Midsummer Night’s Dream

So far, I mostly have ideas and notes but I do want to keep track of them.

Midsummer Night’s Dream notes- feel free to skip

I have, currently in my possession, three copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. You’d think that one of them would be the right copy to bind… but no, I’m going to have to scan two of the three copies and take the illustrations (in text) from one and combine them with the text from the other. Which means scanning practically every bloody page in both books. Thank goodness it’s not a very long play!

Here’s the run down:
Copy 1: William Heinemann/Doubleday Page 1914

    This is the copy with the illustrations I want. The 40 colour plates are easy- remove, remount on whatever paper I like, tissue guards go with. The in-text illustrations, however, will have to be scanned, placed into the other text and printed. (Difficult as my printer is old, acting up etc.)

Copy 2: Abaris 1977

    This is the text I want. Calligraphed by Graily Hewitt, it is a reproduction of a manuscript in the New York Library’s Spencer collection. Also illustrated by Arthur Rackham but with different illustrations! The plates are different, the in-text illustrations are different and even his style had changed a bit by this time. And, to a one, the older illustrations are better although I will take the color plates and bind them in at the back… which, by the way, gives me my paper size (large- oversized) unless I want to either fold them (eww) or exclude them (possibly) or scan and reprint them.

Copy 3: Easton Press 1993

    This copy is leather bound- red with gold- and supposedly has Rackham illustrations. Ah, no. Reading carefully, the illustrations are ‘from’ watercolours by Arthur Rackham. Which means that some random artist took Rackham’s pictures and redid them… they’re almost the same but not enough to infringe on copyright. Really, Easton? Side by side with the Rackhams it’s very obvious he didn’t paint these! That’s horrible! (The paintings themselves are not horrible- they’re pretty decent- but they aren’t Arthur Rackham’s masterpieces.) Plus, they used the fake Olde Englishe Spellinge with all the extraneous E’s. Get real, Easton- some of us can tell when it’s the original spelling and when it’s done for effect. This further solidifies my conviction that you have to be very very careful with Easton press books… some of them are just not what they should be. Anybody want to buy a nice leather bound copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

The pictures are the “same” picture from each of the editions!

So damn- this is going to be a lot more project than I thought (isn’t it always the way?) and the first thing I need is a better scanner/printer!

I have a copy of the 1908 printing with all 40 Rackham plates and a copy of the 1977 Abaris printing that is calligraphed (facsimile copy) by Mr Hewitt with the updated Rackham illustrations. What I want to do is preserve the calligraphed text and add to it the 40 illustrations from 1908. My rather knotty problem lies in the relative sizes of the two. The Abaris text block is over sized and the prints from 1908 are fairly small- they did not even cover the entire page in the 1908 book… which is smaller than the 1977 book- length and width, it’s much thicker, of course.

I have two options. I can interleave the Abaris text block with Mulberry paper and afix the 1908 plates to it or I can rescan and reprint the Abaris text (which will leave me with a much smaller book as I can only print on letter or legal paper) and interleave then. The 1908 plates would then be a much larger percentage of the page… but may actually be a bit large.

I’m still thinking about this.

Upon checking the size, the plates will be about 50% of the page- that’s really quite adequate. So I’ll go with interleaving mulberry paper and affixing the plates and tissue guards into the existing text block. Also, unless I simply shrink the entire page, scanning would be difficult and would ruin the symmetry of the text. If I shrank the page, it would become difficult to read.

Next problem- blue or green leather?
Okay, either would work but the mulberry paper I’ve found is green and I will have plenty of green leather left over from the Oz books (which is a very nice leather) the blue I have is not as nice to work with. So GREEN… with silver edge gilding and titling. (Emphasis because I keep forgetting what I’ve decided and why)

October 11. 2018
My mulberry paper got here today and I’ve been marking the pages that need one sheet (or more) of paper between them (the book is NOT paginated- this makes it more difficult). The paper was bent in shipping (aagh!) and I hope I got enough of it.

I’m going to take the book down to signatures… and unsew them to interleave- there is one place where I need four pages between one page and the next! I really don’t think tipping will suffice in this instance. I’ll have to plough them after rebinding and before gilding but that shouldn’t present a problem- it’s not a thick book. Oh, wait, it’s not a thick book NOW- it likely will be by the time I am done!

June 19 2019
Back to working on this. I have the signatures unsewn and am starting to cut papers for interleaving… I may decide to space them out instead of clumping them with their associated lines so carefully.

So- there are 40 colour plates and 6 full page black and white plates so I’ll need 11.5 sheets of paper for all of them. I do think I have enough of the green…

On an interesting note, I have discovered that Rackham actually illustrated the play THREE times, the last time for the Limited Editions Club in 1939. He made 6 more (and different) full colour paintings for that edition

“Rackham’s first illustration of a complete text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was published by Heinemann back in November 1908 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. William de Morgan wrote to Rackham and described the illustrations for the book as “the most splendid illustrated work of the century, so far.”4 Gordon Ray has noted that “[Rackham’s] designs for A Midsummer Night’s Dream of 1908 became the standard by which subsequent illustrations of Shakespeare’s play have been judged.”5

In 1928, just a few months after returning from his trip to the United States, the New York Library commissioned him to do a series of special watercolors for a manuscript of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Spencer Collection. Rackham completed the work in just over a year and sent the artwork to New York where it was on display for two months before being returned to England for binding. Rackham chose Graily Hewitt for the calligraphy, who also provided a commetary, and Sangorski and Sutcliffe of London to do the binding, overseeing every aspect of the production of the book.

