Gresham Myths & Legends in Literature and Art
Between 1912 and 1930, Gresham Publishing (a publishing house founded by Blackie & Son in Glasgow, Scotland in 1898 to take over its subscription selling trade, and introduce scientific and technical books) published a beautiful series of books under the title “Myth and Legend in Literature and Art”.
The legends are presented by Donald Alexander Mackenzie (a Scottish journalist and noted folklorist who wrote prolifically on religion, mythology and anthropology in the early 20th century), Ascott Robert Hope Moncrieff (a Scottish author of children’s fiction and also well known for his Black’s travel guide books) and Charles Squire (an Arthurian scholar who published only a few titles on the mythology of Britain, and whose book is the only one not to feature the author’s name on the cover).
At the time the books were advertised by Gresham as “the most in-depth-publication of the early 20th century, with many lesser known sagas and myths as well as some philosophical essays on mythology and paganism“. Promotional materials state they were intended for students of comparative folklore and literature.
The books are illustrated with colour and monochrome reproductions of famous classic paintings, which are complemented with additional artworks from then-contemporary artists as well as archaeological illustrations. Each title features a colour frontispiece and Myths of Babylonia and Assyria and Myths of Pre-Columbus America also include fold-out maps.
Binding styles and first printings
New volumes in the series were published regularly; however there are several distinct binding styles, which I am calling ‘series 1, 2 and 3’ here for ease of reference.
The first eight volumes (published 1912-1913) have the most striking cover design, with bright green cloth bindings that feature unique but complementary art nouveau decorations across the cover and spine. For the first six books, released in 1912, first printings can be identified by the cover design and company title on the spine being printed in gold. This includes Classic Myth and Legend, Celtic Myth and Legend, Teutonic Myth and Legend, Romance and Legend of Chivalry, and Egyptian Myth and Legend). The last two books in this series, along with later printings, feature yellow blocking on the cover and have the publisher printed in black on the spine (Myths of Babylonia and Assyria and Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe).
A couple of years later (around 1915-1917) the series of eight volumes was re-issued in olive cloth with a different set of more minimal art deco decorations blocked in monochrome yellow/green and black on the cover and spine. The series was extended to ten volumes in this style 1923-1924, with two new titles by Donald Mackenzie added (Myths of China and Japan; Myths of Pre-Columbian America).
And finally in 1930, the series was redesigned again to have dark navy/blue-black covers featuring the art deco motif from series 2 silhouetted on each cover in gold, and two final volumes by Mackenzie were added (Myths from Melanesia and Indonesia; Myths and Traditions of the South Sea Islands), bringing the total number of titles in this series to 12.
Volumes that appear in series 1, 2 & 3 bindings
Classic Myth and Legend – A. R. Hope Moncrieff
Gresham, 1912. With illustrations from famous paintings and statuary. 8 colour plates.
From the preface: “This volume deals with the famous legendary fictions of Ancient Greece, that have furnished so many themes and allusions to modern authors… The stories themselves are presented in simple outline, illustrated here and there by purple passages from our own poets; and, at the end, it has seemed best to give a few legends in the shape of the noble verse that has embalmed them for us.”
Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance – Charles Squire
Gresham, 1912. With illustrations after paintings by JHF Bacon and other artists. 4 colour plates.
From the preface: “This book is what its author believes to be the only attempt yet made to put the English reader into possession, in clear, compact, and what it is hoped may prove agreeable, form, of the mythical, legendary, and poetic traditions of the earliest inhabitants of our islands who have left us written records – the Gaelic and the British
Teutonic Myth and Legend – Donald A Mackenzie
Gresham, 1912. An introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc. 4 colour plates.
“From the preface: This volume deals with the myths and legends of the Teutonic peoples… They survive to us in folk tales, divine and heroic lays, and in sagas and epic narratives.”
Romance and Legend of Chivalry – A. R. Hope Moncrieff
Gresham, 1913. With illustrations from drawings and famous paintings. 8 colour plates.
From the preface: “This volume deals with the prose or verse tales styled Romances, as told in one of the Romance languages, being mainly indeed of French origin… The book is divided into two parts, the first giving an account of the character and development of Romance, which in the second and larger division is represented by typical tales from its various schools.”
Egyptian Myth and Legend – Donald A. Mackenzie
Gresham, 1913. With historical narrative notes on race problems [sic.], comparative beliefs, etc. 7 colour plates.
From the preface: “The discovery of the Tutankhamon tomb has undoubtedly aroused fresh interest in the land in which Abraham sojourned, where Joseph was chosen to be a great vizier, and where Moses was born and educated and became the leader and liberator of his oppressed kinsmen.”
Indian Myth and Legend – Donald A. Mackenzie
Gresham, 1913. With illustrations in colour by Warwick Goble and numerous monochromatic plates. 8 colour plates from paintings by Goble.
From the preface: “This volume deals with the myths and legends of India, which survive to us in the rich and abundant store-house of Sanskrit literature, and with the rise and growth of Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism, &c.”
Myths of Babylonia and Assyria – Donald A. Mackenzie
Gresham, 1915. With historical narrative and comparative notes. 8 colour plates (mostly from paintings by Ernest Wallcousins).
From the preface: “This volume deals with the myths and legends of Babylonia and Assyria, and as these reflect the civilization in which they developed, a historical narrative has been provided, beginning with the early Sumerian Age and concluding with the periods of the Persian and Grecian Empires. Over thirty centuries of human progress are thus passed under review.”
Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe – Donald A. Mackenzie
Gresham, 1917. With illustrations in colour by John Duncan and from photographs. 4 colour plates from paintings by Duncan.
From the preface: “This volume deals with the myths and legends connected with the ancient civilization of Crete, and also with the rise and growth of the civilization itself, while consideration is given to various fascinating and important problems that arise in the course of investigating pre-Hellenic habits of thought and habits of life, which are found to have exercised a marked influence in the early history of Europe.”
Volumes that only appear in Series 2 & 3 bindings
Myths of China and Japan – Donald A. Mackenzie
Gresham, 1923. With illustrations in colour and monochrome after paintings and photographs.
From the preface: “This volume deals with the myths of China and Japan, and it is shown that these throw light on the origin and growth of civilization and the widespread dissemination of complex ideas associated with certain modes of life.”
Volumes that only appear in Series 3 bindings
Myths and Traditions of the South Sea Islands – Donald A. Mackenzie
From the preface: “This volume is a study of the civilization and the religious ideas and practices of the Polynesian peoples, with comparative evidence from Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia, and beyond.”