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Full text of "Giambattista Bodoni of Parma"

GIAMBAT 'ISTA BODONI 




EX.UBKlSUNIVERSITf OF CALIFORNIA^ 



JOHN HENRY NASH LIBRARY 

SAN FRANCISCO ' 

PRESENTED TO THE 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 

ROBERT GORDON SPROUL, PRESIDENT 



MR.AND Mas.MILTON S . RAY 
CECILY, VIRGINIAANDROSALYN RAY 

AND THE 

RAY OIL BURNER COMPANY 




GIAMBATTISTA BODONI 
OF PARMA 



1ms biographical sketch of the life of the 
Italian printer, Giambattista Bodoni, was 
delivered by Thomas Maitland Cleland of 
New York, at a meeting of The Society 
of Printers in Boston, April 22, 



Two hundred and fifty copies have been 
printed by The University Press, Cam- 
bridge, Massachusetts, for The Society of 
Printers, of which this is 




MONUMENT TO BODOM, ERECTED AT SALLZZO, OCT. 20, 1872 



GIAMBATTISTA BODONI 
OF PARMA 

T. M. CLELAND 




BOSTON 
THE SOCIETY OF PRINTERS 

MCMXVI 



Copyright, 1916, 
BY T. M. CLELAND 



GIAMBATTISTA 

BODONI 

OF PARMA 



Mr. President and Members of The Society 
of Printers : 

In selecting, as the subject of your meeting 
tonight, Bodoni, the printer of Parma, on 
this centennial anniversary of his death, you 
have done a "very wise and just thing. For 
though he may have been over-praised and 
honoured in his own day, he has certainly 
received rather more than a fair share of 
neglect in ours. While I am very sensible 
of the honour, I am not so sure of the wis- 
dom of your having asked me to talk to you 



on this subject, and as you have made this 
bed, you may be compelled to fall asleep in 
it before the evening is over; but we have, 
fortunately, what appears to be a very repre- 
sentative collection of specimens of Bodoni's 
work here tonight for inspection and study. 
These shall be the real speakers of the even- 
ing, and from them I hope you will gather 
much interest and even inspiration. My part 
shall be no more than to introduce them to 
you a sufficiently difficult one within such 
a limited time. To do this we must know 
something of the history of the printer him- 
self; we must analyze, as far as we are able, 
the elements of his style, consider the sources 
from which it grew, and note wherein it is 
distinctive or original. 

The principal source of biographical data 
which we have relative to Bodoni is the 
"Life" written by his friend, Joseph De 
Lama, and published at Parma in 1816 
a work rich in the banalities and bombast 
common to the biographies of that epoch, 
and which does not, I regret to say, present 
quite the vivid impression of its hero which 



we should like to have. Another book, com- 
piled at an earlier date and entitled "Anec- 
dotes to Serve for a Life of G. B. Bodoni," 
is certainly more interesting because of its 
more personal note; but since it is not so 
much the history as the work of Bodoni as 
a printer which is important to us as printers, 
1 shall offer you only the briefest and barest 
outline of his early life, with a view to arriving 
the sooner at a more careful consideration of 
his types and the books and other things he 
printed from them at the Royal Press of Parma . 

Giambattista Bodoni was born at Saluzzo, 
in the Province of Piedmont, on the i6th of 
February, 1740. His father was a printer 
before him, and we are told by his biographer 
that he applied himself diligently in his early 
youth to the learning of that trade, and that 
when he was but twelve years of age he 
showed a decided artistic instinct by devising 
some nocturnal illuminations on the front 
of his father's house, during a local festival, 
which excited the wonder and admiration of 
the inhabitants of Saluzzo. 

It is of more interest to us, however, to 



know that when still quite a boy he cut a 
number of wood blocks with such success 
that the prints from them obtained some sale 
in Turin. The approbation which these early 
attempts received appears to have aroused in 
young Bodoni a lively ambition to go to Rome 
and there perfect himself in this art. He had 
a great curiosity, we are told, to see the famous 
press of the Propaganda Fides, the missionary 
institution of the Roman Church which issues 
ecclesiastical works in all languages for dis- 
tribution all over the world. 

He was eighteen years of age when he set 
out on this journey, with one of his fellow 
townsmen for companion, and when he finally 
succeeded in visiting the press of the Propa- 
ganda his enthusiasm and interest so impressed 
the head of that institution that he immedi- 
ately engaged Bodoni as a compositor. During 
his stay here he took up the study of Oriental 
languages with such success that he was able 
to redistribute and put into useful order the 
series of exotic characters which had been 
cut in Sixtus Fifth's time by the French type- 
cutters Garamond and Le Be, and which had 



become hopelessly pied, and had been for a 
long time useless. He had to clean the rust 
from the punches and matrices and put them 
in good order for casting, and it is painful 
for the less scholarly among us to dwell upon 
a task like this, and difficult to conceive of 
the interest and enthusiasm which alone could 
have supported him in it. And yet this in- 
terest in these strange outlandish characters 
never seems to have deserted him from that 
time on, as we shall see later, by examining 
his "Manuale," or specimen book of types. 
It is apparently through his labours with these 
matrices and punches that" he was inspired 
to undertake the cutting of type punches on 
his own account. 

His first attempts at this were decided 
failures, but he kept at it until he succeeded 
in getting a fairly good ornament, and finally 
a series of capital letters, which were admired 
by his associates at Rome. 

