Wednesday, July 5, 2017

310. The 2017 Alphabet: J

J is for James.

James John Garth Wilkinson, born so early as January 1812, still lives; and still his tall strong frame wears a memory of the robustness of his long youth. The most of his life abnormally active, the harvest of it is little "sensational."

'Garth Wilkinson.' (The Dial, III, 1893, page 21)

The initial 'J' was designed for inclusion in the third number of Shannon's and Ricketts's magazine The Dial that appeared in October 1893. It adorned an article by the poet John Gray. Wilkinson (1812-1899), being a translator of Swedenborg and a student of William Blake, believed in automatic dictation, a form of poetry that was felt to be inspired by religion, or as Gray wrote himself: 'writing from "Influx" [...] is either a religion or a madness'.

The wood engraved block was used as the letter 'J' only once. (*) 

The initial was used again though, several years later, on the first text page of The Poems of John Keats, volume I (1898).

The Poems of John Keats, volume I (The Vale Press, 1898)
Here the initial 'J' is used for the second line of Keats' most famous long poem, 'Endymion':

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweat dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Usually, Ricketts only designed one initial for a poem, but his admiration for Keats induced him to use three differently styled initials for the first two text lines of 'Endymion': an oversized open capital 'A' that was connected to a small open 'T' within four dark leaves, followed by the 'I' for 'Its'.

However, this 'I' was not a new design. Instead, the older design for the 'J' was used, although it was now set upside down, so that it would look less like a 'J' and more like an 'I'.

The letter can easily be identified as the earlier 'J' by the three berries in the upper left corner, they should occur in the lower right corner.

The Poems of John Keats, volume I (The Vale Press, 1898)
It must have been a mistake to insert this electrotyped initial letter, probably the fault of the typesetter at Ballantyne's where a hand press was set apart for the Vale Press, and were these initials were stored. It is an easy mistake to make, as there were many 'I' designs - the 'A', 'I' and 'T' are the initials of which Ricketts designed up to ten variants - and as the 'I's and 'J's were similar in design, a 'J' held upside down may easily have been taken for an 'I'. 

If Ricketts had noticed this while proofreading, would he have cared?

(*) Note: In her bibliography, Maureen Watry, erroneously states that the same initial was also used in the subsequent number of The Dial.