What a remarkable bookplate! It graces a book I've just bought, and there's quite a story behind it.
The bookplate was designed by Walter Crane - a socialist and talented designer and graphic artist - and engraved by W.H. Hooper. The branch referred to is the Hammersmith branch of the Socialist League - hence the initials HSL in the design. And the flower - whose likeness appears at the heart of the bloom - is May Morris, a prominent member of the branch. May was the daughter of the renowned writer and activist William Morris - the leading figure in the Socialist League and in its Hammersmith branch. And the bookplate was to mark her marriage to a fellow socialist - indeed a leading figure in the League - Henry Halliday Sparling.
It's been argued, with some justice I think, that Crane's celebration of Morris for her ornamental quality reflects the personal and professional challenges she faced.
The bookplate appears in a copy of Wllliam Morris's lectures, Hopes and Fears for Art, published in 1882. And a printed letter tipped in to the book makes clear that this was one of several volumes presented by the branch to May Morris as a wedding present.
The letter reads:
We, the undersigned, fellow members with you of the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League, ask you to accept this gift of books, and with it the heartiest assurance of our love.
You have lived among us, and are endeared to us; you have worked for us with your best strength. Happily you do not leave us now. We feel nevertheless, looking forward to the near day of your marriage, that there comes a time in which a full word of goodwill may be spoken, and which indeed in brotherhood that holds you among its sisters, may hardly be repressed.
We wish you and your husband good health and long life and all that men wish each other. We wish for ourselves that you and he may dwell long in the Fraternity of the League.
TO MAY MORRIS
A note underneath in pencil reads: 'This book label + letter were given to me by Mrs Lang a friend + neighbour of Wm Morris'. This may be a reference to the writer Nora Lang, whose husband Andrew was also a writer and an early admirer and critic of William Morris's writing.
The original of the letter - signed by sixty-four members of the Hammersmith branch - is still extant, and has been reproduced in a recent issue of the journal of the William Morris Society in the US
By the time Morris and Sparling got married, the Socialist League was close to a crisis - the anarchist element within its ranks gained the upper hand and many of what became the minority faction, including William Morris and his son-in-law, withdrew from the organisation. May Morris's marriage wasn't a success and the couple divorced after a few years.
The Hammersmith branch - and in its later incarnation the Hammersmith Socialist Society - enjoyed a rare privilege for left-wing organisations of that time ... a group photo. Indeed there were a couple down the years - there are details here in this article by Nigel Stott.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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