Navigation – Plan du site

Lawrence, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers

Keith Cushman
p. 115-146

Texte intégral

I. Introduction

1If D.H. Lawrence had lived a few more months, the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers would have been the third fully illustrated book he had seen through the press. During his lifetime he published two books illustrated by artists. The World War I poetry sequence Bay, issued by C. W. Beaumont in 1919, was Lawrence’s first fine press, limited edition book. Published on hand-made paper in an edition of 200, Bay is illustrated with ten zinc block engravings by Anne Estelle Rice. Eighty of the 200 copies are hand-colored. Two years later Thomas Seltzer published a trade edition of Sea and Sardinia, featuring reproductions of eight paintings by Jan Juta. Although the publisher’s statement for the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers, illustrated with wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton, gives the date of publication as June 1930, the English Catalogue lists April for the 30 copies on hand-made paper and May for the 500 “ordinary” copies on mould-made paper (Roberts/Poplawski 101). Lawrence died on 2 March 1930.

2On 30 August 1929 Lawrence wrote Hughes-Stanton that writers and artists had to “work for the limited-edition people now—it’s the only way to make money” (7L 457). Lawrence was speaking from experience. From the mid-1920s onwards he published a series of limited editions, some of them signed, with various publishers, most famously Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) in a signed edition of 1,000 (Lawrence was essentially both author and publisher of Lady Chatterley). Other notable Lawrence limited editions include the Archer and Black Sun editions of Sun (1926), the numerous expurgated and unexpurgated (“definitive”) editions of Pansies (1929), and the Black Sun Escaped Cock (1929). The Black Sun Escaped Cock almost qualifies as an illustrated book, for it features reproductions of five Lawrence watercolors: a frontispiece, two tiny headpieces, and two tiny tailpieces.

3The topic of Lawrence’s illustrated books as books has attracted little scholarly attention. This has always been the case even though the illustrations of Bay, Sea and Sardinia, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers form an integral part of the reading experience. Understandably, almost all literary scholars are interested in texts much more than in the books in which the texts physically appear. Furthermore, Lawrence’s illustrated books are not easy to lay one’s hands on. There have never really been even 200 copies of Bay, for 25 were accidentally destroyed before publication. Only 530 copies of the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts were published. Jan Juta’s illustrations for Sea and Sardinia last appeared (in inferior reproductions) in any edition of the book in the Secker first English edition in 1923. Apparently the Cambridge University Press could not afford to include the illustrations in its edition of the travel book (1997), even though Lawrence had argued strenuously for their inclusion in the first edition of the book. Rather surprisingly, Roberts and Poplawski do not describe the illustrations in any of these three books in any edition of the CUP Bibliography. Most Lawrence scholars haven’t ever seen the illustrations, much less taken them into account.

4The Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers is a masterpiece of fine press book-making. Lawrence knew Blair Hughes-Stanton primarily as the friend of his stepdaughter Barby, who had met Hughes-Stanton at art school in the mid-1920s. Ultimately Hughes-Stanton would become the artist whose “dexterity in technique” and whose “questing and restless nature undoubtedly gave fresh life and vitality to the practice of wood-engraving” (Lewis 43). The Cresset Press Birds, Beasts features a dozen wood engravings by Hughes-Stanton: a full-page frontispiece (fig. 1), nine full-page engravings before each section, and two smaller engravings as head-and tailpieces. Hughes-Stanton’s Birds, Beasts illustrations are aesthetically compelling and technically brilliant. Furthermore, they merit scholarly consideration because of the “inspired and finely tuned” (Eustace 15)—but complicated—manner in which they respond to Lawrence’s poems.

II. Lawrence and Blair Hughes-Stanton

5Lawrence had met Blair Hughes-Stanton during one of his visits to England, probably in 1925. In a friendly letter of 26 May 1928 he remembered the “beer and skittles” he’d enjoyed at the Hammersmith home of Hughes-Stanton and his first wife, the artist Gertrude Hermes. Lawrence also congratulated the couple on the birth of their second child and speculated that children “must make life warmer to one,” joking that if he’d “have had children I’d have been a comfortable body with all my novels circulating like steam among all the safe people.” Anticipating a visit to England in August of that year, Lawrence said, “surely we shall see you” and also invited Hughes-Stanton and Hermes to visit him and Frieda at the Villa Mirenda (6L 411-12).

6Nevertheless, Lawrence and Hughes-Stanton were only acquaintances. The two related to one another as members of two generations and as an established writer to an artist just coming into his own. Their best-known meeting came at the very end of Lawrence’s life at a time when Hughes-Stanton was living in the Nice area. On 6 February 1930 Hughes-Stanton met the Lawrences and Earl Brewster at the Antibes train station and drove them to Vence. Hughes-Stanton actually carried the exhausted, mortally ill Lawrence into the Ad Astra sanatorium (Ellis 528-29). Apart from that dramatic encounter the record of the Lawrence-Hughes-Stanton relationship is at best sketchy. Only four letters from Lawrence to Hughes-Stanton survive, and Lawrence mentions Hughes-Stanton in only three other letters.

7In the summer of 1929 Blair Hughes-Stanton contacted Lawrence with a proposal from the Cresset Press for a fine press edition of Birds, Beasts and Flowers featuring Hughes-Stanton’s wood engravings. Hughes-Stanton (rather than the press) had almost certainly initiated the project. Lawrence liked Hughes-Stanton, and also liked helping young artists—as he had with Jan Juta, Knud Merrild, and Kai Gótzsche.

