Of Interest – The LEC’s “Booklover’s Journey Around the World” Project
July 30, 2017 Comments Off on Of Interest – The LEC’s “Booklover’s Journey Around the World” Project
Before beginning, much thanks to Devotee BuzzBuzzard for sharing the monthly letter this all comes from. This was originally a part of The Praise of Folly Heritage post, but I feel it deserves its own space.
So, in the fall of 1938, George Macy and his Directors determined the course for the LEC following the release of the massive Shakespeare set — a “Booklover’s Journey around the World” is how the letter describes it. Intended to begin in November 1940, Macy would have the most influential book of a particular country selected to be designed, published and illustrated by artisans within that very country. He clearly was enthused beyond words for this lofty project, and even though there were considerable challenges ahead (what with World War II about to explode, not to mention other logical difficulties of doing international correspondence in those pre-Internet years) he felt that now was the time to announce the proposal to the membership. And what a proposal it is!
Fourteen works were selected from fourteen countries for the initial prospectus. For simplicity’s sake, I will list these out:
- The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett, England, printed by Oxford University Press, art by John Austen, introduced by Frank Swinnerton
- The Kalevala, Finland, printed by Tilghmann, art by Matti Visanti
- In Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, Holland, printed by Joh. Enschede en Zonen, art by Franz Masereel
- The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Gustave Flaubert, France, printed by Jean-Gabriel Daragnes, art by Daragnes, translated by Lafcadio Hearn
- Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Greece, printed by Pyrsos Press, art by Demetrios Galanis, introduced by Thornton Wilder, translated by Sir Richard Jebb
- The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s, Palestine, printed in a scroll form
- “Literature of Ancient Egypt”, Egypt, printed at the Press of the French Institute of Archaeology, art taken from examples of ancient Egyptian artwork, edited by the Librarian of the National Museum in Cairo
- The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, Basutoland (Lesotho), printed by Morija Printing Works, artist’s name not disclosed, binding to be bark from a native tree to the region*
- The Bhagavad-Gita, the Song Celestial, India, printed at the Times of India, seven Indian artists who are not disclosed, binding to be of gold cloth, translated by Sir Edwin Arnold
- The Ramayana, Siam
- Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, Java
- We of the Never-Never, Australia
- Gaucho by Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (according to Wikipedia, the author never had a book by that name, but perhaps there was something in the works Macy knew of at the time that didn’t come to fruition?), Argentina
- The True History of Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz, Mexico, printed by Rafael Loera y Chavez, art by Miguel Covarrubias
That’s quite a list! The letter then goes on to explain that books would still be sent out from the USA (in the patriotic verbiage you might expect) interspersed between these 14 volumes. The goal was to have all of these sent out by October of 1941.
…and we all know the result of that! Nary a single one of these proposed books actually made it out as intended to the membership of the LEC, and the few that did manage to make it out certainly did not hit that hopeful 10/1941 end date. Of the entire catalog, The Old Wives’ Tale was the only one to cut it close, shipped out to subscribers in November of 1941 as detailed above. From there, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico (a rebranded title from the prospectus!) by Diaz was mailed in October of 1942, also as planned. The next, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, showed the first signs that problems were severely hampering the original plan for this series. Instead of Daragnes, Warren Chappell was recruited to do the artwork and the book was printed in New York by Aldus Printers. It came out in January of 1943. The ML for that book goes into some of the tribulations regarding the creation of the book and the selection of Chappell, but fails to mention Daragnes whatsoever. Next came The Praise of Folly, but it was not from Holland as originally intended; Masereel and Van Krimpen were sidelined for Lynd Ward and The Mount Pleasant Press, and as noted earlier came out in February of 1943. And unlike Saint Anthony, nothing about the book’s original vision came out in the letter for it.
It ought to be clear that Macy’s dream had withered, most likely due to World War II. I can only imagine the disappointment he must have felt as the majority of the remaining books fell off of his publication radar. Of the 10 left on the prospectus, only Oedipus made it out in any sort of form as Macy intended, with Galanis’ artwork still included, in November of 1955. After George’s death in 1956, Helen Macy issued three other titles from the “Booklover’s Journey”, although I doubt little beyond the text matched up to her husband’s aspirations for two of them: Lord Jim in 1959 (with Lynd Ward again stepping in to produce artwork for it), and The Bhagavad-Gita in 1965 (art by Y. G. Srimati and still including Arnold as the translator). The Story of an African Farm in 1961 (with Paul Hograth’s art), however, did manage to achieve some level of success in matching up with Macy’s design as outlined in the letter. I’ll let Django6924 explain:
The fascinating Monthly Letter uploaded here also fails to mention the name of the printer/designer at the Morija Printing Works where the The Story of an African Farm was to be printed. That gentleman was Hans Schmoller and that same gentleman actually did design and print the book–25 years later and in England!