He made an important friend at this time 
the Father Maria Paciaudi, then Librarian 
to Cardinal Spinelli, the head of the Propa- 
ganda; and it was this same priest who after- 



ward became Librarian to the Duke Ferdinand 
I of Parma on his succession to that state in 
1766. The Duke of Parma, inspired by the 
counsels of his minister, Du Tillot, established 
an Academy of Fine Arts, founded the remark- 
able library which still exists in that city, and 
was ambitious to have a royal press like those 
at Paris , Madrid , Turin , and other capitols , and 
it was Father Paciaudi who suggested Bodoni 
as the director of such an establishment. 

Bodoni, in the meantime, had decided on 
a trip to England, where he had been told 
greater opportunities would be open to him 
than at Rome. He had stopped to visit his 
parents at Saluzzo, when he was taken with 
a fever which kept him there for some time. 
It was this fortunate, if not agreeable, cir- 
cumstance which put an end to the projected 
visit to England and kept him in Italy at the 
moment when the Parma Government was 
seeking a director for its press. The offer 
reached him at Saluzzo, and on the 2 4th of 
February, 1 768, we find him arrived at Parma 
and preparing to build presses and collect the 
various materials which were to form the 



equipment of the new establishment . A press 
had already existed in the Ducal Palace of 
Parma, and a document has been found which 
was printed in the seventeenth century, en- 
titled "A Note on the Printing Types in the 
Press of the Duke of Parma," etc. But this 
must have been a poor affair and fallen into 
disuse, for I can find no mention of Bodoni's 
having made use of anything he found there. 

Bodoni was now twenty-eight years of age, 
and it is at this point that his career as a 
printer begins; and the story of his life is in 
reality the story of his work. Thus, before 
pursuing any further his biography, it would 
be well to consider the nature of this work 
and some of the influences and conditions 
out of which it developed. 

Like most successful men he arrived upon 
the scene at a very happy moment, when the 
art of printing was in as low a state of decline 
as it had ever been. The lamp of the great 
Renaissance was spluttering dismally, and the 
splendid mastery which we are familiar with 
in the works of the great printers of the fif- 
teenth and sixteenth centuries began to fade 



in the seventeenth, and by the eighteenth 
century had almost ceased to exist. It is quite 
true that much of the best work of the eight- 
eenth century continued to show some taste 
and style in composition ; but this was little 
more than a protraction of the good traditions 
which died hard in those days. At any rate, 
interest in the beauty and workmanship of 
typography and presswork for its own sake 
was very dead. Books were thought to be 
beautiful because of their engraved illus- 
trations and ornament, and typography was 
regarded as a mere utilitarian adjunct, and in 
some cases was abandoned altogether, as in 
the editions of Horace, made by John Pine 
in London in 1787, in which all the text was 
engraved on copper with the plates, and which 
was considered the apotheosis of fine book- 
making at that time. But if typography 
and types became poor and clumsy, press- 
work had grown slovenly beyond belief, and 
we find some of those books in which the 
exquisitely designed and engraved plates of 
the most celebrated of the French draughts- 
men and engravers were lavished with the 



loosest prodigality so badly printed in the text 
as to be almost illegible. 

To John Baskerville, of Birmingham, credit 
is no doubt due for the first attempt to revive 
the art of typography itself, and for the first 
publications in the eighteenth century which 
threw their entire dependence for recognition 
upon their typography alone, without any 
extraneous adornment. But Baskerville was 
not altogether successful, and he certainly did 
not get very much encouragement. His types 
were fine in certain respects, but they were not 
a sufficiently radical improvement over those 
which had already existed to make a \erygreat 
stir. A number of others followed, like the 
brothers Foulis in Glasgow, theDidots in Paris, 
and the Spaniard Ibarra. But it remained for 
the robust Italian, with his limitless energy and 
exalted ideals, to grasp anew the idea of the 
organic beauty of printing, and to infuse into it 
the definite style and expression of his epoch. 

Whatever may be our judgment now of 
that style and the taste which produced it, it 
is apparent that it contained a more vital germ 
than did any of the tentatives of his con tern- 

m^m 

i5 



poraries, since the best of them came to follow 
it, and its influence is still discernible in the 
common current of our printed matter today. 
I say that his style in typography was a per- 
fect expression of his own epoch, like any 
art of consequence ; but like all artists of any 
consequence, he was inspired by the beautiful 
traditions of the past, and his art was an 
orderly development out of these . He did not 
seek consciously to express his own individu- 
ality; happily, it was ample to express itself. 
But it is certain that he introduced into the 
forms of printing types a decidedly new and 
characteristic style, which our eyes are so 
familiar with at the present time, in all of 
those types which we know as ' * modern face , ' ' 
that it is at first a little difficult to see that it 
was so. And now, for the reason that his 
style, or whatever you prefer to call it, was 
so closely related to the thought and feeling 
of his time and sprang out of it, it seems to 
me indispensable that we consider, at least 
briefly, what was the artistic constitution of 
this period at the end of the eighteenth and 
the beginning of the nineteenth century. 



The art of the middle of the eighteenth 
century, which but a few years ago was always 
referred to as wholly frivolous (though I can't 
think of any more serious task than to do it 
as beautifully as most of it was done), had 
certainly indulged in excesses of brilliance 
which left something in the state of the public 
mind akin to the purely private feeling of 
having eaten too much cake, with a consequent 
revival of interest in humbler and simpler 
nourishment. What followed in the history 
of art was certainly dry and unpalatable in 
some of its chief characteristics. 

