I find, however, that I often prefer to look at you, discover your world rather than offer mine. Henri Bergson, Tielhard de Chardin — my un-knowers and still returning to Donald Davidson for conversation and relief. I do not think, however, I can do this alone. I prefer to know a larger world than I can hold — one that lives and we discover.
So I'll begin mid-stream with Emily Dickinson. The remarkable process of changing how we read continues with The Gorgeous Nothings, ed. Werner & Bervin and Emily Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics by Alexandra Socarides . For one year Susan Howe came to teach at us at Denver (now a very long time ago) and taught first a writing workshop, then a Melville seminar, and then gave a presentation on Dickinson from which I still remember images ("The Sea said 'Come' to the Brook"). Since then the material nature and/or history of whatever I'm reading offers its own world of intelligence.
Here are some loose notes on American print culture leading up to and during Dickinson's time as a way to keep thinking about a poet famous for choosing not to print. These are taken from The Printed Book in America by Joseph Blumenthal.
Summer of 1638: Reverend Jose Glover brings a printing press to the new academy that would become Harvard. Workmanship with press was poor — not many people trained in the craft as a result of severe restrictions on printing in England (note to self: left over from Milton?). As Governor Winthrop records, they first print a freeman's oath and an almanac though no copy of either survives. In 1640, the first book is printed — The Whole Booke of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Translators? John Cotton and Richard Mather.
Permission to establish press comes in 1674.
Not until 1704 does Boston successfully publish a newspaper.
Caslon type, famous for use in Declaration of Independence, is the first major typeface import.
1809 sees first American type issued.
In 1787, 80 or 90 paper making mills operating. In 1810, there are 195.
13th century European methods where each sheet is individually formed by dipping a wire mold into a vat of pulp paper. While not well made, it was sturdy due to cotton and linen rag content.
18th century library: 3,000 volume Cotton Mather library in Boston.
19th century: House of Harper is largest printer in New York. Integrated new steam presses built by Daniel Treadwell of Boston. In 1853 could produce 600-900 hand-fed sheets per hour.
Ground floor — 28 steam driven bed and platen presses.
2nd floor — printed sheets dried and presses
Next 3 floors — folding, gathering, sewing
Top floor — most light — composing type by hand
Like other publishers of the time Harper books were larger editions at low prices for a growing market of readers. Typefaces were debased copies of Bodoni and Didot. Books themselves were not considered art, and there was no attempt to make fine books.