Making Modernism

Way & Williams’s Hand and Soul by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In 1895, two young Chicago-based publishers, Washington Irving Way and Chauncey Lawrence Williams visited William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, and commissioned Morris to produce an edition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Hand and Soul. This was the first Way & Williams publication, and the only Kelmscott Press book ever distributed by an American publisher.

Morris sought to produce beautiful objects, and although he objected to the nineteenth-century practice of producing large format editions for collectors, he knew that these editions would help fund the expense of his other books. Morris printed 225 copies on hand-made paper and 10 on vellum for distribution in England. He printed 300 copies on paper and 11 on vellum to sell and distribute in America by Way & Williams. An outstanding example of Morris’ arts and crafts aesthetic, the book includes woodcut floral borders and titles, decorative initial letters, with both titles and shoulder notes printed in a reddish orange, and a gold-embossed title on a white pigskin cover and stiff binding without ties.

Rossetti's story in Hand and Soul was reprinted from The Germ (January 1, 1850), a short-lived magazine founded by Rossetti and his brother. That magazine was used to disseminate the work and ideas of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists. The story follows the artistic travails of a fictional pre-Renaissance painter, Chiaro dell' Erma, culminating in his painting provoking a murderous blood bath, with a vision of Chiaro's soul appearing to him as a spirit-woman. The painter then "set the hand" to paint this inner soul. Morris and the publishers saw the story as an allegory for their beautiful hand-made objects' soulful value outside of the capitalist marketplace.

The Newberry Library has an extremely rare copy within their larger collection of Way & Williams books, which includes books by authors like Kate Chopin, Elia Peattie, Mary Judah, Reuben Thwaites, Kate Cleary, Emily Phillips, Catherine Brooks Yale, Mary Adams, Florence Snow, Alice Meynell, and Madeline Yale Wynne, whose titular short-story, in her The Little Room and Other Stories, became the name of one of the most important literary clubs a few years later. Way & Williams drew on artists and designers like Bruce Rogers, Maxfield Parrish, and Selwyn Image. They also published magazines like The New Unity, and later Williams alone published The Show Window magazine, a trade publication for window dressers, and also the work of L. Frank Baum, now known as the author of the Wizard of Oz stories. Hand & Soul embodies fin de siècle Chicago's importance as a key international hub for fine press publishing and the emerging modernist scene.

Craig Saper, University of Maryland Baltimore County

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