The Chronicles of Jean Froissart (1959)
LEC #306/28th Series V. 3 in 1959
Artwork: Illustrations by Henry C. Pitz
Introduction by Sidney Painter, edited by G.C. Macaulay, translated by John Bourchier, Lord Berners
LEC #1351 of 1500. Heritage Press reprint available.
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – April is nearly over but before it folds into May it’s time for a proper book post, and this month brings The Chronicles of Jean Froissart, or Johan Froyssart, or John Froissart. There’s quite a few ways to state Froissart’s name it seems, as the title page and the Monthly Letter share several, but from here on in I will stick with just Froissart.
Froissart was born in 1337 in what is now northern France, and became perhaps the most notable historian of his country (and perhaps Western Europe) during the course of his life. Not much is known about him as a person — he seemingly came from a middle class family and managed to land a secretarial job for English consort Phillippa, perhaps due to their shared home of Valenciennes. He was chiefly writing poems praising his employer for a time, but began to take notes of the various battles breaking out across the continent, which eventually spurred the totality of The Chronicles. After Phillippa’s death as Queen in 1369, Froissart became priest of a parish due to connections with her cousin Guy de Chatillon, and later became the personal chaplain for de Chatillon.
Over the course of his life he kept taking notes, traveled extensively and was very well known by the time of his death around 1410. He knew Chaucer, and likely the two did meet at some point. His Chronicles had enough clout to capture the attention of King Henry VIII of England, who issued Lord Berners to translate the text of Froissart’s notes into English following manuscripts in his native French, of which the Limited Editions Club reprints here. This would be the sole publication of Froissart, but the Heritage Press did reissue it for their members.
Henry C. Pitz makes his debut on the blog, but not for the Club, as he had two prior titles under his belt by the time The Chronicles was released in 1959: one third of the final set of Evergreen Tales, namely “Hansel and Gretel”, issued in 1952, followed by Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, which came out in 1954 for both the Club and the Heritage Press’ long series of Dickens releases. Following The Chronicles came James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy in 1963, followed by perhaps the most famous work he illustrated for, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in 1967, which so happened to be his last. Pitz notes that, by the time Chronicles was issued, that Dombey was “about the one hundred and sixtieth” book he had illustrated; quite a run! I have seen two of these, this and The Spy, and both are lovely.
Design Notes – As this is beyond the Quarto, I will pull the particulars out of the Monthly Letter I was fortunate to receive with this book. Peter Beilenson acted as designer, selecting Granjon 12 point to serve as the font. The page numbers (or Folios, as noted in the Letter) are in Civilité, last seen in the Koran. The book is 7 1/4 by 11 inches, bound by Frank Fortney at Russell Rutter in a three-piece design with cloth covered with escutcheons, with a set of halberds on the front and back portions of the spine buckram, with the spine itself gold-stamped a shield with the title and author. Inside features gray Archer paper from the Curtis Mill in Newark, Delaware. Lastly, Pitz’s stunning double page wash-and-line drawings were printed by the Crafton Graphic Company, colored by Walter Fischer’s studio by hand. A map was done by a separate artist, Rafael Palacios.
Title Page – Several hands were on deck to assist with the text on this one. As mentioned, Lord Berners, aka John Bourchier, served as the translator back in the 1400s, with G.C. Macaulay performing editing duties. Sidney Painter wrote the introduction, with a note on the translation by Macaulay AND a preface by Bourchier. I quite like this title page with Pitz already making a bold statement right off the bat with his excellent illustrations.
Colophon – This is #1351 of 1500, and was signed by Pitz.
Examples of Pitz’s illustrations (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – This was one of several books sent to me by fellow Devotee NYCFaddict, much like several others I’ve been spotlighting lately. I do have to say that it is a stunning book that demonstrated that the Club could continue to produce remarkable editions under Helen Macy, and is easily among the best of the books put out in the 50s following George’s death that I’ve come across.