The Booklover and His Books
by Harry Lyman Koopman
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There are certain things, the Autocrat informs us, that are "good for nothing until they have been kept a long while; and some are good for nothing until they have been long kept and used. Of the first, wine is the illustrious and immortal example. Of those which must be kept and used I will name three—meerschaum pipes, violins, and poems." May we present another representative of the class which gathers value with the "process of the suns," one as immortal and historic as wine and even richer in associations—the parchment book cover? In this case it matters not whether the object meets with use or neglect. So long as it is not actually worn to pieces on the one hand, nor destroyed by mold on the other, the parchment binding will keep on converting time into gold, until after a few hundred years it reaches a tint far surpassing in beauty the richest umber of a meerschaum, and approached only by the kindred hue of antique ivory.

Here is a table full of old parchment-bound books, ranging from a tiny twenty-fourmo, which will stay neither open nor shut, to thin, limp folios that are instantly correspondent to either command. Those that are bound with boards have taken on a drumhead quality of smoothness and tension, especially the fat quartos and small octavos, while the larger volumes that received a flexible binding resemble nothing in surface so much as the wrinkled diploma on yonder wall, with its cabalistic signature now to be written no more, Carolus-Guil. Eliot; but all agree in a tint over which artists rave, the color that gold would take if it were capable of stain. But there is no stain here, or rather all stains are taken up and converted into beauty. Dust, dirt, smudges, all are here, and each is made to contribute a new element of charm. Is the resultant more beautiful than the spotless original? Compare it with the pearly tint of the diploma, or turn up the folded edge of one of those flexible bindings and note the chalky white of the parchment's protected under-surface. The same three hundred years that have made over Europe and made English America have, as it were, filled in the rhythmic pauses between their giant heart-beats by ripening Dr. Holmes's wine and touching with Midas caress these parchment bindings!

It is surely a crime to keep such beauty of tint and tone hidden away in drawers or all but hidden on crowded shelves. Let them be displayed in open cases where all may enjoy them. But let us go softly; these century-mellowed parchments are too precious to be displayed to unappreciative, perhaps scornful, eyes. Put them away in their hiding-places until some gentle reader of these lines shall ask for them; then we will bring them forth and persuade ourselves that we can detect a new increment of beauty added by the brief time since last we looked on them. I once heard an address on a librarian's duty to his successors. I will suggest a service not there mentioned: to choose every year the best contemporary books that he can find worthily printed on time-proof papers and have them bound in parchment; then let him place them on his shelves to gather gold from the touch of the mellowing years through the centuries to come and win him grateful memory such as we bestow upon the unknown hands that wrought for these volumes the garments of their present and still increasing beauty.


One result of the stir that has been made in library matters during the last two generations, and especially during the latter, is the enormous increase in the size of our libraries. In 1875 the public libraries of the United States contained a little less than 11,500,000 volumes. In the five years from 1908 to 1913 the libraries of 5,000 volumes and over added nearly 20,000,000 volumes, making a total of over 75,000,000 volumes, an increase of 35.7 per cent. In 1875 there were 3682 libraries of more than 300 volumes each; in 1913 there were 8302 libraries of over 1000 volumes each. In 1875 there were only nine libraries containing 100,000 volumes or over. These were the Library of Congress, 300,000; Boston Public Library, 300,000; New York Mercantile Library, 160,000; Harvard College Library, 154,000; Astor Library, 152,000; Philadelphia Mercantile Library, 126,000; House of Representatives Library, 125,000; Boston Athenaeum, 105,000; Library Company of Philadelphia, 104,000. In 1913 there were in this class 82 libraries, or over nine times as many, including 14 libraries of 300,000 to 2,000,000 volumes, a class which did not exist in 1875.

Meanwhile the individual book remains just what it always was, the utterance of one mind addressed to another mind, and the individual reader has no more hours in the day nor days in his life; he has no more eyes nor hands nor—we reluctantly confess—brains than he had in 1875. But, fast as our libraries grow, not even their growth fully represents the avalanche of books that is every year poured upon the reader's devoted head by the presses of the world. To take only the four countries in whose literature we are most interested we find their annual book publication, for the latest normal year, 1913, to be as follows: Germany, 35,078 volumes; France, 11,460; England, 12,379; America, 12,230. But Japan, Russia, and Italy are each credited with issuing more books annually than either England or the United States, and the total annual book publication of the world is estimated to reach the enormous figure of more than 130,000 volumes. In view of this prodigious literary output, what progress can the reader hope to make in "keeping up with the new books"? De Quincey figured that a man might possibly, in a long lifetime devoted to nothing else, read 20,000 volumes. The estimate is easy. Suppose we start with one book a day—surely a large supposition—and count a man's reading years from 20 to 80, 60 years in all; 60 times 365 is 21,900. This estimate makes no allowance for Sundays, holidays, or sickness. Yet, small as it is—for there are private libraries containing 20,000 volumes—it is manifestly too large. But whatever the sum total may be, whether 20,000 or 2,000, let us see, if I may use the expression, what a one must read before he can allow himself to read what he really wants to.

First of all we must read the books that form the intellectual tools of our trade, and there is no profession and hardly a handicraft that does not possess its literature. For instance, there are more than ten periodicals in the German language alone devoted exclusively to such a narrow field as beekeeping. Such periodicals and such books we do not call literature, any more than we do the labors of the man or woman who supplies the text for Butterick's patterns. But they are printed matter, and the reading of them takes up time that we might have spent upon "books that are books."

But besides this bread and butter reading there is another sort that we must admit into our lives if we are to be citizens of the world we live in, contemporaries of our own age, men among the men of our time, and that is reading for general information. The time has long since gone by, to be sure, when any man could, like Lord Bacon, take all knowledge for his province—we can hardly take a bird's-eye view of all knowledge to-day. No amount of reading will ever produce another Scaliger, learned in every subject. To be well informed, even in these days of the banyan-like growth of the tree of knowledge, is to be a miracle of erudition. Most of mankind must be content with the modest aim which Dr. Holmes set for the poet, to know enough not to make too many blunders. In carrying out this humble purpose, that of merely touching elbows with the thronging multitude of facts of interest to the civilized man, we have a task great enough to occupy the time of any reader, even if he made it his vocation; and with most of us it must be only a minor avocation. The very books about the books in this boundless field, the compends of the compends, the reviews of the reviews, form in themselves a library great enough to stagger human weakness. Besides all this—in a sense a part of it, yet a miscellaneous and irrational part—come the newspapers, with their daily distraction. This is after all our world, and we cannot live in it and be absolute nonconformists. So we must submit to the newspaper, though it makes a heavy addition to our daily load of reading for information. But there is still another kind of necessary reading that I wish to mention before we come to that which ranks chief in importance.

The woman who takes out of the public or subscription library a novel a day is only suffering from the perversion of an appetite that in its normal state is beneficial. It is possible that her husband does not read enough for amusement, that his horizon is narrowed, his sympathies stunted by the lack of that very influence which, in excess, unfits his wife for the realities and duties of everyday existence. It came as a surprise to many to learn from Tennyson's "Life" that the author of "In Memoriam" was a great novel reader. But clearly in his case the novel produced no weakening of the mental fiber. President Garfield advised the student to mingle with his heavier reading a judicious proportion of fiction. The novel may rank in the highest department of literature and may render the inestimable service of broadening and quickening our sympathies. In this case it belongs to the class of the best books. But I have introduced it here as the most prominent representative of what we may call the literature of recreation. There is a further representative of this class that is peculiarly well fitted to bring refreshment and cheer to the weary and dispirited, and that is humor, which is often also the soundest philosophy.

