A Window Between Reader and Author

Beatrice Warde, The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography (London: Sylvan Press, 1955), pp. 15-17:

The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author’s words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvellous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called ‘fine printing’ today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it. The type which, through any arbitrary warping of design or excess of ‘colour’, gets in the way of the mental picture to be conveyed, is a bad type. Our subconsciousness is always afraid of blunders (which illogical setting, tight spacing and too-wide unleaded lines can trick us into), of boredom, and of officiousness. The running headline that keeps shouting at us, the line that looks like one long word, the capitals jammed together without hair-spaces — these mean subconscious squinting and loss of mental focus….

Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself; you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The ‘stunt typographer’ learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

Hans Thomas, Blick auf den Holzhausenpark (1883)

Highly Speculative Work

Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp. 320-322:

The publication of translations is highly speculative, much more so than the publication of an original work, because there are in effect two authors to pay instead of one, and both, as a rule, call for immediate payment and are unable or unwilling to let their remuneration depend upon the result. Foreign authors and publishers who have heard of the wonderful sales of some particular translated book are apt to have the most fantastic ideas of the value of the English translation rights, and if the word “America” is breathed, I have known foreign publishers name a figure for which one would think they would be pleased to sell their whole business. Even twenty years ago, translation rights were almost invariably sold for a small lump sum; to-day the most impossible royalties are asked. Probably the fairest plan to both parties is a lump sum for a definite number of copies with a royalty thereafter. It would seem to be clear that if a royalty is granted from the start, it should only be a proportion of what would be paid for an original work. In other words, there is no justification for paying a foreign author plus a translator more than would be paid for a corresponding work by an English author. This sounds obvious, but one constantly encounters publishers (American publishers in particular) who in the same breath admit that they cannot afford more than 10 per cent, royalty for a work by an unknown writer, and that they have just agreed to pay 10 per cent, for some translation rights of a work by an author of whom few people have ever heard. They seem oblivious of the fact that by the time they have paid the translator they are probably paying the equivalent of 20 per cent, for authorship. One such publisher recently admitted to me that he had never yet made any money on translations. I am afraid he never will.

Georg Friedrich Kersting, Lesender bei Lampenlicht (1814)

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