February 6

Typography at the Ithaca Typothetae

On February 6, 1868 the English printing periodical, The Printers’ Register, published the “Reflections of an American Country Printer on Printing Considered as a Fine Art.” The country printer evidently chose to remain anonymous but his meditations have the universality of all printers in love with their craft.

“The great intelligence of printers,” he wrote, “is a proverb, and popular belief, always blundering, attributes this as a cause, rather than as a result, of their connection with the profession. Granted that it requires a higher intelligence in a boy to fit him for apprenticeship to printing than to making horse-shoes; the truth still remains, that the effects of the art upon him are to produce a higher form of culture than any common trade could furnish him.”

“What further conditions can be required to establish the rank of Typography? I can think but of one: it is that printers should in all honorable ways claim the social rank they are entitled to. . . . We need to crush out of ourselves that cringing hypocrisy which causes many to say, ‛I am a Printer’ in a tone and with a manner that convey the impression that the avowal is made by one who regrets that he is not a blacksmith or a bricklayer. There should be something of the proud Civis Romanus Sum air accompanying the declaration; for he who worthily fills a printer’s place in this busy age is fit companion for poets and painters—yea, a nobler art is his, for he not only furnishes the inspiration and the form of beauty, but creates the capacity to comprehend it. He is the high priest of intellect, teaching it the very alphabet, and spreading before it the grandest of heroic epics! . . . Who shall measure the bounds of his influence, or compute the reach of his importance? He uncloses the iron doors of despotism and tyranny, and Liberty comes forth radiant among men. Oh! the manacles that must still have corroded and borne down the limbs and the aspirations of all races, but for the followers of Fust! Oh! the grand bonfire of royal pomps, vanities, and atrocities that these four centuries of printing have already set ablaze: and the grander crashing of worn-out superstitions, the banishment of leprosies of kingly folly, the tearing down of all hoary structures of Wrong, soon to come, when, through the apostleship of the Press, the peoples are educated to know their rights, —‛and knowing, dare maintain them!’

“And shall the humblest neophyte in the exalted Art blush to his own connection with it? Shall he not rather exalt that he wears a dignity greater than prince or potentate can confer, in that he serves at the altar of civilization, progress, freedom? How can such a one degrade his profession by calling it a trade and speak of its temple as the shop?”

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