The Journal of The Fine Press Book Association
“First Principles, Second Thoughts and Final Answers”
Writing encyclopedia articles pays very poorly when it pays at all. Yet the challenge posed by the genre — stating all the essentials of a subject with the greatest possible clarity in the shortest possible space — has tempted many writers. So has the intangible reward: the short-lived, giddy illusion that one has attained the status of Recognized Authority. These considerations or others tempted Stanley Morison when the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannnica asked him to contribute to their 14th edition, published in 1929. He was assigned three subjects: Calligraphy, Printing Type, and Typography.
Morison viewed the undertaking through a narrow lens. His was the only discussion of calligraphy in the entire encyclopedia, yet he neglected even to mention that calligraphy existed in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, or Persian. In the other two articles, he also gave no hint that books had been handsomely printed from moveable type in China and Korea before Gutenberg.
[The Typography article …]
It began with the finest Morisonism of all and continued with an admission that there was not just one right answer after all:
The printer must never distract, even with beauty, the reader from his text. In the printing of books there is less room for individuality of style than in the typography of propaganda. The laws of typography in books intended for general circulation are based upon (a) the essential nature of alphabetical writing; (b) the force of tradition. But strict as the conventions are, there is not, and never can be, a rigid character to typography applicable to all books printed in Roman types. The strength of tradition expresses itself in the details of book arrangement and these vary widely. Certain laws of linear composition are, however, obeyed by all printers who use the Roman letter.
Van Krimpen’s own form of eloquence lay just next door to writing: in calligraphy and in the designing of type and books. Like Morison, he was searching for the One Right Answer, the one that would nail history down and show the rest of us the error of our ways — but van Krimpen’s answers were visual rather than verbal […] His type is of lasting value, like Morison’s prose, because of that search. What he found was never exactly what he was looking for. It was never the One Right Answer, but it was very often one of the many right answers. Again and again he captured something timeless, weaving both it and himself into the fragile tissue of time.
Interesting how a discourse on a specialized context of craft turns to universal considerations of pursuit and making in the ethical milieu of a commitment to value.
And so for day 2434