Per the ML for the 1961 edition, Herr Schmoller was a 21-year-old printer in 1938 when he wrote to George Macy, whose name he had seen in an issue of The Dolphin, introducing him to the Morija Printing Works of the Société des Missions Evangéliques de Paris in Basutoland, where he was in charge of the composing and monotype department. “The only printing office of any importance in a country the size of Switzerland with a staff of 32, all but two of them natives, printing books in 15 languages.” Macy’s suggested that Morija might want to print The Story of an African Farm for the LEC. The ML is oddly silent about whether Schmoller accepted the offer (if indeed he had the authority to make such a decision at his age), but the war intervened and by the time it was over, Schmoller had moved to England where he was Oliver Simon’s assistant at the Curwen Press. Macy located him and raised the question of The Story of an African Farm again, but again the ML doesn’t say whether Schmoller accepted (if he had the authority to do so). In 1949 Schmoller moved to Penguin Books and by 1961 was the head of the production department and one of the directors of Penguin. By now, Schmoller must have decided that he needed to write finis to the production of this book for the LEC (he was, incidentally, the designer of the LEC edition of Silas Marner back in 1953).
Although Macy did not live to see the edition, and although it wasn’t printed in Basutoland, and the illustrator was not a native of Basutoland but an Englishman, I believe George would have been pleased overall with the result — especially the tree-bark binding.
The remaining 6 titles faded into nothingness, never properly fulfilled in any fashion. Which is a shame, as they sound quite interesting indeed.
For Oedipus, we did get some explanation about the project and its overall failure in regards to that book, which I’m going to copy over from that post below:
[Oedipus] was going to join their “Booklover’s Tour of the World” plan that they had going at the time, with the book to be printed and illustrated in Greece to truly showcase its cultural style. The following month, Nazi Germany began their invasion of France, which led to Paris being taken in June. In the chaos that ensued, the Club lost contact with their printer, Kiron Theodoropoulos, and their illustrator, Demetrios Galanis. The Club had seen Galanis’ work in print form before the war kicked off, so they knew the work had been completed, but alas, it would be quite some time before the LEC were able to recontact their Greek collaborators. Luckily, both men were alive following the war’s aftermath, but the book was in dire straits. Over the war’s duration, vandals broke into Theodoropoulos’ press, the Pyrsos Press, and had destroyed the pages of type prepared for the book. The engravings were still intact, but their condition was no longer satisfactory. The Club wanted to see for themselves, and the American Embassy in Athens had become involved, sending an interested party to the Press to retrieve and ship the engravings to the Club. This occurred in 1953. Once in their hands, the engravings were deemed printable. The Club then decided that their lofty aborted plan of “The Booklover’s Tour of the World” was no longer limiting the book to be printed in Greece, so they turned to Jan van Krimpen in the Netherlands to design the book based on Galanis’ initial plans to have the Greek on one side and the English on the other.
So in the end Van Krimpen did get his chance to be a part of the series, although a long ways removed from reproducing a classic piece of Dutch literature!
So let’s spin back to the Heritage Press for a moment. The Heritage Press did publish their own Song of Songs back in 1935 (1500 of which are signed by artist Valenti Angelo!), so that particular title does have a Macy publication under its belt, even if the original intent for its LEC was lost. And we do somehow have the intended The Praise of Folly available as a Heritage edition, printed in Holland by Van Krimpen and featuring woodcuts by Masereel, issued as an exclusive. As I lack a Sandglass for the Heritage Praise, I can’t go into any specifics, but I imagine a similar situation took place a la Oedipus; Van Krimpen and/or Masereel were unable to fulfill the commission due to the war, and Macy had to audible in Ward to get the book out. However, as the war concluded, there was an opportunity to put out the proposed Praise, but with the LEC released not all that long ago Macy decided to instead publish it as a Heritage exclusive. That’s all speculation on my part, but it seems reasonable to assume.
Monthly Letter (source)