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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 8

Mr William Morris on Printing

page 6

Mr William Morris on Printing.

At the Arts and Crafts Society's rooms, London, on 2nd November, a large audience assembled to hear a lecture, by Mr William Morris, « On the Printing of Books. » Printing, said the lecturer, was not an ancient art; and it had this quality about it, that it was not an essential art. That was to say, there had been books, and complete books, long before printing was ever thought of. It held a not much greater place as an art per se than the great spinning machines in the north did to the original spindle. Printing simply meant the rapid multiplication of books. At the best, printing as a distinct fine art was perhaps the shortest lived of all the arts. The first complete book they know of was printed in or about the year 1453; that was to say, it was printed when the Middle Ages were begininng to wear towards their end. A hundred years from that period—in the year 1553—from the point of view of an artist, the art of printing had quite come to an end. There was no good printing, or very little indeed—there was no first-rate printing at all—as late as the year 1553. Although the art was a short-lived one, he did not think we ought to complain that it was not not invented before it was invented. He was not going to show the company highly-decorated examples of books, for what he wanted to impress upon them was this, that a printed book without any decoration at all could have a certain fitness or beauty about it merely by the stamps and signs being beautifully put together. Mr Morris proceeded to show on a screen numerous examples of the printer's art from the earliest times down to the present, beginning with a specimen of Gutenberg's work of the date of 1453, which was the first example of printing in two colors in one book known to the world. The lecturer regarded as the most perfect example of Roman type the translation of Pliny's « Natural History, » of the date 1471, printed by Jenson. In estimating the merits of the two forms of letters, Gothic and Roman, in the latter the capitals and in the Gothic the lower-case letters won the day. On the score of beauty, the lecturer pleaded for the use of a certain amount of Gothic type for printing of books, remarking that if he had his own way he should print all books in Gothic. The mediævals had the advantage over us in the matter of paper, for almost all paper used for printing books in the present day was bad, and very little tolerable, whereas in the Middle Ages the paper was good and durable, and had qualities which appealed to the eye. He did not know what was to be done about modern paper, unless we managed to print more books from handmade paper. Machine-made paper was a mere makeshift. With regard to the one-shilling book, if the paper was to be cheap, it ought somehow or another to look cheap; it ought not to have that desperate look of shabby elegance that most of the kind had (laughter). Concluding, Mr Morris advocated printing on good paper, and the use of well-designed type. It was, he said, just as cheap to pick up pretty stamps as ugly ones, and the type must be put in the proper position on the pages, and when they did that they would have a book which anybody could read with pleasure. It was quite clear no books would ever again be in writing, or very few, and in a very short time we should get rid of printing also. He gave printing about fifty years to last or one hundred at the most. Printing would go in course of time, and he proposed that while it lasted as many beautiful books as possible should be printed.