May 29

“Gentlemen,” wrote James Watson to the Printers in Scotland in the preface of his book, History of the Art of Printing, published this day in Edinburgh in 1713,”That Men are not born for themselves, but for the Republick, is an ancient and universally applauded Maxim. And it is so agreeable to right Reason, that the wisest and best Part of Mankind, in every Age since the Creation, have endeavor’d to lay the foundation of a lasting good Name, by every Action of their Life; whereby they might improve the Body or Society of which they were members. To this Principle it is, that we owe the Invention or Improvement of all the Arts and Sciences that are instructive or beneficial to Man. ‘Mongst which the Invention and vast Improvement, of the no less honourable, than useful and admirable Art of PRINTING, which we profess, deserves a very eminent Place: Since by It, all sorts of Learning, Sacred or Profane, and every Kind of profitable Instruction and Invention are both publish’d and preserv’d; as my Author, I here give you a Translation of, shews clearly and copiously enough.”

Actually, Watson’s history was a translation of Jean de la Caille’s Histoire de l’Imprimerie et de la Librairie, which had been published in Paris in 1689. There are possibly three other histories of printing which preceded it in Great Britain: The Original and Growth of Printing Collected out of History and the Records of the Kingdome, by Richard Atkyns (London, 1664); Some observations on the use and original of the Noble Art and Mystery of Printing, by Francis Burges (Norwich, 1701); Observations concerning the Invention and Progress of Printing, by Humphrey Wanley, which appeared in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, No. 228, 1703.

The Watson work appeared some thirty years after Moxon published his famed Mechanick Exercises. It is of interest today primarily because Printer Watson wrote his preface, in which he discusses the state of the art in Scotland at that period, along with some of its practitioners. It is also very well printed for its period. Of further interest is the 48-page specimen of the types which Watson owned, although Talbot Baines Reed, the historian of British typefounding, wrote of them as being “indifferent Dutch types.”

That Watson had a different opinion of these types is obvious from the last paragraph of his preface. He writes:

“I have affix’d to this history a Specimen of what Types I have now by me; in a few Weeks I am to be provided with a greater Variety, and of the best in Europe: I shall always be ready to acquaint my Countrymen of the Place and Founder I have them from. ‘Twas not from any ostentation that I plac’d this Specimen here, but to undeceive some People, who were made to believe, That the last Specimen I printed about Six Years ago, was done for me Abroad, and that I had no such Types in my Work-house: But most of you know the Falsehood of this Assertion. I wish none of you may have your Country’s Honour less at Heart as to PRINTING, than I have had it: and spend as much of your Money and Time for reviving PRINTING in This Part of the Island, as I have done.”

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