8For his part Hughes-Stanton admired Lawrence’s writings and believed that his own visionary art was located within the Lawrentian orbit. He also admired Lawrence the man for his resolute independence and for steadfastly living the life he believed in. As Hughes-Stanton’s daughter Penelope observes, Blair Hughes-Stanton’s father—Sir Herbert Hughes-Stanton—“was a well known and established artist and his mother a bit cold and respectable. [. . .] Lawrence’s passionate approach to life was inspiring for BHS and gave him a new paradigm and the courage to pursue a different direction from his father” (P. Hughes-Stanton e-mail).

9In this period Hughes-Stanton was something like a Lawrentian true believer. The writer Arthur Calder-Marshall, who met Hughes-Stanton and his new companion Ida Graves at the end of 1932, was

fascinated by two people who were living their lives according to the gospel of D.H.L. It showed a magnificent contempt for THEM (THEY being the smug, the rich, the conventional, the philistines, etc.) (P. Hughes-Stanton 35).

10It was “reassuring” for Hughes-Stanton “to find a literary champion more daring and shocking than himself” (P. Hughes Stanton 35). Hughes-Stanton was confident that his illustrations would add a valuable dimension to poems that he had responded to so whole-heartedly. Furthermore, times were difficult for an artist who earned most of his livelihood as a book illustrator.

11Blair Hughes-Stanton, born in 1902, came from a family of artists. His father had been President of the Royal Society of Painters in Water-colours, and his grandfather and one of his uncles were also professional painters. At the age of 13 Hughes-Stanton joined the Cadet School Ship HMS Conway. But after spending World War I on this training ship he failed the examinations to enter the Royal Navy. He then decided to take up his father’s suggestion that he become an artist.

12Hughes-Stanton painted all his life, but posterity remembers him as a wood engraver. He learned wood engraving at the Royal College of Art between 1923 and 1925, but his most important mentor was the sculptor and print-maker Leon Underwood. Underwood had left the Slade School in 1920 “after a disagreement over teaching methods. In a spirit of creative defiance he set up his own art school [...] in 1921 in order, as his prospectus suggested, to counter ‘the harmful and repressive influences of orthodox art training.’” Here “the seeds of revolution in the wood engraving world were sown” (Hamilton 81, 88).

13The Underwood School has been described as “less an art-school in the accepted sense, than a close collaboration between master and pupils” (Fletcher [1929], 183). Underwood, a “utopian, pantheist and mystic” (Eustace 9), believed in the “importance of content and meaning, purity, and truth to materials.” He introduced his students to Paleolithic art and discouraged “abstraction and works lacking in real inspiration” (British Printmakers 73). The sculptor Henry Moore was among Underwood’s fellow students. Most of the students also shared a belief in left-wing politics. “All wore marigolds in their lapels, a badge of socialism” (P. Hughes-Stanton e-mail).

14One of the most important lessons that Hughes-Stanton learned from Underwood was that wood engraving was not “merely a craft, a form of interpreting pen and ink drawing or the exact rendering of natural objects (usually connected with illustration and letter-press), but became a means of individual creative expression.” In 1925 Hughes-Stanton helped form a new group called the English Wood Engraving Society, whose members believed in the “supremacy of imagination and the ‘realisation of the artistic self’ over ‘technical efficiency’” (P. Hughes-Stanton 7, 8). Book illustrations should be original works of the creative imagination rather than realistic depictions of scenes from the text being illustrated. He considered himself “an interpreter rather than an illustrator” (Selborne 338). Blair Hughes-Stanton “showed how the wood-engraving could be freed from the enervating and enclosing dogma of the traditionalists” (Lewis 44). Between 1926 and 1940 he “contributed wood-engravings to nearly thirty books” (Selborne 340).

15Hughes-Stanton’s most memorable project before the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts was his contribution of 20 tailpiece wood engravings to the 1926 first edition of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This extraordinary, eccentric, sumptuous book includes over 100 engravings and reproductions of photographs, pastels, watercolors, and drawings by various artists. Hughes-Stanton immediately sold his copy for 100 guineas so that he could marry Gertrude Hermes. (The book now sells for about $100,000.) Hughes-Stanton’s contribution to Seven Pillars of Wisdom gives him the unique distinction of having illustrated books by both eminent literary Lawrences of the first half of the 20th century.

16The Cresset Press was founded in London in 1927. Committed to preserving the“highest standards in book-production,” the press was devoted to “the production of fine editions; the reprinting in an attractive, though not necessarily expensive, format of certain of the classics now difficult to obtain; and finally, the production of contemporary or other works of undisputed literary or artistic value” (Ransom 237). In 1928 the press had published an edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress with ten full-page wood engravings by Hughes-Stanton and Gertrude Hermes. That book must have been successful enough for the Cresset Press to want to produce a new illustrated edition of Birds, Beasts and Flowers by the notorious author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

17D.H. Lawrence received Hughes-Stanton’s Cresset Press proposal in the Bavarian Alps on 30 August 1929. He responded immediately, professionally, and enthusiastically:

[...] I am very pleased for you to make drawings for Birds Beasts. Don’t know anything about the Cresset Press—but if they are going ahead, tell them not to approach Secker direct, but to write to L. E. Pollinger. Curtis Brown Ltd. 6 Henrietta St. W. C.2 and get him to arrange it. He will fix better terms all round, for me as well. Tell me the scheme—how many copies, at what price, how many signed. […] (7L 457)

18Lawrence would have seen Hughes-Stanton’s distinctive, eye-catching work when he visited him in Hammersmith. Barby was also enthusiastic about the art of this young engraver known for his striking visionary images and his dazzling technical skill. Lawrence also knew that Hughes-Stanton was having money problems: “So sorry about the house and cash” (7L 457).