The discovery of the buried cities of Her- 
culaneum and Pompeii had helped to fire 
throughout Europe an immense enthusiasm 
for classical antiquity and art. But with all 
the inspiration that was liberated by the open- 
ing of these sepulchres there was mingled 
something like a wave of cold, dead air, which 
had the effect of nearly asphyxiating artistic 
progress altogether . There was Winckelmann , 
who wrote volumes on classical sculpture and 
tried to establish a system upon which the 
Greeks had arrived at perfection of form ; and 



there was Raphael Mengs, the painter and 
writer on art, who had worked out a theory 
to combine the form of Greek sculpture, the 
expression of Raphael, the colour of Titian, 
and the light and shade of Correggio. Mengs 
was a pretty poor painter himself, despite the 
fact that Bodoni, in a letter, calls him the 
* 'Apelles of Our Time," and says that Tiepolo 
(one of the hest painters that ever lived) 
wasn't fit to serve him at table. 

All this produced a return to classical forms , 
if not to classical feeling. Everyone affected 
to talk in high-flown terms of purity of form , 
divine harmony, etc., and quoted on all oc- 
casions from the Greek and Latin authors. 

Bodoni never writes to a friend in Rome 
and calls it Rome. He always says, "I hope 
soon to join you on the banks of the Tiber," 
and he always calls Madrid ' * the banks of the 
Tagus . ' ' Many of his books bear the imprint 
"Grisopoli" instead of Parma, which is some- 
what confusing until one learns that this was 
the legendary name given to Parma during 
the brief domination of the Greeks in the 
sixth century. This was the taste of the time 



which produced the sculptures of Ganova, and 
the paintings of the school of David, which 
have been aptly styled "tinted bas-reliefs," 
and also the types of Bodoni. It was a period 
of rather pompous affectations, which amuse 
us a little today and give scope to that facile 
faculty of negative criticism which is one of 
the best developed and least effective accom- 
plishments of which our time can boast. 

If this pseudo-classical school of art has a 
faded and artificial air in our sophisticated 
eyes, it is not safe to assume, on the other 
hand, that any of those men who attained 
eminence in it were not sincere, and least of 
all that our friend Bodoni was not. One can- 
not read the record of his activities and see 
listed the great volume of his productions in 
the " Life" written by De Lama, one cannot 
contemplate the almost superhuman labour 
of cutting all those types in the "Manuale," 
or read what he has to say in the preface of 
that book, or in his letters, on the subject 
of his work, and fail to realize that he was 
a man profoundly and passionately devoted 
to his art. 



We have considered, in a very rough 
fashion, what was the intellectual basis of 
his peculiar type designs and style of compo- 
sition; but we must remember that he did 
not start out with this characteristic style 
full blown; and though it was, as I have 
said, the expression of his epoch and grew 
out of it, Bodoni, of course, was no more 
conscious of the special flavour of that epoch 
than we are of ours. We must look to the 
practical basis of his work as it appeared to 
him in order to arrive at any understanding 
of it. 

When he established himself in the Parma 
Press he had to have an outfit of types ; for 
up to that time his own efforts at type cutting 
were hardly successful enough for so impor- 
tant an undertaking. After due consideration 
of the types of the principal founders of the 
time, he judged those of the French founder, 
Fournier, to be the best, and accordingly he 
ordered six different sizes of Fournier 's types 
from Paris. With these he printed the first 
six items issued from the Ducal Press under 
his direction. But he was not content to 



30 



rest upon the sufficiently honourable title of 
printer to the Duke of Parma, and his genius 
asserts itself here in his desire for perfection. 
He must improve on Fournier's types, much 
as he evidently admired them ; and very soon 
after his settlement at Parma he established 
a foundry of his own and took his brother 
Joseph in to manage it. He set to work cut- 
ting his punches, and in 1771 he brought 
out his first specimen book of borders and 
capitals, which was distributed gratis, as a 
sort of advertisement for the press. There 
are only a few types in this, but an extrava- 
gant profusion of ornaments. It is interesting 
to see in this first specimen how completely 
he was under the French influence ; for in 
this book he copies outright the elaborately 
framed title-pages of Fournier's "Manuel," 
constructed entirely from moveable type or- 
naments and borders. It is difficult to dis- 
cover the very minute differences which exist 
between these first types of Bodoni and those 
by which they were inspired. For a con- 
siderable time after this he continues to show 
a fondness for the baroque character of the 



21 



French work, and uses ornaments in great 
number and with great ingenuity, if not 
always with the best taste. 

There is little in this early work which is 
above the average of the time, and certainly 
nothing to foretell the severity and elegance 
of his full-fledged style. He went on refining 
and improving on Fournier's designs, which 
were good sound models in their way, working 
step by step in his own peculiar direction 
toward what amounted finally to a complete 
innovation in the forms of Roman characters, 
and brought about a radical change in the 
style and arrangement of printed matter 
generally. 