If the reader does not at the outset make provision in his daily reading for the best books, the days and the months will go by, and the unopened volumes will look down upon him from his shelves in dumb reproof of his neglect and reminder of his loss. In truth it is all a matter of the balance of gain. What we rate highest we shall find room for. If we cannot have our spiritual food and satisfy all our other wants, perhaps we shall find that some of our other wants can do with less satisfaction. That we should neglect the material side of life for the spiritual I do not say. But for our encouragement let me quote another estimate of what may be accomplished by persistent reading, and my authority shall be the late Professor William Mathews, the essayist, an author whose graceful style bears lightly as a flower a weight of learning that would appall, if it did not so delight us. Says Dr. Mathews:

Did you ever think of the sum total of knowledge that may be accumulated in a decade, or score of years, or a lifetime by reading only 10 pages a day? He who has read but that small amount daily, omitting Sundays, has read in a year 3130 pages, which is equal to six volumes of 521 pages each, enough to enable one to master a science. In five years he will have read 15,650 pages, equivalent to 30 large volumes, or to 60 of the average size. Now, we do not hesitate to say that 30 volumes of 521 pages each of history, biography, science, and literature, well chosen, well read, and well digested, will be worth to nine persons out of ten more than the average collegiate education is to the majority of graduates.

Our case for knowing the best books is, therefore, not hopeless. What we need for the achievement is not genius, but only a moderate amount of forethought and persistence. But who is there that has not tasted the joy of discovering a great book that seemed written for himself alone? If there is such a man, he is to be pitied—unless, indeed, he is to be congratulated on the unimagined pleasure in store for him. Discovery is not too strong a word for the feeling of the reader when he lights upon such a world-opening volume. He feels that no one else ever could have had the same appreciation of it, ever really discovered it, that he is

the first that ever burst Into that silent sea.

Keats, in his glorious sonnet, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," has given the finest of all expressions to this sense of literary discovery.

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne: Yet never did I breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher in the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific—and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

To describe such accessions of spiritual vision we turn instinctively to the narratives of Holy Writ, to Pisgah and its revelation of the Promised Land, to the ladder at Bethel with its angels ascending and descending, and to the lonely seer on Patmos with his vision of a new heaven and a new earth.

But, questions a listener, do books ever really affect people like this? Most assuredly! We have only to turn to biography for the record, if we do not find living witnesses among our friends. It was said of Neander that "Plato is his idol—his constant watchword. He sits day and night over him; and there are few who have so thoroughly and in such purity imbibed his wisdom."

The elder Professor Torrey, of the University of Vermont, found his inspiration, as many another has done, in Dante. In his youth he preferred the Inferno; in his middle life he rose to the calm heights of the Purgatorio; and he used to say with a smile that perhaps the time would come when he should be fitted to appreciate the Paradiso. Highly interesting is John Ruskin's tribute to Sir Walter Scott:

It is one of the griefs of my old age that I know Scott by heart, but still, if I take up a volume of him, it is not laid down again for the next hour.

Beside this we may place Goethe's testimony, also written in old age:

We read many, too many, poor things, thus losing our time and gaining nothing. We should only read what we can admire, as I did in my youth, and as I now do with Sir Walter Scott. I have now begun "Rob Roy," and I shall read all his romances in succession. All is great—material, import, characters, execution; and then what infinite diligence in the preparatory studies! what truth of detail in the composition! Here we see what English history is; what an inheritance to a poet able to make use of it. Walter Scott is a great genius; he has not his equal; and we need not wonder at the extraordinary effect he has produced on the reading world. He gives me much to think of; and I discover in him a wholly new art with laws of its own.

Of Goethe himself Carlyle confessed that the reading of his works made him understand what the Methodists mean by a new birth. Those who are familiar with the speeches and writings of Daniel Webster realize the inspiration that he owed to the grandeur of Milton. His great rival, Calhoun, honored everywhere as a statesman, was known in his own home as "the old man of the Bible." It was the reading of the Bible that equipped John Bunyan to become the author of "Pilgrim's Progress." The novelists have not failed to recognize the influence of some single book on a human life. It was the accidental possession of a folio volume of Shakespeare—in Blackmore's "Lorna Doone"—that transformed John Ridd from a hulking countryman to a man of profound acquaintance with the world. And who does not remember Gabriel Betteridge, the simple-hearted old steward in Wilkie Collins's "Moonstone," who finds for every occurrence a text to counsel or console in his favorite "Robinson Crusoe"?

As the experience of Professor Torrey shows, different books appeal to us most strongly at different ages. Young men read Shelley, old men read Wordsworth. In youth "Hamlet" is to us the greatest of all plays; in old age, "Lear." I know of no more interesting account of the development of a mind in the choice of books than that presented in John Beattie Crozier's autobiographical volume entitled "My Inner Life." The author is an English philosopher, who was born and lived until manhood in the backwoods of Canada. He tells us how as a young man groping about for some clew to the mystery of the world in which he found himself, he tried one great writer after another—Mill, Buckle, Carlyle, Emerson—all to no purpose, for he was not ready for them. At this period he read with great profit the "Recreations of a Country Parson," which, as he says, "gave me precisely the grade and shade of platitude I required." But more important were the weekly sermons of Henry Ward Beecher. Of him Crozier says:

For years his printed sermons were the main source of my instruction and delight. His range and variety of observation ... his width of sympathy; his natural and spontaneous pathos; the wealth of illustration and metaphor with which his sermons were adorned, and which were drawn chiefly from natural objects, from his orchard, his farm, his garden, as well as from machinery and from all kinds of natural processes; his naturalism and absence of theological bias; his knowledge of average men and their ways of looking at things; in a word, his general fertility of thought, filling up, as it did, the full horizon of my mind, and running over and beyond it on all sides, so that wherever I looked he had been there before me—all this delighted and enchanted me, and made him for some years my ideal of intellectual greatness; and I looked forward to the Saturdays on which his weekly sermons reached me with longing and pure joy.

Later, in England, Crozier took up the works of the philosophers with better success. The chapter of most interest for us is the one on the group which he calls "The Poetic Thinkers"—Carlyle, Newman, Emerson, Goethe. Of these he places Goethe and Emerson highest. Indeed of Emerson's essay on "Experience" he says:

In this simple framework Emerson has contrived to work in thoughts on human life more central and commanding, more ultimate and final, and of more universal application than are to be found within the same compass in the literature of any age or time, thoughts which rise to the mind as naturally and spontaneously when the deeper secrets of life are in question, as proverbs do in its more obvious and superficial aspects.... Nowhere, indeed, will you find greater penetration and profundity, or greater refinement and delicacy than in these essays (of Emerson).... After a lapse of ten or fifteen years ... no increase of experience or reflection has enabled me to add or suggest aught by way of commentary on these great and penetrating observations on human life that is not either more superficial or less true.... Until Emerson is understood, no observer of human life making any pretension to originality can, in my judgment, consider his reputation safe, or his work free from the danger of being undermined by this great master of human thought.

If some scholar on whose judgment we relied were to speak in these terms of a book that was only to be read in Persian or Icelandic, how cheerfully we should bend ourselves to the task of learning these difficult tongues for the sake of the reward—the possession of the coveted thought. But the writings of Emerson are in our own language and accessible in the cheapest editions. If to us personally Emerson does not make this supreme appeal, there are other writers, all at hand, set apart from the great multitude of lesser spirits by that final weigher of human talents whom Bacon calls Good Fame. It is not that among the myriad volumes of a library we must painfully and largely by accident discover the few of highest worth—scanning each doubtfully as one searches for an unknown visitor in the crowd alighting from a train. No, the best books are the best known, the most accessible. Lists of the ten, the fifty, the one hundred best books are at our disposal, and, if they do not always represent final judgments, are near enough for practical purposes. The will to read the best books is all that we need to supply—the rest has been done for us. And is there anyone who turns with indifference from the high and free privilege of making the greatest spirits that have ever lived his bosom friends, his companions and counselors? If there be such a one, would that I might repeat to him more of that glorious chant in praise of books that has been sung by the wise of all ages, from Socrates to Gladstone. I have given a few of these tributes already; I will close with one from an unexpected source. Says Walt Whitman, in his "Democratic Vistas," speaking of the books that have come down to us from antiquity:

A few immortal compositions, small in size, yet compassing what measureless values of reminiscence, contemporary portraitures, manners, idioms and beliefs, with deepest inference, hint and thought, to tie and touch forever the old, new body, and the old, new soul. These! and still these! bearing the freight so dear—dearer than pride—dearer than love. All the best experience of humanity folded, saved, freighted to us here! Some of these tiny ships we call Old and New Testament, Homer, Eschylus, Plato, Juvenal, etc. Precious minims! I think if we were forced to choose, rather than have you, and the likes of you, and what belongs to and has grown of you, blotted out and gone, we could better afford, appalling as that would be, to lose all actual ships, this day fastened by wharf, or floating on wave, and see them, with all their cargoes, scuttled and sent to the bottom.

