A Short and Beautiful Life: The Books, Writers and Artists Who Made the Shakespeare Press
Author(s): Rita Ricketts
Year published: 15 May 2023
Total Pages: 224
Few have heard of the Shakespeare Head Press, although it ranks alongside William Morris’s Kelmscott, Emery Walker and Cobden-Sanderson’s Doves, Eric Gill’s Golden Cockerel and St John Hornby’s Ashendene. Its origins date to the 1860s, when a young Arthur Henry Bullen, dreamt of printing the whole of Shakespeare. Making his dream a reality, Bullen founded the Shakespeare Head Press in 1904 in an old Tudor house, where Shakespeare would have been a guest. There are many backstories associated with the Shakespeare Head Press and of the perennial dashed hopes of small presses’, which plagued Bullen. When the Press passed to Basil Blackwell (1921), Bullen’s mantle was assumed by the scholar-printer Bernard Newdigate. For twenty years, he produced a series of finely printed books, yet these were not commercially successful. Blackwell blamed the commodification of literature, and the metamorphoses of books from handcrafted works of art to manufactured objects. A Short and Beautiful Life reconstructs the lives of Bernard Newdigate and A.H. Bullen, and that of the Shakespeare Head Press. For Sir Basil Blackwell, ‘the exact record of events was secondary to the universal truths it served to illustrate.’ And there is something remarkably contemporary about them.
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