Now by way of explanation of just what 
that innovation was and what were the pecul- 
iarities of his design, we cannot do better 
than quote from the preface of his ' ' Manuale 
where he states some of his theories on the 
subject. He says : " It is proper here to offer 
the four different heads under which it seems 
to me are derived the beauties of type, and 
the first of these is regularity conformity 
without ambiguity, variety without disso- 



nance, and equality and symmetry without 
confusion. A second and not minor value is 
to be gained from sharpness of definition, 
neatness, and finish. From the perfection of 
the punches in the beginning comes the polish 
of the well-cast letter which should shine like 
a mirror on its face." His next point is that 
of taste, and here he speaks of ' ' The beautiful 
contrast as between light and shade which 
comes naturally from any writing done with 
a well-cut pen held properly in the hand." 
It must be admitted that most of this state- 
ment is fuller of redundancy than of meaning; 
but this latter sentence about * * light and 
shade " and the natural effect of writing with 
a pen is illuminating in the highest degree 
and explains more clearly than anything else 
he has to say the aim and tendency of his 
type design. In order to achieve this "light 
and shade" he made his thin strokes thinner 
and the thick ones thicker than they had ever 
been made in Roman types before, and he 
cut them with a sharpness and regularity 
which had never up to that time been equalled. 
He speaks of the natural effect of their being 

mt^-m 

23 



written with a well-cut pen, and I presume 
you are all more or less familiar with the 
kind of pen he refers to here the quill or 
reed, cut something in the form of a little 
chisel, its mechanical action rendering a broad 
line when it is drawn down or up in the direc- 
tion of the broad face of the nib, and a thin 
line when it is drawn crossways on the thin 
edge. The design of all good types was, of 
course, based on this action of the pen in 
writing, and the very forms of the letters 
themselves, as well as the living quality of 
their design, have their origin in it. It seems 
hardly necessary to state this principle since, 
with the exception of our typefounders, almost 
everyone is familiar with it. But what Bodoni 
did was to consider his designs as being made 
with a broader and sharper-edged pen than 
anyone had thought of before , or than , I doubt , 
anyone would be able to make. If we have 
any fault to find with him, it is here, for in 
striving for neatness and sharpness and greater 
contrast he overstepped the mark a little and 
gave to his letters something more of the char- 
acter of copperplate engraving than of penman- 



ship. Another change which he introduced 
into the forms of his Roman letters was in 
the serifs. In the old-style types, and in the 
classical Roman forms generally, the serifs did 
not form a sharp angle with the upright strokes 
of the letters, but flowed into them on more 
or less of a curve. The serifs of the lowercase 
letters you will remember, in the earlier types, 
do not form a right angle with the upright 
strokes, but rather an acute one. Bodoni re- 
duced the serifs of his capitals to single sharp 
lines of the same weight as the thin strokes of 
the letters, and the serifs of his lowercase are 
raised to a nearly, if not quite, horizontal posi- 
tion at right angles with the upright strokes. 
This plays an important part in that sharpness 
and brilliance which he tells us he sought, 
and tends to produce an effect of rigidity in 
keeping with the coldly classical ideal by which 
he was governed. While his own types were 
never really mechanical and lifeless , they often 
had sufficient appearance of being so to lend 
encouragement to a tendency which ended in 
the complete destruction of this vital principle 
of the pen and produced the worst and most 

toa^^H 

25 



artificial types which have ever been known. 
It is the well-merited repugnance for these 
which has brought, unjustly, I think, disfavour 
upon Bodoni. He should hardly be held re- 
sponsible for the exaggerations and miscon- 
ceptions of his aims. The Didots in France 
carried the idea a step further, but they printed 
with such perfect taste and style that one is 
inclined to excuse them on these grounds. He 
offers, farther on in his preface, his system 
of measurement for the proportions of his 
lowercase letters . * ' Divide the body of the 
type into seven parts," he says, "and let two 
at the top and two at the bottom be for the 
ascenders and descenders and the three in the 
middle for the other letters." Any such at- 
tempt to regulate design by mathematical rule 
is bad, of course, and Bodoni himself admits 
that ' ' these proportions should receive no law 
but from what pleases the vision." I am not 
sure, however, that such a rule would not do 
much for type design ; it might at least put 
an end to the practice of typefounders who 
try to crowd their faces on bodies too small 
for them, ruthlessly chopping off the de- 



scenders of the letters wherever they interfere 
with this procedure. 

Bodoni's Italic letters, while they have in 
some instances a good deal of distinction, are 
generally less successful than the Romans, and 
nearly always have the weakening effect of too 
much slant. 

The equipment of type faces which are 
shown in the "Manuale" as representing the 
sum of his achievements is bewildering in the 
range of sizes and in the variety of foreign 
and exotic characters. Arthur Young, the cel- 
ebrated English economist, gives an account 
in one of the journals of his "Travels" of a 
visit to Bodoni in 1789 in which he says that 
he had 3o,ooo matrices at that time. In her 
introduction to the ' ' Manuale," the widow of 
Bodoni tells us that he believed a thoroughly 
equipped establishment should be furnished 
with such a gradation of characters that the 
eye in passing from one to the other might 
hardly be able to perceive the difference. The 
sizes of the Romans run from what he calls 
"Parmigianina," which would correspond 
about to our 3J^ or 4 point, up to ' * Papale," 



which would certainly require a body of at 
least eighty points of our measurement, and 
it is very hard to distinguish any size from 
that immediately preceding or following it. 
Not only were there all these sizes, but there 
were two kinds of faces of every size; one 
fully rounded and of strongly contrasted lines 
and one a little condensed and of less bold 
character, the former being generally intended 
for prose and the latter for poetry where it 
was desired to avoid breaking the lines. 

