Pulling together some threads at a minor milestone
This being the 250th blog, I’ve taken the opportunity to look back over the past year or so to tease out one or two themes, chief of which continues to be the spectre of Eric Gill. (Remind me to write a piece on Eric Gill Exposed, Sinner not Saint or, An Unapologetic Critique of Gill.) So, if Gill figures large and is also a subject to which visitors to this site often refer, it is appropriate also to mention Stanley Morison. The two knew each other, rubbed shoulders so to speak, but came from quite different points of view. Morison, the ‘radical’, flirtatious Communist/Marxist (this was the 1920s-1930s) and Catholic convert did much to push Gill forward through promotion of his typefaces when he, Morison, was at Monotype. Yet they were both outsiders, while at the same time, and this is common among the solitary, both wanted to belong (more so in Morison’s case as he curried favour with Beaverbrook, accepted honorary doctorates and the like). Morison was not a great typographer but he was a good historian of typography and did much to promote good printing through a large chunk of the middle-20th century. (For more see James Moran’s excellent Stanley Morison: His typographic achievement. 1971. London: Lund Humphries.)
I dug out his First Principles of Typography, what is called a ‘slim volume’ (24 pages), so slim it was clinging to Barker’s fat biography of the man, and read again the postscript, written in 1967, the year of his death. It’s worth a look.
Here’s some: “The typographical activity, like architecture, is a servant art. These are arts, which, by their nature, are predestined to serve civilisation…Even so, the analogy between the work of the architect and the typographer must not be pressed too far. It is still necessary for typographers to think for themselves. The idea prevalent in some fin de siecle quarters that style is superior to thought, is a heresy, or should be, and not only to the typographer. For him as a designer of books…he must possess…a clearness of understanding of specific purpose and a governing sanity of reasoning power…Tradition is not well understood at the present day in some quarters. If it were a reflexion of the stagnation or prejudice of past ages of printers, little attention need be given to it by historians and none by practitioners of the arts and crafts. But tradition is more than the embalming of forms customary in the states of society that have long since cast aside. The sum of experience accumulated in more than one man’s lifetime, and verified by succeeding generations, is not to be safely discarded. Tradition, therefore, is another word for unanimity about fundamentals which has been brought into being by the trials, errors and corrections of many centuries. Experientia docet.”
Cut that in stone: Experientia docet. Experience is the best teacher.