Wednesday, January 8, 2020

441. An Encyclopaedic Manifesto

The private presses of the 1890s wanted to secure a place of their own in the publishing world and marked their territory with manifestos on the 'revival of printing' and with bibliographies of their own publications. William Morris as well as Charles Ricketts and Lucien Pissarro did so, and others would succeed them.

Ricketts's manifestos appeared shortly after each other: in March 1898 Charles Ricketts's and Lucien Pissarro's De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. William Morris et son influence sur les arts et métiers appeared; in June 1899 A Defence of the Revival of Printing followed. Finally, in 1904 Ricketts published the bibliography of his Vale Press, preceded by an essay that can once again be read as a manifesto.

Charles Ricketts, 'Book-Printing' (1902)
[Illustration: courtesy of John Aplin]
A lesser-known essay by Ricketts is actually also a manifesto, although it is disguised as a lemma in an encyclopaedia. This is the lemma 'Book-Printing' written by Ricketts for the tenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1902. Although the Vale Press was in its final phase, it would remain active for at least another year.

And although readers would expect a contribution on the art of printing in general, and even though the editors had asked Ricketts for such a contribution shortly after lemmata on 'Bookbinding' and 'Book-Plates', he delivered an article with a much limited scope, focusing on the 'revival of printing', starting with Morris's Kelmscott Press, continuing on the Vale Press and ending with a short list of other presses in America and England (including the Doves Press). 

Ricketts did not focus on the latest technical developments, but on the recent rise of private presses run by artists and especially on the idea that a book should be designed by one artist, in other words: a graphic designer.

Ricketts seized the opportunity to consolidate his position by naming his own Vale Press second and spending almost as many words on it as he did on the Kelmscott Press. Moreover, this essay did not appear as an article in a fancy magazine, or as a newspaper article to be quickly forgotten, but as an official lemma in the most important English encyclopaedia. His vision was now laid down for eternity in a publication considered extremely reliable.

Because this manifesto is less well known than the others, the complete text follows here.

Book-Printing. - The latest development in printing, in which each component of a book is controlled by a sense of harmony and beauty, owes its conception and realization to William Morris, and takes definite form in the founts and books of the Kelmscott Press. Previous efforts by Morris himself, Mr Daniel of Oxford, and others, count only as experiments towards a tasteful use of materials to hand. The great originality of the Kelmscott books lies, not merely in the order and design shown in their "build" and decoration, but in the vivifying of each part from type to paper by a high order of design and execution. Herein they differed in 1891 in all essentials, and in many new particulars, from all other modern books both in aim and aspect.
    The Kelmscott Press is distinguished by the use of three founts designed by William Morris. The Troye and Chaucer founts, both of them Gothic, named after books in which they first appeared, are best fitted for ornamental mediaeval works. These books owe their chief interest to the bold handsome decoration by Mr Morris, and to woodcuts after designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones; one of the most noteworthy examples is the "Chaucer," of a page of which we are, by the special permission of William Morris's trustees, enabled to give a reduced facsimile (p. 307). In Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon we note the partial failure of this order of type to fit the character of a modern book. In the Golden or Roman fount lie the strength and future of the Kelmscott Press as an influence on type. The Golden Type is without the exaggerated contraction of form laterally, the exaggerated use of thick and thin strokes, or the vicious stroke-terminations common to modern founts. It is a type of full body, designed in careful relation to the up-and-down strokes, and resting upon solid serifs, as with Jenson, for instance, but in detail more allied to fine penmanship or even black letter. The character of the decoration in the Kelmscott pages is stamped with the vigour which one expects from a designer of Morris's importance. Usually on a black ground, the forms combine a northern character in thistle leaf and composite flower, with a fluency of curve comparable to the famous borders of Ratdolt of Venice.
    The Vale books, often classed by writers and collectors with the Kelmscott, may be counted with them so far as they also are singular in being controlled by one designer, from the important matter of type, decoration, and illustration, to that of "build" and press-work. The first Vale book in which each of these conditions was achieved is Milton's Minor Poems (1896). In this the Roman type, known as the Vale fount, designed by Charles Ricketts, differs from the Venetian and Kelmscott founts by a greater roundness or fulness of body, and in a modification of details by the conditions of type-making. The second fount used in the Vale issues, first employed in The Plays of Shakespeare (1896) [i.e. 1900], is less round in body, more traditional in detail, and lighter in effect. To be mentioned with the foregoing are some half-dozen books, printed by L. Pissarro in the Vale fount at his press, "The Eragny Press," with woodcuts decorations. They are unique in the revival of printing by the occasional use of colour and gold.
    No other books have hitherto combined the conditions specified of new type, woodcut decoration, original woodcuts, and personal control. Two American founts, adapted from Morris, are tentatively used by publishers. Mons. Grasset, in France, has designed an eclectic fount, but none of these can be associated with a special press or series of notable books. Recently, however, Messrs. Sanderson and Walker have recut Jenson's fount and established the Doves Press, conspicuous for its taste and technical excellence.
    A certain number of technical conditions had to be faced in the revival of printing for the first time in late years, i.e., the printing of woodcuts on hand-made paper, and the printing of borders and initials in the body of the text; both in pitch and in sustained evenness of tone the Kelmscott Press (notably in the Chaucer) remains unsurpassed. The inking-up process employed to achieve the above conditions is a very gradual one. The paper chosen for its regular thickness is, moreover, slightly damped, to avoid a gritty aspect in the blacks; hence the delicate embossed appearance of the pages, and the absence of all overloading with ink. In the manipulation of English or "Roman" vellum the consistency of the inks used is even greater, the vellum, of course, not being damped. The so-called "Roman" vellum is made at Brentford. The vellum used for the Kelmscott Chaucer was damped.
   Authorities. - Articles on the revival have appeared in the Athenaeum, the Saturday Review, Magazine of Art, The Studio, and the Contemporary Review. More detailed and more accurate information will be found in A Note by William Morris on his Aims in founding the Kelmscott Press. Kelmscott Press, 1898. - Floury. De la typographie et de l'harmonie de la page imprimée. Paris. - Hacon and Ricketts, A Defence of the Revival of Printing. - See also article, Morris, William. (C.Ri.)
[The New Volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica constituting in combination with the existing volume of the ninth edition The Tenth Edition of that work, and also supplying a new, distinctive, and independent Library of Reference dealing with recent events and developments. The second of the new volumes, being Volume XXVI of the complete work.(Edinburgh & London, 1902, page 306]

[The text is reprinted in Charles Ricketts, Everything for Art: Selected Writings. Edited with an introduction by Nicholas Frankel. High Wycombe, The Rivendale Press, 2014, pages 113-115].