I particularly enjoyed this week’s research, the focus being print. I enjoyed watching the BBC Documentary ‘Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press’, which gave me a helping hand in understanding the visuals in the process of printing, from the type to the making of the paper used and the physical use of the frisket and tympan. Furthermore, the description of standing type in Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography gave me more of an insight into the shortcuts used within printing. Shortcuts with the desire of keeping up the vast production of pages and keeping the costs down. According to Gaskell, ‘title-pages, which used little type, or settings of unusual founts which were seldom needed, were more often kept for re-use.’ This issue of title pages could also be looked at the other way. Sometimes, new editions would have a slight change in the title page that suggested it was a ‘brand new’ edition, insinuating that it had a feature worth buying. Instead, it would be the same text and content as the previous editions. The slight change of the title page was enough to make readers want the brand new and improved copy, but it was actually just to sell all of the recent editions.
When looking at ‘The grave: a poem. Together with Gray’s celebrated Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ there is no mention of the third poem ‘The Deserted Village’ by Oliver Goldsmith.
In fact, you wouldn’t be aware of its presence in the book unless you read to the end of Gray’s Elegy. Although the answer to which edition this book is remains a mystery, an on going search – I wonder whether the inclusion of ‘The Deserted Village’ was in fact an after thought. Perhaps it is not mentioned on the title page in order to keep costs down, to simply add it on for another edition without having to change and reprint the title page.
Having been printed in 1817, by the 19th Century the revolution of printing had existed for nearly five centuries. This may explain the near perfect type, without any corrections and very little smudging – this book offers simple text, without any embellished letters. In fact, I would go as far as to say the font of the text is particularly bland. This suggests to me that my previous thought of this as a personal pocket book, and not a book for decoration. If there had been corrections, it appears that the whole text may have been reprinted (since there is no list of errata). This causes me to question the lack of mention of ‘The Deserted Village’ on the title page. Why pay particular attention to the perfection of printing in the body of the book, but not the title page?
All three poems were first published within a few years of each other in the 1740s/50s, so it wouldn’t have been an issue of Goldsmith’s poem being printed a significantly longer time after Blair and Gray’s and thus missing the first printing of the collection. Although I am starting to feel that the question of this book’s edition will never be answered, I would suggest that the imperfect title page is through laziness or the desire to save production money.