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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Composition Without Copy

page 54

Composition Without Copy.

The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer has an article on « setting without copy, » in which it writes of the « intricate process » of double composition—arranging one's ideas directly in type without the preliminary of pen and-ink. « At one time, » it says, « this facility was common enough. The good old country editor thought nothing of taking his stand at case on the eve of publishing-day and picking up his leader as the thoughts arose in his mind. » It goes on to speak of Richardson, of Keìme, the friend of Franklin, and others, who composed whole books in this manner, and says that the practice is now almost a thing of the past and that « even in country districts it is rapidly dying out. » This may be so, but the art has not died out in the colonies, and in regard to its difficulty, we altogether dissent from the writer's conclusions. When the mechanical details of type-setting are mastered it is actually the easiest of all ways of putting one's thoughts into shape. Of course the operation is complex; but no more so than that of writing, and it is immeasurably less difficult than extempore speaking. In a quarter of an hour a ready speaker will arrange and express ideas which a reporter will require an hour and a half to commit to writing, and a compositor four or five hours to arrange in type. We especially join issue with the writer (who, we think, cannot be a practical compositor), in what he says as to the appearance of matter in type. « It must be remembered that the author-printer can form no conception of how his ideas will look when printed. Charles Lamb said that everything looked raw to him in manuscript; Coleridge declared that print brought to light many hidden defects. Hood was prone to write many of his poems in Roman characters so that he might judge what appearance the words would present when published, and for the same reason, Byron even went to the length of having some of his earlier compositions printed roughly—a practice which, by the way, is stated to be common in Germany. If then, manuscript looks raw what can be said of one's burning thoughts in cold lead type! » To the compositor, type looks almost exactly the same as print. Tautologies, errors of spelling, grammatical slips, so easily disguised and overlooked in manuscript, are evident to his eyes as he runs over the metal. Of course the man who sets direct from his brain should not suffer distraction. He has thrice the time of the penman to arrange his thoughts and expressions: but he is liable to lose the thread of his subject if he has to « turn for letter » or « fudge for sorts. » For our own part we would as readily compose an article or a display circular without written copy as with it—in the latter ease probably producing a better result. Mr Christie Murray says that in his journalistic days he found no difficulty in composing his paragraphs in type, and that he has done the same with his verses rather than commit them to paper in the first instance, as he was better able to criticise them in type than in manuscript. This we imagine, agrees with the experience of all practical men—the complex operations, so wonderful to the untrained observer, have become automatic; and the wilderness of grey metal— « without form and void » to the unaccustomed eye— is to the printer as clear as the printed page.