12 August 2013


Henry Stevens, Who Spoils Our New English Books: Asked and Answered (London: Chiswick Press, 1884), pp. 1-3:
The manufacture of a beautiful and durable book costs little if anything more, it is believed, than it does to manufacture a clumsy and unsightly one. Good taste, skill and severe training are as requisite and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts. The well-recognized 'lines of beauty' are, in our judgment, as essential and well defined in the one case as in the other.
Books are both our luxuries and our daily bread. They have become to our lives and happiness prime necessities. They are our trusted favourites, our guardians, our confidential advisers, and the safe consumers of our leisure. They cheer us in poverty, and comfort us in the misery of affluence. They absorb the effervescence of impetuous youth, and while away the tedium of age. You may not teach ignorance to a youth who carries a favourite book in his pocket; and to a man who masters his appetites a good book is a talisman which insures him against the dangers of overspeed, idleness, and shallowness.
Why then let our books, like some of our manufactures, run to false cheapness and to shoddy? and Who are their Shoddimites? are our questions to-day. The disagreeable fact that our books are deteriorating in quality is assumed for the present and taken for granted. The fault exists and is daily becoming more and more manifest. We do not just now charge much dishonesty to any particular party, but content ourselves with naming the adulteration, and hinting that in all probability the fault lies somewhere between the uncritical consumer and the untrained manufacturer. Let both parties and their intermediates or coadjutors look to their laurels.