Although expedition is a most desirable qualification in a compositor, yet alone it is far from constituting a good workman: and the man who possesses no other claims to the title will be found competent to little more than setting reprints, in which no judgment is required, and where he has only to arrange letter for letter, point for point, and line for line; on which employment he may whistle, sing, talk, or laugh, without inconvenience to himself; for the process being merely mechanical, and the mind not being occupied in the smallest degree, if he make a mistake of a word, it will be detected at the end of the line; or, if there be a double, or an out, of lines, either will be detected when the page is finished.
How difierent is the case with the man who is anxious to deserve the title of a good workman, and to maintain it: in his youth he has been equally desirous with the other to acquire expedition; and, having attained it, he has felt that other requisites were necessary; — he has read, to obtain information — he has examined the best workmanship, as specimens for his guidance — he endeavours to compose accurately — he is careful and uniform in his spacing — he justifies his lines to an equal tightness — he divides his words, when necessary to divide them, correctly, and with a regard to appearance — and when occasional bits of rule work occur, they are marked by a degree of neatness in being cut to precise lengths, and in the corners fitting with precision — in all the work that passes through his hands, there appear the marks of attention and skill.
When a master printer undertakes a work which requires more than ordinary care, and is difficult to execute, the superiority of the man who has endeavoured to improve himself is evident: he is selected to perform it; and he then feels the advantage of his perseverance. At work upon a difficult subject, with an ill written manuscript, his first proofs show him equal to the task — his arrangements of the matter are judicious his punctuation is correct — when particular sorts are to be justified, they are done with accuracy — when an accented letter is required that cannot be procured in a single type, he makes it with neatness — and when his proof returns from the reader, he will frequently correct it in as little time, as a slovenly compositor will require to correct a proof of a similar size, that is a reprint.
The results to'the slovenly and the good compositor are very different. The first is only employed during a flush of work; when that ceases, he has to seek fresh employment; perhaps does not meet with any for some weeks; again obtains a temporary engagement; and thus continues, till old age approaches, and he is rendered incapable of working. The good workman, on the contrary, is prized by his employer, especially if the latter be a workman himself, and a man of judgment. He is looked up to by his fellow-workmen; his situation is permanent, if he choose; his abilities qualify him to be a reader, and if his mind lead him that way, he may obtain such a situation. His knowledge and his merit fit him to become the overseer of a large house; where he has many advantages, and where he continues with credit to himself: unless, perhaps, he chooses to commence business on his own account, which is frequently done, when he invariably obtains the countenance and support of those who have witnessed his skill, his knowledge, his attention, and his industry.
There is another class of compositors who neither possess much skill; nor are very expeditious: I mean such as are of a sober, steady habit. These are useful men in an office where there is a number of reprints; they go on from year to year in a regular routine, and never step out of it: the employer can always depend on them for a regular amount of work, if they have sufficient employment.
There are too many, both good and bad workmen, who lose their time in drinking, gaming, and other vicious and idle pursuits: such persons pay doubly for their dissipation, for they squander the fruits of their earnings, and cut off the source of supply, by neglecting their employment. These men will never be employed in any respectable printing office, where they are known, except on a temporary engagement in a case of emergency. They introduce strife and discord wherever they are, and frequently lead astray the inexperienced youth: they disregard equally instruction and advice, and are not awakened to a sense of their condition, till the most severe lessons in this world are unitedly experienced — old age, poverty, and contempt.
The mere art of picking up letters, and arranging them in the composing stick, is looked upon by many compositors as constituting the whole of their business; who in consequence think that if they can succeed in picking letters up with facility, they become first-rate workmen; and the terms “Swifts,” and "Fire Eaters,“ by which expeditious compositors are designated in a printing office, gratify their vanity.
It is not necessary to give specific rules, and a minute description, of the manner of picking up each letter, because it is impossible for them to hold good, the letters lying in every possible direction. A few general rules may suffice — to take up the letter at that end where the face is — if the nick be not upwards, to turn it upwards in its progress to the composing-stick — to convey it to the line in the composing stick with as few motions as possible — to aim at no flourishes with the hand, which only lose time.
I would advise an inexperienced youth, when he comes to work among a number of men, to observe the manner of one of the best and quickest compositors: he will, perhaps, at first conclude that he is looking at a very slow workman, for the first appearance is fallacious; but when he examines more closely he will find his mistake, for what he at first took for slowness is the true principle of expedition; he will perceive no false motion, which invariably delays progress; the fingers go to one particular letter, take it up, convey it to the line direct, while the eye is directed to another letter which the fingers convey in the same manner to the line; thus letter after letter accumulate to words, lines, and pages, with a quickness that looks like magic, while to the spectator it seems to be only the pace of the tortoise.
Let him look at another; there appears all bustle, all expedition; the body and head in continual motion; the hand so quick in its evolutions, that he gazes with astonishment on the apparent rapidity of arranging the letters: let him look again with more attention, and he will find that the man whom he supposed so slow makes no mistake, loses no time, but continues steadily and uniformly making progress: while the other frequently misses taking hold of his letter; then makes two or three flourishes with his hand and his head before he takes hold of another; and then his hand continues dancing and see-sawing, and after three or four of such motions, made with great rapidity, the letter is finally deposited in the line. This manner of lifting the letters is in reality the pace of the tortoise, although it has the appearance of the speed of the hare.
Regularity of spacing, and a due proportion of distance between words, contribute in a material degree to improve the appearance of a book.