19Lawrence, eager to help, offered to “do [...] a new foreword, on the essential nature of poetry or something like that.” Lawrence pointed out that the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts should declare that the poems were printed from the Secker Collected Poems, but Hughes-Stanton should leave out that information “if it harms the new edition—yours.” Lawrence was already imagining a second collaboration with Hughes-Stanton, “[p]erhaps later on, another unexpurgated Pansies, that sells.” Of course Lawrence couldn’t realize that he had only six months to live and would not see his collaboration with Hughes-Stanton published. In retrospect his joke about his situation in the Bavarian Alps rings hollow: “Frieda limps with her foot—I cough—the scenery is very nice” (7L 457).

20A month later Lawrence wrote his agent Laurence Pollinger from Bandol, urging him not to “push the Cressett Press too hard about Birds, Beasts.” The “important point” for Lawrence was Hughes-Stanton, “who is doing the illustrations, and is a friend, and is very hard up.” Pollinger should “accommodate the Cressett all you can” (7L 503). On 1 November 1929 Lawrence sent Pollinger the signed Cresset Press contract as he waited for his trunks—containing his copy of Birds Beasts—to arrive at the Villa Beau Soleil. He also agreed to “put in those bits in front of the separate sections—as Hughes-Stanton wants—though I don’t in the least know how to begin” (7L 549).

21These “bits” are the brief prefatory notes Lawrence wrote for each of the nine sections of the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Apparently Hughes-Stanton wasn’t interested in a new foreword “on the essential nature of poetry or something like that,” which Lawrence believed would help sell the book. Instead he asked Lawrence to produce these prefatory notes, partly for reasons pertaining to book design. The frontispiece is of course on a left-hand page facing the title-page. Each of the other nine full-page wood engravings is also on a left-hand page—facing a page containing the section title (“Fruits,” “Trees,” “Flowers,” etc.) plus the section’s prefatory note. This format gives maximum visibility to the engravings.

22Lawrence explained on 25 November 1929 that the prefatory notes “to go in front of the Birds Beasts sections are part original and sometimes quotations from the fragments of Xenophones and Empedokles and others” (7L 573). He drew on John Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophers, which he had known since at least 1915 and which he had been consulting during his work on Apocalypse. He sent the “nine bits” to Hughes-Stanton on 12 November, making it clear that he had little interest in them:

I hope they will do—if not don’t use them—just put them in the fire—I only did them because you wanted them, so you and the publishers can do as you like. (7L 563)

23The rather eccentric, sometimes somewhat opaque prefatory notes seem to me to be only marginally connected to the original conception of the Birds, Beasts and Flowers that Lawrence had published in 1923. They point the book toward philosophical abstraction, while the poems strikingly engage with actual animals and plants. Furthermore, some of the information found in the notes is downright odd. For example, the “Fruits” note tells us that “[n]o sin is it to drink as much as a man can take and get home without a servant’s help, so he be not stricken in years.” The “Trees” note reports that “[f]ruits are excretions of the water and fire in plants.” (Yes, that’s a “Trees” note, not a “Fruits” note.) Before the “Flowers” section we learn that “beans were the beans of votes, and votes were politics” (Cresset BBF 3, 29, 41). The interesting fact about the notes, as I will discuss later, is that almost all them seem to have served as starting-points for Hughes-Stanton’s illustrations.

24Over the years the prefatory notes have created some textual confusion. Edward McDonald reprinted them in Phoenix in 1936 as a separate text. But beginning in 1964 they appear as prefatory notes in each edition of the Complete Poems, even though Lawrence had made it clear (in a letter first published in 1978) that he created them only because his illustrator wanted them and that he wouldn’t mind if they weren’t used. The inclusion of these prefatory notes in the Complete Poems has misled readers for over 40 years.

25In the 12 November letter to Hughes-Stanton, Lawrence also says, “Hope the drawings progress” (7L 563). Lawrence didn’t understand what medium Hughes-Stanton was working in; this is his second reference to the engravings as “drawings.” Regrettably, Lawrence never comments on the illustrations in his surviving letters. But we know that Hughes-Stanton must have sent Lawrence a set of the proofs because the artist told his daughter Penelope that Lawrence liked the engravings (P. Hughes-Stanton 35). This information gives further credence to the statement in the Cresset Press prospectus that Lawrence “wished the book to be illustrated by Mr. Blair Hughes-Stanton, who was in constant touch with him” [<>]. Still, it’s difficult to believe that the dying Lawrence was very involved in Hughes-Stanton’s artistic choices. In any event the important question is how the wood engravings—in the words of the prospectus —“form a beautiful commentary on the text” (<>).

26On 7 February Lawrence wrote Hughes-Stanton a brief thank you note from Ad Astra. He doesn’t mention the Birds, Beasts wood engravings but says that he minds “it a bit less here today than yesterday—Oh why is one ill!” (7L 640). The same day he wrote Hughes-Stanton’s friend Barby Weekley that “Blair has been as kind as an angel to me” (7L 641).