"I have devised up to the present," he 
says, "one hundred and forty-two Roman 
characters, each with Italics and capitals, and 
seventeen scripts of which thirteen have their 
respective Finanziere" which was the name 
given to a more elaborate and florid form of 
the same letter, "and seven English com- 
prising two round characters, and further 
several Russian, Greek, German, Hebrew, 
and other exotics; also a quantity of capitals 
for titles in Latin, Greek, and Russian. All 
of these I have had cast in matrices struck 
from punches entirely perfected with great 
love by my own hand." He goes on to tell 



us that a single font, complete with Roman 
and Italics, required some three hundred and 
eighty punches. 

The question of his having cut all the 
punches with his own hand gave rise to some 
bitter disputes in the years when he was at 
the height of his fame, and certainly the 
number of them seems a little incredible. 
Fournier's "Treatise on Printing," published 
in 1768, says that it took at that time three 
or four hours to cut a punch, and that not 
more than three or four could be cut in a day. 
We know, however, that he had assistants 
to whom he taught punch-cutting and type- 
founding, the brothers Amoretti (who after- 
ward established a foundry of their own), 
and two other men; and it was claimed by 
certain persons who wished to detract from 
his fame that he owed the beauty of his types 
to these workmen. We know, nevertheless, 
that the style and manner is his own invention, 
and the probabilities are that the assistants 
merely helped him in the manual labour of 
finishing the punches and matrices. I have 
examined a specimen book of types and bor- 

^ 
2 9 



ders issued in 1 8 1 1 from the foundry of these 
brothers Amoretti at San Pancrazio, a small 
town near Parma, and while they are me- 
chanically very well cut, there can be little 
question that they lack the grace of design of 
the Bodoni characters. 

Besides all these types, Bodoni cut an as- 
tonishing number of borders and ornaments 
which, in the best work of his later years, he 
seldom used. "It is not," he says, "a wise 
way in which to lend pomp or dignity to a 
book except, perhaps, to those books less 
valued by men of letters, and which are printed 
for the pleasure of persons of an elegance less 
disdainful/' Yet in some of the inscriptions 
and smaller work where he made use of the 
ornaments the effect is altogether charming. 
It is interesting to note how these ornaments 
developed from the rococo French manner 
into a dryer and more classical form, much 
as did the types themselves. 

The striking characteristic of his compo- 
sition is the luxurious and sometimes prodigal 
use which he made of space. His titles were 
generally narrow in measure and were ar- 
_> 

3o 



rangements of short, centered lines in various 
sizes, and nearly always of capitals. His text 
pages present a striking contrast to those of 
the masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth cen- 
turies. In place of the compactness in the 
solid matter without leading, and the large 
pages of small type which prevailed in the 
earlier books, Bodoni endeavoured to set off 
his brilliant characters on great fields of white 
paper, and not only to have space in the 
margins, but also between the lines, showing 
a decided predilection for setting large types 
in narrow measures. This love of space pro- 
duced a striking elegance of effect not the 
elegance of the earlier printers certainly, but 
in its own way very splendid. When space 
got in between the lowercase letters them- 
selves it did more harm than good, and some 
of the small sizes of the Roman types are so 
widely fitted on their bodies that the pages 
printed with them have a distressing appear- 
ance of having been sprayed with type. In 
the arrangement of the capitals in titles and 
headings, and in the innumerable inscriptions 
which were issued from the press, he showed 



a remarkable nicety of taste and fine sense of 
balance. And the exercise of this faculty was 
no mere matter of blind instinct or special 
gift, but required on Bodoni's part the same 
study that it requires of us today in the 
lamentably few instances where we find it 
employed. There is an amusing anecdote 
which bears out this fact in one of Sten- 
dahl's journals of his Italian travels which I 
think is worth giving entire: "To do my 
duty as a traveler," he says, "I presented 
myself at Monsieur Bodoni's, the celebrated 
printer. I was agreeably surprised. This 
Piedmontais is not at all ostentatious, but in 
love with his art. After having shown me 
all his French authors he demanded of me 
which I preferred, the "Telemaque" of Fene- 
lon, the Racine, or the Boileau. I vowed they 
all seemed equally beautiful . * Ah , Monsieur ! ' 
cried Bodoni, 'you don't see the title of the 
Boileau?' I looked at it for a long time and 
was forced to admit that I could not see any- 
thing more perfect in that title than in the 
others. 'Ah, Monsieur! ' cried Bodoni again, 
'Boileau Despreux in one single line of capitals! 



I spent six months before I could decide upon 
exactly that type.' ' 

But if we have any ground for complaint 
against the mannerisms of his types or can 
find his composition questionable at any point, 
there is little to be said but praise for his 
press work at its best. Good presswork, it 
must be remembered, was not easy in those 
days as the presses were comparatively crude 
affairs and the inking had to be done with 
the old hand balls of leather stuffed with wool 
(rollers not coming into use until about 1820), 
but the sharpness and brilliance of Bodoni's 
best work have never been surpassed. 