Gathered by geniuses of city, race or age, and put by them in highest of art's forms, namely, the literary form, the peculiar combinations, and the outshows of that city, age or race, its particular modes of the universal attributes and passions, its faiths, heroes, lovers and gods, wars, traditions, struggles, crimes, emotions, joys (or the subtle spirit of these) having been passed on to us to illumine our own selfhood, and its experiences—what they supply, indispensable and highest, if taken away, nothing else in all the world's boundless storehouses could make up to us, or ever again return.


The book seems to have been regarded for hundreds of years—for thousands of years if we include its prototypes—as a thing apart, subject to its own laws of beauty, utility, and economy. But recently men have come to realize that the book has no special esthetic license, that what is barbarous art elsewhere is barbarous in the book; they also recognize that the book is within the domain of economics, that the invention of typography was primarily a reduction of cost, and that a myriad later processes, which make the book what it is to-day, are all developments of the same principle. What has not been so clearly seen is that in the field of utility the book is not independent, cannot impose conditions upon its users, but is an instrument strictly subordinate to human needs. The establishment of its efficiency has only begun when we have adapted it to the convenience of the hand and the bookshelf. The real tests of its utility are subtle, not gross, and are, in fact, beyond the range of ordinary haphazard experience. In this field popular judgment may be right or wrong; it offers merely an opinion, which it cannot prove. But here that higher power of common sense that we call science comes in and gives verdicts that take account of all the elements involved and can be verified. Rather this is what science has not yet done for printing, or has done only in part, but which we confidently expect it is about to do.

What then are some of the points that we may call in science to settle? We know surely that fine type, bad presswork, pale ink on gray paper are all bad for the eyes. But there are a host of other matters connected with printing, we may even say most matters, in regard to which our knowledge is either uncertain or indefinite. In respect to this whole range of practical printing subjects we want to know just what practice is the best and by what percentage of superiority. This quantitative element in the solution is of great importance, for when rival considerations, the esthetic, the economic, for instance, plead for one choice as against another, we shall know just how much sacrifice of utility is involved. The tests for which we look to science cover everything that goes to make up the physical side of the book. The tests themselves, however, are psychological, for the book makes its appeal to the mind through one of the senses, that of sight, and therefore its adaptedness to the manifold peculiarities of human vision must be the final criterion of its utility.

Beginning with the material basis of the book—paper—most readers are sure that both eggshell and glaze finish are a hindrance to easy reading and even hurtful to the eyes; but which is worse and how much? Is there any difference as regards legibility between antique and medium plate finish, and which is better and by what percentage? In regard to the color as well as the surface of paper we are largely at sea. We realize that contrast between paper and ink is necessary, but is the greatest contrast the best? Is the blackest black on the whitest white better, for instance, than blue-black on buff-white, and how much? Is white on black not better than black on white, and, if so, in what exact degree? Or is the real solution to be found in some other color contrast as yet untried? The very mention of some of these possibilities shocks our prejudices and stirs our conservatism to revolt in advance; yet, with or against our will, we may be perfectly sure that the changes which science finally pronounces imperative will be made.

Who can tell what is the normal length of line for legibility, or whether there is one, and whether there is an ideal size of type, or what it is? Are the newspapers, for instance, right as to length of line and the books as to size of type, as many suppose? Has each size of type a length of line normal to it? How is this affected by leading, or is leading merely of imaginary value? Is large type desirable for the schoolbooks of the youngest children, and may the type be made smaller, down to a certain limit, without harm, as the children grow older, or is there one ideal size for all ages? It is frankly recognized that in certain works, like editions of the poets, legibility may properly be sacrificed in some degree to beauty, and in certain reference works, again, to economy of space; but we should like to know, as we do not now with any exactness, what amount of legibility is surrendered.

It is easy, however, to see that one great battleground of controversy in any suggested reforms must be the design of the type itself. Here, fortunately, the English public starts with a great advantage. We have thrown overboard our old black letter with its dazzling contrasts of shading and its fussy ornament, and therefore can begin where the Germans must some day leave off. We have no accents or other diacritical marks, and in this respect are superior to the French also. We start with a fairly extended and distinct letter like Caslon for our norm, but even so the problem is in the highest degree complex and baffling. First, accepting the traditional forms of the letters, we must determine whether light or heavy, even or shaded, condensed or extended letters are the more legible, and always in what proportion. We shall then be in a position to decide the relative standing of the various commercial types, if such we find, that fairly well meet the conditions. It will also be obvious what changes can be introduced to improve the types that stand highest. By and by the limit of improvement will be reached under the traditional forms of the letters. It will next be the task of science to show by what modifications or substitutions the poorest letters, such as s z e a x o can be brought up to the visibility of the best letters, such as m w d j l p. Some of these changes may be slight, such as shortening the overhang of the a and slanting the bar of the e, while others may involve forms that are practically new. It is worth remembering at this point that while our capital letters are strictly Roman, our small or lowercase letters came into being during the middle ages, and many of them would not be recognized by an ancient Roman as having any relation to his alphabet. They therefore belong to the modern world and can be altered without sacrilege.

There will remain other problems to be solved, such as the use of capitals at all; punctuation, whether to keep our present practice or to devise a better; the use of spacing between paragraphs, words, and even letters; besides numerous problems now hardly guessed. Many of the conclusions of science will be openly challenged, but such opposition is easiest to overcome. Harder to meet will be the opposition of prejudice, one of whose favorite weapons is always ridicule. But the results of science in the field of printing, as in every other, are sure to make their way into practice, and here their beneficent effect in the relief of eye strain and its consequent nervous wear and in the saving of time is beyond our present power to calculate or even imagine. The world at the end of the twentieth century will be a different world from this, a far better world, we trust; and one of the potent influences in bringing about that improvement will then be traced, we are confident, to the fact that, near the beginning of the century, science was called in to solve those problems of the book that belong to the laboratory rather than to the printing office.


Our modern world submits with an ill grace to the nuisance of spectacles, but flatters itself that after all they afford a measure of civilization. Thirty-five years ago Dr. Emile Javal, a Parisian oculist, contested this self-complacent inference, believing the terrible increase of near sight among school children to be due rather to a defect than to an excess of civilization. He conceived that the trouble must lie in the material set for the eye to work upon, namely, the printed page. He therefore instituted a series of experiments to discover its defects from the point of view of hygiene. Being an oculist, he naturally adopted the test of distance to determine the legibility of single letters at the limit of vision, and he employed the oculist's special type. His conclusions cover a wide range. He decided that paper with a slightly buff tint printed with an ink tinged with blue was the most agreeable combination for the eye, though in absolute clearness nothing can surpass the contrast of black upon white. He held that leading is no advantage to clearness, and that it would be better to print the same words on the page in a larger type unleaded. He found the current type too condensed; this is particularly a fault of French type. But he favored spacing between the letters of a word, a conclusion in which he has not been followed by later investigators. He found shaded type a disadvantage and advocated a fairly black type in which all the lines are of uniform thickness. But most interesting are his conclusions regarding the letters themselves. He found that the eye in reading follows a horizontal line which cuts the words just below the tops of the short letters, the parts of the letters being indistinct in proportion as they are distant from this line. It is chiefly by their individuality on this line that letters acquire distinctness. But just here he found that an unfortunate tendency towards uniformity had been at work, flattening the rounded letters and rounding the square letters. In a series of articles he gives exhaustive studies of the various letters, their characteristics, and their possible reform.

A few years later Dr. Cattell, now a professor in Columbia, but then an investigator in Wundt's psychological laboratory in Leipsic, made a series of studies on brain and eye inertia in the recognition of letters. Like Dr. Javal he found some alphabets harder to see than others and the letters of the same alphabet different in legibility. He saw no advantage in having a mixture of capital and small letters. He condemned shading in types and opposed all ornament as an element of confusion. He regarded punctuation marks as hard to see and proposed that they should be displaced, or at least supplemented, by spaces between the words corresponding to the pause in the thought or the utterance.