III. The Wood Engravings of the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers

27Like most of the Thomas Seltzer first editions, the Seltzer Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923) is an attractive book. It is significantly larger than Martin Secker’s English first editions, it is printed on superior paper, and it sports a witty dust-wrapper designed by Lawrence himself.

28But the Cresset Press first illustrated edition of Birds, Beasts transforms the poetry monograph into a rare work of art. This is partly because of the book’s elegant fine press presentation. The book features decorative marbled paper boards with a vellum backstrip stamped in gold. It is oversize although not quite a folio: the pages measure about 13.75” by 8.75” (35 cm. by 22.5 cm). The edition consists of 500 numbered copies on “mould-made” paper (that is, a kind of machine-made paper that simulates hand-made paper), as well as 30 numbered copies on hand-made paper. The poems are printed in bold 14-point type.

29But above all it is Blair Hughes-Stanton’s twelve wood engravings, ten of them full-page, that make the book such a stunning collector’s item and “one of the more important wood-engraved books of the period” (Selborne 161). The engravings are adventurous, exciting, unusual, and provocative. The large format shows off Hughes-Stanton’s intricate designs to best advantage. The engravings are the work of an artist who “had most successfully opened a window and let a deal of fresh air into a craft that showed [. . .] signs of complacent fustiness” (Lewis 44). The engravings also strikingly complement—and comment on—Lawrence’s poems. Furthermore, the illustrations are “sufficiently crisply engraved, with various toolmarks and clear-cut tonal contrasts, to print beautifully” (Selborne 343). They have all the aesthetic richness of original prints in which the ink has been applied directly to the pages.

30Blair Hughes-Stanton’s full-page illustrations for the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers are so astonishingly detailed that the task of doing verbal justice to any single picture is daunting. To a greater or lesser degree I will include all twelve of the engravings in my discussion. My main emphasis will be on the illustrations’ relation to Birds, Beasts and Flowers. But first I need to say a few words about the technique of wood engraving.

31An artist creates a woodcut—as opposed to a wood engraving—by cutting with a knife or gouge (or both) around the design on the side of a piece of wood, cutting with the grain; only the raised areas that remain are inked and printed. The wood engraving is a modern, more sophisticated variety of the woodcut. The wood engraver uses harder woods and more refined specialist tools, and he or she cuts into the “hard and very tight end-grain” (Hamilton 12) of the block of wood, working against the grain. The wood engraving allows for greater detail and finer tonality, and it is much more durable than woodcuts or even copperplate engraving.

32In the 19th century wood engraving became the predominant medium for book and magazine illustration. Honoré Daumier, Gustave Doré, Thomas Nast, and Winslow Homer are among the most renowned 19th-century wood engravers. By the end of the century photo-reproductive techniques had almost entirely replaced wood engraving for commercial purposes. This had the effect of making wood engraving more of a fine art form both for book illustrations and independent prints. Lawrence’s contemporary Eric Gill is the most famous 20th-century English wood engraver. But in 1951 John Lewis described Hughes-Stanton as “perhaps the most original, certainly the most dexterous and, ultimately, the most personal of that group of artists who engraved on wood in the years between the wars” (Lewis 26). Hughes-Stanton is much better-known in Britain than in the United States.

33Blair Hughes-Stanton’s wood engraving style is at once striking and difficult to describe. The Hughes-Stanton entry in British Printmakers, 1855-1955 speaks of his “fluid, undulating abstracted figures engraved with almost incredible fineness” and adds that his “work often reflects the rhythmic style of El Greco and an interest in palaeolithic art” (British Printmakers 39). William McCance describes him as an “expressionist” who is “able to take an intractable medium like wood-engraving and make it a flexible instrument for his fancy and sensuous flights” (Lewis 37). His “interest in tribal and ethnic art” (Selborne 339) is also clearly visible. The poet John Gould Fletcher discovers “something akin to the baroque” in Hughes-Stanton’s art and concedes that some viewers might find it “mannered and distasteful” (Fletcher [1929] 196; [1934] 368).

34As William Hamilton observes, Hughes-Stanton’s Birds, Beasts and Flowers wood engravings are typical of those of the Underwood School in their “fineness and variety of cutting, and also comprehensiveness, since very little of the block is left untouched. This lends a special drama to the images as light creeps around the forms and illuminates the surrounding darkness.” The engravings “speak [...] of the excitement of finding sculptural form through white line out of darkness.” Hamilton also points to Hughes-Stanton’s “womb-like shapes,” “a kind of jazz-gothic border decoration,” and “intense variety” in the “surfaces of [his] prints” (Hamilton 85, 127).

35I would add that the Birds, Beasts illustrations feature simplified, often elongated, naked figures of various sizes. Hughes-Stanton learned from Underwood how to eliminate “unnecessary bones and muscles” (Selborne 339) from these figures. The engravings are also characterized by obsessive decorative patterning and intricate designs; overlapping geometries and unreadable pictorial space; and shapes with a vernacular cubist feel. These stylistic characteristics readily identify the illustrations as art work of the mid-1920s to early 1930s, and they also seem to be located beneath the large umbrella of Art Deco. The free-floating naked men and women plus a few smoke-spewing “dark Satanic Mills” bring William Blake to mind. And finally William Hamilton suggests that “the romance of Gauguin”—who created both woodcuts and wood engravings—“struck a chord with [Hughes-Stanton’s] [...] penchant for erotic subject matter” (Hamilton 85).