The following is a brief excerpt from James Hamilton’s Arthur Rackham: A Life With Illustration which provides some fascinating information about the illustrations for the LEC Midsummer Night’s Dream, Arthur Rackham’s third commission of this play by Shakespeare:

Rackham’s agreement to undertake what he surely knew would be his final treatment of the play ‘in which I should find myself most at home,’ delighted George Macy, who wrote in March 1936: ‘I don’t believe I have written you that I tried to persuade the Trustees of the New York Public Library to let us reproduce the illustrations in their possession, but they were jealous of their monopoly, and would not give us this permission.’

Working very slowly on the illustrations, Rackham was making good progress by Christmas 1936: ‘My six drawings will all be in colour. They are well on now & should be done early in the spring at the latest… I am rather hoping you’ll do them in collotype which, at its best, is the best. But they will be suitable for 3 or 4 colour also (I prefer 3 colour – but so long as it is good I do not mind either way).’

Without consulting him, Limited Editions Club chose to ignore Rackham’s advice and reproduce the illustrations using lithography, employing the lithographer Fernand Mourlot of Paris, with colouring by Beaufumé. While the plates were being made and the proofs prepared, Rackham had moved on to his series of Wind in the Willows illustrations for Macy. He had also fallen very ill again. Writing to Macy in November 1938, he said: ‘My doctors tell me I must not be in too much of a hurry – but that’s about all they can do for me.’ When the proofs for A Midsummer Night’s Dream came through, Rackham was disappointed that his friend Macy had not listened to him. He had given the advice he did, not to avoid any process that was ‘new fangled’, and offensive to his rigid conservation, but because Rackham had developed his technique to his chosen process, and he was certainly too old to change now. If they commissioned him, he expected them to do so on his own terms. He wrote to Macy:

I wish I knew what to say about the set of proofs of the ‘Dream’. I wish I could say I liked them but I do not. I do not know by what process they are produced, but I think it is one for which my work is not fitted. I deal in colours that melt into one another, with gradual gradations. This process is granular & spotty, & here & there individual colours start out without any relation to the neighbouring colours. I do not know what to say to correct them. My work is specially adapted to the 3-col. process, in which each colour is printed in a different strength, over the whole surface… I am convinced that all efforts to better that process have failed so far – for full colour, modulated paintings, and all my success has been with 3-col. work, so I believe my best plan is to stick with it, & try no experiments.

For its part, the Limited Editions Club attempted to justify the new medium to its subscribers in a defensive statement in their Club leaflet:

Mr. Rackham … has usually insisted that his illustrations should be reproduced by the photo-engraving process, by half-tone process blocks. Such a process gives a facsimile reproduction of the drawings; but the fine dots involved in half-tone blocks require that they be printed on coated paper; and we refused to permit the inclusion of coated paper in our Shakespeare. We decided to defy the lightening and to have Mr. Rackhams’s illustrations reproduced in a different manner this time … as though the artist himself had made the reproductions with his own brush… The result is that Mr. Rackham’s reproductions are not facsimiles of the originals… But we consider they preserve the spirit of Mr. Rackham’s drawings, and are infinitely more beautiful in reproductions.

Had Rackham died at this point – as he might well have done – we would inevitably have been left with the nasty taste in the mouth, that he had had his last work abused by his publisher, who had wilfully defied him. Happily, however, only three weeks before he died, Rackham received his copy of the Limited Editions Club A Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose title page, significantly, carried the line ‘Illustrated from Watercolours by Arthur Rackham’. He was able to write to Macy: ‘Now I have seen the book I do agree with you that the method of reproduction you have chosen is more fitting than the 3-col. process. It is a fine edition. Some of the reproductions are as good as they could be…’ Rackham did, however, withold his complete pardon, by adding the parting shot ‘… – one or two – not so good.’

In all his treatments of A Midsummer Night’s Dream he returned again and again to the lines that had inspired him in the 1908 version. One scene, however, Rackham left until his last treatment of the play, as if he could not bear illustrate it before he really meant to hear Puck say these lines for him at his own final curtain:

So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends. 6”

Quoted from “The Book Blog”

It appears that the Easton Press edition used this 1939 set of pictures which is why I thought they were done by a different artist copying Rackham.

July 16, 2019
Signatures are sewn together- at last! Now to create the spine and plough- carefully!

September 28, 2019
Spine created and signatures ploughed… with some difficulty as the plough does not want to cut all the way to the edge- I had to insert backing boards to make it get all the pages.

There is another problem. My press is not large enough for this book. This is going to take some thinking…

October 6, 2019
I had three days off- so I’ll get something done on this, right?

The silver I had is tarnished and the page edges refuse to silver. Argggh!

So sanding down and try again (3rd time)….

November 6, 2019

Fresh silver acquired and gilding finished- almost to my satisfaction.

April 29, 2020

Some pictures of the casing in progress- I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the press being too small…


Aha! I have it… Larger backing boards, put it in the laying press and then use clamps on the edges extending from the press to make sure the pressure is fairly even all over. Now to get some larger backing boards…

I finished the binding and added all of the plates in- the last one this morning. So it’s done except for the cover decoration.