He tested the letters by their legibility when seen for a small fraction of a second through a narrow slit in a falling screen. Beginning with the capitals, he found that out of two hundred and seventy trials for each letter, W was recognized two hundred and forty-one times and E only sixty-three times, the former being much more distinct and the latter much less distinct than any other. Some letters, like S and C, were found hard to recognize in themselves, and certain groups of letters, such as O, Q, G, and C, were constantly confused with one another. Said Dr. Cattell, "If I should give the probable time wasted each day through a single letter, as E, being needlessly illegible, it would seem almost incredible; and, if we could calculate the necessary strain put upon eye and brain, it would be still more appalling."

In regard to the small letters he found a like difference in legibility. Out of one hundred trials d was read correctly eighty-seven times, s only twenty-eight times. He found s, g, c, and x particularly hard to recognize by reason of their form; and certain pairs and groups were sources of confusion. The group of slim letters, i, j, l, f, t, is an instance. He suggested that a new form of l, perhaps the Greek [Greek: l], should be adopted; and he advocated the dropping of the dot from the i, as in Greek. He made experiments upon the German as well as the Roman alphabet, but he found the former so bad that he could only advise giving it up altogether.

Somewhat later, in 1888, Mr. E. C. Sanford, now president of Clark College, published in the "American Journal of Psychology" an exhaustive study on "The Relative Legibility of the Small Letters." He studied simply the letter forms, to determine the order of legibility in the alphabet and the groups most liable to confusion, in order to discover what letters most need improvement and upon what clearness depends. He too employed a special type. He found the order under the distance test to be w m q p v y j f h r d g k b x l n u a t i z o c s e, and the order under the time test m w d q v y j p k f b l i g h r x t o u a n e s c z. It will be noticed that of the seven letters most largely represented in a full font of type, e t a i n o s, all fall in the last third of one or the other of these two groups, four are there in both groups, while e, the letter used most of all, stands at the very foot of the list in the distance group. Could there be any clearer call for the reform of our letters?

Mr. Sanford enters at length into the question of the points that help and hinder legibility and that should therefore be considered in reforming the shapes of letters. Enlargement of size and increase of differences are obvious aids to clearness. Simplicity of outline and concentration of peculiarity upon one feature are important elements of legibility. Even a letter of small size, like v, is brought into the first group by a combination of these two qualities. Serifs are necessary to prevent irradiation, or an overflowing of the white on the black, but they should be stubby; if long, they take on the character of ornament and become confusing. The letters g and a are complicated without being distinctive and are therefore continually confused with other letters. The c e o group of much used letters can be made less liable to confusion if the gap on the right of the first two letters is made wider and the line of the e slants downward as in Jenson. Another group, a n u, are confused together. To avoid this the top and bottom openings of n and u should be made as open as possible and the a should go back to the old script form a as in the Humanistic type. The letter s is a source of great difficulty, being either not recognized at all in the tests or confused with other letters. It will be remembered that Franklin greatly deprecated the giving up of the long f, and a return to this form is now suggested, care being taken, of course, to differentiate it from f, especially by carrying it below the line. The dot of the i is of no use when the letter stands alone, but it is an important element of distinctness in words like "minim." The dot, as Dr. Javal suggests, should be set on a level with the top of the l rather than on a level with the top of the t. A reduction of serifs would lessen the confusion of x and z and of s and z.

But it is unnecessary to trace these studies in all their minutiae. In the twenty-eight years that have followed the appearance of Mr. Sanford's article work along the same lines has been done by many investigators in various countries. Some of the conclusions that we have noticed have been sustained, others have been discredited. The most important conclusions of the investigators down to 1908 will be found scattered through the pages of Huey's "Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading," which appeared in that year. Such matters as the normal length of a line of print, the size of type appropriate to schoolbooks for children of different ages, the possibilities of future type design with reference solely to the reader's needs, are among the many subjects there set forth in an interesting fashion.

In all these studies one obvious subject of investigation appears to have been overlooked, and that is the actual types of everyday print. Do they vary greatly in legibility? Are some of them so bad that they ought to be rejected in toto? On the other hand, have the designers of certain types attained by instinct or by happy accident a degree of legibility that approximates the best to be hoped for? If so, can we trace the direction to be followed in seeking further improvement? To answer these questions an extended investigation was undertaken at Clark University in 1911 by Miss Barbara Elizabeth Roethlein under the direction of Professor John Wallace Baird. Her results were published by Clark University Library in January, 1912, under the title "The Relative Legibility of Different Faces of Printing Types." The pamphlet abounds in tables made clear by the use of the very types under consideration. The following are the conclusions reached:

1. Certain faces of type are much more legible than other faces; and certain letters of every face are much more legible than other letters of the same face.

2. These differences in legibility prove to be greater when letters are presented in isolation from one another than when they are presented in groups.

3. Legibility is a product of six factors: (1) the form of the letter; (2) the size of the letter; (3) the heaviness of the face of the letter (the thickness of the lines which constitute the letter); (4) the width of the white margin which surrounds the letter; (5) the position of the letter in the letter group; (6) the shape and size of the adjacent letters. In our experiments the first factor seemed to be less significant than any of the other five; that is, in the type-faces which were employed in the present investigation the form of any given letter of the alphabet usually varied between such narrow limits as to constitute a relatively insignificant factor in the determination of its legibility.

4. The relatively heavy-faced types prove to be more legible than the light-faced types. The optimal heaviness of face seems to lie in a mean between the bold faces and such light faces as Scotch Roman and Cushing Monotone.

5. The initial position in a group of letters is the most advantageous position for legibility; the final position comes next in order of advantage; and the intermediate or internal positions are least favorable for legibility.

6. The size and the form of the letters which stand adjacent to any given letter play an important role in determining its legibility; and the misreadings which occur in the case of grouped letters are of a wholly different sort from those which occur in the case of isolated letters. When letters of the same height or of similar form appear side by side, they become relatively illegible. But the juxtaposition of an ascender, a descender and a short letter tends to improve the legibility of each, as also does the juxtaposition of letters which are made up wholly or chiefly of straight lines and letters which are made up wholly or chiefly of curved lines.

7. The quality and the texture of the paper is a much less significant factor than has been supposed, provided, of course, that the illumination and the inclination of the paper are such as to secure an optimal condition of light reflection from its surface.

8. There is an urgent need for modification of certain letters of the alphabet.

Contrary to previous results with special types, these tests of commercial types represent the capitals as more legible, by about one-fifth, than the lowercase letters; but, in view of the much greater bigness and heaviness of capitals, the earlier judgment would seem to be supported so far as the letter forms of the two classes are concerned. The order of each class, taking an average of all the faces, is as follows: W M L J I A T C V Q P D O Y U F H X G N Z K E R B S m w d j l p f q y i h g b k v r t n c u o x a e z s. Considering only the lowercase letters, which represent nine-tenths of the print that meets the eye, we still have four of the most used letters, s e a o, in the lowest fourth of the group, while s in both sizes of type and in all faces stands at the bottom. The average legibility of the best and worst is: W, 300.2; S, 205.7; m, 296.8; s, 152.6.

