Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 03.djvu/371

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Baskerville
Baskerville
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type offend the patience of a reader more sensibly than the innovations I have already censured.’ William Bowyer, too, thought poorly of the Greek letter. A correspondent of the ‘European Magazine’ for December 1785 praises the ink and paper, but objects that the ‘type was thicker than usual in the thick strokes and finer in the fine, and was sharpened in the angles in a novel manner; all these combined gave his editions a rich look,’ but continued reading fatigued the eye. Since that date the feeling has changed to one of almost boundless admiration. ‘The typography of Baskerville,’ says Dibdin, ‘is eminently beautiful. … He united in a singularly happy manner the elegance of Plantin with the clearness of the Elzevirs. … He seems to have been extremely curious in the choice of his paper and ink: the former being in general the fruit of Dutch manufacture, and the latter partaking of a peculiarly soft lustre, bordering on purple. In his italic letter, whether capital or small, I think he stands unrivalled; such elegance, freedom, and perfect symmetry being in vain to be looked for among the specimens of Aldus and Colinæus’ (Introd. to the Classics, ii. 556). Another expert informs us that his method of presswork was to have ‘a constant succession of hot plates of copper ready, between which, as soon as printed (aye, as they were discharged from the tympan), the sheets were inserted; the wet was thus expelled, the ink set, and the trim glossy surface put on all simultaneously. … This work will, in my opinion, bear a comparison, even to its advantage, with those subsequently executed by the first typographer of our age’ (Hansard, Typographia, p. 311). The secret of making good ink had been lost in England for two centuries until Baskerville's experiments. His recipe is given by Hansard (op. cit. p. 723). An authority of our own day says: ‘Every book was a masterpiece; a gem of typographic art. Baskerville's type was remarkably clear and elegant. His paper was of a very fine thick quality, but rather yellow in colour. His ink had a rich purple-black tint, and the uniformity of colour throughout his books testifies to the care taken in printing every sheet’ (Printers' Register, 6 Jan. 1876). We learn from Chambers that the name of the workman who executed the types was John Handy; he died 24 Jan. 1793.

The most graphic description of Baskerville we possess comes from the pen of another remarkable Birmingham citizen. ‘In private life,’ says Hutton, ‘he was a humorist; idle in the extreme, but his invention was of the true Birmingham model, active. He could well design, but procured others to execute; whenever he found merit, he caressed it. He was remarkably polite to the stranger, fond of shew; a figure rather of the smaller size, and delighted to adorn that figure with gold lace. During the twenty-five years I knew him, though in the decline of life, he retained the singular traces of a handsome man. If he exhibited a peevish temper, we may consider good nature and intense thinking are not always found together. Taste accompanied him through the different walks of agriculture, architecture, and the finer arts. Whatever passed through his fingers bore the lively marks of John Baskerville’ (History of Birmingham, p. 197). ‘I was acquainted with Baskerville, the printer, but cannot wholly agree with the extracts concerning him, from Hutton's “History of Birmingham,”’ objects the anonymous correspondent of the ‘European Magazine’ (December 1785) already quoted. ‘It is true he was very ingenious in mechanics, but it is also well known he was extremely illiterate, and his jokes and sarcasms on the Bible, with which his conversation abounded, showed the most contemptible ignorance of Eastern history and manners, and indeed of everything. His quarto edition of Milton's “Paradise Lost,” with all its splendour, is a deep disgrace to the English press’ on account of its misprints. Archdeacon Nares wrote in a book on epitaphs: ‘I heard John Wilkes, after praising Baskerville, add “But he was a terrible infidel; he used to shock me”’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 203). If his atheism shocked Wilkes, it may have been because it was too mild; this ‘terrible infidel,’ however, printed three bibles, nine common prayers, two psalm-books, and two Greek testaments. He is said to have been illiterate, yet his letters are certainly not those of an uneducated person. At the commencement of his career he announced: ‘It is not my desire to print many books; but such only as are books of consequence, of intrinsic merit, or established reputation.’ When we recollect that he only worked for sixteen or seventeen years, producing but few works in the time, and these chiefly at his own risk, and that they included the writings of Milton, Addison, Congreve, Shaftesbury, Ariosto, Virgil, Juvenal, Horace, Catullus, Tibullus and Propertius, Lucretius, Terence, Sallust, and Florus, Baskerville can scarcely be looked upon as a man without taste and judgment in literature. His social virtues were considerable—a good son, an affectionate father and kinsman, polite and hospitable to strangers—he was entirely without the jealousy commonly ascribed to the artist and inventor. Birmingham has contributed many distinguished men to the industrial armies of England; but there are few of whom she has