The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Modern Books Part 6

The chief factors which influence the appearance of a printed page are the design of the type and its arrangement upon the page. The ideal type for a book that is intended to be read should be so designed that the act of reading may be as nearly as possible unconscious. It should have a reposeful but sufficiently firm effect, carrying the eye smoothly along without any distracting features. The letters should so occupy the spaces allotted to them that they lose their individuality and combine closely into compact words; any characteristic which produces a thorny or dazzling effect should be ruthlessly suppressed. Many of the types of special design exhibit some eccentricity, often in but one letter, which attracts attention and mars the general appearance. The lower case' e' is a frequent sinner in this respect by reason of the angle at which the cross-bar is tilted; and the tail of 'g' is a troublesome problem. It would be invidious to exemplify these weaknesses, but those who have examined these types will readily recall instances. The preponderating use of roman type is evidence of its superiority for general purposes. Most modern founts of this letter follow either the Caslon or the Jenson model. The former has the long letters taU in proportion to the body of the type, and this gives the lines a more open appearance than in the Jenson style, which usually has a larger faced character with less difference in height between long and short letters, and the lines thus seem closer together. Among new roman founts of recent years the Riccardi type is particularly harmonious and restful, while its firmness and directness of design make it pleasantly legible. But for the weakness of the figures, and an irritating punctuation mark-a hybrid between a hyphen and a dash-which appears intended for a pause but looks like a hesitation, this type would seem weUnigh perfect of its kind.

The appearance of a printed page is also largely affected by the size of the type, the distance between the lines, and the spacing between the words. In the early part of the nineteenth century a comparatively small-faced type with a liberal amount of space between the lines was in favor. A century later the tendency is to the other extreme, and we now frequently see a large-faced type, the lines set closely together, and narrow spacing between the words. Occasionally, the customary breathing space after a full stop is so contracted that the break is hardly greater than between the words of the sentence; and, sometimes, even the paragraph is abolished, and, instead, a small ornament is inserted in the line at the point where a new paragraph should begin. All this may produce an artistic effect, preserve 'the colour of the page,' and so forth; but it is fatiguing and tiresome to read.