April 26

“In the choice of books to print I have been influenced partly by my own personal taste in literature and partly by the suitability of a book from the purely typographical standpoint—or perhaps it would be more true to say by a combination of these two factors.”

C.H. St. John Hornby, proprietor of the great Ashendene Press, who died upon this day in 1946, so wrote in the foreword to The Ashendene Press: An Account of its Origin and History. All those amateur printers who are presently reviving the ideals of the private press would profit from a careful reading of Hornby. He followed to the letter the precepts which he discusses, with the result that the Ashendene books were notable productions, although, of course, far beyond the capabilities of the ordinary amateur.

“My choice,” he continued, “has therefore fallen in a majority of cases upon books which gave scope for a certain gaiety of treatment in the use of coloured initials and chapter-headings; or, as in the case of Utopia and Thucydides, marginal notes in colour. Such books present a more interesting problem to the printer, and as I have worked for my own pleasure and amusement without having to keep too strict an eye upon the cost, personal indulgence in this respect has been easy. There are many books I would have wished to include in my list of work done; the Bible, for instance, and Shakespeare, and Montaigne, and scores of others; but time and opportunity forbade. So short, alas, is the span of a working life measured in relation to what we would each of us fain accomplish before its end.”

In the thirty-eight years the Ashendene Press was in existence, Hornby made no attempt to produce books in volume, being satisfied if he could turn out one fine work each year. Perhaps Stanley Morison had Hornby in mind when he wrote, “Fine printing may be described as the product of a lively and seasoned intelligence working with carefully chosen type, ink, and paper. First it must be borne in mind that a fine work is more than ‘something to read.’ The amateur looks for character in printing. The book therefore which essays to rank above the commonplace will, while not failing in its original purpose, carry the personality of its maker no less surely than that of its author and subject.”

All too frequently, the amateur printer violates the principles of good craftsmanship, but these are skills which may be acquired by application. If he wishes, by the intelligent selection of materials, to honor the author whose words he reproduces, he must make every effort to suit his methods to the task at hand. He must at all costs, temper his enthusiasm to print until he has made an adequate study of the correct procedures, in addition to a fully sympathetic understanding of the best traditions of private printing.

Perhaps the words of the French poet Valéry, should be on the wall of every aspiring amateur printer:

“The mind of the writer is seen as in a mirror which the printing press provides. If the paper and the ink are in accord, if the type is clear, if the composition is well looked after, the adjustment of line perfect, and the sheet well printed, the author feels his language and his style anew. He thinks he hears a clearer, firmer voice than his own, a voice faultlessly pure, articulating his words, dangerously detaching all his words. Everything feeble, effeminate, arbitrary, and inelegant which he wrote, speaks too clearly and too loud. To be magnificently printed is a very precious and important tribute.”

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