‘A Book about Roses’ (1869) Samuel Reynolds Hole.

Of the thirty-one books dedicated solely to the Rose written in Britain during the C19th the most popular, undoubtedly, was ‘A Book about Roses’ by the clergyman Samuel Reynolds Hole. Written in 1869 it has since had a miraculous history of new editions, impressions and reprints. Between 1869 and 1894 there were fourteen editions, some only a matter of months apart. In ‘The Letters of Dean Hole’ (1907 P. 141) we learn that ” . . .the eleventh edition of my little Book was sold in 6 months – 3000 copies.”

A book about roses first edition
‘A Book about Roses’ First Edition 1869. (Note the green cloth and gold rose)

The fifteenth edition was revised and largely rewritten bringing the information, especially the lists of roses up to date. It was subsequently published in two formats: a Presentation Edition which included colour plates and was ‘hansomely bound’ for 10s and 6d and a Popular Edition, with frontispiece, for 3s and 6d. This additional format was apparently at the request of the many admirers of the book who wished for a more ‘handsome and illustrated edition’. The fifteenth edition that I have in the Rosarian Library has no colour plates but does have the John Leech illustration as frontispiece thus I still search for the Presentation Edition of 1896!

The sixteenth editions, both Popular and Presentation, were reprints and revisions published in 1898 by E. Arnold of London. The original publishers were W. Blackwood and Sons of Edinburgh and London but E. Arnold took over publication for the eleventh edition in 1891. Further publications followed in 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1909 with the twenty-sixth publication being in 1910, six years after the death of the author. A New Edition with an additional chapter and lists of roses by Dr. A. H. Williams was published by E. Arnold in 1911 with reprints following in 1913 and 1915. It was reprinted as a Nelson Classic in 1911. The final edition in Britain, I believe, was a New Edition published by J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd: London and Toronto in 1932.

Different versions of a book about roses
Several different editions of ‘A Book about Roses’. It is possible to date a book reasonably accurately by the colour and pattern of the cover.

Quite plain internally, in the beginning, with the occasional line drawings, a few black and white photographs began to creep in with coloured ones appearing in the Presentation Editions after 1896. The covers, however, have been another matter, always being very attractive with some form of artistry on their front and spine. The first edition has a stunning golden rose in the centre of the green cloth of the front cover and it is the only edition to have this. The gilt lettering on the spine is quite plain. This cannot be said for the next few editions with the spines being beautifully decorated with glorious gilt lettering and the golden rose. The front covers are beautiful too with gilt and black designs on the green cloth. The covers and spines have remained attractive with changes in colour as time has passed and with changes in the designs. It is possible to date an edition reasonably accurately from its front cover.

During the earlier years there were several publications in America by William S. Gottsberger: New York and I believe it has been translated into German. Knowing that this little book of 1869 started life in instalments in The Gardener, a C19th periodical it is amazing to see such a history. A little book in size it was, but full of character created by the ideas of one true admirer of roses and his collection of anecdotes that brought roses into the homes of the growing number of gardeners in Victorian England. It would seem that the success of this notable book was a result of the common sense it contained, the beautiful roses it celebrated, the stories it told and the huge charisma, not to mention the hard work of this unique clergyman.

Samuel Reynolds Hole
Samuel Reynolds Hole, Dean of Rochester, photograph taken by A.H.Fry and printed in The Windsor Magazine of 1901. (The King of the Roses).

Dean Hole, as he was generally known, became well respected in the Rose world throughout the latter part of the C19th and I presume that those who knew him or knew of him, whether a rosarian, a gardener, an exhibitor or purely a lover of roses wanted to have a copy of his very readable book. Who would not want to read the following:

“Enter then the Rose-garden when the first sunshine sparkles in the dew, and enjoy with thankful happiness one of the loveliest scenes of earth. What a diversity, and yet what a harmony, of colour! There are White Roses, Striped Roses, Blush Roses, Pink Roses, Rose Roses, Carmine Roses, Crimson Roses, Scarlet Roses, Vermilion Roses, Maroon Roses, Purple Roses, Roses almost black, and Roses of a glowing gold. What a diversity, and yet what a harmony, of outline! Dwarf Roses and Climbing Roses, Roses closely carpeting the ground, Roses that droop in snowy foam like fountains, and Roses that stretch out their branches upwards as though they would kiss the sun; Roses “in shape no bigger than an agate-stone on the fore-finger of an alderman” and Roses four inches across; Roses in clusters, and Roses blooming singly; Roses in bud, in their, glory, decline and fall. And yet all these glowing tints not only combine, but educe and enhance each other’s beauty.”

Chap. 3 P.45.


“In a Rose-garden . . . . no formalism, no flatness, no monotonous repetition should prevail. There should the Rose be seen in all her multiform phases of beauty. There should be beds of Roses, banks of Roses, bowers of Roses, hedges of Roses, edgings of Roses, pillars of Roses, arches of Roses, fountains of Roses, baskets of Roses, vistas and alleys of the Rose. Now overhead and now at our feet, there they should creep and climb. New tints, new forms, new perfumes should meet us at every turn.”

Chap 7. P. 113.

It is no wonder that this book written about Roses in 1869 was a success. It includes many descriptions, witticisms and anecdotes which bring not only the roses but the rose world of the C19th to life. The author was a well-respected and well educated clergyman who became quite an authority on roses. The information the book contains about rose growing was original and had been tried and tested by the author. I personally believe if this was the only rose book available today we would all, at least in this country, be able to grow beautiful roses both in the garden and for exhibition. In conclusion I will end here as he began

” He who would have beautiful roses in his garden must have beautiful Roses in his heart.”

(All references have been taken from the revised edition 15. This is an extract from an article ‘Dean Reynolds Hole and his Book about Roses’.)

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