The Song of Roland (1938)
LEC #102/9th Series, V. 7 in 1938
Sandglass Number VIII: 19
Artwork: Decorations by Valenti Angelo
Translated from the French into English by Charles Scott Moncrieff, and Edited and Introduced by Hamish Miles
#611 of 1500
Heritage Press reprinted this edition, both compared below.
Click images to see larger views. LEC on top, Heritage on Bottom.
Front Binding – The Song of Roland is a classic retelling of the epic battle between France and Spain (or, to be more specific, Charlemagne’s forces against the Saracens), originally composed in French by an anonymous poet. The George Macy Company was quite taken with the idea of attempting to recapture the era when this confrontation took place, and decided to have well-regarded illumination expert and illustrator (not to mention frequent LEC/Heritage Press artist) Valenti Angelo take the reins of trying to get the essence of an illuminated manuscript of the event done up in printed form. Angelo, of course, was up to the task, having done incredible work on the Heritage Salome and The Song of Songs by this point, as well as the LEC/HP edition of Elizabeth Browning’s Songs of the Portuguese. Clearly Angelo was quickly becoming a Club favorite and with good reason.
Now let’s look at the binding more closely:
Angelo was responsible for the binding design, and his charming handiwork gives it a strong centerpiece that really pops. The Heritage edition makes a valiant effort to replicate it; the white leather with gold leaf decoration was replaced with yellow cloth with blue decorations, and the fabric is a little less luxurious, but overall it’s a fairly good recreation. And his interior illustrations are perfect for this text. Angelo’s Macy bibliography can be found in our Salome post. Both editions I’ve owned are library editions, so they’ve seen some sunning over the years.
Design Notes – For this book, Angelo would split the designing task with printer Edmund B. Thompson of Windham, Connecticut. Angelo would do the art and hand-illuminate the decorations with gold, as well as design the binding, while Thompson would choose the type, set it by hand and have it printed. The Quarto goes into a little more detail:
For the Heritage reprint, details can be found in the Sandglass below.
Sadly, I don’t have a slipcase for this edition.
Title Page – Now we start seeing some of the major differences between these editions. The LEC features Angelo’s decadent hand-illuminations far more frequently, while the Heritage merely had some of these illuminations redone via silk screen application. The title font for the Heritage is a deep gold ink, but it’s difficult to make out here.
Charles Scott Moncrieff was the original translator of the French poem; Hamish Miles provides some editing alongside an introduction.
Colophon – Angelo provides his signature, and this is #611 of 1500.
Page 3 – Here’s a quick summary of Angelo’s decoration creation process. Angelo began with the basic black outline of his art, which he then embellished with inks of alternative colors: blue, green, and red. He then hand-illuminated each illustration with gold (which, again, is was applied much more thoroughly in the LEC edition). Angelo deliberately wanted to use dynamic and striking colors to recreate the feeling of medieval manuscripts, so he chose vivid inks that would be intense on the page. Very classy work. The Heritage may lose some of the hand-illumination, but does apply some changes to the design to try to make up for it. The first letter is done up in gold, and the stanza numbers are now in red both as the section headers and each set of lines.
Also of note, The Song of Roland is omitted from the Heritage reprint for some reason.
Page 27 – It looks like the line count on the left may be omitted on the Heritage edition? I no longer have it to check, but if I see it again I’ll doublecheck.
Page 84 (Heritage)
Page 127 (LEC)
Personal Notes – I originally got the Heritage edition for $1.00 from the anthropology club book sale at my old community college, and the LEC came into my hands courtesy of my delightful fan who continues to pass along books for me to review. Much appreciated!