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Full text of "Bernard Shaw on modern typography"

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* 1915 




Like most authors, I am so greatly itidthv 
ed to the printer, and the printer's reader, 
for their work and help in the produAion 
of my books, that 1 cannot point out their 
shortcomings without feeUng some stings 
of conscience for my ingratitude. Besides, 
an author is not a fair judge of a printer, 
because the author himself usually spoils 
the printer's work. 
This arises from the fad that the main 
difference between a well^printed page 
and an ill/printed one lies in the evenness 
of the block of colour presented by the let^ 
terpress. If the justification is made solely 
to comply with some office rule against du 
viding words at the end of a line, or if the 
spaces between the sentences are made as 
long as possible, or if the page is leaded, 
ana the type kept small, so as to make the 
white the chief feature instead of the black, 


then no ingenuity of ornament, or gilt edg/ 
ing, or silky surface in one fashion, or a& 
fedation of Caslon type and deckle edged 
hand^made paper in another, will make 
the book look well. Not only will there 
be the transverse bars of white made by 
the leads, but rivers of white will trickle 
up and down between the words like rain^ 
drops on a window pane; and the block of 
letterpress will be grey here and whitey^ 
brown there, and mildewy in the other 
place,instead of a rich,even colour all over. 
Now I think it cannot be denied that 
many fashionable books show that the 
printer has not only not known this first 
canon of his art, but that he has actually 
gone out of his way to introduce leads and 
spacings wherever he can. And even the 
most cultivated authors encourage him in 
this : for instance, Mr. Ruskin's books, as 
printed under his own supervision, are 
instructive examples of everything a book 
should not be. In the books of a great art/ 
ist/printer like William Morris, you will 
find that not only did he discard leading 
and make it an invariable rule to set his 
type solid, but he often introduced little 
leaf ornaments between the sentences in 

order to fill up a gap which would other/ 
wise have made a white patch by coming 
immediately above or below another such 
space. And in reprinting his own works, 
whenever he found a line that justified 
awkwardly, he altered the wording solely 
for the sake of making it look well in print. 

When a proof has been sent me with 
two or three lines so widely spaced as to 
make a grey band across the page, 1 have 
often re^written the passage so as to fill 
up the lines better; but 1 am sorry to say 
that my objed has generally been so little 
understood that the compositor has spoilt 
all the rest of the paragraph instead of 
mending his former bad work. Some of 
the American imitators of William Mor^ 
ris have actually introduced copies of his 
leaf ornaments between their sentences, 
and then made a wide space after the orna^ 
ment as if to prove how little they under/ 
stood what he used it for. 

The way in which the author spoils the 
printer's work is now clear. The author 
always makes his purely literary correct 
tions on the proof Consequently, though 
the printer take pains to set his page so 
that it is as even in colour as a column of 

the Maz;arin Bible, the author comes and 
knocks out a word here and wedges in a 
sentence there; so that the printer finds 
all his trouble wasted and his work dis^ 
figured. Under such circumstances he nat^ 
urally grows accustomed to disregard the 
beautiful evenness of his page, and to jus^ 
tify in the cheapest, shortest and handiest 
way. It is therefore only in the reprint^ 
ing of the classic authors, where nothing 
but literals are corrected, that the printer 
can fairly be expected to produce work of 
mediaeval or Morrisian excellence. And 
even in such editions we very rarely get it, 
because compositors shift from one job to 
another, anci lose their conscientiousness 
on this point. A good artist ^'compositor 
should never be allowed to touch the work 
of a living author. 

Next to evenness and richness of colour 
in the block of letterpress, the most im^ 
portant point in a printed page is margin^ 
ing. And here the printer is very apt to 
go wrong. Every printer can understand 
regularity: few have studied good looks 
except in living creatures. Consequently 
they aim at equal margins ; and even when 
they have learnt that an upper margin 

