Creative Objectors

With the outbreak of the First World War Europe went suicidal. In Britain a whole generation of young and able men were sent to the trenches – mass graves of mud and madness. The youngsters had cheerfully left London by train, drinking, singing, and waving farewell to their loved ones. ‘Give it to them’ – such was the confident message shouted from the platforms at Victoria Station. War was a game, an adventure that made men out of boys, and turned suckers into soldiers. It was one’s pride and duty to fight for King, Country and Empire. It would be a brief affair anyway. Britain was an unrivalled world power, a dominant force for justice and democracy. The nation had God on its side. It proved all too brief for most of the service men. They were sacrificed in an insane battle of artillery, a war of infernal machinery in which soldiers acted merely as the living material of mindless mechanization. In the first two weeks of the war there were 20,000 casualties.

Some refused to join the party. To them, life was made hell in Britain. They received the ‘white feather’ (traditional symbol of cowardice) treatment. The Order of the White Feather had been founded in August 1914 by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald with the aim of coercing men to enlist in the British Army. Women were encouraged to present those not wearing a uniform with a white feather. Those who objected did so for religious, political or philosophical reasons. D.H. Lawrence was one victim who suffered brutal treatment in Britain for his refusal to fight. Stanley Morison was another one. Born in Tavistock Road, Wanstead (East-London) on 6 May 1889, typographer and printing historian Morison had to learn his skill the hard way. He was self-taught. Having left school early after his father, an unsuccessful commercial traveller, had ran off, young Stanley was forced into employment in order to support the family. He started his working life as a clerk with the London City Mission. The work was not fulfilling and he spent much of his time in museums and libraries. In early 1913 he made a crucial career switch after securing a post as assistant in the office of The Imprint, a new monthly periodical devoted to typography. Morison set out to make a career in printing (although there were no family connections with the trade).

In 1916, conscription was introduced into Britain. Morison made known his conscientious objection to war service. It took considerable courage to do so. His appeal against conscription on religious and moral grounds was dismissed, and on 7 May 1916 he was arrested spending time in prison Eventually he accepted alternative employment, and by the time the war ended he was engaged in farm work. It had been a deeply demoralizing episode in his life. Francis Meynell, son of the author, suffragette and prominent Roman Catholic convert Alice Meynell, was another conscientious objector who spent time in prison for his principles. Meynell’s name is associated with the leftwing press and the Daily Herald in particular. In 1922, he founded the Nonesuch Press, a private press he ran in co-operation with author David ‘Bunny’ Garnett. Meynell used Monotype machines to replicate the more laborious methods of handset type. His attitude towards the machine differed from his predecessors. In fact, he embraced the machine: ‘Our stock in trade has been the theory that mechanical means could be made to serve fine ends; that the machine in printing was a controllable tool’. The press issued books that combined Monotype’s modern techniques and fonts in styles that were very traditional. The output of Nonesuch was essentially an extension of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s ideals. The press published 140 fine editions of poetry and literature. The Meynell collection is held at Cambridge University Library. It comprises part of his personal library and includes around 260 volumes. Modernist poet John Rodker, son of a Jewish immigrant corset-maker from Poland, was one of the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, a group of artists who met together in the pre-war period in the area around Whitechapel Art Gallery. A conscientious objector during the war, he had been on the run before being arrested in April 1917, imprisoned, and then transferred to the Home Office Work Centre at Dartmoor. In 1919 he started the Ovid Press, a private press which lasted about a year. It published T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound and portfolios of drawings by Wyndham Lewis and others.

In 1916, Meynell and Morison established the Guild of the Pope’s Peace. Pius X had died in 1914 and was succeeded by Benedict XV. The latter was appalled by the war and condemned the continuation of the slaughter. The Guild was set up to print and distribute Benedict’s political appeals and his attempts to end the bloodshed. The world, including the Catholic world, did not listen. People preferred to lend their ear to the phraseology of Lloyd George, Kitchener, or the Kaiser. In August 2009, the British Security Service MI5 released a set of documents concerning ‘Communists and suspected Communists’ in Britain over the period 1916-1949. Files KV 2/3041-42 contain information on Francis Meynell. They record how he came to notice as an active peace campaigner during the First World War. The Guild of Pope’s Peace was viewed by British officials as being an especially suspicious organization – not only did it campaign for peace at any cost, but because of its Catholic nature it was viewed as being pro-German. The file includes suspicions that he was involved in propaganda designed to undermine the morale of the British army. By his involvement with the Guild, Morison was under suspicion as well.

