“Doing [My] Research”

One of the benefits of a thoroughly wet day, apart from watering the garden, is that it gives an opportunity to finish reading a book such as

Apart from the evident foxing, this virtually unblemished dust jacket has protected and preserved

the gold embossed design on the cover of J.M. Dent’s first edition of the work for 66 years, 40 of which have stood on my shelves in various abodes. Even the desiccated spider which slid from between two pages as I opened them left no mark on the almost pristine leaves.

Mr Gibbings has treated us to another delightful ramble into his mind and his talents. He takes us along the river of Paris from its source to its mouth, diverting from his poetic prose descriptions into the realms of history, pre-history, geography, nature, geology, myth, and legend. We are treated to anecdotes picked up on the way; to the Bayeux tapestry; to relations between England and France, and even Quebec; to the Lascaux caves; to the art of Sisley and Monet. And much more. All this with effortless humour. The many wood engravings number more than 50.

As usual I have reproduced complete sample pages

in order that the elegance of both engravings and writing can be displayed.

When, after drafting this, I settled down to start on my next book, Jackie decided to offer an image of me “doing [my] research”.

On Sam’s stag day in December 2007, we toured the wine tasting establishments at Margaret River. I had enjoyed the samples so much that I enquired about the cost of shipping a case to England. It was prohibitive. I had no such problem with the superb bottle of Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 brought all the way from Perth by Mick and Gay on their recent visit. This was a superb accompaniment to Jackie’s chicken thighs marinaded in sweet chilli sauce; vegetable rice, and broccoli served for our dinner this evening. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden.

A Collaboration

One of Robert Gibbings’s diversions in ‘Trumpets from Montparnasse’ was his recounting of the request of his friend, Charles Ede of The Folio Society to produce a series of engravings for ‘The Discovery of Tahiti’ by George Robertson. This was a joint project with Gibbings’s publisher, J. M. Dent, published in 1955.

Naturally, this led me to my own copy of this work, in fact a 1973 reprint. I finished reading it this morning.

The transparent jacket to this slender volume reveals the embossed designs on the front and back boards and the spine.

Here is the frontispiece. Oliver Warner’s editing and his introduction are exemplary. He has modernised the spelling of his 18th century source, and interspersed summaries of sections from other seamen’s diaries when they provide amplification of the narrative. His explanatory footnotes and occasional correction of Robertson’s assumed facts are enlightening.

But, of course, my major interest was in the illustrator.

In order to produce reasonably large images of the woodcuts, I have scanned sections of the pages, with a little of the text by way of explanation.

Here is the dramatic opening paragraph,

and what was soon revealed to the crew’s delighted eyes;

and yet more.

This paragraph reflects the difficulty of establishing trust with no common language.

Sailors and islanders were fascinated by each other’s artefacts. In particular the nails of various sizes carried on board became the most valuable trading items.

Robertson never established the purpose of this place.

What nails could buy is suggested here.

Fresh food was also essential to the traders.

The artist’s final illustration admirably encapsulates what was clearly a very sad day for both parties of this 6 weeks’ acquaintance. The paragraph in square brackets is one of the editor’s additions.

I watched the last three matches of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Before the England versus Scotland game we dined on pork spare ribs and a selection of Chinese starters, with which I drank Doom Bar. Jackie now has the cold as well, so this finger food suited us both.

A Cornucopia

is a cornucopia of literary and artistic delights from the pen, brush, and chisel of the author. Mine is the 1955 first edition of J. M. Dent protected by a somewhat worn jacket.

The embossed designs on the front board and the spine are therefore as fresh as they were 64 years ago.

Gibbings earned his living as a highly skilled and sought after wood engraver. This book tells of a trip to Paris and to Positano following his desire for colour and brushes as a break from the black and white bread and butter work. The writer’s memoirs are peppered with fascinating anecdotes from his own encounters and from tales of other artists. The history and geography of his subjects are presented with deceptive ease.

The book contains eight colour plates, one of which is repeated on the jacket above.

There are also forty examples of Gibbings’s wood engravings. These scans of sample pages offer the reader tastes of his elegantly simple prose; the last image above containing one of his many entertaining and informative insights into the art world.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s powerful smoked haddock, creamy mashed potato, piquant cauliflower cheese, crisp carrots, tender runner beans and cabbage, followed by ginger ice cream and lemon drizzle cake.