The Altar Book
From the Providence Journal, September 17, 1922:
“When Daniel Berkeley Updike went from the desk of the Athenaeum Library to learn the trade of printing at the Riverside Press, he took with him a definite ambition, high ideals, the good wishes of a few men and women of very sound judgment, and an intimate friendship. The friend [Harold Brown], when Mr. Updike started his own Merrymount Press in 1893, could easily have paid all the bills but if he had done this, the experiment begun by this press would have lacked all its significance. Instead of doing this, he gave the support of enthusiastic confidence and personal co-operation in the undertaking, sharing in the consideration of all its plans and helping to decide on all doubtful problems until his untimely death . It was much more than his money that carried through to a triumphant issue the Merrymount’s first, and still one of its most notable, achievements, the Altar Book, finished at Easter AD 1896 by Daniel Berkeley Updike and Harold Brown.
Updike set the type at the Merrymount Press in Boston, and 350 copies were printed by De Vinne (New York) in red and black on handmade paper. Illustrated by Robert Anning Bell within borders designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (who also designed the woodcut initials), the Altar Book was hailed on both sides of the Atlantic. According to Martin Hutner, “this was the work which, at the height of the excitement generated by the Arts and Crafts movement in both America and Europe, gave Updike an international reputation at the age of thirty-six.”
The following words by Updike appear on four typewritten pages, initialed “D.B.U.” in Updike’s hand, in Harold Brown’s copy at the John Carter Brown Library:
Symbolism of the Decorations of the Altar Book
The symbolism of the Altar Book is as follows:
On the title-page is a coat of arms engraved by Sherborn, of London, with the following motto beneath it: “There is a river the streams of which make glad the city of God, Alleluia! Making holy the tabernacles of the most High. Alleluia! Alleluia!” Above is a motto, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The lamb is represented on the shield standing on a mount, from which four streams issue through the walls of a city. The river and the lamb are typical of the two parts of the Sacrament. The shield is surmounted by a mitre of the English shape, and on one side is an archiepiscopal cross and on the other a shepherd’s crook.
An elaborate system of symbolism is carried out throughout the entire book. The pictures for the festivals of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsun Day and Trinity are devoted to representations of the mysteries which these days commemorate.
For the Easter border are introduced peacocks, which are the symbols of the Resurrection. As antitheses to the three groups of names in the Christmas border, are introduced three groups of persons, in the New Dispensation, namely, the four doctors, Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine, Saint Chrysostom, and Saint Jerome; the four Evangelists; and Saint Mary, the Virgin, Saint Mary, wife of Cleopas, and Saint Mary Magdalene, as types of Christian womanhood.