Page images
PDF
EPUB

feems, in point of univerfality, to have fupplied its place. It is fpoken in all the courts of Europe; and moft of the literati, thofe even who do not fpeak it, have acquired knowledge of it, to enable them easily to read the books that are written in it. This gives a confiderable advantage to that nation. It enables its authors to inculcate and spread through other nations, fuch fentiments and opinions, on important points, as are moft conducive to its interefts, or which may contribute to its reputation, by promoting the common interefts of mankind. It is, perhaps, owing to its being written in French, that Voltaire's Treatife on Toleration has had fo fudden and fo great an effect on the bigotry of Europe, as almost entirely to difarm it. The general ufe of the French language has likewife a very advantageous effect on the profits of the bookfelling branch of commerce, it being well known, that the more copies can be fold that are ftruck off from one compofition of types, the profits increase in a much greater proportion than they do in making a greater number of pieces in any other kind of manufacture. And at prefent there is no capital town in Europe without a French bookfeller's fhop corresponding with Paris. Our English bids fair to obtain the second place. The great body of excellent printed fermons in our language, and the freedom of our writings on political fubjects, have induced a great number of divines of different fects and nations, as well as gentlemen concerned in public affairs, to ftudy it, fo far at least as to read it. And if we were to endeavour the facilitating its progrefs, the ftudy of our tongue might become much more. general. Thofe who have employed fome part of their time in learning a new language, muft have frequently obferved, that while their acquaintance

[ocr errors]

quaintance with it was imperfect, difficulties, fmall in themselves, operated as great ones in obftructing their progrefs. A book, for example, ill printed, or a pronunciation in fpeaking not well articulated, would render a fentence unintelligible, which from a clear print, or a distinct fpeaker, would have been immediately comprelended. If, therefore, we would have the benefit of feeing our language more generally known among mankind, we fhould endeavour to remove all the difficulties, however small, that discourage the learning of it. But I am forry to obferve that, of late years, thofe difficulties, instead of being diminished, have been augmented.

In examining the English books that were printed between the reftoration and the acceffion of George the Second, we may observe, that all subftantives were begun with a capital, in which we imitated our mother tongue, the German. This was more particularly ufeful to thofe who were not well acquainted with the English, there being fuch a prodigious number of our words that are both verbs and substantives, and fpelt in the fame manner, though often accented differently in pronunciation. This method has, by the fancy of printers, of late years been entirely laid alide; from an idea, that fupprefling the capitals fhews the character to greater advantage; thofe letters, prominent above the line, difturbing its even, regular appearance. The effect of this change is fo confiderable, that a learned man of France, who used to read our books, though not perfectly acquainted with our language, in converfation with me on the fubject of our authors, attributed the greater obfcurity he found in our modern books, compared with those of the period above mentioned, to a change of tyle for the worfe in our writers; of which

mistake

+

mistake I convinced him, by marking for him each fubftantive with a capital, in a paragraph, which he then easily understood, though before he could not comprehend it. This fhews the inconvenience of that pretended improvement.

From the fame fondness for an uniform and even appearance of characters in the line, the printers have of late banished also the Italic types, in which words of importance to be attended to in the fenfe of the fentence, and words on which an emphafis fhould be put in reading, ufed to be printed. And lately another fancy has induced other printers to ufe the rounds inftead of the long one, which formerly ferved well to diftinguith a word readily by its varied appearance. Certainly the omitting this prominent letter makes a line appear more even, but renders it lefs immediately legible; as the paring of all men's nofes might smooth and level their faces, would render their phyfiognomies lefs diftinguishable. Add to all these improvements backwards, another modern fancy, that grey printing is more beautiful than black. Hence the English new books are printed in so dim a character as to be read with difficulty by old eyes, unless in a very ftrong light and with good glaffes. Whoever compares a volume of the Gentleman's Magazine, printed between the years 1731 and 1740, with one of thofe printed in the last ten years, will be convinced of the much greater degree of perfpicuity given by black than by the grey. Lord Chesterfield pleasantly remarked this difference to Faulkner, the printer of the Dublin Journal, who was vainly making encomiums on his own paper, as the most complete of any in the world. "Mr. Faulkner," fays my lord," don't you think " it might be still farther improved, by using paper "and ink not quite fo near of a colour?"--For all thefe

But

[ocr errors]

these reasons I cannot but with that our American printers would, in their editions, avoid these fancied improvements, and thereby render their works more agreeable to foreigners in Europe, to the great advantage of our bookselling commerce.

Farther, to be more fenfible of the advantage of clear and diftinct printing, let us confider the affiftance it affords in reading well aloud to an auditory. In fo doing the eye generally flides forward three or four words before the voice. If the fight clearly diftinguishes what the coming words are, it gives time to order the modulation of the voice to exprefs them properly. But if they are obfcurely printed, or disguised by omitting the capitals and long 's, or otherwife, the reader is apt to modulate wrong; and finding he has done fo, he is obliged to go back and begin the fentence again; which leffens the pleasure of the hearers. This leads me to mention an old error in our mode of printing. We are fenfible that when a queftion is met with in the reading, there is a proper variation to be used in the management of the voice. We have, therefore, a point, called an interrogation, affixed to the queftion, in order to diftinguifh it. But this is abfurdly placed at its end, fo that the reader does not discover it till he finds that he has wrongly modulated his voice, and is therefore obliged to begin again the fentence. To prevent this, the Spanish printers, more fenfibly, place an interrogation at the beginning as well as at the end of the queftion. We have another error of the fame kind in printing plays, where fomething often occurs that is marked as fpoken afide. But the word afide is placed at the end of the fpeech, when it ought to precede it, as a direction to the reader, that he may govern his voice accordingly. The practice of our ladies in meeting five or fix together,

H

ther, to form little bufy parties. where each is employed in fome ufeful work, while one reads to them, is fo commendable in itself, that it deferves the attention of authors and printers to make it as pleafing as poffible, both to the reader and hearers.

My best wishes attend you, being with fincere esteem,

Sir,

Your moft obedient and

very humble fervant,

B. FRANKLIN,

AN

« PreviousContinue »