The Compleat Angler

The Compleat Angler was The Folio Society’s fifteenth book. It was published by The Society in 1949. The first ever edition dates back to the mid 17th century.

Much beloved by fishermen, fisherwomen and natural history enthusiasts, I must confess that I found it tiresome and failed to complete the reading. I can see that some may feel some charm in the book, but alas, I’m not one. Piscatorial philosophising is not one of my passions.

Whatever my feelings, it is a remarkable book for the times.

The Book

Composed in 12 pt Caslon Old Face type, and printed and bound by Mackay of Chatham. The book was issued with a dustjacket. My copy lacks this.

The Society has republished this book from time to time over the years

Despite my inability to finish the book, I can see that it not just a book about fishing, it’s a book about fishing being a way of life. It may be best a book dipped into, rather than being read cover to cover.
The Author

Izaak Walton was born in 1593 and lived to the age of 90. From the age of 50 he retreated to the countryside where he enjoyed the art of fishing and convivial company.

Although best known for The Compleat Angler, Walton also wrote short biographies, principally of his friends.

Here is a brief biography.

The Illustrator

This was the first book that Lynton Lamb illustrated for The Society. It was not the last, and the association continued until 1974. Lamb was a prolific artist in many fields. He designed many English stamps, and also designed the binding for the Coronation Bible for Queen Elizabeth II. He died in 1977 at the age of 70.

The Illustrations

There are 28 illustrations in the book. In Folio 21, Charles Ede commented “Perhaps, the highest compliment to the artist is the fact that these drawings, though free and impressionistic, still satisfied anglers of the most conservative complexion”

From chapter VIII. “Observations of the Luce, or Pike; with directions how to fish for him”

Chapter XI “Observations of the Tench”

Chapter XX “Of Fish-Ponds, and how to order them”

Part Two, Chapter X “Directions how to dress a Trout or Grayling”

This is a limited selection of Lamb’s illustrations for the book. I think that they are successful!

Moving On

Recently read Pinocchio, also The Darling Buds of May, and Good Behaviour.  Of the older books, next on the list is Arabian Love Tales


Touching The Void

Touching the VoidTouching the Void was published in 2008 by the Folio Society. Originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1988, it had been revised and the Folio Society edition was based on the 2004 edition.

The Book

Set in Scala, printed on Caxton Wove paper at Memminger, Germany and bound in cloth

The Story

Two young mountaineers aim to be the first to scale a Peruvian peak, Siula Grande, by the West Face. They want to do this “Alpine Style” which means making the attempt without planned intermediate supply points. Although very difficult both reach the summit. On the descent Joe Simpson, the author of this account, breaks his leg. Each realise that this is a likely death sentence without saying as much to each other. Simon Yates, the other mountaineer, attempts to lower Joe down the mountain as a storm breaks out. Suddenly he finds that Joe cannot take the weight from the rope. After a while he decides that the only way that he will survive is for him to cut the rope and make his own way down. That Joe will perish, if he has not already, is certain.

The rope is cut, and Simon makes his way back to the camp where Richard, the non climbing traveller is based. Simon is convinced that Joe has perished, and as he recuperates over a day or two he decides to burn Joe’s clothes. When Joe could not take the weight from the rope, it was because he was hanging suspended. He could not climb back up the rope and he couldn’t reach the mountain side. When the rope was finally cut, he fell into a crevasse.

By sheer bloody mindedness Joe manages to escape the crevasse and get back to the camp. He had been left for dead, and Richard and Simon had planned to leave that morning. Exhausted, dehydrated,  frostbitten, and pissed off that his clothes have been burnt, it takes some time to regain a sense of reality.

This is one of the great stories of dogged survival. As much as it is about the physical capacity to survive, it is more about the mental grit that is required.

It’s also about testing yourself to the limit, comradeship, and decisive choices.

The movie that is based on this work fits in well. Breathtaking illustration of the physical challenge.

The Illustrator

Geoff Grandfield was the Illustrator for this book.  The illustrations are quite stylised. They are stark.

Some I like, and some I don’t.

Another Illustration

It was interesting to contrast this book with the recently published A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, a mountaineering expedition which failed, but I’m sure a lot more fun!

Fahrenheit 451

The Folio Society’s recent publication Fahrenheit 451 is a stunningly illustrated edition of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novella.  Written in the aftermath of World War Two, and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s persuit of those with “UnAmerican Activities”, it is a potent reflection about the powers of the State and, apart from a few, the acquiesence of the citizens  to support the State. The populace come to accept a life without challenge, and distrust and are frightened of  those who question the status quo.

