52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 18

Friday 14 October 2011

A gorgeous issue of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King illustrated by Gustave Doré

The front cover of St Andrews copy rf PR5558.A2D7, the 1868 re-issue of the first edition of Tennyson's Idylls of the King, illustrated by Gustave Doré.

While I was searching through the stacks last week, hot on the case of Albert Robida, I stumbled upon this beautiful, and large, edition of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. This first set of poems (“Enid”, “Vivien”, “Elaine”, and “Guinevere”) form the beginning of a larger cycle of twelve Arthurian poems published between 1856 and 1885. They were originally published in 1859, just after publisher Edward Moxon’s death. Moxon had a strong relationship with Tennyson (and other contemporary poets, including William Wordsworth) and published many of his first editions.

The spine of rf PR5558.A2D7.

The quality of binding material used on this volume is common of mid-19thcentury British books; however it is the design of the front cover and spine that really speaks to its quality. By the late 1860’s the Arts & Crafts movement had begun, and the influence could be found everywhere. The cover of this book echoes some of the early design aesthetics and Gothic influences on the Art & Design movement, with an influence on pattern and the use of Gothic fonts.

Front cover detail.


Moxon rarely issued an illustrated edition, but his publishing house changed after his death. This re-issue is gorgeously illustrated by steel engravings done by Gustave Doré. By the 1860’s, Doré was a well-known illustrator, sought after for editions of the Bible, Don Quixote, Milton and Dante; and this edition of Idylls of the King is another fine example of his work. Doré’s real skill as an illustrator and engraver can be found in his dark illustrations, where the even the smallest details can still be seen.

Doré's frontispiece to Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
Doré's illustration of Arthur and Guinevere.

This volume is beautiful to behold, both inside and out.


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2 thoughts on "52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings: Week 18"

  • Jeremy
    Friday 21 October 2011, 10.04am

    Fantastic find, We are putting together a new site about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and his life on The Isle of Wight, please visit and perhaps comment and leave some suggestions for articles, http://www.lordalfredtennyson.com

  • 52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings « The Special Collections Handbook
    Thursday 5 January 2012, 2.48pm

    [...] St Andrews.  Masses of beautiful and intriguing books, check out their biggest incunable or this lovely Tennyson edition.  A great resource, and a weekly treat! GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); [...]


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