Book of the Week — The Song of Roland

PQ1521-E5-B8-1906-XXX“Mult ad apris ki bien conuist ahan.” (He has learned much who knows the pain of struggle.) — stanza CLXXXIV, line 2425, Song of Roland

The Song of Roland
Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1906
PQ1521 E5 B8 1906

The Song of Roland is a French epic dating from about 1040 to 1115CE. It recounts the chivalric and heroic deeds of Charlemagne, based on the historical but minor eighth century battle of Roncevaux. Roland was a nephew of Charlemagne. The author of the legend is unknown, although his name may have been Turoldus. The epic is considered the first masterpiece of literature in the French vernacular, written as a medieval chanson de geste (song of deeds) in four thousand lines. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its status in French literature, it was not translated into English until the late 19th century.

This edition was translated from Old French by Isabel Butler.

This edition was designed by Bruce Rogers, one of the great book designers of the twentieth century. Seven illustrations derived from the compartments of the window of Charlemagne in the Cathedral de Chartres depict events in the legend of Roland. These have been drawn and printed and then colored by hand in blues, reds, greens and yellows after the stained glass of the window. Five roundels are placed throughout the text. A large arched head-piece vignette tops the opening text as if a dome. The text is printed in double columns with marginal notes in brown and rubricated in gilt as page headings. The title-page is printed in red and black with a printer’s device in color.

PQ1521-E5-B8-1906-iPQ1521-E5-B8-1906-XX-XXI

 

Typefaces are French bâtarde and civilité. Bâtarde was a blackletter script used in France, the Burgundian Netherlands and Germany in the 14th and 15th centuries. The script was a decorative chancery or legal hand dating from the 13th century. Civilité is a type designed by Robert Granjon as a response to the Italian italic. Granjon based the font on a cursive Gothic script. The typeface was first used in 1559 for a book on manners written for children by Desiderius Erasmus.

PQ1521-E5-B8-1906-XXXIV

Printed on American handmade paper. Bound in quarter vellum over printed boards in a fleurs-de-lys pattern taken from paintings in the crypt at Chartres. To achieve an antiqued effect, Rogers rubbed a red paste wash over the printed paper.

 

PQ1521-E5-B8-1906-CoverBruce Rogers (1870-1957) was born in Indiana. As a young man, he moved to Boston, where, in 1895, he began working at the Riverside Press, a printing department of the Houghton, Mifflin publishing company. Rogers began designing trade books. In 1900, a Department of Special Bookmaking was created for the production of fine press editions, with Rogers in charge. He designed more than four hundred books during his career. Of those, he chose thirty (Roger’s Thirty), at the request of an interviewer, that he considered successful book works. The Song of Roland was one of his choices.

George Mifflin, the head of Houghton, Mifflin was so proud of Roland that he sent a copy to then-President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so impressed he visited the press to look at other of Rogers’ works. He wrote, “…it seemed to me far ahead, and almost like some of the very beautiful printing[s]…at the end of the Fifteenth Century.”

Edition of two hundred and twenty copies.

View the original article on the OpenBook Blog

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