Ben Jonson, His Volpone: or, The Foxe: A New Edition, with. . . a Frontispiece, Five Initial Letters and a Cover Design, Illustrative and Decorative, by Aubrey Beardsley, Together with an Eulogy of the Artist by Robert Ross
Leonard Smithers and Co.,
Inscribed by Robert Ross to Max Beerbohm.
With No.61. Oddly, Beardsley never illustrated Shakespeare’s plays—A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have seemed an obvious choice, given Beardsley’s Puckish temperament—but did suggest to Leonard Smithers an edition of Volpone (1606) by Ben Jonson (1572–1637). Embarking on it, Beardsley explored a new style that substituted shading and greater realism for his earlier spare, Japanese-influenced aesthetic. As his health deteriorated, however, he was forced to abandon the project after completing a front cover design, a drawing of Volpone worshiping his treasures, and several extraordinary decorative initial letters. Volpone was published posthumously—this copy, one of a hundred on vellum, was presented by Leonard Smithers to his wife, Alice Edith Oldham (1861–1915)—and included a “eulogy” by Robbie Ross. This was actually a full-scale critical essay that followed one about Ben Jonson by Vincent O’Sullivan (1868–1940). Also displayed here is the Volpone that Ross inscribed to Max Beerbohm.
From the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press