Its success in a great measure was due to 
his selection of papers for the different sizes 
of type. He preferred vellum to anything 
else, and of his more important editions a 
few copies were always made on it, generally 
for presentation to distinguished patrons. 
When it came to paper, he preferred what 
was then called vellum paper, and which 
was made on a woven wire screen invented 
in England. The paper thus obtained re- 
sembled vellum a good deal more than did 
^ 

33 



the papers made on the laid screens which 
were commonly in use at that time. He had 
a way, too, of rolling his sheets after they 
were printed to smooth out the excess of im- 
pression left by the forms, though he himself 
expressly warns against the abuse of this 
process, which may easily be made to destroy 
entirely the impression which is the life and 
soul of all really fine typographic printing. 
Another trick was to paint in with the brush 
the spots on the large letters which did not 
come off from the impression entirely black. 
He must have given considerable attention to 
the making of good black ink, because pre- 
vious to his time it had grown very bad, and 
he set a new standard for his contemporaries 
to follow in this. 

In the form and size of his books he showed 
a decided liking for grandeur and pomp. In 
his preface he discourses somewhat ingenu- 
ously on this subject, and advances the curious 
theory that large books are better for the eyes 
of far-sighted people and little ones for the 
near-sighted . He must have thought Napoleon 
very far-sighted indeed, for he printed a three- 

.> 
34 



volume edition of Homer's Iliad, especially 
dedicated to him, in a folio so large that only 
half a page could be printed at one time on 
his largest press. He presented the Emperor 
with a copy on selected Bavarian vellum which 
must certainly have been very fine. 

De Lama's catalogue, which forms the sec- 
ond volume of ' * The Life, " cites and describes 
about three hundred and forty-five books 
printed by him at Parma, not counting second 
editions of his works, and one hundred and 
fifty-five inscriptions, pamphlets, and other 
matter of less than eight pages. But in the 
other catalogues of some of the collections 
of his works appear numerous items which 
are not cited by De Lama. The matter is 
further complicated by the existence of other 
volumes bearing plainly enough the imprint 
of the Royal Press at Parma, but not cited 
in any of the catalogues I have seen. They 
are so badly printed and in such a different 
manner from Bodoni's that it is difficult to 
believe they are genuine. In 1 7 7 5 he brought 
out the first of his editions on a grand scale, 
and one of the most sumptuous of any of the 
A. 

35 



books he ever printed an Epithalamium in 
several exotic languages. But its splendour 
rests largely upon the number of beautiful 
copperplate ornaments which it contains . In 
1780 appeared the works of Raphael Mengs 
who had died the year before, and who was, 
as we have seen, one of the leading spirits in 
the artistic thought of the time and a great 
hero of Bodoni's. In 1782 Bodoni published 
another series of specimens this time of 
Russian characters, on forty-four pages. It 
contained inscriptions in Latin and Russian 
of congratulations to be presented to the 
Russian prince and princess on their passage 
through Parma. De Lama says : ' ' He offered 
them respectfully and was delighted to see 
the pleasure shown in their faces on seeing 
the characters of their native language so fa- 
mously cut and printed in a strange country." 
In 1783 a Roman Breviary was published 
which is printed throughout in red and black 
in four little 12 mo volumes. This is chiefly 
interesting because of the number of copies 
which were made and sold two thousand 
of them, undoubtedly a considerable tax on 



the pressroom of an establishment accustomed 
to printing from five to five hundred copies. 
In 178^ came another book which is remark- 
able for its engraved decorations, ' ' The Prose 
and Verse in Honour of Li via Doria Caraffa," 
in which the typography and presswork are 
up to the mark of his finest productions. A 
still more sumptuous reprint of this was made 
in 1798. In 1785 he published his letter to 
the Marquis de Cubieres in French and Italian, 
written in defence of his types that had been 
criticised in France. He attacks his critics 
with ill-disguised annoyance, particularly over 
the criticism of his Greek types, which he here 
says were exact copies of those of Etienne, 
the famous French scholar printer of the six- 
teenth century. When he comes to the doubts 
which had been expressed in some quarters 
of his having made all the foreign types him- 
self, he quite loses his temper and offers to 
deposit all the punches and matrices of the 
types in question in any safe place, supposing 
that the doubting Thomases had no occasion 
to come to Parma and verify the fact on the 
spot. It was this publication which brought 



him the following letter from America, which, 
I think, is worth reading: 

SIR : I have had the very great pleasure of receiving your 
excellent "Essai des Characteres de L'Imprimerie." It is one of 
the most beautiful that art has hitherto produced. I should be 
glad to see a specimen of your other fonts besides this Italic and 
Roman of the letter to the Marquis de Cubieres, and to be in- 
formed of the price of each kind. I do not presume to criticise 
your Italic capitals they are generally perfect. I would only 
beg leave to say that to me the form of the " t" in the word lettre 
of the title-page seems preferable to that of the "t" in the word 
typographic in the next page. As the downward stroke of T, P, 
R, F, B, D, H, K, L, I, and some others, which in writing we 
begin at the top, naturally swells as the pen descends, and it is 
only in the "A" and the "M" and "N" that those strokes are 
fine because the pen begins them at the bottom. With great 
esteem, I have the honour to be, etc. 

B. FRANKLIN. 

De Lama naively says that Bodoni was filled 
with joy at receiving this honourable letter 
from the " President of the United States 
of America"! 

In 1788 appeared the first "Manuale," so 
called, in 3 60 pages, which contained a range 
of one hundred Roman characters, each size 
printed on one side of the paper and forming 
a description of a city. The names of the 
cities, which are appended to each face of type 
in the final "Manuale" of 1818, are intended 
to identify it with this earlier work. 

