May 6

“Typography may be defined as the craft of rightly disposing printing material in accordance with specific purpose; of so arranging the letters, distributing the space and controlling the type as to aid to the maximum the reader’s comprehension of the text. Typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidental aesthetic end, for enjoyment of patterns is rarely the reader’s chief aim.”

This introductory paragraph from First Principles of Typography is possibly the most widely quoted definition of the art to appear in our times. It was written in 1930 by Stanley Morison who was born this day in 1889. He wrote it for the seventh volume of The Fleuron, an English journal of typography of which he was the editor. Morison is today preeminent in the field of typographic history, with a volume of published work behind him which is notable for its breadth and historic judgment.

Morison was twenty-three years of age and a clerk for a missionary society when he read the famous Printing Number, the 40,000th issue of The Times of London. He was attracted to a new monthly printing periodical named The Imprint, which was advertised in this issue and which was expected to begin publication shortly, under the editorship of F. Ernest Jackson, Edward Johnston, J.H. Mason, and Gerard T. Meynell. In the very first number of The Imprint an advertisement appeared, seeking “a young man of good education.” as an editorial assistant. Morison applied for the position and was accepted. But the new magazine lasted only a year. However, the young man was presented with an opportunity to begin a career of service to the printer’s craft. Fifty years later, he is still continuing. The last issue of The Imprint contained his first article, entitled “Notes on Some Liturgical Books,” which became the first item in the now lengthy Morison bibliography.

Following the brief period with The Imprint, Morison designed books for a Catholic publishing firm and was encouraged to develop both his editoral and critical abilities. He next assisted Francis Meynell at the Pelican Press and spent two years with the Cloister Press of Manchester. In 1922 he joined with Oliver Simon in the publishing of The Fleuron, of which Volume I was produced in 1923. Six additional volumes were printed, the last four under Morison’s editorship. Unquestionably this journal has been one of the most influential printing publications ever to be published. The series of monographs on type which Morison wrote remain outstanding contributions to the serious study of typography which had received its impetus from the two-volume work of Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing Types, published in 1922.

Simultaneously, with his work on The Fleuron, Morison took on the responsibilities of Typographic Advisor to the Monotype Corporation. Here he made a contribution of even greater moment than his essays. At his direction the firm undertook a program of cutting new book types for machine composition, based upon historical examples. From this program there emerged such outstanding types as Garamond, Poliphilus, Bembo, Baskerville, and Bell. Eric Gill, the contemporary English artist, was encouraged to cut the popular series of sans serif types which bear his name. Possibly the most successful type to stem from the Morison program was his own Times New Roman, designed for The Times, now one of the universal types.

He took on the typographic restyling of The Times and at the same period became Typographic Advisor to Cambridge University. In 1935 he began the editing of The History of The Times, which appeared in four volumes, 1935–52, almost entirely written by Morison. In 1946–47 he edited the widely circulated The Times Literary Supplement.

When in 1950 the University of Birmingham honored Morison with the D. Litt. degree, the Public Orator concluded his citation, “It is high time that we made him in name what he has long been in fact, Doctor of Letters.”

The Morison bibliography presently contains some two hundred items, many of which have been written anonymously or as introductions to other books. There has been a wide and consistent demand for “a Collected Morison” by typophiles all over the world.

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