The tests were by distance; the letters were all ten-point of the various faces; and the figures represent the distance in centimeters at which the letters were recognized. There is a satisfaction in being assured that the range between the best and the worst is not so great as had been estimated previously, the proportion being in the one case not quite 3:2 and in the other not quite 3:1.5. The following twenty-six widely different faces of type were studied:

American Typewriter Bold Antique Bulfinch Caslon Oldstyle No. 540 Century Oldstyle Century Oldstyle, Bold Century Expanded Cheltenham Oldstyle Cheltenham Bold Cheltenham Bold, Condensed Cheltenham Italic Cheltenham Wide Clearface Clearface Italic Clearface Bold Clearface Bold Italic Cushing No. 2 Cushing Oldstyle No. 2 Cushing Monotone Della Robbia DeVinne No. 2 DeVinne No. 2, Italic Franklin Gothic Jenson Oldstyle No. 2 News Gothic Ronaldson Oldstyle No. 551

Of these, omitting the boldface and italic types, as well as all capitals, the six best text types, ranging in average distance of recognition from 236.4 to 224.3, are News Gothic, Bulfinch, Clearface, Century Oldstyle, Century Expanded, and Cheltenham Wide. The six worst, ranging from 206.4 to 185.6, are Cheltenham Oldstyle, DeVinne No. 2, American Typewriter, Caslon Oldstyle, Cushing Monotone, and Cushing No. 2. The author says, commenting on these findings:

If legibility is to be our sole criterion of excellence of typeface, News Gothic must be regarded as our nearest approximation to an ideal face, in so far as the present investigation is able to decide this question. The esthetic factor must always be taken into account, however, here as elsewhere. And the reader who prefers the appearance of Cushing Oldstyle or a Century face may gratify his esthetic demands without any considerable sacrifice of legibility.

To what extent these conclusions may be modified by future experiments it is, of course, impossible to predict, but they clearly point the way towards definiteness and boldness in the design of types as well as to a preference for the larger sizes in their use. All this, as we shall see in the next chapter, is in harmony with what experience has been gradually confirming in the practice of the last generation.


The late John Bartlett, whose "Familiar Quotations" have encircled the globe, once remarked to a youthful visitor that it was a source of great comfort to him that in collecting books in his earlier years he had chosen editions printed in large type, "for now," he said, "I am able to read them." The fading eyesight of old age does not necessarily set the norm of print; but this is certain, that what age reads without difficulty youth will read without strain, and in view of the excessive burden put upon the eyes by the demands of modern life, it may be worth while to consider whether it is not wise to err on the safer side as regards the size of type, even by an ample margin.

It is now some thirty-five years since the first scientific experiments upon the relations of type to vision were made in France and Germany. It was peculiarly fitting, we may remark, that the investigation should have started in those two countries, for the German alphabet is notoriously hard on the eyes, and the French alphabet is encumbered with accents, which form an integral part of the written word, and yet are always minute and in poor print exceedingly hard to distinguish. The result of the investigation was a vigorous disapproval of the German type itself and of the French accents and the favorite style of letter in France, the condensed. It was pointed out that progress in type design towards the hygienic ideal must follow the direction of simplicity, uniformity, and relative heaviness of line, with wide letters and short descenders, all in type of sufficient size for easy reading. In the generation that has succeeded these experiments have we made any progress in adapting print to eyes along the lines of these conclusions?

The printer might well offer in proof of such progress the page in which these words are presented to the reader. In the four and a half centuries of printing, pages of equal clearness and beauty may be found if one knows just where to look for them, but the later examples all fall within the period that we are discussing. It may be objected that this is the luxury of printing, not its everyday necessity, and this objection must be allowed; but luxuries are a powerful factor in elevating the standard of living, and this is as true of print as of food and dress. It must be confessed that an unforeseen influence made itself felt early in the generation under discussion, that of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press. Morris's types began and ended in the Gothic or Germanic spirit, and their excellence lies rather in the beauty of each single letter than in the effective mass-play of the letters in words. Kelmscott books, therefore, in spite of their decorative beauty, are not easy reading. In this respect they differ greatly from those of Bodoni,[4] whose types to Morris and his followers appeared weak and ugly. Bodoni's letters play together with perfect accord, and his pages, as a whole, possess a statuesque if not a decorative beauty. If the reader is not satisfied with the testimony of the page now before him, let him turn to the Bodoni Horace of 1791, in folio, where, in addition to the noble roman text of the poems, he will find an extremely clear and interesting italic employed in the preface, virtually a "library hand" script. But no force has told more powerfully for clearness and strength in types than the influence of Morris, and if he had done only this for printing he would have earned our lasting gratitude.

Morris held that no type smaller than long primer should ever be employed in a book intended for continuous reading; and here again, in size of type as distinguished from its cut, he made himself an exponent of one of the great forward movements that have so happily characterized the recent development of printing. Go to any public library and look at the novels issued from 1850 to 1880. Unless your memory is clear on this point, you will be amazed to see what small print certain publishers inflicted with apparent impunity on their patrons during this period. The practice extended to editions of popular authors like Dickens and Thackeray, editions that now find no readers, or find them only among the nearsighted.

The cheap editions of the present day, on the contrary, may be poor in paper and perhaps in presswork, they may be printed from worn plates, but in size and even in cut of type they are generally irreproachable. As regards nearsighted readers, it is well known that they prefer fine type to coarse, choosing, for instance, a Bible printed in diamond, and finding it clear and easy to read, while they can hardly read pica at all. This fact, in connection with the former tolerance of fine print, raises the question whether the world was not more nearsighted two generations ago than it is now; or does this only mean that the oculist is abroad in the land?

It is recognized that, in books not intended for continuous reading, small and even fine type may properly be employed. That miracle of encyclopedic information, the World Almanac, while it might be printed better and on a higher quality of paper, could not be the handy reference book that it is without the use of a type that would be intolerably small in a novel or a history. With the increase of the length of continuous use for which the book is intended, the size of the type should increase up to a certain point. Above eleven-point, or small pica, however, increase in the size of type becomes a matter not of hygiene, but simply of esthetics. But below the normal the printer's motto should be: In case of doubt choose the larger type.

A development of public taste that is in line with this argument is the passing of the large-paper edition. It was always an anomaly; but our fathers did not stop to reason that, if a page has the right proportions at the start, mere increase of margin cannot enhance its beauty or dignity. At most it can only lend it a somewhat deceptive appearance of costliness, with which was usually coupled whatever attraction there might be in the restriction of this special edition to a very few copies. So they paid many dollars a pound for mere blank paper and fancied that they were getting their money's worth. The most inappropriate books were put out in large paper, Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, for instance. At the other extreme of size may be cited the Pickering diamond classics, also in a large-paper edition, pretty, dainty little books, with their Lilliputian character only emphasized by their excess of white paper. But their print is too fine to read, and their margins are out of proportion to the printed page. Though their type is small, they by no means exhibit the miracle of the books printed in Didot's "microscopic" type, and they represent effort in a direction that has no meaning for bookmaking, but remains a mere tour de force. Quite different is the case with the Oxford miniature editions, of the same size outwardly as the large-paper editions of the Pickering diamond classics; these are modern miracles, for with all their "infinite riches in a little room," they are distinctly legible.

As regards the design of type, the recent decades have given us our choice among type-faces at once so beautiful and so clear as the Century Oldstyle, Century Expanded, and Cheltenham Wide. To those should be added Mr. Goudy's virile Kennerley. Still later have appeared, in direct descent from one of Jenson's type-faces, Cloister and Centaur, two of the most beautiful types of any age or country, and both, if we may judge by comparison with the types approved by the Clark University experiments, also among the most legible. Fortunately in type design there is no essential conflict between beauty and use, but rather a natural harmony. Already a high degree of legibility has been attained without sacrifice; the future is full of promise.

In respect to books, we may congratulate ourselves that printing has made real progress in the last generation towards meeting the primary demand of legibility. The form of print, however, which is read by the greatest number of eyes, the newspaper, shows much less advance. Yet newspapers have improved in presswork, and the typesetting machines have removed the evil of worn type. Moreover, a new element has come to the front that played a much more subordinate part three or four decades ago—the headline. "Let me write the headlines of a people," said the late Henry D. Lloyd to the writer, "and I care not who makes its laws." It is the staring headlines that form the staple of the busy man's newspaper reading, and they are certainly hygienic for the eyes if not always for the mind. While the trend towards larger and clearer type has gone on chiefly without the consciousness of the public, it has not been merely a reform imposed from without. The public prefers readable print, demands it, and is ready to pay for it. The magazines have long recognized this phase of public taste. When the newspapers have done the same, the eyes of coming generations will be relieved of a strain that can only be realized by those who in that day shall turn as a matter of antiquarian curiosity to the torturing fine print that so thickly beset the pathway of knowledge from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, and, in the twentieth, overthrown in the field of books and magazines, made its last, wavering stand in the newspapers.


