Walking Round Cambridge with William Blake

by William Blake
Illustrated by Rose Harries
Published by Incline Press, Oldham, UK, Undated
Book dimensions: H 270 x W 217 x D 21mm
Box dimensions: H 301 x W 245 x D 51mm
Sample board #74
Bound in 2024
Made for the Designer Bookbinders “Unique” Exhibition

About the book:

This publication by Incline Press contains the famous poem, “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake from a notebook of his now known as the Pickering Manuscript. It is assumed to have been written around 1803, but was not published until 1863 in the companion volume to Alexander Gilchrist’s biography of Blake. It is a series of couplets that most Blake scholars and biographers agree were written in no particular order, but just gathered as such for printing.

The poem is not an easy text and contains a series of paradoxes which speak of innocence juxtaposed with evil and corruption. There is a nursery-rhyme simplicity to some of couplets like: “To see a world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wildflower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour.”, meaning that you can find universes of meaning and revelation hidden inside the smallest things. It consists of 132 lines and has been published with and without breaks dividing it into stanzas. An augury is a sign or omen and like any of the great works of poetry, every reading reveals new shades of meaning.

The illustrator was a stranger to Blake’s couplets until 2007 when she was asked her to spend some time getting to know the poem. She did so whilst walking the streets of Cambridge with her sketchbook, fitting her impressions of the poem with the modern scenes of street-life. The whole book is illustrated with these drawings of street scenes, printed in dark red ink. Her line drawings open the text in a new way, prompting the reader to a fresh view of a complex masterpiece. The text is hand set in 18 point Baskerville and printed on Zerkall paper in black text.

About the binding:

  • A full leather stub-binding bound in brown goatskin on the spine.
  • Fair goatskin covers both the boards.
  • The design is embroidered onto the covering leather using a variety of different style stitches, all in dark red thread with dashes of other colours around it.
  • The covers of the book are also adorned with some yellow gold leaf.
  • The top edge of the book is trimmed, sanded and decorated with coloured pencils.
  • The foredge and bottom edge of the text block are deckled.
  • The doublures are hand-decorated with pencil marks in a grid-like pattern.
  • The book is sewn on stubs, folded from both orange and burgundy Canson Mi-Teintes paper
  • The two orange stubs are patterned with coloured pencil detail like on the doublures.
  • The spine is sewn with dashes of thread to match the patterned paper doublures.
  • The title of the book is embroidered onto a leather label on the spine.
  • The book is housed in a drop-back box with sides patterned with the same threads used on the spine of the book.

Design Description

Throughout the book are wonderfully free drawings of street scenes in Cambridge including: wandering ducks; umbrellaed people; bicycles; statues; buildings; canal barges and pet dogs. These all have the recurring theme of being printed in just one colour: dark red.

I was particularly drawn to an illustration of pigeons (seen in plentiful numbers in any city!) and decided to draw my own composition in the same style as the illustrations in the book. There are a lot of animals in this poem, they are used to symbolise the innocent and the oppressed and also various emotions, qualities, and facets of human behaviour, emphasising how all living creatures are interconnected. I therefore felt illustrating the book in this design was appropriate.

I drew the free hand and then embroidered their outlines in dark red thread on cream goatskin, to tie the cover in with the appearance of the text block. I added other dashes of complimentary colours (browns, oranges, yellows etc.) to further compliment them.

The design for the doublures evolved as I wanted to add a hand-drawn element to the binding. I chose colours to compliment the dark red ink on the cream paper and decided to pattern some orange paper with dashes of coloured pencils in a grid-like pattern. The front doublure differs to the back, in that half of the spread has the dashes appearing to fall off the page.

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