When the lines are very short, or the type very large in proportion to their length, all general rules, both of dividing and spacing, must give way to necessity; for in such cases it is impossible at all times to space regularly, or to divide the words correctly.
There is a great diversity of opinion with respect to spacing; some authors and printers choosing to have the words wide apart, and others, on the contrary, preferring to have them nearly close together; the one, requiring an en quadrat, or two thick spaces, and the other, a thin space only, between the words. Both of these, in my opinion, go to an extreme: I prefer using a thick space generally, and justifying with thinner and hair spaces; so that there will rarely be a necessity for any violent inequality in the distance of the words from each other.
When a work is double leaded, or has reglet between the lines, it requires to be wider spaced than when it is solid: in the two first cases, two middling spaces, or a thick and a thin space, will not be too much; in the latter, a thick space will be quite sufficient. And it is necessary to attend to these circumstances; for printing that is open does not harmonize when close spaced, any more than solid matter does when wide spaced, which makes it look full of pigeon holes; for the distance between the words should bear some proportion to the distance between the lines.
When one or two letters require to be got in, or to be driven out, the difference between a thick space and a middling one is not perceptible to the eye, particularly if the compositor is careful to place the latter before or after a v or w, after a comma that comes before a v or w, or after a y; and, in like manner, an additional hair space will not be perceptible if it come after an f, or before a j; or if it come between db, dh, dk, dl, lb, lh, lk, or ll.
The most expeditious mode of regular spacing, perhaps, is to take the spaces as they rise; for there being in the box only three sorts, the thin and the hair spaces being in separate boxes, there will not be any violent disproportion if the line should be full at the first; and the slight disproportion may be easily remedied by changing the situation of two or three: if the line should not be quite full, then the introduction of a few thin spaces will equalise the distances; or the substitution of a few thick spaces for middling ones will have the same effect.
In setting a line of capitals, a careful workman will pay attention to the bearing off of different letters, for many of them when they fall together stand as if there were a space between them, and produce a bad effect: to remedy this inequality, hair spaces, or bits of paper, are required between those letters that stand close. The inequality is still greater in many instances in a line of Italic capitals, and of course requires the same remedy.
It would be desirable, and would tend to facilitate regular spacing, if there were a greater number of hair spaces cast to a fount than is now the case.
In poetry, the size of the type and the measure are usually so arranged as to admit the longest line to come into the measure, without having occasion to turn it: an opportunity is thus allowed for regular spacing, which is generally done with thick spaces. When a work in poetry is commenced, it is usual for the compositor to divide his space box up the middle with a piece of reglet, or with a piece of thin wood, made to fit tight, and to assort his thick spaces on one side, and the thinner on the other, to save time and trouble in picking them out.
As the measure for poetry is sometimes made as narrow as will conveniently allow the regular lines to come in, both to save quadrats, and also to lessen the price of composing, it not unfrequently happens that a line containing long syllables will not admit of thick spaces; in this case, the usual practice is to space close, and get in the line if possible, even with hair spaces, for turning it is attended with inconveniences; the page must be made up short, or long, to preserve the couplets, and it affects the next page, in preventing the stanzas backing each other.
A compositor will always find it advantageous to justify his lines to an equal tightness; and of this he must be sensible when he has to lock up his form: if he have been careless in this instance he will experience a loss of time and find a difficulty in getting his form to lift; and when it does lift, by means of sticking his bodkin into quadrats and spaces to tighten those lines that are slack, it will never be safe; for it is more than probable that many letters will draw out at press, and cause errors in that sheet, (for pressmen are generally careless how they replace a letter that has drawn, and, when it is discovered, they are satisfied if they put it into the right word,) the pressmen scold the compositor, who also, if he be working in a companionship, and should not be the last in the sheet, gets scolded by the compositor who has to lock up the forms, for his carelessness, and for the additional trouble which it causes.
I would avoid having a lower case f at the end of a line; for, being a kerned letter, the dot at the end of the curve is almost sure to be broken off while the sheet is being worked at press.
It is not possible to give particular rules for justifying all the sorts that occur in many works, and that are not in a printing office: — for a Ç it will be necessary to cut away the shank to the bottom of the face of the letter, and justify a figure of 5 with the top back dash cut off; a long , , or any other letter, must be cut away to the upper part of the letter, and a small lower case 1, with the fine lines cut away, fixed flat above; a short may be made by taking the bottom of an o; and ñ by cutting the front of a small a away, and laying it lengthways; ŵ and ŷ by inverting a lower case v, after cutting away the cross lines, and making the thick line equal to the fine one with a sharp knife.
Cutting away the shank allows the additional part to stand close to the face of the letter, which improves the appearance. In some instances it will be necessary to cut part of a lead away above the letter, and justify the addition in the vacancy. The compositor should, by all means, be careful to justify every sort that is added so tight as to prevent it from drawing out at press; but not so tight, as to force the words above and below out of line; in fact, they ought to be so managed as, when justified to the letter, to form unitedly its regular body in depth when it is practicable.
The compositor should also be careful to proportion the size of the accent or mark to be justified to the size of the letter, that there may be no disproportion between them.
I would recommend to every compositor when he goes to a fresh house, where it is likely he may work some time, to ascertain what founts are in the house, with the two line letters, blacks, flowers, &c.: this knowledge will give him facilities, and enable him to compose a title, or a job, with less sacrifice of time, than if he were not acquainted with the materials contained in the office.