Morison was a complex man living in turbulent times. In politics he was a radical who had no time for the Roman curia and who resented the monarchy. Communist friends dissuaded him in 1921 from applying for membership of their party. When young, he searched for certainty, for an anchor that would stop him from drifting in a sea of social unrest. Like many other creative minds of his generation he sensed that everywhere, within man and without, there was instability and chaos. In the midst of material abundance and technological advance, man seemed to have lost control. Morison’s quest is symptomatic for that of many other pre-war intellectuals. The soul of modern man, they feared, was oddly split between a feeling of supreme power and an intense sense of anxiety. Many looked for support outside themselves, for something that was bigger and more encompassing than mere individualism. In December 1908, Morison found the discipline of the Catholic Church. His conversion influenced his work. He showed a keen interest in the hymn book and other Catholic writings and his first typographic work was done for the Church. In his English Prayer Book Morison examined the history of the various liturgical books used in public worship, from their origins in apostolic times to the later stages of their development. Taking up the study of the story of printing, he became an expert on typographic history. Not a theorist – Morison had a practical turn of mind which used past achievements to enrich the present. By happy coincidence, he proved to have a fluent style of writing which helped him spreading his ideas and create a faithful following. His collected writings, over two hundred books, articles, reviews and prefaces, affected the taste and knowledge of all those concerned with book production (his fine collection of books was presented to Cambridge University Library, where it is kept in the Morison Room).

Meynell had begun his career in his father’s publishing house Burns & Oates. In 1916 he founded the Pelican Press. Morison became design supervisor at the Press in 1918. At the Pelican he produced his first study on typography The Craft of Printing: Notes on the History of Type Forms (1919) in which he establishes the relationship of Caslon and the Didots to Jenson and Aldus, and the connection between calligraphy and typography. What makes the book interesting is that Morison not just investigates the history of type design, but treats it as a subject worthy of serious study. It took two centuries after the start of printing with moveable type that people began to take the process seriously as an art, rather than just a technical means of transferring writing into print. In 1921 Stanley left Pelican and joined the newly founded Cloister Press where he was in sole charge of design. Working there he used Catholic imagery in designing many of his pages. However, the Cloister Press was short lived and Morrison moved on. In 1922 he was a founder-member of the Fleuron Society which was dedicated to typographical matters (a fleuron being a typographic flower or ornament). From 1925 to 1930 he edited The Fleuron, a journal that was (and remains) appreciated by professionals and connoisseurs alike for its superb artwork and printing. His final essay in The Fleuron entitled ‘First principles of typography’ was frequently reprinted and translated.

From 1923 to 1967 Morison was typographic consultant for the Monotype Corporation. His research into historic typefaces during the 1920s and 1930s led to the revival of the Baskerville and Bembo types. In 1931, The Times newspaper commissioned the Corporation to design a new typeface. Morison decided that the ‘classy’ paper needed a face whose strength of line and economy of space would correspond with its editorial approach and appeal to the reader at the same time. Times New Roman, drawn by Victor Lardent and initially released in 1932, was the result. As a design it was unique in newspaper typography. Based on old style (or Garalde) types, it was more condensed than previous newspaper types, and had greater contrast. Times New Roman remains popular for papers, magazines, and annual reports. Between 1945 and 1948 Morison held the post of editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He was a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1961 until his death in 1967. His relentless search for certainty is evident throughout his work. While working for The Times, he was given the nickname of The Printer’s Friend for his constant altering of proofs until the desired result was achieved. Morison was totally pre-occupied with fitting everything into predetermined patterns. To overcome chaos was the ultimate force driving him forward, both in his work and in his private life.