|The Binding of Books
An Essay in the History of Gold-Tooled
Bindings by Herbert P. Horne
|Conclusion Part 1
FINEM loquendi pariter omnes audiaus. The art of bookbinding depends, therefore, .as I have
endeavored to show, upon a prolonged series of minute particulars; the whole of which must be
managed with taste and skill, if the binder would produce a fine, and accomplished, work. Of
these particulars, those, which relate to that part of his craft technically known as 'forwarding,'
are of greater importance, than those, which relate to the more attractive process of 'finishing.'
Forwarding is the structure of bookbinding; while finishing is merely the decoration of that
structure. The first and fundamental condition of good forwarding is beyond the control of the
binder, and consists in a proper choice of the paper upon which the book is printed. Unless the
substance of the paper has been determined by the size and number of the quires, which is
rarely the case of modern editions, it is impossible to bind a book in a proper manner. A book, of
which the paper has allowed it to be well forwarded, should be solidly pressed, but not crushed
or killed in the pressing: its sections should be sewn round the cords; and it should be furnished
with boards, whose substance and squares are agreeable to its size and weight. The back
should be of a nature, that will allow the book to open, to remain open, and to shut, with ease;
the edges accurately cut; the boards lying solidly and evenly upon the body of the sections:
while the joints, head-bands, and miters should be formed with nicety and precision; and the
binding, in these, as in all other, particulars, be strongly, and truly, made. If, in a well forwarded
book of this kind, the colour of the end-papers and head-bands, the decoration of the edges,
and especially the colour and texture of the leather, have been chosen with the same taste and
judgment, which should have determined the other details of the forwarding, a very slight
amount of tooling, either in blind or gold, is sufficient to render its binding a fine and satisfactory
work of art: and of this, the little copy of Claudian, in the British Museum, which was bound for
Baron de Longepierre, and is tooled with his device of the Golden Fleece, as well as some of the
simpler bindings of Padeloup, are conspicuous examples. Even the most wealthy of collectors
cannot hope to have any considerable number of his books more elaborately gilded than these.
The notion, that the ornament of the binding should symbolise, or in some way be expressive of,
the contents of the book, has been traced to medieval times. At the close of a translation of
Boccaccio's Falles of Pri11ces, by Dan John Lydgate, Monk of Bury, London, 1554, is a leaf
entitled 'Greneacres, a Lenuoy vpon lohn Bochas,' in which the translator thus addresses his
, Blacke be thy bondes & thy wede also
Thou sorrowefull Booke of matter dysespeyred : In Token of thine inward mortall woe,
Which is so bad it may not be impeyred. Thou owest not outward to be feared,
That inward hast so many a ruful clause, Such be thine habite of colour as of cause.
, No cloth of Tissue ne veluet Cremesyne But like the monke mourning vnder his hode Goe weyle
and wepe with woeful Proserpine And lat thy teres multiplye the Boode
Of black Lithey vnder the bareyn woode Where she as goddess hath her Hermitage, Help her to
wepe & she wil gene the wage.'
But early instances of this kind are altogether exceptional; and we must turn to certain inlaid
bindings, executed in France, during the last century, for any general illustration of the notion,
that the decoration of a book should be expressive of its contents. By Roger Payne, this
principle was observed, as I have shown, in a great number of his books: but it has remained,
however, for the binders of a yet more recent time to pursue it to its logical conclusion; although
rarely with conspicuous success, if the bindings figured in M. Octave Uzanne's work, La Reliure
Moderne, are to be taken as representative examples. At the present day, the notion has been
carried to an extreme by some designers, who, affecting the fashion of the Decadents, appear
to work in a spirit akin to that of Arthur Rimbaud's sonnet, which finds, in colors, the definite
sensations of language.
Some of the bindings executed by Mr. Cobden Sanderson afford a good modern instance of how
a design may find its suggestion in some passage or motive of the book, which it is intended to
decorate. He has, himself, told us, how Tennyson's line, the 'grassy barrows of the happier
dead,' suggested the bands of daisies with which he decorated a copy of 'In Memoriam': and
how, in a similar way, the design upon a binding of ' Atalanta in Calydon ' was suggested by the
subject of the poem, and especially by the dream of Althaea the mother of Meleager.
I dreamed, that out of this my womb had sprung Fire and a fire-brand, . . .
And I with gathered raiment from the bed Sprang, and drew forth the brand, and cast on it
Water, and trod the flame bare-foot, and crushed With naked hand spark beaten out of spark,
And blew against and quenched it ; . . . again
I dreamt, and saw the black brand burst on fire As a branch bursts in flower.'
These lines,' Mr. Sanderson adds, 'haunted me when I thought of the pattern of the cover, and
came out, as will be seen, in the decoration. For the flame I used a seed-pod, which I had ready
at hand and for the leaves a quivering heart, and I blent them together in the form of a brand
that bursts on fire, "as a branch bursts into flower," and I set them torch-wise around the
margins of the green cover, green for the young life burning away.' Mr. Sanderson is not always
careful to preserve this elaborate kind of connection between the book and the design of its
binding: though, as he elsewhere adds, , some subtle relation there maybe, and, I think, should
be, between the inside, and the outside, of a book, between its contents and ornamentation;
and in my opinion, no one can produce a right design for a book, who knows nothing about the
book. Still this relation is not a definite one, nor should it make itself too plainly felt in the
design: in a word, it should not be allegorical or emblematical.
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