Monday, December 2, 2013

"Believe me sincerely yours, C. Ricketts." Part II

This is the second in a two-part series that started with a post about Charles Ricketts and his Vale Press. This second part is about Laurence Hodson, the recipient of Ricketts' letters, and the multifaceted relationship revealed by the correspondence.

"Shannon & I managed to run down to Wolverhampton the other day. Masefield will probably have told you how charmed we were with the exhibition as a whole & astonished by the excellence of some of the exhibits. I think taken all round it would be difficult to beat the Print or the Book rooms. The small Watts the three Goddesses was a surprise. The Brittomart has improved since it has been varnished or oiled up! I would suggest something in the way of a forged will and a little poison in the small kindly cup of black coffee when the owner is next in your house... P. S. I was greatly struck by the excellence & choise [sic] of the Strang drawings. One of mine I intend getting back out of you that it may be forth with burned very slowly in a very hot fire." - C. Ricketts to L. Hodson, Sept. 20, 1902

Laurence Hodson was a contemporary of Ricketts and Shannon, having lived from 1864 to 1933. Upon his father's death in 1890, he inherited his family's estate in Wolverhampton, as well as a partnership in Springfield Brewery. Throughout his life, he was one of the foremost patrons of the artists and craftsmen of the period, providing financial backing for the Guild of Handicraft, chairing the Fine Art Committee for the Wolverhampton Art and Industrial Exhibition in 1902 (see quote above), and building a large collection of books and art for his personal collection. With Charles R. Ashbee, he founded the Essex House Press in 1898 out of the remnants of the Kelmscott Press, buying the presses and plant and hiring three former staff members from the Press.

"I have somewhat reluctantly abandoned the idea of clasps as my working jeweler has gone on strike, no, not on strike, he has refused point blank to work any more for me, for ever and for ever! I am pondering your Cellini vols. very close into(?) the backs, to the grief of Zaehnsdorf who points out that use will break up the work on the back 'exactly as it did in the old books'. The vellum Cellinis are a great success, but in the face of the difficulties of binding vellum, there is a chance of our dropping vellum all together all the big London binders being either on my black books or on the outer edge of strike, revolt, retaliation & revenge." - C. Ricketts to L. Hodson, Aug. 23, 1901
Hodson maintained a regular correspondence with many artists, writers, craftsmen, and publishers of the period, not the least of which was Charles Ricketts, from whom he purchased every book published by the Vale Press, including the very limited vellum editions and copies in bindings designed by Ricketts especially for him. Ricketts and he exchanged letters on topics related to the books Ricketts was making, the struggles Ricketts was having with craftsmen, changes to designs, when books were being sent to Hodson, and offers of special edition copies when they were available.

"I am glad that you like the Watts article, I found it beastly difficult like most things which look easy at first sight. It has caused some offence in the New art quarters, if I had followed up with the Impressionists & with Whistler as I was asked to do, I should have had to leave for Italy at once. Don't miss the impressionists, some 5 of the Degas are delightful most of the other things beastly, though many of them entertaining; the movement has been a curious side issue in modern painting Watts being a better impressionist & landscapist than Monet for instance who does interesting spaces of raw paint, on a mechanical scheme, inside monotonous shapes, with a wonderful gift for missing all affect at illusion other than that of a flat painted surface." C. Ricketts to L. Hodson, Feb. 12, 1905

Besides business matters, however, Ricketts' letters also touch on their shared interests, which included art and the art world, and books and the many aspects of their manufacture. He mentions art exhibitions he and Shannon visited, developments in the aesthetics of art, commissions Shannon received from around the world, and art that they had added to their own collection. All this is related in the chatty manner of long acquaintance and friendship.

The letters from Charles Ricketts to Laurence Hodson, along with others from authors and artists who corresponded with Hodson, were found in the back of a wardrobe last year. This happy chance has allowed bibliophiles to rediscover these previously forgotten connections and explore the many sides of these multifaceted relationships.

For more on the letters quoted in this two-part series, visit our website or contact us directly, and as always, we thank you for reading.

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