Since print is meant primarily to be read, the first law of its being is legibility. As a general principle this must be accepted, but in the application certain important reservations must be made, all relating themselves to the question how the print is to be read. For straightaway, long-time reading, or for reading in which the aim is to get at the words of the author with the least hindrance, the law of legibility holds to its full extent—is, in fact, an axiom; but not all reading is long-continued, and not all is apart from considerations other than instantaneous contact with the author's thought through his words. It is these two classes of exceptions that we have now to consider.

Let us begin with an example outside the field of typography. On the first issue of the Lincoln cent were various sizes of lettering, the largest being devoted to the words which denote the value of the coin, and the smallest, quite undistinguishable in ordinary handling, to the initials of the designer, afterwards discarded. Obviously these sizes were chosen with reference to their power to attract attention; in the one case an excess of legibility and in the other case, quite as properly, its deficiency. Thus, what is not designed for the cursory reader's eye, but serves only as a record to be consulted by those who are specially interested in it, may, with propriety, be made so inconspicuous as to be legible only by a distinct effort. Cases in everyday typography are the signatures of books and the cabalistic symbols that indicate to the newspaper counting room the standing of advertisements. Both are customarily rendered inconspicuous through obscure position, and if to this be added the relative illegibility of fine type, the average reader will not complain, for all will escape his notice.

Again, we may say that what is not intended for ordinary continuous reading may, without criticism, be consigned to type below normal size. Certain classes of books that are intended only for brief consultation come under this head, the best examples being encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs. As compactness is one of their prime requisites, it is a mistake to put them into type even comfortably large. The reader opens them only for momentary reference, and he can well afford to sacrifice a certain degree of legibility to handiness. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is a classic instance of a work made bulky by type unnecessarily coarse for its purpose; the later, amazingly clear, photographic reduction of the Britannica volumes is a recognition of this initial mistake. The Century and Oxford dictionaries, on the other hand, are splendid examples of the judicious employment of fine print for the purpose both of condensation and the gradation of emphasis. One has only to contrast with these a similar work in uniform type, such as Littre's Dictionnaire, to appreciate their superiority for ready reference.

The departure from legibility that we have thus far considered has related to the size of the letters. Another equally marked departure is possible in respect to their shape. In business printing, especially in newspaper advertisements, men are sometimes tempted to gain amount at the risk of undue fineness of type. But no advertiser who counts the cost will take the chance of rendering his announcement unreadable by the use of ornamental or otherwise imperfectly legible letters. He sets no value upon the form save as a carrier of substance. In works of literature, on the contrary, form may take on an importance of its own; it may even be made tributary to the substance at some cost to legibility.

In this field there is room for type the chief merit of which is apart from its legibility. In other words, there is and always will be a place for beauty in typography, even though it involve a certain loss of clearness. As related to the total bulk of printing, works of this class never can amount to more than a fraction of one per cent. But their proportion in the library of a cultivated man would be vastly greater, possibly as high as fifty per cent. In such works the esthetic sense demands not merely that the type be a carrier of the alphabet, but also that it interpret or at least harmonize with the subject-matter. Who ever saw Mr. Updike's specimen pages for an edition of the "Imitatio Christi," in old English type, without a desire to possess the completed work? Yet we have editions of the "Imitatio" that are far more legible and convenient. The "Prayers" of Dr. Samuel Johnson have several times been published in what we may call tribute typography; but no edition has yet attained to a degree of homage that satisfies the lovers of those unaffected devotional exercises.

What, therefore, shall be the typography of books that we love, that we know by heart? In them, surely, beauty and fitness may precede legibility unchallenged. These are the books that we most desire and cherish; this is the richest field for the typographic artist, and one that we venture to pronounce, in spite of all that has yet been done, still almost untilled. Such books need not be expensive; we can imagine a popular series that should deserve the name of tribute typography. Certain recent editions of the German classics, perhaps, come nearer to justifying such a claim than any contemporary British or American work. In more expensive publications some of Mr. Mosher's work, like his quarto edition of Burton's "Kasidah," merits a place in this class. A better known, if older, instance is the holiday edition of Longfellow's "Skeleton in Armor." Who would not rather read the poem in this Old English type than in any Roman type in which it has ever been printed? The work of the Kelmscott Press obviously falls within this class.

The truth is, there is a large body of favorite literature which we are glad to be made to linger over, to have, in its perusal, a brake put upon the speed of our reading; and in no way can this be done so agreeably as by a typography that possesses a charm of its own to arrest the eye. Such a delay increases while it prolongs the pleasure of our reading. The typography becomes not only a frame to heighten the beauty of the picture, but also a spell to lengthen our enjoyment of it. It cannot be expected that the use of impressive type will be confined to literature. That worthiest use will find the field already invaded by pamphlet and leaflet advertisements, and this invasion is certain to increase as the public taste becomes trained to types that make an esthetic appeal of their own.

Ordinary type is the result of an attempt to combine with legibility an all-round fitness of expression. But that very universality robs it of special appropriateness for works of a strongly marked character. It is impossible to have a new type designed for every new work, but classes of types are feasible, each adapted to a special class of literature. Already there is a tendency to seek for poetry a type that is at least removed from the commonplace. But hitherto the recognition of this principle has been only occasional and haphazard. Where much is to be gained much also can be lost, and interpretative or expressional typography that misses the mark may easily be of a kind to make the judicious grieve. But the rewards of success warrant the risk. The most beautiful of recent types, the New Humanistic, designed for The University Press, has hardly yet been used. Let us hope that it may soon find its wider mission so successfully as to furnish an ideal confirmation of the principle that we have here been seeking to establish.


What does a student of five and twenty years ago still remember of his college? My own first and fondest recollection is of the walks and talks, noctes coenaeque deum, with loved and honored companions, in the bonds of a friendship that can be realized only in youth, under the inspiration of a common intellectual purpose, and, one is tempted to add, in the atmosphere of college halls; next arise golden hours passed in the library; and lastly there come back other hours, not always golden, spent in the classroom. This is, of course, only to enumerate the three influences that are, or should be, strongest in a student's life: the society of his fellows, his private reading, and his studies. Of these three factors of culture the first and the last are fairly constant, but the second is apt to vary in the experience of any small group of students from the foremost place, as in the case of John Hay, to no place at all. It is of this varying element in the student's conduct of life that I have undertaken to write.

Unless student intercourse has an intellectual basis, such as reading furnishes, it has nothing to distinguish it from any other good fellowship and can hardly escape triviality. The little groups of students at Cambridge which included such members as the three Tennysons, Hallam, Spedding, Fitzgerald, and Thackeray, while they were no doubt jovial enough, were first of all intellectual associations, where

Thought leapt out to wed with Thought Ere Thought could wed itself with Speech.

In such companionship men not only share and correct the culture which they have acquired in private, but they are stimulated to higher and wider attainment. The classroom at its best is hardly equal to a good book; from its very nature it must address an abstract average rather than the individual, while a good book startles us with the intimacy of its revelation to ourselves. The student goes to college to study; he has his name thence. But while the classroom is busied, patiently, sedulously doling him out silver, he discovers that there is gold lying all around, which he may take without asking. Twenty-five years after he finds that the silver has grown black with rust, while the gold shines on untarnished. Librarians are often besought for a guide in reading, a set of rules, a list of books. But what is really needed, and what no mentor can give, is a hunger and thirst after what is in books; and this the student must acquire for himself or forego the blessing. Culture cannot be vicarious. This is not to say that a list of books may not be useful, or that one set of books is as good as another, but only that reading is the thing, and, given the impulse to read, the how and the what can be added unto it; but without this energizing motive, no amount of opportunity or nurture will avail.

