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Printing








Printing, in the only sense with which we are at present concerned,
differs from most if not from all the arts and crafts represented in the
Exhibition in being comparatively modern. For although the Chinese took
impressions from wood blocks engraved in relief for centuries before the
wood-cutters of the Netherlands, by a similar process, produced the
block books, which were the immediate predecessors of the true printed
book, the invention of movable metal letters in the middle of the
fifteenth century may justly be considered as the invention of the art
of printing. And it is worth mention in passing that, as an example of
fine typography, the earliest book printed with movable types, the
Gutenberg, or "forty-two line Bible" of about 1455, has never been
surpassed.

Printing, then, for our purpose, may be considered as the art of making
books by means of movable types. Now, as all books not primarily
intended as picture-books consist principally of types composed to form
letterpress, it is of the first importance that the letter used should
be fine in form; especially as no more time is occupied, or cost
incurred, in casting, setting, or printing beautiful letters than in the
same operations with ugly ones. And it was a matter of course that in
the Middle Ages, when the craftsmen took care that beautiful form should
always be a part of their productions whatever they were, the forms of
printed letters should be beautiful, and that their arrangement on the
page should be reasonable and a help to the shapeliness of the letters
themselves. The Middle Ages brought caligraphy to perfection, and it was
natural therefore that the forms of printed letters should follow more
or less closely those of the written character, and they followed them
very closely. The first books were printed in black letter, i.e. the
letter which was a Gothic development of the ancient Roman character,
and which developed more completely and satisfactorily on the side of
the "lower-case" than the capital letters; the "lower-case" being in
fact invented in the early Middle Ages. The earliest book printed with
movable type, the aforesaid Gutenberg Bible, is printed in letters which
are an exact imitation of the more formal ecclesiastical writing which
obtained at that time; this has since been called "missal type," and was
in fact the kind of letter used in the many splendid missals, psalters,
etc., produced by printing in the fifteenth century. But the first Bible
actually dated (which also was printed at Maintz by Peter Schoeffer in
the year 1462) imitates a much freer hand, simpler, rounder, and less
spiky, and therefore far pleasanter and easier to read. On the whole
the type of this book may be considered the ne-plus-ultra of Gothic
type, especially as regards the lower-case letters; and type very
similar was used during the next fifteen or twenty years not only by
Schoeffer, but by printers in Strasburg, Basle, Paris, Lubeck, and
other cities. But though on the whole, except in Italy, Gothic letter
was most often used, a very few years saw the birth of Roman character
not only in Italy, but in Germany and France. In 1465 Sweynheim and
Pannartz began printing in the monastery of Subiaco near Rome, and used
an exceedingly beautiful type, which is indeed to look at a transition
between Gothic and Roman, but which must certainly have come from the
study of the twelfth or even the eleventh century MSS. They printed very
few books in this type, three only; but in their very first books in
Rome, beginning with the year 1468, they discarded this for a more
completely Roman and far less beautiful letter. But about the same year
Mentelin at Strasburg began to print in a type which is distinctly
Roman; and the next year Gunther Zeiner at Augsburg followed suit; while
in 1470 at Paris Udalric Gering and his associates turned out the first
books printed in France, also in Roman character. The Roman type of all
these printers is similar in character, and is very simple and legible,
and unaffectedly designed for use; but it is by no means without
beauty. It must be said that it is in no way like the transition type of
Subiaco, and though more Roman than that, yet scarcely more like the
complete Roman type of the earliest printers of Rome.

A further development of the Roman letter took place at Venice. John of
Spires and his brother Vindelin, followed by Nicholas Jenson, began to
print in that city, 1469, 1470; their type is on the lines of the German
and French rather than of the Roman printers. Of Jenson it must be said
that he carried the development of Roman type as far as it can go: his
letter is admirably clear and regular, but at least as beautiful as any
other Roman type. After his death in the "fourteen eighties," or at
least by 1490, printing in Venice had declined very much; and though the
famous family of Aldus restored its technical excellence, rejecting
battered letters, and paying great attention to the "press work" or
actual process of printing, yet their type is artistically on a much
lower level than Jenson's, and in fact they must be considered to have
ended the age of fine printing in Italy.

Jenson, however, had many contemporaries who used beautiful type, some
of which--as, e.g., that of Jacobus Rubeus or Jacques le Rouge--is
scarcely distinguishable from his. It was these great Venetian printers,
together with their brethren of Rome, Milan, Parma, and one or two other
cities, who produced the splendid editions of the Classics, which are
one of the great glories of the printer's art, and are worthy
representatives of the eager enthusiasm for the revived learning of that
epoch. By far the greater part of these Italian printers, it should be
mentioned, were Germans or Frenchmen, working under the influence of
Italian opinion and aims.