must be less than a lower one if it is not 
to look more, they do not always see that 
it looks well only when it looks less. The 
mediaeval manuscript or early printed 
book, with its very narrow margin at the 
top and very broad margin at the bottom 
of the page, with its outer margins broad 
and its inner ones contraded, so that when 
the book lies open the two pages seem to 
make but a single block of letterpress in 
a single frame, instead of two side by side, 
has never been improved upon and prob/ 
ably never will be. But 1 find it almost im/ 
possible to persuade a modern printer to 
make his top margin small enough; and 
when 1 at last succeed, he measures it from 
the running title instead of from the top 
line of the page. I saw a book the other 
day, excellently printed in old^faced type, 
set solid, on a fine light, clean white crusty 
paper; yet the page was quite spoiled by 
an exaggerated top margin,like a masher's 
collar, and by that abomination of deso^ 
lation, a rule. The only thing that never 
looks right is a rule. There is not in txis^ 
tence a page with a rule on it that cannot 
be instantly and obviously improved by 
taking the rule out. Even dashes, cher^ 

ished as they are by authors who cannot 
pundhiate, spoil a page. They are general^ 
ly merely ignorant substitutes for colons. 
Of course, printers who want to turn 
out fine work have constantly to face the 
diflGiculty that the average customer, un^ 
fortunately including the average author, 
dislikes it. It is quite a mistake to think 
that he is merely insensible to the beauty 
of a finely/designed and well^printed page: 
he positively hates it. He likes as much 
glossy white paper and as little black as 
possible. He likes regularity. When he 
hangs up a print in his drawing-^room, he 
has it framed with several inches of white 
mount all around it. He provides his own 

Eerson with white margin in the shape of 
uge collar and cuflFs, starched and ironed. 
Naturally, he likes leads in his books and 
broad and equal margins. He likes rules 
because they are straight. He even tells 
you that solid set type hurts the tyts^ and 
accuses you of paradox when you tell him 
that it is the glare of the leaded space and 
the smallness of the leaded type that really 
make work for the oculist. He will buy a 
so/called art book, printed on paper that 
will turn into mud if a drop of water falls 


on it, and send it to Mr. Douglas Cockerell 
or Mr. Cobden Sanderson to be bound as 
if it were a treasure for which national lu 
braries might compete ; and if you oflFered 
him his choice of a Kelmscott Press book 
and a Leadenhall Press one, he would re^ 
jed William Morris and accept Andrew 
Tuer, whose taste he w^ould honestly be^ 
lieve superior to Jenson's. 

Every first/ rate printing house should 
have a masterpiece of plain printing: not 
necessarily a rare book, but a well/printed 
one. With this should be kept a thorough^ 
ly vile specimen of a modern fashionable 
art book. Every author should be shown 
these two, and asked which he prefers. If 
he chooses the bad one, the printer should 
thereupon tell him that the book he dis/ 
likes is worth as many pounds as the other 
is worth sixpences, and this will so put 
him out of countenance that he will not 
presume to give any instructions or med^ 
die in the printing of his own work. If he 
chooses rightly, the printer may safely hail 
him as worthy to be consulted in the im^ 
portant matter of making a book. 

For— and this is the moral of what I have 
been saying— well/printed books are just 

as scarce as well^written ones; and every 
author should remember that the most 
costly books in the world derive their 
value from the craft of the printer, and not 
from the genius of the author. 1 have seen 
a bestiary, or mediaeval natural history, 
the worthless compilation of a childish 
liar, purchased for £800 in a city where 
the works of Shakespeare sell for tenpence 
halfpenny. And if you want to buy a 
Shakespeare for £60, you must bid for 
one of the volumes of his sonnets which 
Morris printed at the Kelmscott Press. 


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Among the specimens received during the 
past month, a package from Horace Carr, 
Cleveland, easily takes precedence. Excels 
lent stock, largely hanci/made, good inks, 
good presswork and an unusually careful 
regard for type arrangement and color, all 
combine to make this work a delight to the 
lover of the best in printing. There is noth^ 
ing to critici2,e in any of it.— Inland Printer. 

Mr. Carr is one of the best typographers in 
the United States. He knows type faces, 
and when he uses decoration it is the kind 
that blends with the spirit of the printed 
page. When he seleds inks and papers, 
they seem to be the only kind that could 
have been seleded.— American Printer. 




This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 

Renewed books are subject to immediate recall. 


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MARi-^ b** i^rw 

FEB 23 1970 

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