November 13

In a letter dated this day in 1946 and addressed to a firm of Edinburgh printers, George Bernard Shaw said, in part: “So the great firm of R. & R. Clark is 100 years old; and I am only 90! It seems to me to have been ordained by Providence to be ready for me when my time came. At all events ever since it printed my first plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, in 1898, it has been as natural a part of my workshop as the pen in my hand. It has given me no trouble, nor complained when I have given it a good deal, holding up its type sometimes for years. I have not had to think about my printing: I have left it to do itself, which means that R. & R. Clark had to do it.”

Apparently no account has been written into the record by the production man at Clark’s concerning Shaw’s individualistic approach to the typography of his books. GBS was in the habit of purchasing the typesetting, printing, and binding of all his books and in turn selling the entire package to the publishers. This unique arrangement, for a best-selling author, was carried out during most of his active literary career. His selection of the Edinburgh firm was based upon his desire to engage a printer with trade union employees and upon his belief that Clark had the ability to produce “the book beautiful.”

Holbrook Jackson on two different occasions endulged in extensive hyphenation when describing the GBS taste in printer’s types, saying at one point that he was a “Caslon-Old-Face-man-at-any-price,” and again that “Bernard Shaw throws back to William Morris, to the pre-Kelmscott-Caslon-Old-Face-Morris!’ The playwright did have a distinct fondness for Caslon, and further-more demanded that the fine old letter be set in 12-point without leading, creating a rather solid page, which in addition could not contain rules. His dislike of rules was without question a fetish. “The only thing,” he stated, “that never looks right is a rule; there is not in existence a page with a rule on it that cannot be instantly and obviously improved by taking the rule out.”

Along with the Morris-inspired typographers, Shaw believed in tight spacing, even going to the trouble of rewriting a line in proof if the word-spacing was too wide. A probably apocryphal story is told of his predilection for mechanically-equal spacing. His instructions were followed so precisely by the Scottish typesetters that the article “the” was broke “t-he,” and “an” was divided “a-n.” GBS commented, it is said, with the statement, “Excellent; but please do not go so far as to prove the author is really a damn fool.”

Until the 1920’s, the dramatist demanded hand-setting in all of his books. The printer whereupon set two pages, one by hand and the other by Monotype, and showed them to Shaw without identifying either page. Shaw selected the machine-set page, after careful consideration, thus justifying the printer’s efforts. That he was well aware of the bibliophile’s interests is evident in his statement that, “Well printed books are just as scarce as well written ones; and every author should remember that most costly books derive their value from the craft of the printer and not from the author’s genius.”

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