It must be understood that through the whole of the fifteenth and the
first quarter of the sixteenth centuries the Roman letter was used side
by side with the Gothic. Even in Italy most of the theological and law
books were printed in Gothic letter, which was generally more formally
Gothic than the printing of the German workmen, many of whose types,
indeed, like that of the Subiaco works, are of a transitional character.
This was notably the case with the early works printed at Ulm, and in a
somewhat lesser degree at Augsburg. In fact Gunther Zeiner's first type
(afterwards used by Schussler) is remarkably like the type of the
before-mentioned Subiaco books.

In the Low Countries and Cologne, which were very fertile of printed
books, Gothic was the favourite. The characteristic Dutch type, as
represented by the excellent printer Gerard Leew, is very pronounced and
uncompromising Gothic. This type was introduced into England by Wynkyn
de Worde, Caxton's successor, and was used there with very little
variation all through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and
indeed into the eighteenth. Most of Caxton's own types are of an earlier
character, though they also much resemble Flemish or Cologne letter.
After the end of the fifteenth century the degradation of printing,
especially in Germany and Italy, went on apace; and by the end of the
sixteenth century there was no really beautiful printing done: the
best, mostly French or Low-Country, was neat and clear, but without any
distinction; the worst, which perhaps was the English, was a terrible
falling-off from the work of the earlier presses; and things got worse
and worse through the whole of the seventeenth century, so that in the
eighteenth printing was very miserably performed. In England about this
time, an attempt was made (notably by Caslon, who started business in
London as a type-founder in 1720) to improve the letter in form.
Caslon's type is clear and neat, and fairly well designed; he seems to
have taken the letter of the Elzevirs of the seventeenth century for his
model: type cast from his matrices is still in everyday use.

In spite, however, of his praiseworthy efforts, printing had still one
last degradation to undergo. The seventeenth century founts were bad
rather negatively than positively. But for the beauty of the earlier
work they might have seemed tolerable. It was reserved for the founders
of the later eighteenth century to produce letters which are
positively ugly, and which, it may be added, are dazzling and
unpleasant to the eye owing to the clumsy thickening and vulgar thinning
of the lines: for the seventeenth-century letters are at least pure and
simple in line. The Italian, Bodoni, and the Frenchman, Didot, were the
leaders in this luckless change, though our own Baskerville, who was at
work some years before them, went much on the same lines; but his
letters, though uninteresting and poor, are not nearly so gross and
vulgar as those of either the Italian or the Frenchman.

With this change the art of printing touched bottom, so far as fine
printing is concerned, though paper did not get to its worst till about
1840. The Chiswick press in 1844 revived Caslon's founts, printing for
Messrs. Longman the Diary of Lady Willoughby. This experiment was so far
successful that about 1850 Messrs. Miller and Richard of Edinburgh were
induced to cut punches for a series of "old style" letters. These and
similar founts, cast by the above firm and others, have now come into
general use and are obviously a great improvement on the ordinary
"modern style" in use in England, which is in fact the Bodoni type a
little reduced in ugliness. The design of the letters of this modern
"old style" leaves a good deal to be desired, and the whole effect is a
little too gray, owing to the thinness of the letters. It must be
remembered, however, that most modern printing is done by machinery on
soft paper, and not by the hand press, and these somewhat wiry letters
are suitable for the machine process, which would not do justice to
letters of more generous design.

It is discouraging to note that the improvement of the last fifty years
is almost wholly confined to Great Britain. Here and there a book is
printed in France or Germany with some pretension to good taste, but the
general revival of the old forms has made no way in those countries.
Italy is contentedly stagnant. America has produced a good many showy
books, the typography, paper, and illustrations of which are, however,
all wrong, oddity rather than rational beauty and meaning being
apparently the thing sought for both in the letters and the
illustrations.

To say a few words on the principles of design in typography: it is
obvious that legibility is the first thing to be aimed at in the forms
of the letters; this is best furthered by the avoidance of irrational
swellings and spiky projections, and by the using of careful purity of
line. Even the Caslon type when enlarged shows great shortcomings in
this respect: the ends of many of the letters such as the t and e are
hooked up in a vulgar and meaningless way, instead of ending in the
sharp and clear stroke of Jenson's letters; there is a grossness in the
upper finishings of letters like the c, the a, and so on, an ugly
pear-shaped swelling defacing the form of the letter: in short, it
happens to this craft, as to others, that the utilitarian practice,
though it professes to avoid ornament, still clings to a foolish,
because misunderstood conventionality, deduced from what was once
ornament, and is by no means useful; which title can only be claimed
by artistic practice, whether the art in it be conscious or
unconscious.

In no characters is the contrast between the ugly and vulgar
illegibility of the modern type and the elegance and legibility of the
ancient more striking than in the Arabic numerals. In the old print each
figure has its definite individuality, and one cannot be mistaken for
the other; in reading the modern figures the eyes must be strained
before the reader can have any reasonable assurance that he has a 5, an
8, or a 3 before him, unless the press work is of the best: this is
awkward if you have to read Bradshaw's Guide in a hurry.

