Printing of To-Day: An Illustrated Survey of Post-War Typography in Europe and the United States

Printing of To-Day: An Illustrated Survey of Post-War Typography in Europe and the United States

Printing of To-Day: An Illustrated Survey of Post-War Typography in Europe and the United States

Printing of To-Day: An Illustrated Survey of Post-War Typography in Europe and the United States

Excerpt

In our enthusiasm for the spirit we are often unjust to the letter. Inward and outward, substance and form are not easily separated. In many circumstances of life and for the vast majority of human beings they constitute an indissoluble unity. Substance conditions form; but form no less fatally conditions substance. Indeed, the outward may actually create the inward, as when the practice of religious rites creates religious faith, or the commemoration of the dead revives, or even calls into existence, the emotions to which the ceremonial gives symbolical expression.

There are other cases, however, in which spirit seems not to be so closely dependent on letter, in which the quality of the form does not directly affect the quality of the substance. The sonnets of Shakespeare remain the sonnets of Shakespeare even in the most abominable edition. Nor can the finest printing improve their quality. The poetical substance exists independently of the visible form in which it is presented to the world. But though, in this case, the letter is powerless to make or mar the spirit which it symbolizes, it is not for that reason to be despised as mere letter, mere form, mere negligible outside. Every outside has a corresponding inwardness. The inwardness of letters does not happen to be literature; but that is not to say that they have no inwardness at all. Good printing cannot make a bad book good, nor bad printing ruin a good book. But good printing can create a valuable spiritual state in the reader, bad printing a certain spiritual discomfort. The inwardness of letters is the inwardness of any piece of visual art regarded simply as a thing of beauty. A volume of the Penny Classics may give us the sonnets of Shakespeare in their entirety; and for that we may be duly grateful. But it cannot at the same time give us a work of visual art. In a finely printed edition we have Shakespeare's sonnets plus the lovely equivalent of, say, a Persian rug or a piece of Chinese porcelain. The pleasure we should derive from bowl or carpet is added to that which the poetry gives us. At the same time our minds are sensitized by the contemplation of the simple visual beauty of the letters: they are made more susceptible of receiving the other and more complex . . .

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