Mortag, the principal character of the book, is a fireman. In this novel, homes have become fireproof, and the fireman’s role has changed from protecting homes from fire to burning books. Books have to be burnt so the people have no sense of the past heritage, and loose the capacity to think critically.

Mortag has started to secretly accumulate some books. He does love his wife, but she leads a mind numbing existance, and they rarely communicate. Mortag comes to question what his life has become, and what his job entails.

There are two events which shake Mortag in this novel. One is his chance meeting with a young free-spirited neighbour, Clarissa, and the other is the death of an elderly woman who refuses to leave her books as they are burnt.

Mortag’s wife reports him to the authorities for having books, and he finds himself being called to burn his own house. He kills his superior and becomes a fugitive. He is persued by the mechanical hound, a robotic like machine, with a strong sense of smell. During his run from the authorities he nearly compromises Faber, a dissident former University lecturer, who shares his love of books and has taught him of their importance.

Mortag escapes from the city, and meets with a group of itinerants who have memorised the major works of literature. It becomes clear that these memories are held by other loosely connected groups throughout the land. The itinerants and other small communities are saved from the destruction caused by nuclear bombs released on the American cities  by an unamed enemy as the novel concludes.

A longer plot summary, and some more information is contained on Wikipedia

The Author

Ray Bradbury was born in 1920. He still seems to be doing a good job of staying alive. He started off by writing short stories for Sci – Fi magazines, and Fahrenheit 451 is based on one of these short stories, The Fireman. He first came to attention with The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories about the colonisation of Mars by humans. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953.

July 2012 – Hope I didn’t put a hex on him. Ray has now shaken off his mortal coil.

The Illustrator

Sam Weber illustrated this novel. It is a magnificent job. The link shows all the illustrations for the book. Some details about the creative process are here

The Book

Set in Adobe Caslon, printed on Abbey Wove paper by Martins the Printers Ltd and bound in buckram by Hunter & Foulis of Edinburgh. Published in 2011. The end papers are bright red, and the buckram binding “ash gray” .

The book is introduced by Michael Moorcock, who provides some background information about Bradbury, his influences, and the adaption of this book into a play. Ray Bradbury’s 2003 Introduction is also included. This is a fifty year reflection on a book which seems to have taken on a life of its own.

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

The 14th book published by The Folio Society, and the second of the 1949 issues. It was designed by Charles Ede, set in 11/14 Baskerville type and printed by W.S. Cowell of Ipswich.

Cowell invented the “Plastocowell” lithographic process which the illustrator used in the book.

The Author

Laurence Sterne was born in 1713, and died of consumption in 1768 shortly after this book was published. He trained as a cleric, but became a full time writer with the publication of his most famous work, Tristram Shandy. This was published by the Folio Society in 1970

The Illustrator

This was the first Folio Society book illustrated by Nigel Lambourne. He illustrated several others, including Moll Flanders in 1954. His last involvement was in 1983.

The Story

The novel is a series of linked episodes of the travels of Yorick through France. He is an unashamed flirt and will try his luck with titled ladies and chambermaids. He travelled without a passport, which was a risk as England happens to be at war with France at the time (The Seven Years War). He manages to obtain a passport through the good offices of a French Shakespeare lover. Although, in terms of plot, the novel never really goes anywhere, we learn of Yorick’s love of life, love of meeting people and love for womankind in general. On the rare occasion he treats someone harshly, he very soon regrets it and makes amends.

Yorick never gets to Italy, Sterne’s sickness and death probably getting in the way of this extension.  Sterne’s close friend John Hall Stevenson, decided to continue this fictional travelogue in a book called Yoricks Sentimental Journey Continued. (Warning…large PDF file of the entire sequel)

The Illustrations

These were printed by the “Plastocowell” lithographic process. As far as I can understand it each colour layer is drawn on separate plastic sheets, and then transferred to a nickel plate for printing. I like the illustrations very much

List Of Illustrations

List Of Illustrations

Title Page

Title Page

All in all a very pretty book. The binding has a wonderful floral design . Each chapter in the book begins with a large pink capital. Although the dustjacket of my copy is a little grubby and worn, the interior is in great condition.

The School For Scandal

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The School For Scandal was published in 1949. It was the 13th book, and the first drama for the Folio Society. The book was printed and bound by Mackay, and illustrated by Cecil Beaton.

The dustjacket on my copy does show the ravages of age, but otherwise the book is wonderful. There is no foxing and the illustrations retain their vibrancy.

The Play

First performed in 1777, the Folio Society version is based upon a version produced by Sir Laurence Olivier.

Lady Sneerwell is a wealthy widow and the play starts with an exchange between her and Snake, an heirling and fellow mischief maker who likes spreading gossip.

