Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Printing Art of George Ratcliffe Woodward


The phrase "Private Press" is used to cover all manner of ventures. If anything seems to fit the description properly, these wonderful booklets by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934) must do surely. Each sports the proud words on the front "Privately printed at 48 West Hill, Highgate Village", Woodward's home, presumably printed by the retired Vicar himself on a press in the back room somewhere. As a hobbyist he is really very good and whilst I say they are 'proudly' printed, in fact, one of the reasons these booklets are so appealing is their humility. Each is a few pages of beautifully set type sewn into buff card covers. Among the collection I have he stirs into coloured type only once and that is for the little booklet of Christmas carols. All the texts are verses or translations of verses by Woodward himself and yet, true to his calling, he presents them with restraint and not a little dignity. These are all printed well into Woodward's retirement in the late 1920s and early 30s but during his active life, as well as a parish clergyman, Woodward was a musicologist who edited numerous collections of church music with a particular emphasis on Carols.

I have had and enjoyed this little collection for a while but it wasn't until I stumbled on the description of one of them them by another bookseller that I discovered they even contain a little gay interest. One of these booklets contains a couple of translations by Woodward of same-sex oriented love poems by Christophe Ballard, part of the 17th century section of a family dynasty who pretty much had music publishing sewn up in France for seven generations. This is one I like:

AN ADMISSION
j'ayme un Brun depuis un jour

Long I've loved a nut-brown youth;
For beauty, none above him.
He requites my love, in sooth:
Be not astonied if I love him, I love him.

He in wisdom doth excel;
More sweet than she who bore him,
He can keep a secret well:
No wonderment if I adore him, I adore him.

Pale of cheek I wax apace,
When absent he sojourneth:
But when I behold his face,
My colour as before returneth, returneth.




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