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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Worthies of the Craft — William Blades.

page 17

Worthies of the Craft.

William Blades.

In the long list of literary celebrities born in London must be included the name of the historian of Caxton, at Clapham, on the 5th of December, 1824. Mr Blades received his, education under the Rev. Charles Pritchard, at the Clapham Grammar School, from which place he went direct to the office of his father, the late Joseph Blades, of 11 Abchurch Lane, London, E.C., who carried on an extensive business as a printer of cheques and bank-notes, there to be initiated into the art of printing. It was through the acquirement of this practical knowledge that Mr Blades became such an authority on printing, as it enabled him to examine a book far differently from many connoisseurs, who were not qualified to judge a work in the dual light of Mr Blades. The tentative effort of Mr Blades was the introductory remarks and notes to « The Governayle of Helthe, » reprinted from Caxton's edition, London, 1858; followed in 1859 by introductory remarks to « Moral Prouerbes, » C. du Castel fac-simile. We now turn our thoughts to Mr Blades' chef d'œuvre: « The Life and Typography of W. Caxton, England's first Printer, with evidence of his typographical connection with Colard Mansion, the printer at Bruges; » with numerons plates; 2 vols.; London, 1861-63 (£5 5s). In the compilation of this important work Mr Blades had letters of introduction from Sir A. Panizzi, then chief librarian of the British Museum, and Mr Winter Jones, keeper of the printed books, to the owners of the principal private libraries in his country, where he assiduously hunted for knowledge of Caxton and his works. Every book in the British Museum printed by Caxton was catalogued, then the libraries of the Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, were visited with a like result, ultimately journeying to Paris, Lille, Bruges, Brussels, Haarlem, and other places in quest of information. These volumes contain everything worth knowing about Caxton, and are worthy of the highest commendation for the painstaking care showed in the massing together of such an amount of material. In 1877 an edition of « The Biography and Typography of William Caxton, England's first Printer » (£1 1s), was issued from the press of Mr Blades, in honor of the Caxton Celebration. a second edition appearing in 1882 (the price 5s) has placed it within the reach of all who thirst for knowledge on this interesting subject. Whilst on this topic, a few remarks anent the Caxton Celebration will not be out of place. The movement was first mooted in 1874, and the secretary wrote Mr Blades asking for his assistance. Mr Blades promised acquiescence should the affair be postponed until the anniversary, 1877. The secretary, like many others, supposed 1874 to be the correct date, but Mr Blades has successfully proved the contrary. Mr Blades was the life and soul of this exhibition, the Caxton department being organized entirely by him, to which he lent a number of valuable works, eclipsed, however, by the loan of Earl Spencer, whose works were valued at £160,000. Mr Blades' energy was rewarded by a public complimentary dinner, the late Sir Charles Reed acting as chairman. The next work of Mr Blades was, « A Catalogue of Books printed by, or ascribed to the Press of W. Caxton » (London, 1865), in which is included the press mark of every copy contained in the British Museum. In the Bookworm of 1869, edited by Monsieur Berjeau, formerly employed in the British Museum, Mr Blades has two articles of interest, the first, « The Early Types of the Royal Printing Office, Paris, and the Chancellor of the Cambridge University, » the second, « The First Printing Press in England, as pictorially represented, » wherein he writes of himself as « an artisan who has paid some attention to the antiquities of his craft. » In March, 1870, appeared another notable contribution from the pen of Mr Blades on « The Early Schools of Typography, » where he inclines to the belief that there is a great deal yet to be brought to light on the subject of Kosteriana, also that the art might have been invented at Haarlem and Mayence simultaneously. To Mr Elliot Stock's Bookworm Mr Blades contributes four articles on « De ortu Typographiæ, » on the evergreen subject—Coster v. Gutenberg. In his last contribution he says: « Coster, of Haarlem, the inventor of printing! 'Tis a mere figment, born of national vanity. There is not an atom of real evidence that a man named Coster ever existed as a printer. » « A List of Medals, Jettons, Tokens, &c, in connection with Printers and the Art of Printing » (London, 1869), is a work of considerable importance, and contains many copperplate engravinggs, and as there were only 25 copies printed, it must have been an expensive production. This book served as a basis for the articles commenced in the Printers' Register (July, 1878), the title being « Numismata Typographica. » In the following year We still find Mr Blades fully employed in a privately-printed work, « A List of Medals struck by order of the Corporation of London, with an Appendix of other Medals struck privately or for sale, having reference to the same corporate body or the Members thereof; » and « How to tell a Caxton; with some hints where and how the same might be found. » The Athenceum for 27th January, 1872, has an article which excited no small amount of curiosity to students of Shakespeare. In this contribution, « Common Typographical Errors, with especial reference to the text of Shakespeare, » Mr Blades draws attention to (1) errors of the case; (2) errors of the eye; (3) errors of a foul case; and explains very lucidly that the compositors in setting the type may have, inadvertently, deviated from the text of our standard authors. This was a kind of preliminary to « Shakespere and Typography; being an attempt to show Shakespere's personal connection with, and technical knowledge of the Art of Printing; also, remarks upon some common typographical errors, with special reference to the text of Shakespere, » which appeared later in the same year. It raised a controversy not only by those connected with the art, but also among general readers. The cause of the commotion was the endeavor of Mr Blades to prove Shakespere a printer! The plea is skilfully put—the decision is left to the reader. A fac-simile reproduction of the first book printed in England, « The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, » with a preface by Mr Blades (1877), is a book that will well repay a scrutiny. « The Enemies of Books » ran through three editions in two years (1880-1), and in 1883 it was printed in French, « Les Livres et leurs Ennemis, » by Claudin.