_>_ 
38 



Up to this time the books issued were prac- 
tically all undertaken either at the instigation 
of the Duke or on Bodoni's own initiative; 
that is to say, the press did not execute 
outside orders. But his friend and patron, 
Gavaliere d'Azare, who was then Spanish 
minister to Rome, had obtained permission 
to establish a press at the Embassy, and he 
wanted Bodoni to come and take charge of 
it and print some splendid editions of the 
classics. Duke Ferdinand would not listen 
for a moment to parting with his printer, but 
suggested that the proposed classics could be 
done just as well at Parma. Bodoni began 
at once on this basis, and every week sent 
his proofs to Borne to be gone over by eminent 
scholars. In order to facilitate the execution 
of these orders from Borne he set up presses 
of his own in the Ducal Palace, and in 1791 
brought out the first fruits of this arrange- 
ment in a large folio edition of Horace. This 
year begins a new period in the affairs of the 
Parma Press and marks the transition from 
his tentative and experimental stage to the 
fully developed and severer taste on which 



his fame rests . He continued to receive orders 
from patrons in all parts of Europe, and even 
from England, where Edwards, the London 
bookseller, commissioned him to print an 
edition of Horace Walpole's "Castle of 
Otranto." 

In this year also, at the age of fifty-one, 
he married a Parmesan lady to whom he had 
long been devoted and who proved to be a 
very happy choice. She showed not only 
great devotion throughout the remainder of 
his life, but a good deal of ability as well; 
for it was she who finished the printing and 
publication of his "Manuale" and carried 
out the editions of the French classics which 
he had planned and started before his death. 

Bodoni had for some time held the title 
of Printer to the King of Spain, though I do 
not find that he ever printed anything for him ; 
but notwithstanding, in 1798 his Catholic 
Majesty granted him a pension of 6,000 reals 
a year with no obligations whatsoever. With 
this impetus the year 1798 became a very 
productive one , and among the editions which 
we can find time to note here was the Gray's 

_-! 

4o 



"Elegy" translated into Italian, and later 
Gray's "Complete Poems" in English, and 
the edition of Virgil in two volumes. This 
latter work brought down the stinging criti- 
cism of the French printer and publisher, 
Firman Didot, on the score of its inaccuracy, 
and it must have been no pleasant sensation 
for poor old Bodoni to read Didot' s letter to 
a friend in which he picks out the errors in 
this and some of his Greek classics and says: 
* * It is time, citizen, that men of letters united 
against negligent printers who think to have 
done all when they have employed fine char- 
acters and fine paper, and who regard the 
correction of text as a mere bagatelle." But 
he continues: "As a scholar I condemn him, 
as a printer I admire him." Bodoni tried to 
explain these errors by saying that some im- 
perfect copies had been stolen from his press 
and sold and thus got into France. We are 
forced to admit, however, that there must 
have been some foundation for this charge of 
inaccuracy since it was frequently repeated. 
Horace Walpole wrote in the postscript of one 
of his letters dated from Strawberry Hill, 



December 20, 1790: ''Very late at night. 
I am glad you did not get a Parmesan 
Otranto a copy is come so full of faults that 
it is not fit to be sold here." But this was 
written in 1790 and the Otranto was riot 
published until 1791, so it might be fair to 
assume that what the elegant and gouty Lord 
Orford saw was an advance copy which may 
have been corrected afterward. 

Time will not permit us to consider any 
more of his editions, except, perhaps, to men- 
tion a Lord's Prayer in no fewer than one 
hundred and fifty-five languages done in 1 806 , 
the title-page of which is in many respects 
the finest flower of the Bodoni style and 
seems to have been admired by himself since 
he copied its general characteristics for the 
title of his own "Manuale." The celebrated 
"Homer" already mentioned came out in 
1808, and in his last year the "Racine" in 
three volumes the first of a series of French 
classics which he had long had under way. 

In his later years Bodoni was very deaf and 
suffered a good deal from other physical in- 
firmities, as well as from the assaults of critics 



and persons jealous of his fame. But to offset 
these he was more overwhelmed with praise 
and honours than any printer, I believe, ever 
was before or since. There was hardly a per- 
son of distinction in Europe at that time who 
had not visited his press. In 1802 the city of 
Parma had a medal struck in his honour, and 
there is a book issued from his press describing 
this occasion. He was invited to send proofs 
of his work to the Paris Exposition of 1 806 , 
the jury of which awarded him the gold medal 
over his French competitors . In 1 8 1 o , Parma 
then being a part of the French Empire, Na- 
poleon offered him a pension of 3,ooo francs, 
and in 1 8 1 o also he was given the decoration 
of the Order of the Two Sicilies by the King 
of Naples in acknowledgment of a complete 
collection of his works which he had sent to 
that monarch. There were other like honours 
showered upon him in the bombastic manner 
of the period so many that it would be tire- 
some to name them all. I will mention only 
one more which was less formal, but which 
must have meant much to the old man, who, 
when he was confined to his bed a year before 

M*. 

43 



his death, was visited by the Gomte St.Vallier. 
With characteristic grace and simplicity the 
Frenchman approached his bedside and said: 
" M. Bodoni, I come to render homage to the 
genius of typography . You are very well known 
in France. The Emperor esteems and likes 
you, and it is he who has ordered me to make 
this visit . Another day I will make my own . ' ' 
Bodoni showed such appreciation of this and 
expressed himself in such a lively manner that 
the Count further remarked: "M. Bodoni, if 
you have so much fire being sick, what will 
you be when you are well again?" 

