Friday, March 6, 2015

Daniel Berkeley Updike on style

Daniel Berkeley Updike (1860–1941) was a printer and historian of typography. Marianne Moore quotes him in her 1948 talk “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto,” given to the Grolier Club:

Daniel Berkeley Updike has always seemed to me a phenomenon of eloquence because of the quiet objectiveness of his writing. And what he says of printing applies equally to poetry. It is true, is it not, that “style does not depend upon decoration, but rather on proportion and simplicity”? Nor can we dignify confusion by calling it baroque. Here, I may say, I am preaching to myself, since, when I am as complete as I like to be, I seem unable to get an effect plain enough.
Here is the Updike passage from which Moore quotes, from In the Day’s Work (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924):
Any one can place a great red decorated initial upon a page to dazzle the beholder into a momentary liking for the effect. But to produce an agreeable and pleasing page simply by proportion of margins, type, etc., is a matter which requires study, experience, and taste. It appears, therefore, that, as some of the most beautiful books are without decoration, style does not depend upon decoration, but rather on proportion and simplicity.
Updike, as I now know, printed some Grolier Club publications. And the Grolier Club is now exhibiting books printed by Aldus Manutius, one of Updike’s favorite printers. From In the Day’s Work:
The earliest printers were often learned men, and yet perhaps their contemporaries thought that they took themselves too seriously. But what they took seriously was not themselves, but their work. They were educated enough and independent enough to hold to certain ideals. If Aldus had watered down his manner of printing and continually varied his types to suit other people’s views, he would never have been heard of. None the less, the heads of contemporary Italian uncles and aunts were sadly shaken, perhaps, and friends of the family were seriously distressed. We remember the types and books of Aldus still; but the names of these “wise and prudent” are forgotten.
“Aldine” was the joking adjective that described my great friend Aldo Carrasco. As English majors and part-time residents of the Renaissance, Aldo and other friends and I knew of course about Aldus and the Aldine Press. I referred to “the Aldine approach to friendship” in a post reproducing one of Aldo’s telexes. So: Moore to Updike to Grolier to Aldus to Aldo. It sounds like a complex triple play. And Moore was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. See? Everything connects.

[Thanks, interlibrary loan.]

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