On 6th May, 1881, Mr Blades received an intimation of his being elected foreign corresponding member of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. The last work of importance by Mr Blades is « Numismata Typographica; or the Medallic History of Printing; being an account of the Medals, Jettons, and Tokens struck in commemoration of Printers and the Art of Printing » (1883).

Mr Blades has a very valuable collection of works on printing, the result of his travels at home and abroad, and to those who wish for a list of works on this subject, we refer them to the Printers' Register for the close of the year 1875, wherein is commenced the « Bibliotheca Typographica. » After each work there is a concise note, which shows the remarkable knowledge of Mr Blades, and the labor of getting such an accurate list of books together. Mr Blades has, we hope, many years of usefulness before him, and we should like to see from one of the foremost printers of the day a work treating of printing from a practical point of view.

Last month's news by wire in reference to the Times-Parnell case, was a mass of contradictions. The forecasts of the Commissioners' report, telegraphed at considerable expense, were manifestly imaginary.—The Times, we were told, had been ordered to disclose the source of the information in « Parnellism and Crime, » and the number of copies sold, and had appealed.—The application that The Times disclose the source of its information had been refused in Chambers.— Mr Parnell had written to the Ennis Guardian advising public bodies to treat the divorce action of Capt. O'Shea (who was lost to all sense of gratitude) with contempt.—The letter was not written by Mr Parnell.—Mr Parnell would resign his seat in the House of Commons.—The report that Mr Parnell intended to resign was unfounded.— This was the month's « news » on the subject. We have now definite information as to the result. The Commission reject the whole of the facsimile letters as forgeries (in fact, some were proved to be), and declare Pigott's evidence to be worthless. Thus one-half of The Times' charge No. 14 falls through. The remaining proportion of 13½ stand. Mr Parnell and his associates are declared guilty of conspiracy to bring about the separation of Ireland, to have incited to intimidation, to have circulated papers inciting to sedition and crime. Of the funds that had passed through their hands, £100,000 were unaccounted for. The rise of agrarian crime coincides with the beginning of activity of the league. The points « not proved » are incidental details in no way affecting the main question. The Times (except in the matter of the forged letters—which may have been got up by the league itself to discredit the other disclosures) has been thoroughly vindicated, but at enormous expense to itself. But for the distinct pledge of the Government that no action would be taken on any disclosures made before the Commission, it would now have been their duty to take criminal proceedings against the leaders of the league. Mr Parnell's libel action was settled out of Court, on the suggestion of Mr Parnell—the newspaper paying £5,000 damages. The Times did not, however, « back down. » « The result, » it said, « in no way affects the larger question at issue. » This was prior to the report of the Commission. The report occupies 165 pages, and contains the unanimous opinion of the judges. The Times is triumphant at the completeness of its vindication; while the league members, though professing themselves quite satisfied, used every means to prevent the report being entered on the journals of the House.