But, having not the desire to read, but only a sense that he ought to have it, what shall a student do? I will suggest three practicable courses from which a selection may be made according to the needs of the individual. The first is to sit down and take account of stock, to map out one's knowledge, one's previous reading, and so find the inner boundaries of the vast region yet to be explored. This process can hardly fail to suggest not merely one point of departure, but many. The second method is, without even so much casting about, to set forth in any direction, take the first attractive unread book at hand, and let that lead to others. The third course is intended for the student whose previous reading has been so scanty and so perfunctory as to afford him no outlook into literature, a case, which, it is to be feared, is only too common. We will consider this method first. Obviously such a student must be furnished with a guide, one who shall set his feet in the right paths, give him his bearings in literature, and inspire him with a love for the beauty and grandeur of the scenery disclosed, so that he shall become not only able to make the rest of his journey alone, but eager to set out.

Where shall the student find such a guide? There are many and good at hand, yet perhaps the best are not the professional ones, but rather those who give us merely a delightful companionship and invite us to share their own favorite walks in Bookland. Such a choice companion, to name but one, awaits the student in Hazlitt's "Lectures on the English Poets." Of the author himself Charles Lamb says: "I never slackened in my admiration of him; and I think I shall go to my grave without finding, or expecting to find, such another companion." And of his books Stevenson confesses: "We are mighty fine fellows, but we cannot write like William Hazlitt." In this little volume which the most hard-pressed student can read and ponder in the leisure moments of a single term, the reader is introduced at once into the wonderland of our English literature, which he is made to realize at the outset is an indivisible portion of the greater territory of the literature of the world.

Hazlitt begins with a discussion of poetry in general, shows what poetry is, how its various forms move us, and how it differs from its next of kin, such as eloquence and romance. He then takes up the poetry of Homer, the Bible, Dante, and Ossian, and sets forth the characteristics of each. In his chapter on our first two great poets, Chaucer and Spenser, he points out the great and contrasted merits of these two writers who have so little in common except a superficial resemblance in language. Hazlitt is fond of presenting his authors to us in pairs or groups. His next chapter is devoted to Shakespeare and Milton; and we may remark that, while the student is in no danger of forgetting the existence of Shakespeare, he is likely to need just such a tribute to the greatness of Milton as the critic here presents. The volume contains later chapters of great interest on Milton's "Lycidas" and "Eve." It is not necessary for us to mention here all the subjects treated; Dryden and Pope, Thomson and Cowper, Burns and the Old English Ballads are among them. In every case we are not tantalized with mere estimates and characterizations, but are furnished with illustrative specimens of the poems discussed. But the initiation into English literature which we receive from Hazlitt does not end with the authors of whom he treats directly. Resuming our figure of a landscape, we may say that he takes us through a thousand bypaths into charming nooks and upon delightful prospects of which he has made no announcement beforehand.

I spoke of reading and pondering his book in a single college term. But, while this may easily be done, it will be far more profitable for the student, as soon as he feels drawn away from the volume to some author whom it presents, to lay it aside and make an excursion of his own into literature. Then let him take up the volume again and go on with it until the critic's praise of the "Faerie Queene," or the "Rape of the Lock," or the "Castle of Indolence" again draws his attention off the essay to the poem itself. And as one poem and one author will lead to another, the volume with which the student set out will thus gradually fulfill its highest mission by inspiring and training its reader to do without it. If the student has access to the shelves of a large library, the very handling of the books in their groups will bring him into contact with other books which he will be attracted to and will dip into and read. In fact it should not be long before he finds his problem to be, not what to read, but what to resist reading.

Suppose, however, that the student finds himself already possessed of a vague, general knowledge of literature, but nothing definite or satisfying, nothing that inspires interest. He it is who may profitably take up the first attractive unread book at hand; but he should endeavor to read it, not as an isolated fragment of literature, but in its relations. Suppose the book happens to be "Don Quixote." This is a work written primarily to amuse. But if the reader throws himself into the spirit of the book, he will not be content, for instance, with the mere mention of the romances of chivalry which turned the poor knight's brain. He will want to read about them and to read some of them actually. He will be curious as to Charlemagne and his peers, Arthur and his knights, and will seek to know their true as well as their fabulous history. Then he will wonder who the Moors were, why they were banished, and what was the result to Spain of this act in which even his liberal and kindly author acquiesced. He will ask if antiquity had its romances and if any later novelists were indebted to Cervantes. The answer to the last query will bring him to Gil Blas in French literature and to the works of the great English romancers of the eighteenth century. Fielding will lead him to Thackeray, Smollett to Dickens, Dickens to Bret Harte, and Bret Harte to Kipling. If he reads Cervantes in English, he will have a choice of translations, and he will not fail to mark the enormous difference in language, literary style, and ideals of rendering between the three versions of Shelton in the seventeenth century, Motteux in the eighteenth, and Ormsby in the nineteenth. If, like many another, he becomes so interested in the great romance as to learn Spanish for the sake of coming into direct communication with his author, a whole new literature will be opened to him. Furthermore, in the cognate languages which a mastery of Spanish will make easy for him, a group of literatures will be placed at his command; and, while he began with Cervantes, who threw open for him the portals of the middle ages, we may leave him with Dante, looking before and after over all human achievement and destiny.

All this the student will not do in one term nor in one year, but he will have found himself in the library, he will have acquired a bond to culture that will not break as he steps out of his last recitation, that will not yield when time and distance have relegated his college friendships, with his lost youth, to the Eden or the Avilion of memory. And if afterwards he comes, with Emerson, to find the chief value of his college training in the ability it has given him to recognize its little avail, he will thus disparage it only in the spirit in which a more advanced student of an earlier day, looking back upon the stupendous revelations of his "Principia," likened them to so many pebbles or shells picked up on the shore of the illimitable ocean of knowledge.


Seldom have controversies brought out so much humor, on both sides, as that over the reform of English spelling, and few have excited so little interest in proportion to the energy expended. Both these results are due perhaps to the fact that the subject, from its very nature, does not admit of being made a burning question. Yet one has to look only a little way into it to see that important interests—educational, commercial, and possibly racial—are involved. Thus far the champions have been chiefly the newspapers for spelling as it is, and scholars and educators for spelling as it ought to be. But, in spite of the intelligence of the disputants, the discussion has been singularly insular and deficient in perspective. It would gain greatly in conclusiveness if spelling and its modifications were considered broadly and historically, not as peculiar to English, but as common to all languages, and involving common problems, which we are not the first to grapple with, but rather seem destined to be the last to solve.

As is usually the case in controversies, the chief obstacle to agreement is a lack of what the lawyers call a meeting of minds. The two sides are not talking about the same thing. The reformer has one idea of what spelling is; the public has another idea, which is so different that it robs the reformer's arguments of nearly all their force. The two ideas for which the same word is used are hardly more alike than mother of pearl and mother of vinegar. To the philologist spelling is the application of an alphabet to the words of a language, and an alphabet is merely a system of visible signs adapted to translate to the eye the sounds which make up the speech of the people. To the public spelling is part and parcel of the English language, and to tamper with it is to lay violent hands on the sacred ark of English literature. To the philologist an alphabet is not a thing in itself, but only a medium, and he knows many alphabets of all degrees of excellence. Among the latest formed is that which we use and call the Roman, but which, though it was taken from Italy, made its way back after a course of form development that carried it through Ireland, England, and Germany. This alphabet was originally designed for writing Latin, and, as English has more sounds than Latin, some of the symbols when applied to English have to do multiple duty; though this is the least of the complaints against our current spelling. In fact any inventive student of phonetics could in half an hour devise a better alphabet for English, and scores have been devised. But the Roman has the field, and no one dreams of advocating a new alphabet for popular use. Meanwhile, though the earliest English may have been written in Runic, and the Bibles which our Pilgrim fathers brought over were printed in Black-letter, still to the great English-reading public the alphabet of current books and papers is the only alphabet. Even this is a double alphabet, consisting as it does of capitals and small letters; and we have besides Italic, Black-letter, and Script, all in common use, all with double forms, and all differing greatly from one another. At best the Roman alphabet, though beautiful and practical, is not so beautiful as the Greek nor nearly so efficient for representing English sounds as the Cherokee syllabary invented by the half-breed, Sequoyah, is for representing the sounds of his mother tongue.

