August 11

“I sit in meditation on the matrices and punches of the Doves Press fount of type, and revolve in my mind whether I should destroy them in my lifetime, dedicate them to the purpose of the Press, and to the River upon whose shore the Press has lived and worked.”

Thus reads the entry for August 11, 1912 in the Journal of T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. The decision of the distinguished private press printer to destroy the matrices and punches was eventually carried out, inciting a public quarrel between Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, his partner in the operation of the Doves Press. It had been a legal agreement between the two men that the types should go to the partner who survived the other, but Cobden-Sanderson, whose eccentricities were remarkable, apparently could not stand the thought of his types being used by any other hand but his own. In 191 1 he had written his will into his Journal:

“To the bed of the River Thames, the river on whose banks I have printed all my books, I bequeath The Doves Press Fount of Type—the punches, the matrices, and the type in use at the time of my death, and may the river in its tides and flow pass over them to and from the great sea for ever and for ever, or until its tides and flow for ever cease; then may they share the fate of all the world, and pass from change to change for ever upon the Tides of Time, untouched of other use and all else.”

Will Ransom in his sympathetic work on the famous private presses, Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene, writes that the destruction of the Doves Press type “was the most dramatic and intensely emotional event in the private press movement!’ It certainly was most controversial, with the friends of both principals taking sides and relieving their feelings in letters to the editor of The Times, none of which deterred Cobden-Sanderson from what he believed to be his duty.

Writing in his Journal at midnight on August 31, 1916, he stated: “The Doves Press type was designed after that of Jenson; this evening I began its destruction. I threw three pages into the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge. I had gone for a stroll on the Mall, when it occurred to me that it was a suitable night and time; so I went indoors, and taking first one page and then two, succeeded in destroying three. I will go on until I have destroyed the whole of it.”

The entries in the Journal throughout the balance of the year became increasingly incoherent. At one time Cobden-Sanderson misjudged his aim and the type landed upon a ledge of the bridge. “The tide is ebbing,” he wrote that evening, “and there it will remain all the night. Will the flow of the tide lift it off? I doubt it. But there it is, and now out of my reach. I aimed, and missed the bed. My idea was magnificent; the act ridiculous.”

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