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The Kelmscott Manor Volume of Italian Writing-Books

  • A. S. Osley

William Morris owned a volume, bound in red morocco and now preserved at Kelmscott Manor, which contains copies of four early printed Italian writing-manuals of the sixteenth century, i.e. La Operina and Il modo de temperare le Penne by Vicentino (Arrighi), Lo presente libro by G. A. Tagliente, and Thesauro de Scrittori by Ugo da Carpi. The article depicts the technical and social environment in which Italian writing-manuals originated, traces the complex printing history of the works mentioned above, and identifies the editions and dates to which they belong. It then shows how the ‘Kelmscott volume’ influenced the contributions of Morris, Emery Walker, Edward Johnston and, more recently, Alfred Fairbank in the fields of manuscript copying, type-design and italic handwriting.

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1 The Letters of William Morris, ed. Henderson, Philip (London, 1950).

2 ‘… the notice in the “Pall Mall Gazette” being written by Oscar Wilde.’ Thus Emery Walker in Franklin, Colin, Emery Walker: some Light on his Theories of Printing and on his Relations with William Morris and Cobden-Sanderson (Cambridge, privately printed, 1973). See also R. C. H. Briggs, Sir Emery Walker: a Memoir Composed on the Occasion… of a Commemorative Medal. 17 October 1959, p. 16: ‘A note in Walker's hand on a reprint of this report says that the author was Oscar Wilde.’

3 But he was bowled over by the illustrations of printing and was fired with the desire to design a type of his own. According to May Morris: ‘After the lecture Father got very much excited. The sight of the finely proportioned letters so enormously enlarged, and gaining rather than losing by the process, the enlargement emphasizing all the qualities of the type; his feeling, so characteristic of him, that if such a result had once been obtained, it could be done again, stirred in him an overwhelming desire to hazard the experiment at least.’

4 I have covered this ground in my Luminario: an Introduction to the Italian Writing-Books of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Miland Publishers, Nieuwkoop, Netherlands, 1972).

5 From Osley, A. S., Scribes and Sources (London, 1980), p. 17.

6 Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, 4th Eng. edn. vol. ix, pp. 106–7. I, f. seems that the Scriptores Apostolici, of whom Vicentino was one, had been guilty of financial irregularities (Cod. Vat. 3914, I, f. 204, quoted by Pastor, op. cit., p. 474).

7 Baldassare Castiglione in a letter of 31st October 1522.

8 It is still regularly stated by authors that La Operina was published in 1522; in fact, the date of printing is never given in it, 1522 being cited only as the year of its composition.

9 This riposte had to be made soon after the publication of La Operina; it would have had little point if the latter had come out as early as 1522.

10 The other known copy in the Newberry Library, Chicago, has the arithmetical tables but not the Genesius page.

11 While the Kelmscott volume has only the Il modo pages of this double edition, the copy in the Kunstindustrimuseum at Copenhagen has only the Operina.

12 See note 25 below.

13 I identified nine in ‘The variant issues of Ugo da Carpi's Thesauro de Scrittori’, in Quaerendo, iii (3rd July 1973), pp. 170 f. I have recently seen a tenth in private possession.

14 In two pamphlets of 1526, i.e. Aboccamento della maesta ceserea, et del re d'Francia and Pace & capituli fatte infra la CM. & lo Christianissimo re di Francia.

15 Cited in Pastor, op. cit. (note 6), p. 414.

16 See Servolini, Luigi, ‘II Maestro della xilografia a chiaroscuro: Ugo da Carpi’, Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 1937, p. iii.

17 Colin Franklin, op. cit. (note 2), p. 29.

18 About a week before the lecture, the Pall Mall Gazette carried an advertisement for the magic lantern slides of Messrs J. Barnard and Sons, which read: ‘The season is now approaching when this class of goods will be in demand, and amateur magic lantern entertainments are now obtaining a popularity increasing year by year’.

19 Fairbank, Alfred, in a Note on the manuscript work of Morris in The Story of Kormak, the Son of Ogmund, William Morris Society (London, 1970), p. 54, states that it is mentioned a ‘list of books and manuscripts bought by Morris, compiled about 1876’.

20 Photograph reproduced in Fairbank, op. cit.

21 See Colin Franklin, op. cit. (note 2), p. 21.

22 Fairbank, op. cit. (note 19), p. 58. To my eye, the script in the Odes of Horace has certain affinities with Tagliente's chancery hand.

23 See ‘Emery Walker: a Victorian, champion chancery italic’, in Calligraphy and Palaeography: Essays Presented to Alfred Fairbank, ed. Osley, A. S. (London, 1965), pp. 207 f., and Dreyfus, J., Italic Quartet (Cambridge, privately printed, 1966).

24 John Dreyfus, Italic Quartet, p. 50: ‘I was able to prove that it was indeed the Morris copy which was used as a basis for Walker’.

25 Graham Pollard, in his Presidential address the Bibliographical Society in 1962, pointed out that the type was cast on a diamond-shaped body to give it greater slope and to draw the letters together. When Blado used the type for Ugo da Carpi's Thesauro, it was cast on normal rectangular body, so that the letters have less slope.

26 As, in a later generation, Bruce Rogers married Centaur to Arrighi.

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