudor dynasty employing frequent allusions to contemporary Elizabethan politics and events.

This epic poem is written in an archaic style and takes the form of a series of books. Each book follows the adventures of a particular knight who in turn represent the virtues of holiness, temperance, chastity, friendship, justice and courtesy. The first part was published in 1590 but Spenser never completed it.

Edmund Spenser’s work brings together the influences of the Elizabethan age he inhabited, his strong Christian faith, early myth, legends and folklore which resonate with literary enthusiasts today. This volume, in its later binding, realised £2400.

Toovey’s book specialists Charlie Howe and Nick Toovey are currently preparing their next specialist auction of books which will be held on Tuesday 13th August. Whether you are seeking to sell your books or building a collection they are always delighted to offer advice and share their passion for their subject with others. You can contact them by telephoning 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The West Horsley Place Collection

West Horsley Place – Photo © Richard Lewisohn

Toovey’s are pleased to announce that our forthcoming specialist sale of books on 15th May includes a collection of volumes from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.Lots 3001-3179 in this auction have been consigned from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.

The estate was inherited in 2014 by Bamber Gascoigne from his great aunt, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. In 2015 Bamber gave ownership of the house and estate to a newly created charitable trust: the Mary Roxburghe Trust. The Trust’s mission is to restore the Grade I listed manor house (currently on Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk Register’) and its estate, with the aim of creating a vibrant centre for the performing and visual arts as well as the teaching of crafts. An expert on prints and the writer of many books himself, Bamber is popularly known as the original host of University Challenge. While not living in the house itself, he has been overseeing its conservation and transformation, which has included the building within the grounds of the 700-seat Theatre in the Woods by Grange Place Opera, who hold a summer opera season at West Horsley Place. Funds raised from this sale of selected volumes from the library will be used towards the ongoing restoration work, all part of the Mary Roxburghe Trust’s long-term plan. For more information on the house and the work of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, visit www.westhorsleyplace.org.

The Library at West Horsley Place

The library was assembled by Robert Milnes-Crewe, 1st Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945) and his father Richard Monckton-Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809-1885). Lord Houghton was a great man of letters, a poet, politician and patron of literature. He wrote the first biography of Keats in 1848, was a close friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson and helped to make Ralph Waldo Emerson become known in Britain. His particular interest was in French literature, especially of the revolutionary period.

Lord Houghton’s son, Lord Crewe, (bookplate above) was a Liberal statesman, who served as Secretary of State for India between 1910 and 1915. He was also Leader of the House of Lords, where he played a very significant and progressive role in removing their own veto, as well as various positions within the education sector. He was a contemporary of Winston Churchill, friend of H.H. Asquith and son-in-law to Prime Minister Lord Rosebery. The astonishing library of books, collected over generations, mainly reflects Lord Crewe’s wide interests, including his literary friendships with war-time poets, his travels to India and the East, his political career and his cultural connections. The books provide an intimate window onto the period and give the sense of a decent, moderate man who was administratively overseeing considerable change.

“Sorting through and cataloguing the books of both father and son has been an absolute pleasure. It’s been a chance to speculate on the changes England underwent from Victorian times, through the trauma of a World War and into a changed 20th century” says Toovey’s Book Specialist Charlie Howe.

The collection will be offered at Toovey’s Spring Gardens rooms on May 15th 2018. View the collection via the online catalogue here.

The Life and Collection of an Eclectic Bookworm

The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books
The Michael Gilkes Collection of Travel and Exploration Books

Toovey’s are pleased to be offering the Travel and Exploration Book Collection of Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCOphth., FRGS (1923-2014).  This wonderful set of books, including one of the best private collections of polar-related books in the UK, form part of a Gilkes family collective memory. Michael’s daughter, Hester Gilkes, recalls: ‘The imposing and mysterious spines, many with beautiful gold-embossed images on them, lined the bookshelves of Dad’s study – as intriguing and mysterious as the countries and exploits concealed within their pages. All the family recall the books. Our lives were almost dominated by them; tomes on almost every conceivable subject were available for consultation.’

Michael Transporting Foggy Dew
Michael Transporting the 'Foggy Dew', a yacht he built in his back garden

The books go back further than just him, of course. His grandfather, or one of them, was A.H. Gilkes, headmaster of Dulwich College. His library survived, in part, to be passed on to Michael – erudite books in mass-produced Victorian editions, the mark of a prolific reader. At some point the books had been stored on newly painted shelves, and some had spots of black paint adhering to the bottom edges. One of his children recalls reading The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, each page of the enormous work having to be carefully separated from the rest as it was turned. His mother, Denne Parker, an accomplished classical singer, had married Martin Gilkes, a poet and lecturer at Birmingham University, adding other elements to the family library. There are even books belonging to William Gilkes, who back in the early 19th century had married Mary Hemming of the Showers in Herefordshire. This Quaker ancestor had assembled a collection of those books ‘it was most needful for men to know’: Homer, Virgil and the Bible.

Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia
Michael at Shackletons Grave, South Georgia

It really began, though, with books on the Antarctic, which Michael started to acquire prior to his posting as a newly qualified doctor to the whaling station on South Georgia in 1946, mainly based at Leith, but also at Grytviken. Upon qualification as a doctor, a gift from his great uncle, Michael Parker, an Oxford don and expert on the Roman army, permitted the acquisition of the three volumes of The South Polar Times. Over the next sixty-odd years, the collection expanded to reflect his growing range of subject-related interests, and now includes – in addition to the general Antarctic section – named Antarctic expeditions, whales and whaling, works on the great explorers Columbus, Cook, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, a fine section on cartography, islands and North and South America, including an extensive section on Patagonia.

During a long and rich life, this passion for adventure would see Michael crewing on an America’s Cup Race, living and working for a time researching glaucoma in both Jerusalem and the Gambia, building his own thirty-foot yacht in his back garden and sailing her around Britain and over to Europe, and traveling extensively, particularly in South America. On his retirement from his career as an ophthalmic surgeon, he made a number of voyages back to Antarctica – the region which fascinated and drew him the most.

Like Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, the books in this catalogue reflect a ‘satiable curiosity’ for exploration, and an inspirational hunger for the new and undiscovered.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479 © Toovey's
Comet resembling a spaceship over Arabia in 1479

With the second teaser trailer coming out for the forthcoming Star Wars movie we couldn’t resist a tenuously-linked blog post!

The above woodblock illustration is not from a galaxy far, far away but in fact from a copy of Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon by Conrad Wolffhart (1518-1561). The book was printed in Basel by Heinrich Petri circa August 1557 – so still a long time ago! According to the text it actually depicts a comet flying over Arabia in 1479, but conspiracy theorists could argue this is the earliest printed  image of a spaceship. The resemblance is beyond doubt.

Wolffhart’s work includes a number of woodcut illustrations and is an encyclopaedic anthology of weird and wonderful curiosities and natural wonders. Represented are other comets, including Halley’s comet, but also prodigies, portents and monsters. The scene of frogs raining down from the sky gracing the front cover of the printed catalogue is also from this volume. The book is offered as Lot 3134 in Toovey’s Specialist Book Auction on 21st April 2015 and carries a pre-sale estimate of £400-600 and specialist Nicholas Toovey states “due to the condition we have rightly been cautious with the estimate but expectations could be exceeded due to the interesting nature of the book.” Perhaps the Force will be strong with this one!

Here at Toovey’s we are all eagerly awaiting the release of the movie in December but until then this will have to do…

John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints

John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939
John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939

John Piper was one of the leading artists of the 20th century Modern British Art Movement. He worked in the abstract, romantic and classical traditions as a painter, ceramicist, writer, designer and printmaker. Piper’s 1939 illustrations for the book ‘Brighton Aquatints’, have been credited with the revival of the aquatint as a 20th century print medium in Britain.

The book consist of twelve aquatints of Brighton. Two hundred standard copies were printed and a further fifty-five copies were hand-coloured by the artist. The prints were not signed, although Piper did sign and dedicate some copies of the book. The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. The watermarks which appear in the paper are irregularly placed and are styled as a hand raised in blessing, a head, said to be that of Christ, and the date 1399.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

Rooted in the English tradition John Piper’s work often relates to a place, be that a landscape or a building. Piper brings a particular quality of engagement to his subjects. He captures the poetic, his emotional response and thoughts, as well as the essence of the physical reality. These themes and responses belong to the English Romantic tradition. Piper seeks to look beyond what is immediately apparent; to what the artist Paul Nash referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, ‘a reality more real’.

John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939
John Piper - ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ combine technical innovation with exceptional draughtsmanship, complexity and detail. They are accompanied by a very personal introduction by Lord Alfred Douglas and notes to each image by the artist.

This ‘Piperesque’ view of Brighton re-acquaints us with the familiar. I was in Brighton last week as a sea fret rolled in causing the Brighton Pavilion to shimmer in the bright spring sunlight. The scene was reminiscent of Piper’s view of the ‘The Royal Pavilion’ which remains remarkably unchanged from his 1939 aquatint. In his notes Piper describes the building’s extravagant beauty and the great affection in which it is held.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton in the spring sun light

In ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’ we are reminded of a view now lost to us. John Piper describes how the pier appears like a ‘dazzling white meringue, brittle and sweet…florid and grand as anywhere.’ Regency Square is laid out on a gentle slope in the view beyond.

In both these aquatint prints the use of acid at different stages in the process has created the texture of the grass and background. Stopping out varnish repeatedly applied has been used to create the waves and skies.

John Piper wrote quoting Constable ‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling…’ Piper’s ability to use landscapes and buildings as a focus for his emotions has the effect of gifting the world with, what has been described as, ‘a human sensibility’. These qualities are apparent in ‘Brighton Aquatints’. His work gives an extraordinary articulation of the English vision and spirit.

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ rarely comes to the market and so it is with some excitement that I am looking forward to Toovey’s specialist Book sale on Tuesday 21st April, in which a copy, signed by the artist, will be auctioned with a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000. (View the lot here)

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th April 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.