Sir Peter Teazle is the informal guardian of the brothers Charles and Joseph Surface who are nephews of an old friend, Sir Oliver.  Sir Peter also has a ward, Maria. Joseph Surface, the older brother, is regarded as a pillar of society while Charles, the younger is thought to be an extravagant libertine. There is an expectation of a match between Lady Sneerwell and Joseph, but Lady Sneerwell tells Snake that she thinks Joseph is all pretence, and that her heart is really set on Charles. She also knows that Joseph is attracted towards Maria, but that Maria has an affection  for Charles.  Joseph knows too well that Lady Sneerwell feels more attachment to Charles and is happy to participate in the schemes to derail the Maria – Charles relationship so that his ambitions with Maria may be realized.

As the scene develops there is much gossip about various characters and we learn that Sir Oliver may be returning from the East Indies and that Charles is in a precarious financial situation.

Sir Peter Teazle is then introduced. Once a seemingly confirmed batchelor, he married a much younger woman. Lady Teazle regards this arrangement as an opportunity to spend Sir Peter’s money and become a member of the social set. Lady Teazle is feisty and intelligent and  feels no shame in exploiting her position. She develops an attachment towards Joseph.

Sir Oliver returns from the East Indies, and is bemused that his old friend Sir Peter has taken a young wife. Sir Oliver learns of his nephews reputations and decides that he will test them in disguise.

Sir Oliver ( disguised as Mr Premium), and Moses, a jewish moneylender, meet Charles at his house. Charles is in need of money. There is little left to sell apart from the family portraits and Sir Oliver buys all that are offered. There is one painting which Charles will not sell, which is a portrait of Sir Oliver who he thinks fondly of as his benefactor.

Lady Teazle visits Joseph, and as they are flirting with each other, Sir Peter is announced. Lady Teazle hides behind a screen and Sir Peter tells Joseph that he suspects his wife is having an affair with Charles. Next on the scene is Charles. Before he enters the room, Sir Peter entreats Jospeph to question his brother about the matter, and hides himself in a closet to overhear the conversation. Sir Peter almost discovers his wife behind the screen, but Joseph tells Sir Peter that it is a floozy who rushed to hide herself as Sir Peter came into the room.

Charles denies outright that he has had any relationship with Lady Teazle and that his affections are for Maria. In turn he then says that he is aware of of an attraction between Joseph and Lady Teazle. Joseph tries to silence him and then tells him that Sir Peter is in hiding and can overhear all. Charles calls Sir Peter out, and Sir Peter is relieved that the rumours of an affair between his wife and Charles are incorrect. Little does he realize that his wife is hidden in the same room and that she has been having an affair with Joseph.

A servant comes and quietly tells Joseph that Lady Sneerwell has arrived. Joseph goes out of the room to talk to Lady Sneerwell and while he is out Sir Peter and Charles talk and Sir Peter tells Charles that his brother is not as morally upright as he seems, and has a wench hidden behind the screen in the very same room. Charles decides to reveal the girl, and throws down the screen as Joseph reenters the room. Lady Teazle is revealed.

Charles leaves, somewhat gleefully. Joseph tries to explain away the situation, but Lady Teazle rebukes him and reconciles with Sir Peter, whose words  showing his feelings for her, she overheard.

The fifth act opens with Joseph receiving Sir Oliver, who is disguised as Mr Stanley, a poor relation seeking financial assistance.  Joseph tells this character that Sir Oliver never gave him any significant assistance and he is not in a position to help him.

Meanwhile rumours and gossip are spreading about the affair which culminates in a story that Sir Peter is dangerously wounded in a duel with Charles.

Eventually Sir Peter, Lady Teazle, Charles and Joseph meet at Joseph’s house. Joseph’s hypocrisy  stands against  Charles acknowledged faults.  Maria and Charles make marriage plans.  Lady Sneerwell is revealed as a mischief maker who used an accomplice, Snake, to forge letters between Charles and Lady Teazle in order to derail a match between Charles and Maria. Charles will become Sir Oliver’s heir, and Joseph is left with the company of his co-conspirator, Lady Sneerwell.

It is an amusing farce, and the scene where both Sir Peter and his wife are hidden, unbeknownst to each other in Joseph’s library is something which would only probably work on the stage, or a Marx brothers movie! Both Joseph and Lady Sneerwell get their “just deserts” in the end through exposure and humiliation. That this play continues to be performed is a tribute to the skill and imagination of the playwright.

There is another plot summary here

The Illustrator

Cecil Beaton was mostly known for fashion photography but also designed sets and costumes for plays.

The illustrations in this book are part of the costume designs and stage settings of the related tour of the Olivier produced play. The Folio Society continued this theme of the illustrations reflecting a stage production for some years to come, most famously with the Salvador Dali plates in “As You Like It” in 1953.

