Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
Excerpt from Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour- July 13, 1798.
The beautiful words above are that of one William Wordsworth (1770-1850), an English poet who is considered a Romantic, along with poets such as Lord Byron and Walt Whitman. Romanticism began in the late 1700s, traveled throughout several continents, lasting until the mid-1800s, and exemplified nature and the supernatural.
I found a stunning copy of Wordsworth’s poems at a book sale in central Virginia. At the time, I didn’t really care what kind of book it was; I was more intrigued by the intricate design on the gilt cover.
But despite its pretty looks, the book does have some interesting significance.
Phillips, Sampson, and Company, out of Boston, published this book in 1852-Two years after the death of Wordsworth. This company started off well, becoming the original publisher of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s English Traits in 1856. Sadly though, the company went out of business when both of the owners, Moses Dresser Phillips and Charles Sampson, died in 1859.
You can tell this book was well loved at one point or another, because the ends of the boards are well worn.
Another thing I really like about this book is the gilded edges. I have only one other book with gilded edges: Chaucer’s Complete Works. But unlike Chaucer, this book has all three exposed edges gilded, or aeg (all edges gilt). You can see two of the three edges in the photo above.
This gilding helps protect the edges of the pages from moisture and dust, but unfortunately, it didn’t help poor old William, who is covered with foxing (the brown spots which are a result of moisture and high humidity).
Books such as this one, with intricate designs and gilt-stamped covers, were common in the mid-nineteenth century and were representative of current fashions in Victorian design. A really cool photographic list of other gilt-stamped books can be found with AbeBooks’ article ‘Riddled with Gilt.’
Whenever I read Wordsworth’s poems, I can’t help but think of England and its beautiful countryside. Perhaps this detailed imagery is what Wordsworth was going for.
- Tintern Abbey – a Romantic Spot, a Poet’s Inspiration and a Driver’s Challenge! (aglobalaffair.com)
- Two poems (kthina.wordpress.com)
- What is Romanticism? (emilygostage.wordpress.com)
- Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and ST Coleridge, edited by Fiona Stafford – review (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ by William Wordsworth (oneminutepoetry.wordpress.com)
- British Romanticism: A (Very) Quick Introduction (literaryblonde.wordpress.com)