Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

Works of Geoffrey Chaucer – D. S. Brewer – M. L.1 – St. John's College Library (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Probably London (United Kingdom) — Second quarter of the 15th century

Setting new standards of book design in the 19th century: a comprehensive compilation of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, adorned with 87 magnificent historicist woodcuts by two Victorian artists

  1. William Morris (1834–96) was a 19th-century designer, social reformer, and writer

  2. He shared a love of Chaucer’s works with his friend, the artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98)

  3. Burne-Jones referred to the work he adorned with 87 woodcuts as a “pocket cathedral”

Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

M. L.1 St. John's College Library (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

William Morris was a 19th-century designer, social reformer, and writer who shared a love of Geoffrey Chaucer’s works with the celebrated Victorian painter Edward Burne-Jones. The lifelong friends and alumni from Oxford University spent years creating The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer in the style of a medieval manuscript, particularly with regard to its rich floral borders. Published in 1896, this project was the magnum opus of the Kelmscott Press and as such it is sometimes referred to as the “Kelmscott Chaucer”. Burne-Jones created 87 woodcuts for the work, which were engraved by William Harcourt Hooper. The codex is remarkable for its beauty and detail; it set new standards of book design at the end of the 19th century and was referred to by Burne-Jones as a “pocket cathedral”.

Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

One of the last and most magnificent testimonials to the popularity of medievalism is the so-called “Kelmscott Chaucer”, which is the result of a painstaking collaboration between inter alia William Morris (1834–96), Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98), and William Harcourt Hooper (1834–1912). Published in 1896 after four years of painstaking work, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted was an instant success that was showered with praise by the public, press, and even notable literary figures like William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) who called it “the most beautiful of all printed books”. This splendid work was the last great project undertaken by Morris, founder of the Kelmscott Press who had studied incunabula – a term for early printed books predating 1501 from the Latin word for “cradle”. His friend and chief collaborator Burnes-Jones who wrote “If we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral – so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world.”

The Kelmscott Press

Disappointed by the declining quality of printed books, William Morris sought to revive the art of hand printing as it had been practiced during the 15th century by founding a traditional printing house. Although the Kelmscott Press only existed between the years 1891 and 1898, it produced 53 books in 66 volumes of exceptional quality that were limited editions typically of 300 or so copies that had an immediate and lasting impact on fine book printing both in Britain and abroad. Morris accomplished this by taking an unflinchingly fundamentalist approach: he recreated historic dyes from traditional recipes, used only handmade paper, and only employed the German firm of Jaenecke to make ink after he failed to create his own of a satisfactory quality. Morris named the printing house after Kelmscott Manor – his beloved 16th century limestone country home in Wiltshire whose unspoiled rustic charm inspired him in part to establish the Kelmscott Press and become a master printer.

A Truly Luxurious Printed Book

Sir Edward Burne-Jones was a celebrated Victorian painter who created 87 woodcut illustrations that were the engraved by William Harcourt Hooper. The work is additionally adorned by a woodcut title page, 14 large borders for text, 18 frames for illustrations, and 26 large initials, some historiated*, created by William Morris. The original run of 325 copies on paper was expanded to 425, which were sold for **£20 each, an additional 13 copies were printed on vellum for the princely sum of £126, and 48 copies were given a special white pigskin binding with silver clasps. Critics claimed that the Kelmscott Press only produced luxury items for the rich, which contrasted with the socialist principles Morris held dear. However, Morrison would argue that he created the Kelmscott Press as a rejection of the shoddy quality of mass-produced goods created by the industrial system that had destroyed the livelihoods of traditional craftsmen and an attempt to revive these arts.


Alternative Titles
Kelmscott Chaucer
Arbeiten von Geoffrey Chaucer
St. John's College, Cambridge, Manuscript L.1
Size / Format
262 pages / 23.5 × 15.0 cm
Second quarter of the 15th century
Anglicana Formata
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 St. John's College, Cambridge, Manuscript L.1: a facsimile

D. S. Brewer – Suffolk, 1983

Publisher: D. S. Brewer – Suffolk, 1983
Commentary: 1 volume by Richard Beadle and Jeremy Griffiths
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Monochrome reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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