The Illustrations

All the women have impossibly narrowed waists, but I do like the designs!

Lady Teazle


Sir Peter Teazle

Charles Surface

Mrs Candour

Sir Oliver Surface

The Golem

IMG (Small)The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink, was published in 2010.

It’s a beautifully designed book with haunting illustrations.

The Introduction, by Iain Sinclair, makes some interesting comparisons between this book, and Kafka’s writings.

The pages were printed on Abbey Pure Paper. The book is three-quarter bound in buckram with a paper front.







The Story

Originally published in serial form in the early 20th century, the story is set in the Jewish ghetto in Prague. The central character, and narrator is Pernath, a gem engraver. As the story progresses we sometimes do not know whether he is dreaming, deluded or is engaged in mystical time shifting. There is an associated carnival of characters  which reminded me of the inhabitants of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” – there’s a red haired child prostitute, a deaf mute, a junk seller, an impoverished medical student, a travelling puppeteer, an aristocratic woman engaged in an adultrous affair, Miriam, the wise daughter of a scholar, and other shady characters. The Golem lurks in the background. In Czech and Jewish folklore the Golem was an object made of base elements which could be brought to life by magical words written on a scrap of a paper. In the story, every 33 years the Golem seems to become more active and more disturbing events occur.

Pernath is accused of murder and is imprisioned. He never goes to trial and is eventually released, but by that time the ghetto has been torn down, and his friends have disappeared. He searches for Miriam hoping that she is still alive. Eventually he finds her, but she is in a building with another version of Pernath, and the gates close against him.

This is a very atmospheric novel. We just don’t know the relationship between reality (in the novelistic sense) and fuge. There is a recurring motif in the novel about the similarities, and the differences, between a stone and a lump of fat. One can look like another, but it’s hard to grip onto a lump of fat as you are plunging into some sort of depth.  Then again, with the smoothness of age, a stone can be so weathered that it can provide no more grip than a lump of fat.

The Author

This was Gustav Meyrink’s first novel. It borrowed heavily from his interest in mysticism and a spell in jail.

The Translator

Translated by Mike Mitchell . This is a translation from 1995, originally for Dedalus. I would be curious to compare how the “low brow” dialogue which occured when Pernath was in jail was variously translated.

The Illustrator

Vladimir Zimakov provided the wonderful illustrations. They are haunting and suit the mood of the book.


Just a couple more. There are 10 altogether.









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Coming Up for 2012

The plan is to cover all the 1949 books, with a few more recent ones as well.

A School For Scandal should be next




The Earliest Chemical Industry

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This book was commissioned from the Society by Peter Spence and Sons to commenorate the centenary of founding of that firm. It was published in a limited edition of 1,100, with one hundred of these bound in full red morocco. The remainder were bound in buckram. The book was written by Charles Singer, one of the leading scientific writers of the time. This book is given the  item number 12.5 in Folio 50 and Folio 60, and was the last book published in 1948.

The Book

An absolute sumptuous production. It is large and heavy. Monotype Baskerville type. Printed on Arnold mould-made paper at The Chiswick Press. The colour plates werer printed by Alinari of Florence. The costs of preparation and  production of the book were met by Peter Spence & Sons. My copy is bound in buckram, but there were a hundred copies bound in red morocco by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, and signed by Charles Singer and Derek Spence.

My copy is 907 of 1100.

The Text

A couple of images from the opening pages



Alum is a chemical which, among other properties, allows fabrics to take up dyes more avidly, and paper take up print. It has been known about since ancient times. This book was commissioned by Peter Spence & Sons to celebrate the foundation of the firm 100 years before. It is a remarkeable book which explores the use of and trade in alum from antiquity to modern times. Although alum is the core topic of the book, it is a fascinating book which covers many fields – linguistics, history, commerce, traditional skills, politics, science, geology,  inventions, and the development of an industry. There are over 150 illustrations and 350 notes.

Unlike most other Folio Society books it had never been published in any previous version.

The Author

Charles Singer was trained as a medical practitioner.  His natural curiosity led him into a study of the history of diseases and medicine. From this there was a natural step  into the broader history of science and technology. To the greater audience, his best known work is “The History Of Technology”.

Here is a fine summary of his life and contribution to the history of science.

The Illustrations

The book is amply illustrated with historical pictures, maps, diagrams and magnificent colour plates. A brief selection is posted.


A unique and wonderful book. An amalgam of techology, history, commerce and art.

This is the last of the 1948 books. There were 9 books published in 1949, one of which, Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities has already been posted. Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is the first, and I’m also looking forward to reading  Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Walton’s The Compleat Angler. I am halfway through the recently published The Golem so that is likely to be the subject of the next post.