Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Charles Dickens on print and printers

A note in Edgar Rosenberg's Norton Critical Edition of Great Expectations led me to look up Charles Dickens's address to an anniversary meeting of the Printers' Pension Society, April 6, 1864. Dickens begins:

I do not know whether my feelings are exceptional, but I have a distinct recollection (in my early days at school, when under the dominion of an old lady, who to my mind ruled the world with the birch) of feeling an intense disgust with printers and printing. I thought the letters were printed and sent there to plague me, and I looked upon the printer as my enemy. When I was taught to say my prayers I was told to pray for my enemies, and I distinctly remember praying especially for the printer as my greatest enemy. I never now see a row of large, black, fat, staring Roman capitals, but this reminiscence rises up before me. . . .

But this feeling of dislike to the printer altogether disappeared from the time I saw my own name in print. I now feel gratified at looking at the jolly letter O, the crooked S, with its full benevolent turns, the curious G, and the Q with its comical tail, that first awoke in me a sense of the humourous. The printer and myself are, and have been for some time, inseparable companions.
Dickens closes by paying tribute to the printer's role in "press[ing] the tyrants and humbugs off the face of the earth":
The printer is the friend of intelligence, of thought; he is the friend of liberty, of freedom, of law; indeed, the printer is the friend of every man who is the friend of order; the friend of every man who can read. Of all inventions, of all the discoveries in science or art, of all the great results in the wonderful progress of mechanical energy and skill, the printer is the only product of civilization necessary to the existence of free man.

The Speeches of Charles Dickens, ed. K.J. Fielding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960), 323–324, 325, 325.
Founded in 1827, the Printers' Pension Society was supporting seventy-six pensioners in 1864. Dickens earlier addressed the Society in 1843.

comments: 2

Nandkishor J. Muley, said...

As a printer, on this World Printers' Day I am sincerely Thankful to Great thinking about PRINTER by a stalwart, Charles Dickens. He has really and exactly narrated printers fraternity. This is I am forwarding since last twenty years as a "quotation" to our colleagues. I also tried it to translate the quote in Marathi, our Mother Tongue, which gives a proud filling for their profession !!
Thanks !!

Nandkishor J. Muley,

Michael Leddy said...

Nandkishor, I’m happy that this passage from Dickens was here for you to find. Happy World Printers’ Day!