War and Type
As fascinating as exposure times, square vs round dots, and various
types of scotch tape may be, I feel a hankering to tell a war story.
Nothing to offend the Americans or the British in their recent
exertions -- after all this is a type forum.
I wonder how many know that our hallowed Stanley Morison told a ripping
war yarn in the Preface to "Black-Letter Text" (Cambridge, 1942). He
was preparing a long work on the evolution of gothic lettering, a type
style by that time pretty much restricted to Germany, when the
Luftwaffe blew up the better part of his research notes in a London air
raid. Does the word "irony" need to be stated in the context?
He hastily published what remained of his studies for fear that the
little left would be destroyed in the war, and to that essay he
prefaced the description of a night's events and fires that I quote
from below. I edit much because the topic is far from the usual
preoccupations of this group, but not so much that it loses its power.
I was so struck by its vividness that it served to increase my respect
for Morison's talents.
"Early in May  it pleased the Luftwaffe to effect the most
spectacular and destructive of all the air raids that had taken place
over London since the war began. . . . The raid began at 11 p.m. on
Saturday; hundreds of planes were in it. It lasted until dawn on Sunday
morning. Dozens, counting the d.a.'s, of high-explosives, and scores of
fire-bombs swished over the house before, at 1.45 a.m., it shook
violently. I was half in bed, trying to read, at the time. I knew well
enough what was the matter. A furious banging on the front door
confirmed that the place was on fire. I opened the door to a group of 3
volunteer fire fighters; Mr. R. and I, joining them, charged up the 5
flights of pitch black stairs to the very top of the house. A
magificent glow from the huge fires to the right and left met us; and,
at close range, as fierce a belch of flame as I have encountered. With
pumps and pail the 5 of us managed to put the flames out. The
volunteers went off to other fires. But our fire, the cunning enemy,
was not out as it pretended, and we thought. Fresh smoke gave its game
away. Twice again was the bath filled, and twice again the pump and
pail brought back; twice again the burnt rafters we had saturated to
soft pulp were dried into brittle crust; twice again it burst at new
places into new flame, helped by the wind. . . .
Straddled . . . on the roof, at a good height, and facing the Park
directly, we had a fine view of the spectacle to the north, south and
west. It was a sight of the greatest splendour, but unspeakably and
unforgettably grim and sickening to one whose whole life had been spent
in London, and who had been familiar with this very district since his
earliest years; and from the age of six, had admired Nash's terraces.
Several had already been ruined. It was our turn. . . . Great Beacons,
too, lit Marylebone Road and Baker Street; ablaze were Oxford Street
and Gt Portland Street. . . . Our great A.A. guns booming with but the
shortest of intervals, the incessant drone of the bombers, the tearing
shriek of the bombs as they hurtled through the air; the thud and
tremor of their explosions, the crackle of collapsing timber and the
crash of masonry, combined, with the bells of fire engines and the
shouts of firemen, to challenge at the same moment all one's senses of
sight and hearing with one deafening and continuous roar and a dull
acrid smell—the whole in the midst of the blazing surroundings. . . .
[In the morning he goes to his own apartment a little way away.]
I slept for a couple of hours. Going to No. 10, I found that my flat
was still burning. The draught let in by my opening the door [earlier]
fanned a pair of handwoven curtains into a beautiful flame. The
illumination opened to my view a confused mass of burnt carpet, broken
glass, lime and plaster from the ceilings, upturned book cases; the
whole sodden with torrents of water still descending from the roof and
upper floors. Three rooms of my flat, with all their contents, had
disappeared as if they had never been. Everything had fallen into a
vast cavity burnt out in the back basement, some thirty feet below. .
. My run (to the last livraison) of Leclerq and Cabrol's Dictionnaire,
Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, a set of liturgical
books, together with collections on the history of printing and of
journalism had been destroyed . . . . Works larger than folio which
were not in the rooms I was able to save. . . . Dozens of octavos and
quartos had already been badly scorched and then soaked; the vellum
leaves of the Canon of the Mass in Stuchs' Benedictine Missal (Leipzig,
1501) were congealed; the leather binding of Louis XIV's folio
Médailles of 1702 was ruined. Much good stuff was done for. . . .
The finished chapters and all the illustrations and material for the
'Harvard' book [the planned work mentioned above] went in another fire
at the same time in another place, thought safe, a mile or two away.
That, too, must have been a fine fire. . . . I managed to rescue some
good things, including copies of Yciar, Lucas, and a fine De Aetna."
Since Gerald is keeping us abreast of the origin of life, I'm not
ashamed to submit this to the group.
Cheers, Michael Barnes, Vancouver
This surely makes appropriate a citing of Richard de Bury's (1287-1345) _Philobiblon_
"...In sooth we cannot mourn with the grief that they deserve all the various books that have perished by the fate of war in various parts of the world...."
Thanks for the story. Good to keep these things in mind...
PS, I'm sorry to say I won't be in Vancouver this fall for the upcoming ATypI conference, but I'm sure it will be highly engaging and filled with interesting typofanatics ;-) (www.atypi.org)
At 8:42 PM -0700 2003-09-08, Michael Barnes wrote:
>As fascinating as exposure times, square vs round dots, and various
>types of scotch tape may be, I feel a hankering to tell a war story.
>Nothing to offend the Americans or the British in their recent
>exertions -- after all this is a type forum.
>I wonder how many know that our hallowed Stanley Morison told a ripping
>war yarn in the Preface to "Black-Letter Text" (Cambridge, 1942). He
>was preparing a long work on the evolution of gothic lettering, a type
>style by that time pretty much restricted to Germany, when the
>Luftwaffe blew up the better part of his research notes in a London air
>raid. Does the word "irony" need to be stated in the context?
>He hastily published what remained of his studies for fear that the
>little left would be destroyed in the war, and to that essay he
>prefaced the description of a night's events and fires that I quote
>from below. I edit much because the topic is far from the usual
>preoccupations of this group, but not so much that it loses its power.
>I was so struck by its vividness that it served to increase my respect
>for Morison's talents.
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