Designer, social reformer, and writer William Morris (1834 – 96) was a founder of the Arts and Crafts movement and a towering figure of Victorian artistic and cultural history. Inspired by the hand presses of the fifteenth century, Morris established the Kelmscott Press to publish books of his own design and to revive the quality achieved by the pioneers of printing. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer
represents Morris's most ambitious undertaking as a printer and designer as well as his swansong; the four-year undertaking was completed just a few months before his death. Morris supervised every detail of production, including the choice of ink and paper, the design of the type, and the use of ornaments and illustration. His lifelong friend, the celebrated painter Edward Burne-Jones, drew 87 magnificent full-page woodcut illustrations. "If we live to finish it," Burne-Jones wrote, "it will be like a pocket cathedral — so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world."
The expensive, beautiful books from the Kelmscott Press were designed to be read slowly, to be savored and treasured in a way that formed a lasting bond between the reader, the text, and the author. For all their decorative richness, the books maintain a clarity and simplicity that make them easy to read as well as a delight to the eye. As the culmination of the work of art that was Morris's life, the Kelmscott Chaucer embodies the printer's attempt to restore the connection between artist, art, and society. Upon its 1896 publication, The Athenaeum
stated, "In its own style, the book is, beyond dispute, the finest ever issued," and to this day it is regarded as one of the most beautiful printed books in existence. Originally published in a limited edition of fewer than 500 copies — hardly any of which surface on the rare book market — this extraordinary work is now available to a new generation of collectors and bibliophiles.
Reprint of the World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1958 facsimile edition.