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MORRIS, William, & Alfred John Wyatt (trans.)

The Tale of Beowulf.

Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1895 Stock Code: 141603
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A beautiful copy of the Kelmscott Beowulf, inscribed by William Morris to his business partner

First Kelmscott edition, and the first edition of William Morris's translation, in gorgeous condition, and inscribed by Morris in the year of publication on the second blank, "to Robert W. Smith, from William Morris, Sept: 24th 1895". The Kelmscott Beowulf is already a scarce book (300 copies were printed on paper, as here, with a further eight on vellum), and copies inscribed by Morris are rare.

There are only two others recorded at auction. The last was at Swann Galleries in 1995, inscribed to Georgiana Burne-Jones (wife of the artist). Before that ABPC records a copy at Sothebys New York in 1986 inscribed to Frank H. Smith (brother of the present recipient). Apart from earlier appearances in the 1950s of Georgiana's copy, there are no others listed.

Robert W. Smith, with his brother Frank, was Morris's business partner in the Morris & Co decorating firm, after buying him out in the early 1890s. The funding and business management provided by Smith allowed Morris to devote himself to socialist projects, and to found and finance the Kelmscott Press. Seemingly by way of recompense, Smith received inscribed copies of Morris's Kelmscott productions. We have traced four other titles inscribed to Smith by Morris in auction records: the library of Dr. Roderick Terry listed two in its 1935 sales, News from Nowhere and Love is Enough, and two more appeared in the 1980s, The History of Reynard the Foxe and The History of Godefrey of Boloyne. This Beowulf also has a distinguished later provenance, with the bookplate and ownership inscription (dated 1919) of poet and collector John Drinkwater (1882-1937), and the bookplates of Alexander L. Wyant and Arthur Lloyd-Taylor (also his 1973 ownership inscription).

Morris began his translation of the great English epic in 1893, based on a prose rendering by the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alfred J. Wyatt of Christ's College, with whom he consulted over a two year period. Beowulf had particular resonance for Morris: he called the poem "the first and the best poem of the English race", with "no author but the people" (cited in Peterson). The borders, designed by Morris, were used in only one other Kelmscott publication, The Life and Death of Jason, published six months later.

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Large quarto. Original limp vellum, spine lettered in gilt, with brown silk ties. Housed in a dark red quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.


Printed on Batchelor paper in black and red in Troy and Chaucer types. Decorative woodcut title, borders, and initials.


A beautiful copy, vellum fresh and unbowed, one rear silk tie lacking a portion, otherwise fine.


Bleiler, Supernatural Fiction, p. 372; Franklin p. 200; Peterson A32; Ransom p. 328; Tomkinson 32; Walsdorf & Blackell 32.


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