Lot 305 , GRAY, THOMAS (1716-1771) - Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard. ‘’Gray’s Elegy’’, edited and with introduction by John Martin (1791-1855), dedicated to Samuel Rogers, specially commissioned by the editor, 4to, red mor
° GRAY, THOMAS (1716-1771) - Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard. ‘’Gray’s Elegy’’, edited and with introduction by John Martin (1791-1855), dedicated to Samuel Rogers, specially commissioned by the editor, 4to, red morocco gilt, by J. Mackenzie and Son, with bookplate of John Martin - motto ‘’Mente Manuque’’ (Mind and Hand), with 33 wood engravings, after works by prominent artists, including John Constable, Charles Landseer, Copley Fielding, George Cattermole, Richard Westall, and others, by wood engravers, including Charles Gray, John Byfield, Robert Branson and others, published by John Van Voorst, London, 1836.
John Martin was well connected to the arts and literary world, initially assisting John Hatchard, at his Piccadilly bookshop, before opening up his own shop in Cavendish Square. He was later librarian at Woburn Abbey.
As secretary of the Artists’ Benevolent Fund (1833-1845), Martin was well placed in bringing together around 50 prominent artists and wood engravers, to illustrate Gray’s Elegy. Although not the first illustrated Elegy, (William Blake provided six drawings, for a work commissioned by John Flaxman, published in 1797), Martin required 33 illustrations, one for each of the 33 stanzas.
Constable relates to Charles Robert Leslie, in a letter dated 16th August, 1833, that he had been asked by John Martin, to assist illustrate the Elegy. (1)
The work was first published in 1834, by John Van Voorst, its popularity leading to further edition in 1836 and again in 1839, the latter a polyglot edition, available in Greek, Latin, German, French and Italian, costing 12s. in cloth.
It is likely that Martin’s friend, the poet and banker Samuel Rogers, would have assisted in funding the initial publication. Rogers was a well known philanthropist and socialite, regularly hosting social breakfasts, which were fashionable at the time.
John Constable’s contribution to Gray’s Elegy
Anne Lyles writes - Constable’s role as an illustrator is a little researched aspect of his artistic output. Certainly his contribution in this field was modest compared, for example, with that of his great contemporary J.M.W. Turner. For Turner produced numerous watercolour designs for illustrations to the literary works of Walter Scott, Lord Byron, John Milton and Samuel Rogers, amongst others. However, the recent discovery of this volume, containing three examples of Constable’s designs for illustration commissioned from the bibliographer John Martin, now adds important additional knowledge about the artist’s involvement in this area of work towards the end of his life.
We know that Constable and John Martin were already well acquainted by 1828 when Martin offered to be flexible – given the fast declining health of Constable’s wife Maria -over the delivery of one or two paintings the artist had offered to supply him.2 By the 1830s, their relationship was sufficiently close that Constable had become godfather to one of Martin’s children. 3
By the early 1830s Martin had decided to move into the now fashionable market for volumes of illustrated English literature, his role being that of commissioner and editor (rather than publisher). In 1830 he had already acted as intermediary with Constable over the latter’s involvement in supplying a design for a proposed illustrated edition of Walter Scott’s works, liaising directly with the artist over the engraving of his watercolour of Warwick Castle. Both men agreed at the time that Constable’s work in watercolour was little suited to reproduction in line engraving on steel.4 This may partly explain why Martin, when planning his own illustrated editions of some of the English classics, opted for wood-engraving instead, perhaps already hoping to ask Constable to contribute designs.
Although we know Constable was already working on his watercolour illustrations for Martin’s edition of Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard by August 1833, it is not clear when he – or the other artists involved in the project – were first commissioned to produce them. Constable contributed three designs to the first edition published in 1834 : a vignette of a tower by moonlight ( to illustrate Stanza III, ‘Save that, from yonder ivy-mantled tower’); a view of a church graveyard, intended to represent Stoke Poges, seen in early morning light ( to illustrate Stanza V, ‘The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn’); and a vignette of two soldiers contemplating a tomb and it’s effigy in a church interior ( to illustrate Stanza XI, ‘Can Storied urn, or animated bust’).
