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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 8

A Hundred Years Hence

A Hundred Years Hence.

At no time has the question ؟What will be the future of the Craft? pressed more on the minds of men than of late. Changes are now so swift that the young man at the close of his term finds the art a different one from that to which he was apprenticed. Machines, methods, and designs, become old-fashioned or even obsolete at a rate undreamed of a few years ago. During the present generation, more original and improved machines, more designs in type, and more new processes have been introduced than during the previous four centuries in which the art has been practised. It is no wonder that those trained in old methods are uneasy at the prospect; for as each new invention or discovery suggests further improvement, the rate of progress is one of continual acceleration.

Mr William Morris, well known as poet, artist, and latterly as printer, has been addressing the Arts and Crafts Society on the printing of books, and we give elsewhere an abstract of his address. It will be read with interest, with a certain measure of approval, and probably with a good deal of dissent by those practical men who take an intelligent interest in the progress of their art. They will be a little staggered at the lecturer's assertion that printing ceased to be an art within the first century after it was invented. Few will accept so sweeping a statement without demur: and no doubt most will find that Mr Morris's definition of art will not coincide with their own. Even more startling, however, is his forecast. « He gave printing about fifty years to last, or one hundred years at the most. »

Among those who read this page there are some who, at the end of another fifty years, may remember Mr Morris's prediction; and who, looking forward, will be better able than we are, to guess what kind of books will be manufactured and read by the men of 1993. Mr Morris may prove to be a true prophet. When Nicéphore Niepce experimented on the curious action of light upon bitumen, he did not suspect that he had chanced upon a discovery that would in fifty years kill the beautiful arts of line engraving and xylography. It was not that the new arts were better, though they developed artistic possibilities of their own; but direct handiwork on wood and copper had to give way to cheap and ready chemical processes. An age « steam- and devil-driven, » as Ruskin has put it, could brook no delay. The hand-press has gone. Shorthand is displacing the old writing character; the type-writer is dislodging caligraphy; every branch of printing save type-composition is performed at terrific speed; and the compositor, picking his types one by one, is distanced by every other department. In the writer's apprentice-days all types were cast singly in the hand-mould—now there are many printers who have never seen a hand-cast type. If there is anything in analogy, hand-setting of types will follow hand-casting.

In fact, the machines have come. There are the Linotype and the Rogers, turning out their solid lines and filling their galleys as if by magic; the Thorne, working with single types, and discriminating with more than human precision; there is the even more marvellous Monotype, which, fed with sheets of perforated card, casts singly and swiftly each letter or space as required, in any sized type; and, lastly, there is the multiple telegraph of a Sydney inventor, by which one man at a keyboard can simultaneously operate any number of machines at any distance. Seven years ago not one of these wondrous pieces of mechanism existed, and the most advanced printers, with few exceptions, regarded machine-setting as a chimæra. Probably in twenty years more, every existing composing-machine will be out of date. One central news-agency may print the telegrams simultaneously in each locality with greater ease and accuracy than it now transmits the messages. The suggestion that a pile of thousands of sheets will be printed from type-written or other copy by a single electric flash is by no means an incredible one. By the time the lads now being indentured go out into the world as journeymen, it may be that no large volume or newspaper sheet of ordinary matter will any longer be composed by hand.

؟Will movable types still remain? We think they will. Steam and devil-driven though the world may be now—dazzled by electric light and thrilled by galvanic motors as it will be in years to come—there must still remain classes of work that no mechanism can perform. At the same time, we cannot feel certain that there will be a place for the typefounder at the close of the twentieth century. Invention takes sudden and unforeseen directions. The type-writer of to-day is only a germ of greater things to come. Photography, once a scientific recreation, is now indispensible in every branch of graphics. Our cumbrous orthography must go, and shorthand may wholly supersede the time-honored Roman character. Late wondrous discoveries in chemistry and physics must produce vast revolutions in the arts. Printing houses, even fifty years hence, may be great silent factories, without types, presses, or ink. We are old-fashioned, it may be, for we cannot quite rejoice in such a prospect. The world as a whole will gain; but the inexorable law of progress holds good—the gain is costly, involving irretrievable loss.