A Century of Giving
Sketches for the The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer,
Now Newly Imprinted
(printed by William Morris at the Kemscott Press, 1896)
Widely considered the most beautiful book ever printed, the Kelmscott Chaucer (completed in 1896) was the final collaborative venture of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
The rapid pencil sketch of subjects for The Knight's Tale [above left] is from of a portfolio of drawings by Burne-Jones relating to his woodcut illustrations, and shows his earliest ideas for the project.
Cockerell's friendship with William Morris was perhaps the most influential of his life. Morris introduced Cockerell (his one-time secretary at the Kelmscott Press) to many leading writers, musicians, artists, and designers. These relationships provided the foundation on which Cockerell built a substantial collection of Morris-related material in the Fitzwillliam. The connection was strengthened by Morris's younger daughter May, (1862-1938) who joined the Friends. His eldest daughter Jenny, bequeathed her collection of Kelmscott Press books to the Museum in 1935.
Cockerell used Friends' money to buy this portfolio of preliminary studies in 1922. It followed a donation by Stanley Baldwin, later Prime Minister (and Lady Burne-Jones's nephew), who had recently given the Museum 87 highly finished drawings by Burne-Jones relating to the Chaucer woodcuts. Later, Burne-Jones's children bequeathed some of his sketchbooks as well as his entire archive to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Friends' money was also used to buy several important Pre-Raphaelite works, including drawings by Rossetti of Jane Morris and Elizabeth Siddal and a watercolour, Morning Music; and Millais' oil portrait, Mrs Coventry Patmore.
Over the years, the Friends have continued to contribute to the purchase of many Kelmscott Press books, the majority of which were written, translated or edited by Morris himself, with woodcuts after Burne-Jones. This series of 66 titles was in fact completed in 2003 with the acquisition, by the Friends, of The Book of Wisdom and Lies (published 1894).