Gerald Metcalfe
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Gerald Metcalfe

The Poems of Coleridge, published in London by John Lane, The Bodley Head, and New York by the John Lane Company, 1907. 512 pages, with an introduction by Ernest Hartley Coleridge and illustrations by Gerald Metcalfe. 22 × 15 cm.

Gerald Metcalfe (fl. 1894–1929) was a portrait painter, miniaturist, illustrator and modeller. Born in India, he studied art at South Kensington, St John’s Wood School, and the Royal Academy. From 1893 he shared a studio with his friend and fellow illustrator, Byam Shaw (1872–1919), and this copy of his illustrated Coleridge is inscribed: ‘To my dear friend Byam Shaw, from Gerald Metcalfe Nov. 1907’.

Metcalfe was the first to illustrate not just the Ancient Mariner but Coleridge’s complete poetic works. Conscious of this, the editor of the volume, Ernest Hartley Coleridge, addresses the question of poetic illustration in his introduction:

No artist or illustrator can hope to reproduce the pictures which rose up before the poet’s eye. He will rather endeavour to interpret one picture by another, to make the art of the poet an occasion for the ‘correspondent expressions’ of the art of the designer. He should be nearer to the poet than the general and should, as it were, repeat and transmit his message. It will, I think, be admitted that the artist who has illusrated this volume has caught the spirit of the poems which he has endeavoured to interpret, and has followed where the poet led.’

‘It is hoped’, the editor concludes, ‘that this attempt to illustrate Coleridge’s poems, as a whole, will lead to a closer study and a juster appreciation of his great as well as as his greatest achievement as a poet’.

Metcalfe’s decorative headpiece for the Ancient Mariner (shown opposite) is somewhat conventional, but the more flowing full-page illustrations are full of vitality, and were reprinted at least once, in a miniature edition published in New York by Robert K. Haas (formerly the Little Leather Library Corporation). Illustrated here are his erotically charged Life-in-Death (p. 80), and his imaginative depiction of the hermit’s boat (p. 81).