Let us now turn from the alphabet, which is the foundation of spelling, to spelling itself. Given a scientific alphabet, spelling, as a problem, vanishes; for there is only one possible spelling for any spoken word, and only one possible pronunciation for any written word. Both are perfectly easy, for there is no choice, and no one who knows the alphabet can make a mistake in either. But given a traditional alphabet encumbered with outgrown or impracticable or blundering associations, and spelling may become so difficult as to serve for a test or hallmark of scholarship. In French, for instance, the alphabet has drifted so far from its moorings that no one on hearing a new word spoken, if it contains certain sounds, can be sure of its spelling; though every one on seeing a new word written knows how to pronounce it. But in English our alphabet has actually parted the cable which held it to speech, and we know neither how to write a new word when we hear it nor how to pronounce one when we see it. Strangest of all, we have come, in our English insularity, to look on this as a matter of course. But Germans and Spaniards, Italians and Dutchmen, have no such difficulty and never have to turn to the dictionary to find out how to spell a word that they hear or how to pronounce a word that they see. For them spelling and speech are identical; all they have to make sure of is the standard pronunciation. They have done what we have neglected to do—developed the alphabet into an accurate phonetic instrument, and our neglect is costing us, throughout the English-speaking world, merely in dealing with silent letters, the incredible sum of a hundred million dollars a year.[5] Our neighbors look after the alphabet and the spelling looks after itself; if the pronunciation changes, the spelling changes automatically, and thus keeps itself always up to date.

But this happy result has not been brought about without effort, the same kind of effort that our reformers are now making for our benefit. In Swedish books printed only a hundred years ago we find words printed with the letters th in combination, like the word them, which had the same meaning, and originally the same pronunciation, as the English word. At that time, however, Swedes had long ceased to be able to pronounce the th, but they kept the letters just as we still keep the gh in brought and through, though for centuries no one who speaks only standard English has been able to sound this guttural. In the last century the Swedes reformed their spelling, and they now write the word as they pronounce it—dem. German spelling has passed through several stages of reform in recent decades and is now almost perfectly phonetic. Germans now write Brot and no longer Brod or Brodt. It must be frankly confessed that the derivation of some words is not so obvious to the eye as formerly. The appearance of the Swedish byra does not at once suggest the French bureau, which it exactly reproduces in sound. But Europeans think it more practical, if they cannot indicate both pronunciation and etymology in spelling, to relegate the less important to the dictionary. Much, to be sure, has been made of the assumed necessity of preserving the pedigree of our words in their spelling, but in many cases this is not done now. Who thinks of alms and eleemosynary as coming from the same Greek word? Scholars say that a complete phonetic spelling of English would actually restore to the eye as much etymology as it took away.

But the most deep-seated opposition to changing our current spelling arises from its association, almost identification, with English literature. If this objection were valid it would be final, for literature is the highest use of language, and if reformed spelling means the loss of our literature we should be foolish to submit to it. But at what point in the history of English literature would reformed spelling begin to work harm? Hardly before Shakespeare, for the spelling of Chaucer belongs to the grammatical stage of the language at which he wrote, and Spenser's spelling is more or less an imitation of it made with a literary purpose. Shakespeare and Milton, however, wrote substantially modern English, and they are therefore at the mercy of the spelling reformer—as they always have been. The truth is, Shakespeare's writings have been respelt by every generation that has reprinted them, and the modern spelling reformer would leave them at least as near to Shakespeare's spelling as our current spelling is. The poet himself made fun of his contemporaries who said det instead of debt, but what would he say of us who continue to write the word debt, though it has not been so pronounced for three hundred years? In old editions (and how fast editions grow old!) antiquated spelling is no objection, it is rather an attraction; but new, popular editions of the classics will be issued in contemporary spelling so long as the preservation of metre and rhyme permit. We still occasionally turn to the first folio of Shakespeare and to the original editions of Milton's poems to enjoy their antique flavor, and, in the latter case, to commune not only with a great poet, but also with a vigorous spelling reformer. Thus, whatever changes come over our spelling, standard old editions will continue to be prized and new editions to be in demand. But for the most part, though we might not readily understand the actual speech of Shakespeare and Milton, could we hear it, we like to treat them as contemporaries and read their works in our everyday spelling.

Our libraries, under spelling reform, will become antiquated, but only a little faster than they are now doing and always have done. Readers who care for a book over ten years old are few in number and will not mind antiquated spelling in the future any more than they do now. The printer, therefore, must not flatter himself with the prospect of a speedy reprinting of all the English classics in the new spelling. English is certain to have some day as scientific a spelling as German, but the change will be spread over decades and will be too gradual to affect business appreciably. On the other hand, he need not fear any loss to himself in the public's gain of the annual hundred million dollar tax which it now pays for the luxury of superfluous letters. Our printer's bills in the future will be as large as at present, but we shall get more for our money.

It will indeed be to the English race a strange world in which the spelling book ends with the alphabet; in which there is no conflict of standards except as regards pronunciation; in which two years of a child's school life are rescued from the needless and applied to the useful; in which the stenographer has to learn not two systems of spelling, but only two alphabets; in which the simplicity and directness of the English language, which fit it to become a world language, will not be defeated by a spelling that equals the difficulty of German grammar; in which the blundering of Dutch printers, like school, false etymologies, like rhyme, and French garnishes, as in tongue, no longer make the judicious grieve; and in which the fatal gift of bad spelling, which often accompanies genius, will no longer be dependent upon the printer to hide its orthographic nakedness from a public which, if it cannot always spell correctly itself, can always be trusted to detect and ridicule bad spelling. But it is a world which the English race will some day have, and which we may begin to have here and now if we will.


That searching analyst of the soul, Edgar Allan Poe, found among the springs of human nature the quality of perverseness, the disposition to do wrong because it is wrong; in reality, however, Poe's Imp of the Perverse is active far beyond the boundaries of the human soul; his disturbances pervade the whole world, and nowhere are they more noticeable than in the printing office. This is so because elsewhere, when things fall out contrary to rule, the result may often be neutral or even advantageous; but in the printing office all deviations, or all but a minute fraction, are wrong. They are also conspicuous, for, though the standard is nothing less than perfection, the ordinary human eye is able to apply the standard. These tricks of the malicious imp are commonly called "misprints," "printer's errors," "errors of the press," or, more impartially, "errata" or "corrigenda." In the first three names there is a tinge of unfairness, because the printer is by no means responsible for all the mistakes that appear in type. The author is usually partly to blame and may be chiefly; yet when he suffers a lapse of memory or knowledge, he usually passes it off as a "printer's error." Sometimes the author's handwriting may mislead the printer, but when so good a biblical scholar as Mr. Gladstone wrote of Daniel in the fiery furnace, there was no possibility that the single name could have stood in his manuscript for the names of the three men whose trial is mentioned in the book of Daniel. Even here the submission of proof fixes the final responsibility on the author. But, quite apart from the responsibility for them, the mistakes embalmed in type are among the most interesting of all literary curiosities.

Misprints—to use the handiest term—range in importance from the innocent and obvious, like a turned a, and the innocent and obvious only to the expert, like a turned s, to a turned n, which may be mistaken for a u, or the change or omission of a punctuation mark, which may involve claims to thousands of dollars. Even the separation of one word into two may reverse the meaning of the sentence, yet not betray itself by any oddity of phrase, as when the atheist who had asserted that "God is nowhere" found himself in print standing sponsor for the statement that "God is now here." The same trick of the types was played on an American political writer in his own paper regarding his pet reform, which he meant to assert was "nowhere in existence." The earliest printed books were intended to be undistinguishable from manuscripts, but occasionally a turned letter betrayed them absolutely. In the same way the modern newspaper now and then introduces an unintentional advertisement of the linotype by presenting to its readers a line upside down. Another trick is the mixing of two paragraphs, which sometimes occurs even in books. The most famous instance of this blunder is probably that which happened in the English "Men of the Time" for 1856, and which led to a serious lawsuit against the publishers. The printer had mixed the biographies of the Bishop of Oxford and Robert Owen the Socialist in such a way that Bishop Wilberforce was called "a sceptic as it regards religious revelation." The mistake occurred in locking up the forms. Doubtless both biographies had been approved by their subjects, but apparently no proof was read after the fatal telescoping of the two articles.

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