I: The Persons of the Tale.
The Fables in question are the short pieces by Robert Louis Stevenson that first appeared in a collected edition in 1896. These illustrations by British artist ER Herman are from a 1914 edition that I hadn’t encountered before until I received an email asking if I knew anything about the artist. I didn’t, and neither does anybody else it seems; Herman’s life and other works are a complete mystery, as are his forenames (he does seem to be a he, however, going by a review in The Bookman). I suspect the ominous date of publication may be a clue: Herman could well have died in the First World War without having the opportunity to publish anything else. On the other hand, a couple of biographical entries have 1890–1930 as birth and death dates, although this makes the absence of other artwork even more striking. And given such vagueness, it’s still possible that ER Herman could have been a woman who gave up her art career to raise a family, as my mother did in the 1950s.
II: The Sinking Ship.
Regarding the drawings, The Bookman review identifies a Beardsley influence which is immediately evident in the use of pictorial space, the masses of black and white, and the parallel shading lines. So too with the treatment of clothing; Herman’s figures, however, are his (or her) own. It makes a change seeing illustrations for a Stevenson book that isn’t Treasure Island or A Child’s Garden of Verses. Fables includes The Persons of the Tale, a surprisingly early piece of metafiction in which Long John Silver and Captain Smollett briefly step out of the pages of Treasure Island to smoke their pipes and discuss the likely outcome of the story. “But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!”
III: The Two Matches.
My thanks to Duncan for alerting me to these drawings which may be seen at a larger size here. If anyone has any details about ER Herman’s life or other work, please leave a comment.
IV: The Sick Man and the Fireman.
V: The Devil and the Innkeeper.