23 January 2010

Regicide, Baptism & Finger Pointing

One of my recent bookhounding expeditions in the local library turned up an interesting seventeenth-century volume by Henry D’Anvers entitled A Treatise of Baptism, wherein that of Believers, and that of Infants, is examined by the Scriptures … Second Edition with Large Additions. It was printed in 1674 for Francis Smith at the Elephant and Castle near the Royal Exchange in Cornhil, London.

D’Anvers’ book is one of a flurry of diatribes on the subject of baptism published in England during the seventeenth century, when tensions between Catholics and Protestants, and between the established church and the non-conformists, were running particularly high. The Parliament of England, you’ll recall, had recently defeated and executed Charles I during the English Civil War and established a short-lived Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. By 1660, the Stuart monarchy was restored under Charles II. This turbulant period also saw the publication of such works as John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684). But I digress.

D’Anvers’ second edition of A Treatise of Baptism was published in response to Obed Wills’s frankly titled Infant Baptism Asserted and Vindicated by Scripture and Antiquity: In Answer To a Treatise of Baptism lately published by Mr. Henry Danvers: Together with a full Detection of his Misrepresentation of divers Councils and Authors, both Ancient and Modern. With a just censure of his Essay to Palliate the horrid Actings of the Anabaptists in Germany, which was printed the year previous for Jonathan Robinson at the Golden Lyon in St. Paul’s Church-yard. (Clearly, the house of Robinson did not include its marketing director in the ‘book title’ meetings.)

As I was saying, I came upon this copy of D’Anvers’ A Treatise of Baptism on a trolly of books waiting to be re-shelved in the special collections room at the library. It isn’t exactly a pretty book, but it is a skillfully made one which no doubt represents competent printing of the period. Non-conformist Protestants, then as now, tend to have a disinclination toward ornamentation. Yet this book did have a number of decorative elements. The blackletter-style type used for its headers, for example. I was particularly interested in the use of sidenotes as a navigational feature: A School-Boy Baptized in ſport, confirmed by a Bishop. Ye cats! It's a call-out fit for the Fleet Street tabloids!

Another thing that grabbed my attention was the diversity of ‘indicators’ or ‘fists’ that the compositor employed throughout the book to highlight portions of the text. Some are very crude, others lyrical. Generally, I’ve encountered fists printed ‘thumbs-up’, but this book just as frequently employs them upsidedown. I studied the book for a while to discover if there were a system or method behind this inversion, but it appeared to be random. I’ll have to do some more research on the thumbs question, I guess.

Fists entered the typographic lexicon sometime during the baroque period. They’re a useful sort, playful, direct, and yet they are rarely employed in present-day typesetting. If they are derided as over-fussy relics from a past typographic era, perhaps it is because, as Robert Bringhurst points out in his The Elements of Typographic Style, they usually arrive “overdressed” in their ruffled cuffs. That is, when they arrive at all; the fist is absent from the standard ISO character set.

Speaking of fists, if you visit the Dutch type designer Martin Majoor’s Flickr page, you can view some nice samples of the American type designer Bruce Rogers’ creative use of the fist as an ornament, as well as samples of Martin’s own fonts of fists for the modern typographer: Scala Hands and Scala Sans Hands. You might also like to visit Martin Majoor's website.

You can see many fists indicating at Manicule on Flickr.


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