36Young English artists in the 1930s were attracted to “Lawrence’s philosophy of freedom of thought and in moral issues as expressed in his writings which seemed so excitingly liberating and unconventional” (Selborne 332). John Gould Fletcher points out “a remarkable sympathy of aim between the literary work of Lawrence and the graphic work of Hughes-Stanton” (Fletcher [1934] 360). In those years Lawrence’s impact also helped account “for the demand for the mildly erotic” illustrations (Selborne 332) of fine press books.

37Hughes-Stanton expresses that “sympathy” in the Birds, Beasts illustrations primarily in two ways. First, the figures that dominate the images are all naked. Only the “Creatures” engraving—two large hands, one of which holds an intricately patterned fish—lacks a naked person. As noted above, many of the naked figures are elongated; the anatomy of the more “realistic” figures is rather generalized and features what James Hamilton calls a “characteristic dislocated hip” (Hamilton 109). All the figures—here I’ll use the discourse of our era—are anatomically correct (which must have pleased Lawrence but which is why some viewers would have found the engravings “distasteful”). A naked male-female pair is the central feature of the frontispiece and the “Flowers” and “Reptiles” illustrations. As it happens, Hughes-Stanton’s “penchant” for the erotic was true of his life as well as his art. And yet to my eye the naked Birds, Beasts figures communicate a certain innocence and impersonality. They seem to me to exemplify the “purity” that Hughes-Stanton’s mentor Leon Underwood taught.

38The naked men and women embody Hughes-Stanton’s sympathy with Lawrence’s writings in a second respect. The figures and their diverse, complicated surroundings display the artist’s understanding of Lawrence’s dualistic vision, that dynamic system of polarities at the heart of the living universe. Furthermore, most of the engravings seem to relate humanity to the energies of the cosmos. Although these are obviously Lawrentian ideas, I’m not sure that the Birds, Beasts and Flowers that Lawrence had published in 1923 is a very good place to find them. At the same time the naked, vulnerable men and women in most of the engravings seem to express Hughes-Stanton’s humanistic vision—a vision at odds with Lawrence’s thinking.

39The frontispiece and the “Fruits” engraving best exemplify the visionary ideas that Hughes-Stanton is exploring. Two perfectly round spheres are located at the center of the frontispiece, one somewhat overlapping the other. One bubble encloses a rather generic naked male, while a generic naked female occupies a sunburst bubble of her own. The two reach out as if in an embryonic state, waiting to be born and to take their place together at the center of life. In the upper-left corner a large flying black bird is about to exit the picture space. A factory is at the lower-left, and a forest is near the right-hand corner. Three tiny elephants and a pair of tiny monkeys are found in a clearing in the forest. This forest must be the Garden of Eden, for in the lower-right-hand corner the tiny, naked Adam and Eve, his arm around her, are departing. Naturally this Eden contains a serpent. A large snake, its extended tongue nearly making contact with a factory chimney, is the picture’s other dominant element. The snake slithers its way down from the right-hand edge of the engraving to the middle. One of the large tree trunks filling the right-hand part of the image must be part of the Tree of Knowledge. In this engraving Hughes-Stanton places the male-female polarity at the center of things, but the embryonic male and female will be entering a fallen world.

40The appealingly harmonious illustration for “Flowers” engages interestingly with the poems while expressing a more optimistic vision than they do. This engraving, which is both less “busy” and more coherently organized than the frontispiece, is dominated by a large, central heart-shaped violet leaf. A naked woman sits on the leaf while a man kneels before her, seemingly pleading his case. These figures are Hughes-Stanton inventions. Beautifully drawn almond blossoms, purple anemones, Sicilian cyclamens, and hibiscus—the four flowers in this section of Birds, Beasts—surround the couple on their leaf. The representation of the flowers is all the more impressive because Hughes-Stanton can render them only in black and white. The “Flowers” illustration expresses Hughes-Stanton’s sense of the joyful continuity between human love and the beautifully abundant blossoming of nature. Hughes-Stanton’s vision of the flowers (including the naked man and woman), which cannot be found in Lawrence’s four “Flowers” poems, exists in creative dialogue with Lawrence’s.

41The naked man and woman who dominate the “Reptiles” (fig. 3) engraving—another Hughes-Stanton invention—are quite a different pair. Although they were probably once lovers, they have become antagonists, engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile another large snake—a reference to the famous poem—coils its way from the right edge to the middle of the bottom edge. The other reptile in the picture is a tiny tortoise, probably a “baby tortoise” (Cresset BBF 110), making its way along the path to the left of the snake. A tiny old man with a long beard peers out of a doorway on the left; a tiny naked woman sits on a ledge on the right. Apart from the wrestling naked figures and sinuous snake, the main element in the engraving is a cemetery with row after row of headstones. Behind the cemetery is the skyline of a modern city. Old man, cemetery, and modern city are all Hughes-Stanton inventions.

42Katharine Eustace wonders whether the wrestling couple constitutes a “wry autobiographical comment of the artist” (Eustace 15), for Hughes-Stanton was married three times and had a history of complicated relations with women. Whether or not the couple is self-referential, the engraving clearly connects the conflict between man and woman to the fall from Eden, to death, and, as a kind of bonus, to the horror of modern urban civilization.

