October 29

“What do we mean by ‘printing’?” The question was asked by Bruce Rogers in a letter written this day in 1927 to the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature. Rogers was attempting to clarify what he believed to be obscure terminology in discussions concerning the craft of printing.

The distinguished typographer went on to say, in part, “The artist printer finds himself in the complex situation of the architect who must consider the accord between the suitability of his building and its actual external appearance, or of the poet who must combine what he says—the contents of his poem—with his verse forms. In all the arts—and that is why they are arts—there must be this adjustment to make a successful work. The final harmony of these independent properties is never obtained automatically or by rote, but by a miracle, or after vast effort—or rather by inspiration and effort combined.

“A perfect book is both easy to read and beautiful to look at. Pleasure in the reading matter itself is enhanced by pleasure in its suitable frame. An excellent balance of black and white lessens the effort of reading and the eye unconsciously approves of both ensemble and details without being distracted by them. . . .

“Typographical work permits no improvisations. It is the ripe fruit of experiment—the result of an art which preserves only the successful trials and rejects the rough drafts and sketches.

“The press holds up a mirror to the author in which he may see himself clearly. If the paper, type, and composition are carefully chosen and harmonious, the author sees his work in a new guise. He may feel keen pride or shame. He hears a firmer, more detached voice than his own—an implacably just voice—articulating his words. Everything weak, arbitrary, or in bad taste that he has written is pointed up and comes out in clear relief. It is at once a lesson and a splendid thing to be beautifully printed. . . .”

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