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2001-09, 331, Book Reviews, Colin Steele

‘The Book Beautiful. Walter Pater and the House of MacMillan.’

Edited by Robert M. Seiler. London: The Athlone Press. 1999. xii, 206pp. ISBN 0 485 11535 2. £45.

Professor Robert M. Seiler has brought together the correspondence of Walter Pater and his sisters and their publisher, Macmillan and Company, from 1872-1914. Walter Pater was born in 1839 and became a fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1864. Oxford was the centre of his life where he pursued a career as both don until 1883 and writer on classical and aesthetic issues before his death in 1894.

The Macmillan Publishing House was established in 1843 by the brothers Daniel and Alexander Macmillan. From 1844 to 1857 publishing was carried on only in Cambridge and after 1863 only in London – the period of the Pater letters. Seiler reproduces the letters between Pater and Macmillan ranging from his first publication Studies in the History of the Renaissance, in which Pater reveals a slightly antiquarian view towards book publishing, to his final volume Plato and Platonism and the subsequent rights issues. Seiler also places these letters in the context of book production in general and especially the changing movements in book design in late Victorian England.

The vast Macmillan archives had previously been culled by a number of authors, e.g. Simon Nowell-Smith in his Letters toMacmillan(1967). While the Pater/Macmillan archive within it is not extensive, it comprises about one third of the volume; buttressed by an Introduction and Explanatory Notes, these letters do reveal the intimate relationship of author and publisher in the late nineteenth century.

It would be fair to say that the letters do not shed any dramatic new light on either Pater or Macmillan but, as a composite vignette of Pater’s scholarship and how the relationship between author and publisher affected content and form, The Book Beautiful is a rewarding publication.

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