Pet Book Report #5: The Civil War in Song and Story

If the visual unit of a book is an opening and not a page, most of the The Civil War in Song and Story‘s visual units are a verso and recto of two-columned text. The margins are relatively thin, but although we discussed how wide margins could hint at a book’s expense and the printer’s and readers’ luxury in not having to utilize every scrap of available space, I don’t think that the narrow margins are implying cheapness or low-quality here. Instead, I think that the margins of the page articulate something about the expansiveness of the information Moore has collected; in culling from five years’ regular publications, Moore has chosen to include to use the space that might be allotted to section divisions or luxurious margins to cram another article, poem or “other piec[e] of versification…worthy of perpetuation” into his limited platform. The columns seem to me to pictorially invoke the format of newspapers. Fleming points out that “there are psychological and social factors in reading which prompt individuals or groups to prefer one type or layout to another, and consequently find these easier to read” (170). In a time period in which “the reading of a large percentage of Americans was likely to be made up of periodicals,” the image of a newspaper-like page might’ve been more familiar, and therefore more legible, to readers (Garvey 7). And though it’s early modern readers that Fleming and Foucault describe as relying on resemblance to make meaning instead of the “semantic function” of writing, their discussion suggests to me that the visual arrangement of columns on the page asserts to Moore’s readers analogy through emulation: in the way that the pages of The Civil War in Song and Story attempts to look like newspapers, it visually reminds the reader that it can be relied upon at least as much as newspapers to report real instead of fictional incidents (Fleming 171).

The book is illustrated with fifteen black-and-white illustrations, printed using intaglio engravings. The method is identifiable from the very fine crosshatching, the use of primarily line-based techniques for shading, and the fact that the illustrations are inset into the text on unpaginated sheets as though they had been printed separately. Unlike relief printing, the images leave no impression on the page the way the type does. Although the plate borders are rarely visible, Gaskell explains that in the machine-press period, “plate marks were seldom allowed to show” (272). As it was printed in the late 1880s, it’s likely that either steel plates or copper plates that had grown a durable film during the electrotyping process, which began to be used in 1858, were used (Gaskell 267). Only one other kind of illustration is used: a simple decorative line break which appears on the title page and the first page.

The illustrations are positioned for convenience between the gatherings, but the pictures more or less correspond with the stories printed on the opposite page, within a few pages. An illustration is always framed with a blank page (on the reverse side of the leaf) and a page of text opposite; usually, but not always, the illustration is on the recto. The illustrations are always neatly centered on the page, in spite of varying in size, framed by the white space. The other side of the illustrated leaf contains no text likely because the illustrations were printed after the main body of the book was, but aside from convenience, separation the illustrations in this way prevents the type from bleeding through the page, as it does to a slight degree on the pages of printed text. They are all signed by the same artist (with some illustrations dated for ’89, the year of publication), an Edward C.

Although the images are relatively generic (a soldier embracing a young woman; an army marching to victory, etc.), I tentatively interpret these illustrations as having been specifically engraved for this edition of Moore’s anthology. As far as I can tell, these engravings have not been reused for other media (at least, other media whose images were digitized fully in the Google-accessible Internet) by the same or even different printers. The 1867 edition published under the title Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents of the war: North and South. included inset portraits of major figures like Lincoln and Sheridan printed in some way to mimic photography, each image also centered on its own page.

The idea of the images having been specially created for the text intrigues me. What does it mean that the visual images resist duplication and repurposing within a book which aims to duplicate and repurpose blocks of text that were in turn duplicated and repurposed from newspapers to the Rebellion Record? The way The Civil War in Song and Story positions image and text seems to invert the way early modern ballads used images and tunes interchangeably to support unique text; each poem and article printed in Moore’s anthology is interchangeable, but the images themselves are specific to this text and only this text. The text firmly distinguishes text from image in other ways as well. Intaglio, unlike relief block printing, isn’t modular; the medium demands that the images be physically separate from the text. No images are ever printed next to each other, suggesting that the format dictates that the reader is intended to strictly read the images against the text and not relate them to each other.

To end on a quick comment about content instead of visual arrangement:
In describing Breitkopf’s contribution to music printing, Gaskell describes how scores “could be built up piece by piece, in the same way as complex decorative designs could be built up with printers’ flowers” (139). In this light, I think it’s particularly interesting that The Civil War in Song and Story‘s treatment of image and text is one which conflicts so drastically with Fleming’s interpretation of how printers’ flowers, in spite of having been characterized by scholars as being purely ornamental and potentially distracting from the semantic purpose of a work, “declar[e] the lack of difference between writing and ornament…[and assert] that writing is embedded in the material of the world” (172). It seems to me that The Civil War in Song and Story does the textual equivalent of these things. It builds up a complex portrait of life during the war through small units; these units are human interest pieces and poetry–decoration which might be seen as superfluous or even distracting from the war as military and political history, but which are necessary to understand the fullness of human experience during the time. In other words, The Civil War in Song and Story might be seen as the printers’ flowers of Civil War literature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *