Victorian Lecture and Slideshow: The Sir Edward Burne-Jones Illustrations to Chaucer

William G. Reeder

“Victorian Lecture and Slideshow:  The Sir Edward Burne-Jones Illustrations to Chaucer”, published in 2016 by Parallel Press, provides a facsimile of lectures by Frederick Ellis upon the Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer’s tales and legends. This edition was compiled and edited by William G. Reeder.

In 1896, “The Works of Geoffrey Now Newly Imprinted” was published at his Kelmscott Press by William Morris.  This monumental achievement of bookmaking utilized the 14th Century text in the recitation of the early English legends and fables edited by Frederick Startridge Ellis and illustrated by woodcuts after the original drawn artwork of Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  This collaborative effort was the culmination of careers for both Morris and Burne-Jones, both of whom died within a year of this publication.

Burne-Jones, a prominent pre-Raphaelite artist, had collaborated with Morris for many years in projects of textile design and embellishment, furniture decoration, stained glass, and finally in book illustration.  For the “Chaucer”, the final artwork for the woodcuts resulted from the careful interpretation of described events in the tales.

As editor for this and other Kelmscott publications, Frederick Ellis, a lesser-known member of the pre-Raphaelite group, was an author in his own right, as well as editor, bookseller, and selector for the British Library.  In 1899, Ellis was requested to lecture at the local Torquay Natural History Society upon his work on the Kelmscott “Chaucer”.

In preparation, Ellis composed a seven-line (septet) poem for each of the illustrations, which were to be projected as lantern slides.

It is the manuscript for this lecture, with the septet accompanying each illustration, that is presented here. Following the printed text with the illustrations, facsimile pages of the original manuscript show additions and deletions made for the lecture.

The Ellis manuscript is to be found in the Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin- Madison Library.

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