The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Restored
Michael P. Kuczynski
Professor of English
The Kelmscott Chaucer, published in Hammersmith, London in 1896 by William Morris (1834-96), has been called one of the most splendid books ever printed. Morris, the most famous artist-medievalist of Victorian England, devoted his life to recovering the beauty and usefulness of the Middle Ages. His efforts were an antidote to the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution, with its emphasis on mass production and the replacement of human labor with machines.
Medieval books were handmade. They were thus both rare and expensive, and served not only as sources of information but also works of art. With their exquisite scripts and illuminations, they still captivate and discipline the eye, turning reading into an aesthetic act. Early printers of the fifteenth century, such as the Englishman William Caxton (1422-91), preserved the artfulness of medieval manuscripts during the age of print culture, echoing in their elegant typefaces and woodblock illustrations the look and feel of the handwritten books of the Middle Ages.
Morris, in turn, imitated these early printers and Caxton especially, who first published Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1476. The Kelmscott Press produced over fifty books, both on vellum—calfskin, the surface on which the best medieval manuscripts were written—and on linen paper. Inks were handmade too, according to exact medieval recipes. Kelmscott books were also decorated with lavish floral borders, red initials and captions (medieval-style ‘rubrics’) and, in the case of The Kelmscott Chaucer, with numerous pictures designed by Morris’s friend and collaborator, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones.
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Imprinted rolled off Kelmscott’s presses just four months before Morris died. The book is the culmination of Morris’s vision of the Middle Ages, a volume that he described in a letter to a friend as ‘a pocket cathedral’.
One would need a large pocket indeed to carry around this massive book, however. Howard-Tilton patrons can see The Kelmscott Chaucer for themselves, in Rare Books on the library’s sixth floor. It is the jewel in the crown of Tulane’s complete Kelmscott Press collection.
Tulane’s Kelmscott Chaucer has just been lovingly restored by Howard-Tilton’s conservation librarian, Sabrena Johnson. Before, during, and after images are available in this exhibit. When Morris published the book, he had most copies of it bound in a simple binding of quarter linen with paper-covered boards, intending that those who purchased them would rebind theirs more durably and elegantly. That’s what Tulane now has done, fulfilling William Morris’s plan for his book and making it available, in all its splendor, to a new generation of students, faculty, and admirers.
Presented here is the online version of the Special Collections session developed at the Latin American Library for the "Tulane Treasures" component of the orientation experience for incoming undergraduates to Tulane University. In this hands-on exhibit, we highlight examples from the Latin American Library's Image Archive of stereoscopic photography taken in various locations and time periods within Latin America and the Caribbean. With these and other examples we trace out the technical and commercial development of Latin American stereographs from the earliest beginnings of photography (c. 1838) to the latest trends in digital formats that presage today's cutting-edge technologies for producing 3D images and VR (Virtual Reality) simulations. A second objective of this session is to demonstrate the potential for scholarship that stereographs hold from a variety of perspectives including historical, artistic, communications, and business marketing, to name just a few.
This exhibit examines early New World textual encounters between Europeans and Amerindians through selected rare books and original manuscripts from The Latin American Library’s special collections. We focus specifically on how disparate conceptions of language and writing played out as ideological and discursive features within key texts. Reflecting the Library’s collection strengths, the exhibit focuses most prominently on Mesoamerica.