Monday, 2 June 2014
To launch The Toilers of the Sea I travelled to Guernsey – naturally enough, since the novel was both written and set there; we held a reception in Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s extraordinary dwelling during his years of exile. Hugo spent five years designing every detail of the interior himself, including carved woodwork collected from old farmhouses, Delft tiles assembled into elaborate 3-dimensional collages, and many other eccentricities (one room is lined with plates on all the walls and ceiling) and precious objects. Hugo wrote Toilers standing at a small writing desk in the attic with a fabulous view over the harbour of St Peter Port, and we photographed our edition in situ. A few months ago I emailed a number of our collectors of medieval manuscript facsimiles asking for their opinion of the Winchester Psalter, a Romanesque masterpiece in The British Library collection. The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and as a result we decided to go ahead. The first colour proofs arrived today from Italy. Here’s a photo of one sheet, plus a detail of one of the most powerful (and entertaining) images, the Temptation of Christ in the Desert – the devil is dressed in the most decadent and seductive female fashion of the time. By way of contrast another set of proofs also arrived today, for The Herefordshire Pomona. Some of the delicious colour plates were shown in a previous blog post; the new proofs are of the black-and-white line engravings of the fruit which will appear in the commentary volume, where each fruit will be adjacent to its descriptive text. In the proof they are gathered together on the page, making rather a striking effect. There are 534 of these in total (I think!) and their meticulous detail enables precise identification of all the different apple types. The first ever charter of the rights of the individual citizen, and perhaps the most famous document in history, Magna Carta was signed on 15 June 1215, and we are marking the 800th anniversary by producing a facsimile of one of the best-preserved of the four surviving original copies, Cotton Augustus ii.106 in the British Library. Our facsimile will be printed on parchment, and Kate and I went to visit the works of William Cowley near Newport Pagnell, who have been making parchment for over 140 years using completely traditional techniques. The manual effort that goes into every skin is astonishing: we had a go ourselves at scraping the skins but it was terribly hard work, and we were pleased to hand the scraper back to the expert.