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"White Hyacinths:" A Book From The Roycroft Workshop
Last year I wrote here about what to save and what to give away in a posting titled “What to take with you to Assisted Living." I described moving my cousin Carolyn Baxter into what was called back then "the old folks home" and the process of going through her possessions and helping her to decide how to furnish her room.One of the things she chose to bring was this prized volume, "White Hyacinths" by Elbert Hubbard, from 1907, its full title reading:
"So here cometh White Hyacinths, being a book of the heart by Elbert Hubbard wherein is an attempt to body forth ideas and ideals for the betterment of men, eke women, who are preparing for life of living."
It has sat on my desk since the summer when I pulled it off the shelf to give it a look. It brings to mind many ideas that have I have pondered and now in mid January, with the advent of spring, a period of renewal, not far off, it seems right to mention now.
Its author, Elbert Hubbard, as well as being a prolific writer was founder of The Roycrofters shops in East Aurora, New York a group of workrooms that made furniture, leather products, copper goods and books in the Arts and Crafts style. Their decorative arts are widely collected and admired. To my eye as a decorator, I find their designs interesting, but hard to incorporate into modern rooms because they do not mix easily with different types of objects. They are "too specific," as my grandmother used to say.
Hubbard’s books are also collected. I find them very beautiful. Perhaps because they are self-contained works of art, they do not need to relate to the books around them. Also, Roycroft’s flat, linear style of woodblock prints works well as graphic design. My favorite part of this book is the title page (shown at top.)
The text is a series of short takes expounding Hubbard’s personal philosophy, strung end to end. He encourages the benefits of hard work, friendship, and faith and taking a humanitarian view, especially in regards to the poor and place of women in society. The first page gives a good taste of the pages that follow and seems apropos of this time of year when we think about new beginnings:
"Common question this, ‘Would you care to live your life over again?’ Not only is it a common question, but a foolish one, since we were sent into life without our permission and are being sent out of it against our will, and the option of a return ticket is not ours. But if urged to reply I would say with Benjamin Franklin, ‘Yes, provided, of course, that you allow me the author’s privilege of correcting the second edition.’ If, however, this is denied, I will still say, ‘Yes’ and say it so quickly it will give your vertigo."
I like the concept of designing handsome vehicles, such as this book, to communicate noble ideas.
The beauty of this volume is proof to me that the book is not a dead form of media. The handmade paper, letterpress printing and suede leather cover give it a richness that cannot be conveyed on the digital monitor (though the presentation of the book on Google does give a hint of some of the potency of its physical beauty).
Furthermore, I enjoy the act of opening a book that has been loved by people I have loved. There is a connection and sense of intimacy felt, even though distanced by time, in sharing the same experience.
Finally, there is the whole design idea suggested by white hyacinths. Hubbard states in a prologue, "If I had but two loaves of bread, I would sell one of them and buy White Hyacinth to feed my soul"—and the imagination.