THE PSALMS OF DAVID. [bound with] HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS.(London: Printed by, and for, J. W. Pasham, 1778). 124 x 70 mm (4 7/8 x 2 3/4"). 2 p.l., 240 pp.,  leaves; 4 p.l., 216 pp.,  leaves (index leaves for "Hymns and Spiritual Songs" bound out of order but all present). Two parts in one volume..
SUPERB HAND-PAINTED AND GILT-DECORATED VELLUM BY EDWARDS OF HALIFAX, BOTH COVERS WITH VERY PROMINENT OVAL PAINTINGS, the front cover depicting a statue in grisaille of a female figure, probably representing Faith, casting her eyes upward to heaven, one arm aloft, the other holding a cross, the whole against a sky blue oval, the back cover with a very dynamic grisaille painting of the Resurrection, with Christ flying upward from the tomb amidst brilliant light, three soldiers beneath shielding themselves in protective wonderment, and a presiding angel supplying adoration at the right, both covers bordered by a gilt chain motif, the flat spine divided by blue wash bands into compartments featuring gilt lyres and swirling gilt cornerpieces, blue wash label, all edges gilt. IN THE ORIGINAL SOFT GREEN LEATHER SLIPCASE bordered by a gilt chain matching that of the binding, this in turn housed in a modern morocco-backed folding box with raised bands and gilt titling. Front pastedown with the bookplate of James Gordon, Esquire, Moor-Place; front flyleaf inscribed "Harriot Whitbread / The Gift of John Howard Esq[ui]r[e] / Cardington / 1785"; another flyleaf with a similar inscription to Harriot from M. Howard of Cardington dated 1787 (see below). Blue spine label a trifle faded, blue cover background on front board showing a little soil, small ink blot on three pages, but A WONDERFUL BINDING IN VERY FINE CONDITION, and the text nearly pristine. (The original slipcase a bit worn and faded, but still a remarkable survival.).
The treatment of the vellum covers of this immensely delightful little book represents one of the most important of the stylistic innovations in binding decoration introduced by Edwards of Halifax. The vellum used for our binding was rendered transparent by soaking it in a pearl ash solution and heavily pressing it; afterwards, the paintings were executed on the under side of the vellum, where the art work was protected from dirt and the elements. The two cover paintings here are in contrasting styles: the statuesque female on the front epitomizes Neoclassical taste, while the sophisticated and exhilarating Resurrection on the back uses strong diagonals in imitation of Baroque masterpieces. The rendering of the Resurrection scene is especially memorable, particularly in terms of its vigorous, extensive, and delicate detail. Painted vellum bindings ascribed to Edwards appear in several places in the literature, the one that is perhaps the most similar being #186 in "The Henry Davis Gift." The Davis binding, done for a "Common Prayer" and "Psalms" volume of slightly larger size than the present one, has a Resurrection scene (on its front cover) that is in every important way identical to ours. One curious difference between the two covers is that, while the paintings are of the same composition and seem to be of about the same size, the (larger) Davis cover has comfortable margins around the scene of the risen Christ, while our painting is too big for its board space, small portions of a soldier's arm and all of the angel's head being lost at left and right. This raises intriguing questions of design and technique, suggesting perhaps that such paintings were of a stock content and size and that some kind of mechanical means of transfer from a reusable model might possibly have been employed. It is not surprising that such a lovely little book as this would have belonged to persons of distinction. John Howard of Cardington (1726-90) was high sheriff of Bedfordshire and an impassioned pioneer of prison reform. He was a relative of Harriot Whitbread, to whom he gave this book, and Harriot became the wife of James Gordon, whose bookplate appears on the front endpaper. (M. Howard is perhaps Martha Howard, the grandmother of John Howard.) For more on Edwards of Halifax, see next item. (ST11385)