Reading about S.M. is tremendous fun

Posted on 24 August 2010 in:

A few weeks ago, Claus Eggers Sørensen tweeted about purchasing a used copy of James Moran’s Stanley Morison: His typographic achievement (1971). Anyone who wants to bring about my financial ruin should just pretend to order all sorts of books on the Internet, and then tweet about them. Following the old monkey see, monkey do principle, I am sure to begin shopping for them myself.

To Claus’s credit, Moran’s Morison is the best book that I have read all year. By “best book,” I mean that it is rip-roaringly entertaining. Who would have though that S.M.’s life would have so many laugh-out-loud moments? I heartily recommend following Claus’s—and my own—example; purchase a copy of this book for your own libraries, dear readers. Morison (1971) is not an expensive item, and it is worth at least triple for every penny that you’ll put down for it.

There are several quotable passages in the book, especially if you are a fan of S.M.’s Jesuit-style wardrobe and/or personality. I would have preferred more insight into his 1920s travels through Germany. For instance, Moran writes on page 82 that, “[Morison] was mostly made welcome, but the brothers Klingspor would not let him into their typefoundry just after the war because he was an enemy.” When was this Offenbach visit exactly? From the book’s timeline, it would seem to have taken place in 1922, which is a bit later than “just after the war.” I assume that the Klingspors were unaware that Morison, as an objector to the war, had been imprisoned toward its end.

However, my favorite bit of the book may be found on pages 93–94, where Moran explains part of the impetus behind the “program” of typeface revivals at Monotype during the interwar period:

…startling changes were not to be expected at the Monotype Corporation, and it was not until Morison became typographical adviser to the University Press, Cambridge in 1925 that opposition to the cutting of new types began to recede. It was perhaps just as well for posterity that Morison had been offered only a part-time appointment with Monotype, and was able to take on an additional one at Cambridge. As a full-time employee of Monotype he would have suffered even more frustration than he did, and little would have been achieved.

Morison needed outside support to convince the Monotype staff. A certain amount was forthcoming, not from printers, but from publishers, including Francis Meynell, who had founded the Nonesuch Press. Meynell induced the Corporation to improve various Plantin characters, and to add others such as tied sorts, thus helping to create the situation where outside suggestions were accepted as normal. If only publishers would express a desire for new faces, and if their printers could be persuaded to use them in books, opposition within Monotype would crumble. Morison set himself the task of winning the publishers, for which he was well placed, as he was working for several.

More books like this one, please!

Mentioned in this article

Moran, James, Stanley Morison: Hist typographic achievement. London: Lund Humphries (1971).