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c h a p t e r f o u r • The Typographical Gothic: A Cautionary Note on the Title Page to Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry With Svetlana Djananova In Chapter 3, I dealt with a persistent myth concerning gothic type and the way the bibliographical evidence seems to be subordinate to particular bibliographical myths. The following chapter considers the term used to describe this type, and how the mythology surrounding that term influences what should be a straightforward history of classes of type. The ‘‘rise of the Gothic’’ in the late eighteenth century is a truism that would seem to require less in the way of support than mere corroboration. While we may not know precisely what ‘‘the gothic’’ or ‘‘the Gothic’’ is, any more than we might know precisely what we mean by ‘‘the sublime,’’ we also know that the lack of precision in such terms is not the same as their invalidation . Furthermore, we know that our use of this term is not entirely arbitrary, since we find that word used in the texts of the late eighteenth century we consider central to literary study: Richard Hurd’s Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762) and Thomas Warton’s History of English Literature (1777–81). The definitions of ‘‘the gothic’’ or ‘‘the Gothic’’ are various and it is not the purpose here to offer a new one, nor to critique those that already exist. Rather, we will consider how material bibliographical evidence is deployed in support of these terms, and whether it is possible, or advisable, to raise to The Typographical Gothic 73 the level of a text’s meaning those bibliographical and material features of the book (its format, layout, and typography) that until the late twentieth century were generally considered extratextual.1 Our example is a canonical one: Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 3 vols. (London, 1765). Obviously, this book must be central to discussions of the gothic in England, but how to define the centrality of this book, and how to define the book itself, is not entirely obvious. Are we simply to say that whatever features this book possesses came to be (or were) gothic? Or can we say that the features that are clearly not gothic in any meaningful way must be seen as in dialectic with those that are (or must be)? There is not any clear way of articulating this question, and it is part of our contention that the way the question is asked will determine to a large extent any conclusions that could be drawn. Percy’s Reliques went through numerous printings in the eighteenth century ; copies were and still are readily available.2 The first edition is a small, three-volume octavo; it is in format and in its frontispiece identical to the second edition of 1767 (the second edition is essentially a resetting). Although the text and its various problems have been much discussed in scholarship, the late twentieth century brought a new aspect of the book into discussion: since the book’s texts are central to discussion, so potentially is what might be called its bibliographical form (typography, layout, and design). A seemingly casual remark by Nick Groom and its more elaborate rebuttal by Christine Baatz pose the central problem we look at here. To Groom, the book’s typography is Gothic, pure and simple: ‘‘Percy’s title pages were Gothic in their very profusion of typefaces and rambling lines.’’ Christine Baatz, looking in large part at the collection of title pages published by Nicolas Barker, notes that the Percy title page also contains features that are describable as ‘‘classical’’; therefore, ‘‘In the Reliques a sophisticated typographical programme is used to achieve a twofold aim: first, to claim ‘classical’ quality for the texts presented . . . second, to stress the texts’ different, indigenous, ‘Gothic’ nature.’’3 The implied dispute between Groom and Baatz concerns only the extent to which the gothic exists and how it is used in Percy’s title page, the facing frontispiece, and the typography of the text pages; they do not consider the more fundamental question of whether the gothic can be found or should be sought in these features, nor what it means to assume that such a thing as the gothic is there at all (see Figures 14 and 15). As long as the material (and typographical) nature of this book is deployed within some grand récit of Figure 14. Thomas...


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