All three of Constable’s original completed watercolour designs are included in this specially bound quarto volume of the second ( 1836) edition of Martin’s Elegy, together with fourteen more by other contributors. He clearly went to a great deal of care and trouble over them, making preliminary sketches in watercolour for all three , now mainly held in public collections. 5 He may have produced these as sample designs for Martin to approve. Alternatively, he may have wished them to serve as guides when working up his finished designs, thus mirroring his practice of using same scale sketches for his oil paintings.
In a previously unpublished letter written to Martin on 9 July 1835 , also pasted into this volume, Constable discusses the additional design he had recently been asked to contribute to the second edition of the Elegy. It is clear from the letter that, at the time of writing, Constable had already supplied Martin with one new image, of Stoke Poges church, which he describes as ‘with the evening light looking to the West’ and including Gray’s ‘Cenotaph’ in the distance. This design was eventually chosen by Martin for reproduction on the title page of the second edition, and is a more accurate rendering of the church than the one Constable had supplied to illustrate Stanza V of the first edition. His original watercolour for this title-page vignette was assumed to be lost until recently identified in the collection of the National Trust, at Anglesey Abbey.
This letter is also of particular interest, meanwhile, in revealing how Constable, ever eager to please, offered to supply an alternative design for Martin, ‘should you like it better’. This, he writes, showed the church from the East, thus including Gray’s grave alongside that of the poet’s aunt, Mary Antrobus – and Constable supplied a sketch in pen and ink of this alternative design, indicating the approximate positions of the two graves. Either Martin preferred the view from the West; or– as Constable anticipates in the letter – this had perhaps already been transferred to the block, in which case pragmatism no doubt dictated it’s selection. One assumes Constable never did turn his pen and ink sketch showing the view of the church from the East into a finished watercolour.
In a second letter bound into the volume, dating from January 1837, Samuel Rogers thanks Martin for sending him a copy of the 1836 edition of the Elegy, now of course including four wood-engravings after designs by Constable. Rogers also speaks of his great love for Stoke Poges, and thus by implication for Gray’s poem. As a banker and a poet himself, and bearing in mind Martin’s dedication to him in this volume, it seems likely that Rogers helped fund the publication. Indeed, Constable’s biographer, C.R. Leslie, recorded that Rogers bought two watercolours relating to the project which Constable exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1834, one of ‘Stoke Pogis Church, near Windsor’ , the other his design for stanza 11 of the Elegy .6
In 1835 Constable continued to collaborate with Martin on another proposed publication, for the Seven Ages of Shakespeare, working up a number of alternative designs in pen and ink for an illustration of ‘Jacques and the Wounded Stag’ from As you Like It. This illustration, however, was not published until after Constable’s death, in 1840, the final design being selected by C.R. Leslie. The book also contained an affectionate tribute from Martin to Constable’s memory in recognition of their personal friendship and professional collaboration.
1. R.B. Beckett, ed, John Constable’s Correspondence III: Correspondence with C.R.Leslie, Ipswich 1965, p.105.
2. Constable to Dominic Colnaghi, 15 Sept 1828; see R.B.Beckett, ed, John Constable’s Correspondence IV: Patrons, Dealers and Fellow Artists, Ipswich, 1966, p.158
3. Leslie Parris, Conal Shields and Ian Fleming-Williams, eds, John Constable: Further Documents and Correspondence, London and Ipswich, 1975, p. 166.
4. Constable to John Martin, 26 Nov 1830; see R.B.Beckett, ed, John Constable’s Correspondence V: Various Friends, with Charles Boner and the Artist’s Children, Ipswich 1967, pp.87-8
5. See Graham Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, 2 vols, New Haven and London, 1984, nos 33.15, 33.16, 33.17 and 33.18. Reynolds also suggests that no. 33.13, another watercolour of Stoke Poges Church ( Victoria & Albert Museum), may at one stage have been intended by Constable as his design for the illustration to Stanza V. See also R.B. Beckett, ‘Constable as an Illustrator’, The Connoisseur, 134, 1954, pp.79-54.
6. The latter exhibit ( no. 586 in the R.A. exhibition of 1834) may well be identifiable with the corresponding watercolour design included in this volume, given that it is signed - and assuming that Rogers may subsequently have given it to Martin.