43Eustace correctly observes that the “Reptiles” engraving illustrates “the line ‘For in the tension of opposites all things have their being.’” But this is no “line” of poetry: it is part of a sentence in Lawrence’s prefatory note to “Reptiles.” Nor does Eustace seem to realize that Hughes-Stanton’s picture contradicts both the note and one of Lawrence’s foundational principles. The note declares that “Homer was wrong in saying, ‘Would that strife might pass away from among gods and men!’” If Homer’s “prayer were heard, all things would pass away—for in the tension of opposites all things have their being—” (Cresset 105). To Lawrence the “tension of opposites” is the source of creativity, of being, of life—whereas in the Hughes-Stanton engraving the “tension of opposites” leads to death. Lawrence’s prefatory note and Hughes-Stanton’s engraving both express an idea about the dualistic nature of the universe but hardly the same idea. But the image is no less arresting for its being at odds with the prefatory note. Here Hughes-Stanton and Lawrence are in creative dialogue.

44The Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers illustrations conform to William McCance’s remark that Hughes-Stanton’s artistic “stimulus usually comes from literary subject-matter, but once the associations start working in his mind, they are almost immediately visualized in terms of box-wood and engraved textures” (Lewis 37). That is, Hughes-Stanton immediately gives himself over to his creative process rather than attempting to “do justice” to the literary source. The engravings engage effectively with Birds, Beasts and Flowers, they always somehow express the Lawrentian spirit, but they are also independent works of the creative imagination.

45The most surprising feature of Hughes-Stanton’s Birds, Beasts designs is that, with few exceptions, the prefatory notes rather than the poems provide the major stimulus for the full-page engravings. It is impossible to recover the reason Hughes-Stanton responded primarily to the notes rather than Lawrence’s poems. One could imagine that he might have found it daunting to create an image that arguably might need to take into account four birds, five fruits, or eight animals. But after all, his goal was to interpret, not to “illustrate.”

46The engravings for “Fruits,” “Trees,” “The Evangelistic Beasts,” “Creatures,” “Birds,” (fig. 4) and “Ghosts” as well as “Reptiles” all use the prefatory notes as their starting-point. Perhaps Hughes-Stanton decided on this course of action partly for reasons of book layout. As noted above, the full-page illustrations on the left always face the prefatory notes on the right. If the prefatory note is the main source of the engraving, the reader doesn’t need to flip through the poems to figure out the relationship between picture and text. Might Hughes-Stanton have planned in advance to relate illustration to prefatory note when he asked Lawrence to write the notes? If so, that explains the origin of these texts. However, it seems more likely that the idea occurred to Hughes-Stanton only after the notes had arrived.

47Before I discuss the relationship between individual engravings and prefatory texts, I want to say a few words about the “Animals” illustration. This illustration strikes me as something of a hybrid, based partly on the poems and partly on the prefatory note. The picture includes an ass, a he-goat, a she-goat, elephants, and two dogs, one of which might be Bibbles. Lawrence wrote poems about all these beasts. Meanwhile a kangaroo, a mountain lion, and the Lawrentian red wolf are nowhere in sight. The image also includes an ox and a horse taken from the prefatory note, which also features one more dog. The horse’s rider is a Hughes-Stanton invention, and so is the clear implication that people are after all animals and have no right to feel superior to their fellow mammals.

48This emphasis is Hughes-Stanton’s, not Lawrence’s.

49The illustrations for “Creatures” and “Birds” seem most obviously tied to the prefatory notes. The “Creatures” section includes “The Mosquito,” “Fish,” and the two bat poems, but the illustration is almost fully devoted to a large, elegant, exquisitely patterned fish and two elegant right hands, one holding the fish, the other (this is mysterious) holding something like a plumb bob with the line apparently attached to the fish. The prefatory note for “Creatures” refers only to “fishes,” which “are very fiery, and take to the water to cool themselves” (Cresset BBF 81). But upon closer observation the “Creatures” illustration also turns out to be something of a hybrid, for Hughes-Stanton has wittily placed a mosquito on the top hand.

50The “Birds” illustration is dominated by a majestic eagle whose wing span thrusts out of the picture space on both edges. The engraving conjures up the eagle of the prefatory note, the proud, powerful bird that “brings down the life of the sun, and the power of the sun, in his wings” (Cresset BBF 131). This bird is quite different from the American eagle in “Eagle in New Mexico.” That eagle has flown too close to the sun and has a “scorched breast” and is “gloved in [. . .] “scorched white feathers / In burnt dark feathers / In feathers still fire-rusted” (Cresset BBF 138). The “Birds” illustration also includes a naked man falling through space, a tiny naked woman kneeling in space, two groups of tiny flying migratory birds, and two flying ducks. The small falling man suggests the superiority of the eagle to mere human beings. No turkey-cock, hummingbird, nor blue jay appears in the engraving.

51The central image of the “Fruits” engraving is that of a naked woman growing out of an apple shape that must be a large seed. This imaginatively organic image seems to illustrate the first sentence of the prefatory note: “For fruits are all of them female, in them lies the seed” (Cresset 3). The woman holds a fruit bowl above her head; the assortment of fruit seems to include an apple, a peach, a pear, and perhaps a banana.

52The fruit (which takes close observation to perceive) plays only an incidental role in the illustration for the “Fruits” section. The central naked woman and the even larger attenuated naked woman floating in space at the right edge dominate the picture. Thatis, the image connects with femaleness rather than fruits.

53The “Trees” and “Fruits” engravings form a sort of pair, for most of the “Trees” illustration depicts a naked man who seems rooted in a tree trunk, just as the “Fruits” woman grows out of a plant. The front part of the tree trunk is cut away so that we see the back of man’s head and body. Curious tendril-like designs are etched on his back and buttocks. The bark of the trunk, rendered in an array of ornate patterns, is totally decorative and stylized. It reads as pictorial design, not as the bark of cypress or fig tree or almond tree. The image seems to respond to a line in the “Trees” prefatory note: “Empedokles says trees were the first living creatures to grow up out of the earth” (Cresset 29).

