Written by Virginia Woolf in the essay Craftsmanship (1937). She is writing of how words convey so many fleeting images that it is difficult to disassociate from the living author. She continues: ‘Only after the writer is dead do his words to some extent become disinfected, purified of the accidents of the living body’. It is a fine essay and much deserving to be read entire. My copy comes from The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Penguin, 1961), though the original edition was published in 1942 (Hogarth Press).
As much as I admire Woolf as a writer it is her reference to the typewriter that got me thinking. Got me thinking just as I chanced across a book in a charity shop on Shorthand and Typewriting (International Correspondence Schools, London, n.d) from which the accompanying illustrations are taken. It, too, is a good read (in parts). For instance there is vital information on Establishing a Copying Office: ‘Many typists find it profitable to conduct a copying office. Even in the smallest towns there is a great deal of typewriting work to be obtained from lawyers, clerks of courts, architects, contractors, merchants, doctors, authors, ministers, politicians, and others, whose patronage may be secured by soliciting their orders through the medium of a perfectly typed letter and price list. It is often possible to make arrangements with the owner of an office whereby the typist can have a desk in the office in exchange for certain services as a shorthand-typist. In this way a connection may be worked up without much expense.’ Sound advice.
And in the business section this: ‘A married woman usually takes her husband’s Christian name, as Mrs William Dawson, unless the husband is the eldest son of the family, in which case she takes precedence and is addressed as Mrs Dawson’.
Got me thinking too about the history of the typewriter, an instrument that has played such an important role in the development of the industrial world. Among all my books I found scant mention. There must be a History somewhere, but I don’t have it and I am not so lazy as to do a web search. I much prefer to stumble across books in the bookstore, secondhand bookseller or, as with Shorthand and Typewriting, the charity shop. (See here for my post on the demise of the secondhand bookshop.)
However, not surprisingly Typewriter Art (I have mentioned this before and you can go to the post here) did gloss on the antecedents. ‘An American,’ it states, ‘Christoper Lathan Sholes, is widely held to be the inventor of the first practical typewriter. His machine, perfected in the early 1870s, was bought by E Remington & Sons, gunsmiths of Ilion, New York, and put on the market in 1874.’ It goes on to note that the introduction of the typewriter ‘… has transformed business and created the largest female workforce in history, the monstrous regiment of typewriters.’ And while that ‘monstrous regiment’ may have passed into history what are computers but the modern equivalent, the keyboard the same, the drudgery not so different for many.
In the world of typography Monotype didn’t miss a trick and produced matrices in both the conventional and the IBM format as shown here.