Bodoni never really got well again, but 
struggled to his feet only long enough to 
do some work on the "Manuale," without 
hope, however, of being able to publish it 
himself. He died toward the end of Novem- 
ber, i8i3. 

Of Bodoni' s personality, as I said at the 
outset, one does not gather an entirely satis- 
factory image from the biography by De Lama. 
Nevertheless, it is possible to dislodge from 
that monumental pile of human and super- 
human virtues enough minor circumstances 

_>~ 
44 



with which, aided by the accounts of some of 
his distinguished visitors and critics and the 
few excellent portraits which exist, to construct 
a figure of attractive proportions. The over- 
flowing vigour, of which his labours them- 
selves are sufficient evidence, was tempered 
by North-Italian firmness of character. Of a 
lively temper and a sprightly good humour 
as well, he nevertheless had the perseverance 
and the steadfastness of purpose that generally 
are associated with characters of more sober 
mien. He appears to have been generous, 
and vain in the highest degree, but with the 
simple , unconscious , and whole-hearted vanity 
of the Latin temperament. He bathed freely 
and joyously in the honours which were show- 
ered upon him, and no doubt toadied not a 
little to the favour of the great persons from 
whom these distinctions flowed, but one should 
bear in mind that it would have been next to 
impossible, at that time, to have developed 
and maintained such an enterprise on any 
other terms. 

In 1818 his widow published the final 
edition of the "Manuale" which contains 



specimens of all of his types and ornaments, 
but as you will have an opportunity to see 
this and examine it for yourselves I shall not 
tax you with a further description of it. 

In 1872 a statue of Bodoni was erected at 
Saluzzo, and on this occasion an exhibition 
was held by the United Typographical Societies 
of Italy to which American printers were in- 
vited to contribute. This year the anniversary 
of his death is to be celebrated by the different 
printing organizations of Italy. 

We have seen with what esteem he was 
held in his own day, how much he was ad- 
mired, and how greatly his works were prized, 
and the influence he had upon the other 
printers of the period, some of whom, the 
Didots, Firman, and Pierre, I am inclined 
to think, surpassed him in many respects in 
his own manner. 

It only remains to consider the position he 
occupies in the History of the Art of Typog- 
raphy from the viewpoint of our own day. 
In a paper read at the Sorbonne in 1900, 
Piero Barbera said of him that though he had 
a great idea of the perfection of printing from 



the artistic point of view, and had high esteem 
for the dignity of the art, he lacked perhaps 
that of the influence it must have upon society 
he had not the clear vision of its ultimate 
evolution. He was a kind of court officer, 
like a "first gentleman of the bedchamber," 
or any other. His was, in short, a wholly 
aristocratic art. Mr. Alfred Pollard, in his 
work entitled "Fine Books," which is one 
of the more important recent publications 
upon the history of printing, dismisses Bodoni 
with scant courtesy as a mere follower of 
Baskerville and a printer of books very good 
in their way, but in quite a wrong way. But 
Mr. Pollard's work, scholarly and replete as 
it is with an intimate knowledge of his subject, 
is written in what might be called the British 
perspective method of criticism. That is to 
say, the critic stands in the middle of England 
and views his subjects in diminishing per- 
spective in all directions, his estimation de- 
creasing as the geographical location of the 
object viewed recedes from the British Isles. 
Baskerville is in the immediate foreground, 
he is on the Island, life size, and Bodoni over 



in Parma, off on the horizon, is scarcely visible 
to the naked English eye. 

And then by the critic so disposed, it may 
very well be argued that Bodoni represents 
an epoch of affectations and a school founded 
upon false conceptions. But if we grant all 
this, may we not be tempted as well to inquire 
with the same rigour into the quality and value 
of the inspiration by which recent English, and 
to a great extent American, "revivals" of the 
art of printing have been set on foot ? To the 
powerful personality and uncompromising 
craftsmanship of William Morris we certainly 
owe much of the interest of our own particular 
day in printing as a fine art, and his teachings, 
more than any others, have dominated most 
of the attempts at fine bookmaking in England 
for some years past. His masterful revivals 
of fifteenth-century printing are certainly 
beautiful objects of art in themselves, and if 
they possess any fault, it is only that they are 
nearly, if not quite, impossible to read. They 
were printed in characters modeled after those 
of an age in which he did not live they 
attempted, through an inspiration largely 



founded upon sentiment, to bring back a 
manner irrevocably gone by. Was this an 
affectation better or \vorse, or only as bad as 
that under which Bodoni laboured? 

The interest which Morris aroused has cer- 
tainly done much good, but one cannot help 
feeling that the style he created has rather 
hindered than helped the presenk-day printer 
in the advancement of his art. It has given 
rise to a curious notion that any art in printing 
has inevitably something to do with the style 
of the fifteenth century and is hence not 
appropriate for the demands of every-day 
work, but should be exercised only on ex- 
pensive and rare occasions. In consequence, 
we find printing generally conceived as of 
two distinct kinds "commercial" and 
' * artistic." In reality the two kinds of print- 
ing which exist and always have existed are 
good printing and bad printing, and any piece 
of work, no matter what its purpose, if it be 
well and appropriately done, is artistic, if it 
be paid for, is commercial. 

Bodoni, whose name is anathema to the 
more ardent followers of the Morris school, 

__*-_ 
49 



made improvements and infused new life 
into what was current in his day. What 
mannerisms he had were of his own time 
and did not interfere with the utility of his 
work he made printing more readable and 
not less so. 



TV