SHAKESPEARE, William. RACKHAM, Arthur (illustrator). A Midsummer Night's Dream. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson., 1977.
4to.; Newly rebound in half dark blue morocco, spine lettered and ruled in gilt and with gilt centre tools, top edges gilt, cloth of the original front cover and original dust-jacket bound in at the end; coloured title-page, double-page coloured border, 14 coloured illustrations, and numerous black and white illustrations, all by Arthur Rackham; unpaginated; a fine copy.
Two decades after Arthur Rackham had completed his celebrated 1908 version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', the William Augustus Spencer Collection (attached to the New York Public Library) commissioned him to produce a completely new set of illustrations for the play, in the form of a special, unique manuscript copy – hand-painted and handwritten throughout.
In an interesting letter written by Rackham to the Library Director early in 1928, discussing various aspects of the manuscript (portions of the letter are reproduced at the back of the book), he proposed the well-known calligrapher and illuminator Graily Hewitt for the writing-out of the text, and mentioned his own eagerness to undertake the work. The commission followed on 11th April 1928, resulting in a set of delicate, ethereal illustrations entirely different from those in the 1908 book, but with the same profusion of fairies, sprites and goblins.
The manuscript was not reproduced in print form until 1977, well after Rackham's death, when it was published by Abaris Books in the US, and simultaneously by George Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the UK.