54The illustration for “The Evangelistic Beasts” (fig. 2) does connect with the four poems, for St. John’s eagle, St. Mark’s lion, St. Matthew’s man, and St. Luke’s bull are all present in the design. But the picture is actually a detailed representation of the prefatory note:

Oh put them back, put them back in the four corners of the heavens, where they belong, the Apocalyptic beasts. For with their wings full of stars they rule the night, and man that watches through the night lives four lives, and man that sleeps through the night sleeps four sleeps […]. (Cresset BBF 65)

55Hughes-Stanton has indeed put the Apocalyptic beasts “back in the four corners of the heavens”: the “evangelistic beasts” inhabit the four corners of the picture. The beasts (including the man) all have wings. Some of the wings are indeed full of stars, and stars are near the wings of the other figures. In the center of the engraving an imposing, elongated naked male—the “man that watches through the night”—spreads his arms and legs in an X-shape. He too seems to have wings, and stylized feathers cover up his area of male anatomical correctness.

56However, Hughes-Stanton, while fully illustrating the text of the note, has also transformed it into his own distinctive image. The central male figure—a Hughes-Stanton invention—is three times as large as the evangelistic beasts in the corner, and the artist has added four naked women in the spaces above, below, and on either side of the male. Hughes-Stanton’s picture reads as a celebration of man’s glory—that is, the glory of the male, not of humanity. In contrast the man in the “St Matthew” poem wants only to be a down-to-earth human being: “So I will be lifted up, Saviour, / But put me down again in time, Master, / Before my heart stops beating, and I become what I am not” (Cresset BBF 66).

57The moving “Spirits Summoned West” is the only actual ghost poem in the “Ghosts” section of Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Once again Hughes-Stanton’s engraving responds to the prefatory note. The central naked male figure is sleeping face-down on an unmistakably vulva-shaped surrogate bed. Above him are a cluster of tiny naked female dream-figures. To the left and right of these figures two larger naked women, drawn to the scale of the central sleeper, hurtle downward through space. For good measure two small naked figures, one female, the other (I think) male, fill the lower-left and lower-right corners of the picture, part of their bodies outside the frame. I believe that this picture illustrates a line in the prefatory note for “Ghosts”: “For the journey is a far one, to sleep and a forgetting, and often the dead look back, and linger [ . . .]” The dead women in the poem are “disconsolate” (Cresset BBF 183), a detail that doesn’t register in the engraving.

58I have not described the headpiece or tailpiece. Each is about one-third of a page in size. The headpiece, located above “Pomegranate,” the first poem in the book, depicts a very sculptural female nude reclining in the midst of wildly diverse Hughes-Stanton patterning. The pose of the nude brings to mind Titian’s “Venus of Urbino” and (in reverse) Goya’s “The Naked Maja.” It seems to announce that the artist wants his engravings to be understood in the context of western art history. It certainly points toward the abundant nudity in the full-page engravings that will follow.

59The tailpiece, situated at the end of “The American Eagle,” shows a naked bearded man lying rather blankly on a spherical shape. A naked woman three times his size reclines on her left side as she watches over him, perhaps lovingly, perhaps controllingly, probably both. This image seems to express Hughes-Stanton’s feelings about the relationship between man and woman as well as the artist’s understanding of Lawrence’s feelings on this subject.

60Blair Hughes-Stanton once explained his process of creating wood engravings for book illustrations: “All the time that I work I seem to feel word rhythms, and that is why I like to work to books” (Hamilton 110). We can sense Hughes-Stanton’s connection with “word rhythms” in his Birds, Beasts and Flowers illustrations, even if the words he was most directly responding to were often those of Lawrence’s prefatory notes rather than the poems. The artist’s intensely imaginative engravings respond powerfully to Birds, Beasts and Flowers even when they sometimes communicate ideas counter to Lawrence’s. The engravings seem to re-energize Lawrence’s already energetic poems. The engravings are “individual creative expressions” (P. Hughes-Stanton 7) at the same time they are responses to Lawrence. When I point out the way the engravings diverge from or even contradict Lawrence’s poems and prefatory notes, I am not finding fault.

61The Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers with its combination of poems and engravings is a very different book from the poetry collection we are accustomed to. The Lawrence-Hughes-Stanton collaboration results in something wonderfully rich and excitingly strange. Katharine Eustace’s assertion that in the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts “the marriage of text and image creates an entirely satisfying whole” (Eustace 15) seriously understates the case.

IV. Afterwards

62In Lawrence’s letter of 30 August 1929 responding to Hughes-Stanton’s proposal for a collaboration on an illustrated Birds, Beasts and Flowers, he was already suggesting a second collaboration, “[p]erhaps later on” (7L 457). Although Lawrence died before seeing Birds, Beasts in print, there was a posthumous second collaboration between D.H. Lawrence and Blair Hughes-Stanton.

63Martin Secker published The Ship of Death, a selection of 89 of the posthumous Last Poems, in 1933, a year after the publication of the poetry collection. The Ship of Death, a trade edition published in an edition of 1500, features 13 Hughes-Stanton wood engravings: a “front-piece” on the title page, a headpiece and a tailpiece, and ten full-page engravings. The illustrations are smaller than those of Birds, Beasts; they measure 6” by 3.8” (15.2 cm. by 9.7 cm). Edward Hodnett declares that “the engravings for Lawrence’s poems ‘Whales Weep Not!’ and ‘Bavarian Gentians’ are technically among the finest that Hughes-Stanton ever made” (Hodnett 263).