One of the differences between the fine type and the utilitarian must
probably be put down to a misapprehension of a commercial necessity:
this is the narrowing of the modern letters. Most of Jenson's letters
are designed within a square, the modern letters are narrowed by a third
or thereabout; but while this gain of space very much hampers the
possibility of beauty of design, it is not a real gain, for the modern
printer throws the gain away by putting inordinately wide spaces between
his lines, which, probably, the lateral compression of his letters
renders necessary. Commercialism again compels the use of type too small
in size to be comfortable reading: the size known as "Long primer" ought
to be the smallest size used in a book meant to be read. Here, again, if
the practice of "leading" were retrenched larger type could be used
without enhancing the price of a book.

One very important matter in "setting up" for fine printing is the
"spacing," that is, the lateral distance of words from one another. In
good printing the spaces between the words should be as near as possible
equal (it is impossible that they should be quite equal except in lines
of poetry); modern printers understand this, but it is only practised in
the very best establishments. But another point which they should attend
to they almost always disregard; this is the tendency to the formation
of ugly meandering white lines or "rivers" in the page, a blemish which
can be nearly, though not wholly, avoided by care and forethought, the
desirable thing being "the breaking of the line" as in bonding masonry
or brickwork, thus:

====
==== ====
====

The general solidity of a page is much to be sought for: modern
printers generally overdo the "whites" in the spacing, a defect probably
forced on them by the characterless quality of the letters. For where
these are boldly and carefully designed, and each letter is thoroughly
individual in form, the words may be set much closer together, without
loss of clearness. No definite rules, however, except the avoidance of
"rivers" and excess of white, can be given for the spacing, which
requires the constant exercise of judgment and taste on the part of the
printer.

The position of the page on the paper should be considered if the book
is to have a satisfactory look. Here once more the almost invariable
modern practice is in opposition to a natural sense of proportion. From
the time when books first took their present shape till the end of the
sixteenth century, or indeed later, the page so lay on the paper that
there was more space allowed to the bottom and fore margin than to the
top and back of the paper, thus:

+---------+---------+
xxxxx xxxxx
xxxxx xxxxx
xxxxx xxxxx
xxxxx xxxxx
xxxxx xxxxx
xxxxx xxxxx

+---------+---------+

the unit of the book being looked on as the two pages forming an
opening. The modern printer, in the teeth of the evidence given by his
own eyes, considers the single page as the unit, and prints the page in
the middle of his paper--only nominally so, however, in many cases,
since when he uses a headline he counts that in, the result as measured
by the eye being that the lower margin is less than the top one, and
that the whole opening has an upside-down look vertically, and that
laterally the page looks as if it were being driven off the paper.

The paper on which the printing is to be done is a necessary part of our
subject: of this it may be said that though there is some good paper
made now, it is never used except for very expensive books, although it
would not materially increase the cost in all but the very cheapest. The
paper that is used for ordinary books is exceedingly bad even in this
country, but is beaten in the race for vileness by that made in America,
which is the worst conceivable. There seems to be no reason why ordinary
paper should not be better made, even allowing the necessity for a very
low price; but any improvement must be based on showing openly that the
cheap article is cheap, e.g. the cheap paper should not sacrifice
toughness and durability to a smooth and white surface, which should be
indications of a delicacy of material and manufacture which would of
necessity increase its cost. One fruitful source of badness in paper is
the habit that publishers have of eking out a thin volume by printing it
on thick paper almost of the substance of cardboard, a device which
deceives nobody, and makes a book very unpleasant to read. On the whole,
a small book should be printed on paper which is as thin as may be
without being transparent. The paper used for printing the small highly
ornamented French service-books about the beginning of the sixteenth
century is a model in this respect, being thin, tough, and opaque.
However, the fact must not be blinked that machine-made paper cannot in
the nature of things be made of so good a texture as that made by hand.

The ornamentation of printed books is too wide a subject to be dealt
with fully here; but one thing must be said on it. The essential point
to be remembered is that the ornament, whatever it is, whether picture
or pattern-work, should form part of the page, should be a part of the
whole scheme of the book. Simple as this proposition is, it is necessary
to be stated, because the modern practice is to disregard the relation
between the printing and the ornament altogether, so that if the two are
helpful to one another it is a mere matter of accident. The due relation
of letter to pictures and other ornament was thoroughly understood by
the old printers; so that even when the woodcuts are very rude indeed,
the proportions of the page still give pleasure by the sense of richness
that the cuts and letter together convey. When, as is most often the
case, there is actual beauty in the cuts, the books so ornamented are
amongst the most delightful works of art that have ever been produced.
Therefore, granted well-designed type, due spacing of the lines and
words, and proper position of the page on the paper, all books might be
at least comely and well-looking: and if to these good qualities were
added really beautiful ornament and pictures, printed books might once
again illustrate to the full the position of our Society that a work of
utility might be also a work of art, if we cared to make it so.

WILLIAM MORRIS.
EMERY WALKER.





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