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A Defence of the Revival of Printing

    A Defence of the Revival of Printing . By Charles Ricketts. (Vale Press.) — The ignorant or uninformed critic when brought face to face with any new development in art finds refuge in alternate charges of plagiarism and eccentricity; we say uninformed, not uneducated. Few are so educated as the “uneducated,” but their education has been a lifelong appreciation of the unworthy. To criticism of the sort alluded to we owe this little volume, in which Mr. Ricketts discloses the secrets of his aims and exemplars. The movement which during the last decade has aimed to make of the printed book something more than a mere trade commodity, designed to tickle the eyes of the groundling, has no worthier standard- bearer than Mr. Ricketts, and the productions of the Vale Press can always be trusted to show some carefully thought-out experiment in improving the standard of excellence set up for us by the early printers of Venice. For, like William Morris, and as every designer of Roman type must, our author looks to the printers of 1470 for inspiration; it is only by working from their models, or, better still, from that earlier script from which their models were derived, that grace and beauty may be preserved within the limits set by immemorial tradition. Mr. Ricketts, in speaking of these sources, has some pertinent remarks on the proposal made that these early founts of type should be cast again and put on the market. The imperfections of mediæval casting gave an irregularity to the serifs and the thicknesses of the letters, to which time has lent a pleasing effect, but the mechanical reproduction of these needless deviations from rule and accidental peculiarities would be intolerable. Moreover, the Roman capitals of these printers are impossible, and the e is much too compressed in Spira. By the way, the final strokes of the m and n of Spira are not curved in 1471, as Mr. Ricketts seems to imply, and the curve is very small in Sweynheym & Pannartz in 1470, not at all approaching that of the h. Mr. Ricketts meets criticism on two particular points bravely. The first is the shape of his note of interrogation, where he shelters himself behind Jenson, and where he has good MS. authority in the thirteenth century. The other, his contraction for and, is less defensible. If he has tried to preserve et, we have to remind him that he is printing English, and not French, and as a contraction for and it is no more justifiable than if it were designed from do, for example. If, however, he treats it merely as a convention, he might have found in the manuscripts half a dozen forms more beautiful and better adapted for the graver. There are in Capelli at least three dozen well-known contractions figured. The summary of principles at the end of the book may be commended to the “art printer” north of the Tweed and elsewhere—especially that part which refers to over-inking and the blueing of the ink. The effect of this last device on the durability of the printing has yet to be seen. One last criticism, and we have done. Mr. Ricketts’s position in English wood-engraving is acknowledged to be unrivalled, and it is surely heavy metal to employ against such an opponent as his unnamed American critic the terrible sarcasm of Swift, apposite as it is.

MLA citation:

“A Defence of the Revival of Printing.” Rev. of The Dial, The Athenaeum, no. 3752, 23 September 1899, p. 417. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.