64The Ship of Death engravings are easily recognizable as the work of Blair Hughes-Stanton though they are much less frantically decorated. Edward Hodnett writes that the artist’s “naked men with short torsos and big feet [...] look odd, but they do suggest ‘slim naked men from Cnossos, smiling the archaic smile’” (Hodnett 263). These slender naked men also have long legs and are predictably attenuated. Hodnett doesn’t mention that they are also bearded. In the front-piece on the title page the naked, bearded man is literally sailing on his ship of death. As Hughes-Stanton’s daughter Penelope first pointed out, the questing male figure—the same male figure in all the engravings—is actually a stylized representation of D.H. Lawrence (P. Hughes-Stanton 35). Thus The Ship of Death is a memorial volume. The engravings communicate a quiet state of bereavement.

65But The Ship of Death was not Hughes-Stanton’s first memorial to the dead writer whom he admired so much. In 1931 Hughes-Stanton created a mournful independent wood engraving titled “A Man Died,” an obvious allusion to Lawrence’s The Man Who Died, the novella that was first published under that title in March 1931. Hughes-Stanton issued the print in an edition of 30, so it is not surprising that few Lawrence scholars have seen it. “A Man Died,” a striking and important image of D.H. Lawrence, is unknown to the community of Lawrence scholars.

66In fact this crowded print contains more than one D.H. Lawrence. On the right an elongated, naked representation of Lawrence towers over his own dead body. A balding man with a long stick pokes this dead, naked Lawrence in the genitals, while behind him a man in a three-piece suit and top hat jabs Lawrence in the heart with a pointed stick. The man in the top hat is one of a crowd of Jazz Age people, some mocking Lawrence, the others indifferent. To the right of the crowd a sign reads “THE PRESS,” that institution which somehow helped drive Lawrence to an early grave.

67Elsewhere in the engraving a naked couple at the lower-left looks aghast at the brutal treatment of the dead Lawrence, while in the center of the picture another naked man and woman lie together in loving embrace. Hughes-Stanton had definitely read Sons and Lovers, for in the upper left-hand corner a third naked, attenuated Lawrence reaches up to a large maternal figure, rendered all in white, his left hand clutching her right breast. “A Man Died” is Hughes-Stanton’s most moving act of homage to the dead genius he admired.

68Lawrence must have appreciated the contrarian he perceived in the younger artist. When World War II broke out Hughes-Stanton was rejected for service in the Home Guard because he was considered to be a communist. He wasn’t accepted as an official war artist because his work was considered pornographic. Hughes-Stanton was shot through the face when he was a POW in Greece in 1941. The wound permanently damaged his eyesight, and he was much less productive as a wood engraver the rest of his life. He painted more, and he turned to teaching to supplement his earnings as an artist. He died in 1981.

69In a “pen-portrait” published in 1951 William McCance declared that Blair Hughes-Stanton was “probably the most remarkable engraver in the country: in the world perhaps” (Lewis 37). In the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers Hughes-Stanton engaged in creative dialogue with D. H. Lawrence on something like equal terms.

70The engravings are inimitably the work of Blair Hughes-Stanton, while they respond independently, intelligently, and excitingly to Lawrence’s poetry and prose. Together Lawrence and Hughes-Stanton produced one of the most beautiful and remarkable books in all of Lawrence’s oeuvre.

Haut de page


British Printmakers, 1855-1955: A Century of Printmaking from the Etching Revival to St Ives. Devizes, Wiltshire: Garton & Co., 1992.

Ellis, David. D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game, 1922-1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Eustace, Katharine. The Wood Engravings of Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1995.

Fletcher, John Gould. “Blair Hughes-Stanton.” Print-Collector’s Quarterly 21 (1934). 353-72.

Fletcher, John Gould. “Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton.” Print-Collector’s Quarterly 16 (1929). 182-98.

Hamilton, James. Wood Engraving & the Woodcut in Britain c. 1890-1990. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1994.

Hodnett, Edward. Five Centuries of English Book Illustration. Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1988.

Hughes-Stanton, Penelope. E-mail to Keith Cushman, 4 August 2008.

Hughes-Stanton, Penelope. The Wood-Engravings of Blair Hughes-Stanton. Pinner: Private Libraries Association, 1991.

Lewis, John. “The Wood-Engravings of Blair Hughes-Stanton.” Image 6 (1951). 26-44.

Ransom, Will. Private Presses and Their Books. New York: Bowker, 1929.

Roberts, Warren and Paul Poplawski. A Bibliography of D.H. Lawrence. Third Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Selborne, Joanna. British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration, 1904-1940: A Break with Tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Keith Cushman, « Lawrence, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers », Études Lawrenciennes, 41 | 2010, 115-146.

Référence électronique

Keith Cushman, « Lawrence, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Cresset Press Birds, Beasts and Flowers », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 41 | 2010, mis en ligne le 28 janvier 2014, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.151

Haut de page


Keith Cushman

Keith Cushman, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has written or edited seven books about Lawrence. He is Past President of the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America and a recipient of the Harry T. Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement in and Encouragement of D.H. Lawrence Studies. He has been attending the conferences in Nanterre since 1988.

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de Paris Ouest
  • Logo Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense