A Poem on GodDerzhavin, Gavrila Romanovich
Dumfries: John Craik. 1851.
First edition. Large Folio. 573x453mm. , 16 leaves. Title page and fifteen leaves printed on the recto only. Paper covered boards illustrated with lavish calligraphy, spine back in green cloth. Some wear and a little scuffing to the edges of the boards but overall in very good condition. Internally fine with a little foxing but the colours are very clear and fresh. Each leaf is beautifully printed from superb examples of calligraphy by the celebrated Writing Master John Craik. The style is italic but each leaf has the occasional important word ("God", "Glory", "Celestial") picked out in a particularly lavish example of bravura calligraphy. It is in these words that Craik gives full rein to his artistic imagination and graphic skill. The lithography by Maclure and Macdonald, the Queen's Lithographers is in black, blue, green, red, pink and violet. The first eleven numbered leaves contain Derzhavin's poem and the remaining five leaves include an extract from Hamlet ("What a piece of work man is") and a hymn about the Bible ("This holy Book I'd rather own").
Gavrila Derzhavin’s poem “God” was written in 1784. He started writing it in 1780 but had to wait until a fit of religious fervour to complete it in 1784. Theologically it is an expression of Deism (the idea that God is only knowable through reason and nature rather than revalation) which, strangely perhaps, inspired a number of poems in the eighteenth century. Derzhavin’s contribution was very successful being almost immediately translated into most of the European languages. The translation used by Craik is not noted.
At the end of the poem (on page 11), Craik notes that this “Illustrated Poem on God containing eleven pages and title page was Designed and Written in twenty-four hours”. It is an astonishing achievement but he was clearly something of a calligraphic celebrity. A notice in the Journal of the Belles Lettres dated 6th December 1842 records how “Mr Craik, Writing Master of the Royal Burgh Academy of Dumfries who some time ago dedicated a specimen of his Art to the Queen and Prince Albert” will provide no further examples of his calligraphy “without a remittance of One Sovereign”.
Copac records three copies in the UK at the NLS, V&A and Cambridge UL. Worldcat records a a further two in the US and one in Canada.