Gorringe's are very grateful for the assistance of Anne Lyles, Constable expert and former curator and 18th and 19th Century British Art, at The Tate Britain, for her contribution to the cataloguing of this volume.
This, the editor’s personal copy, bound with 17 original drawings, pasted on paper watermarked ‘’J. WHATMAN 1842’’, each inserted before the applicable stanza and wood engraving, consisting: - (Numbers refer to stanzas)
1. George Barrett Jr. R.W.S (1767-1842) - ‘’The Curfew tolls the knell of a parting day’’, sepia watercolour, signed, dated 1833, 20.5 x 28cms.
2. Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding P.O.W.S (1787-1855) - ‘’Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight’’, sepia watercolour vignette, overall 17 x 23cms.
3. John Constable R.A (1776-1837) - ‘’Save that, from yonder ivy-mantled tower’’, watercolour, 12.5 x 19cms.
4. George Cattermole (1800-1868) - ‘’Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade’’, pencil vignette, overall 8 x 13cms.
5. John Constable R.A (1776-1837) - ‘’The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn’’, watercolour, 13.5 x 18cms.
6. Thomas Stothard R.A (1755-1834) - ‘’For them, no more the blazing hearth shall burn’’, ink and wash vignette, 11 x 13.5cms.
7. Peter De Wint (1784-1849) - ‘’Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield’’, watercolour wash, 17.5 x 13.5cms.
8. Sir William Boxall R.A (1800-1879) - ‘’Let not Ambition mock their useful toil’’, two versions, in pencil 16 x 12cms. and in ink 12 x 10cms.
11. John Constable R.A (1776-1837) - ‘’Can storied urn, or animated bust’’, watercolour, signed John Constable R.A, 12 x 16.75cms.
14. William Westall A.R.A (1781-1850) - ‘’Full many a gem of purest ray scene’’, pencil and wash, 11 x 15.5cms.
19. John William Wright (1802-1848) - ‘’Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife’’, ink and wash, 10.5 x 16cms.
20. Charles Landseer R.A (1799-1879) - Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect”, pencil and wash, 10 x 14.25cms.
21. John James Chalon R.A (1778-1854) - ‘’Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d Muse’’, sepia watercolour, signed monograms in gold ink, 14 x 11.5cms.
23. Richard Westall R.A (1765-1836) - ‘’On some fond breast the parting soul relies’’, pencil and watercolour vignette, 13 x 18cms.
24. John William Wright (1802-1848) - ‘’For thee, who, mindful of th’ unhonour’d dead’’, watercolour, 11.75 x 17cms.
26. George Barret Jr. R.W.S (1767-1842) - ‘’There, at the foot of yonder nodding beech’’, pen and wash, signed, dated 1833, 16 x 20cms.
29. Frank Howard (1805-1866) - ‘’The next, with dirges due, in sad array”, pencil, 13 x 20cms.
Accompanied by two autograph letters, pasted in the front fly leaves:-
a) John Constable (1776-1837) one page, 22.5 x 18.5cms., to [John Martin] dated July 9th 1835 - ‘’My Dear Sir, I have found a little drawing of ‘’Stoke” - the East End - with the grave of Grey (sic) - should you like it better on that account than that which Mr Russell [Duke of Bedford, or his son?] has - which is the western end of the Church - and showing the cenotaph the tomb being hid by the corner of the chancel.” [Then a vignette of the church, complete with its steeple] - continues - “This will give the church with the evening light looking to the west and perhaps it would be much to your liking... probably the drawing is already drawn on the block, as LC [someone from Van Voorst?] took the drawing away with him. I hope he will keep it clean as it is nicely wanted / mounted by a lady for me, Yours truly, John Constable, July 9 1835’’. Ends with a circled reference ‘’Grey & his Aunt [Thomas Gray’s] Mary Antrobus’’, and a line pointing towards a tomb.
b) Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) one page, 20 x 13cms., to John Martin, from St. James’s Place, dated Jan‘y 7th 1837 - ‘’My dear Sir, Pray accept my grateful acknowledgments for another copy of the beautiful volume you had done me the honour to send me three years ago.
The vignette in the title page is indeed a great decoration - and is the representation of a spot to which I have paid many visits and shall, if I live, pay many more.
Ever your obliged and obed ‘serv’, Samuel Rogers