Colonials Debate: Should Essayists Also Master The Mechanisms Of The Printing Press?

IT HAS COME TO THE ATTENTION OF THIS AUTHOR that Essayists across the Thirteen Colonies have been up in Arms, as it were, ever since the Boston-based broadsheet The Publick Salon published a commentary entitled “Nay: Thou Does Not Have To Learn How To Operate A Printing Press.” The commenter in Question, a Mr. Patrick Henry Hancock of Braintree, challenged the revolutionary notion that young men serving as apprentice essayists must master the mechanics of the press as well.

Wrote Mr. Hancock:

It is improbable – nay, preposterous – that an apprentice Essayist would ever need to learn how to run a Press. That is the domain of the Master Printer! It is the Master Printer who knows his Typesets. It is the Master Printer whose hands are permanently stain’d with the Ink that he himself mixes with utter Care and Precision. It is the Master Printer who places each key and plate in its proper location to ensure the spelling is Correcte. Let the Essayist do what he and he alone does best: write his Words, and if he chooses, have them Edited. That is what we have always taught our apprentices, and there is nary a reason to question it. The only reason, perhaps, an Essayist should ever stand by a press is if he wishes to peruse that which is the News before his compatriots do, as we have been known to do on certain Occasions.

As word of Mr. Hancock’s missive spread across the Colonies over the next several Months, his allies and critics began to craft their own retorts. George Revere, President of His Majesty’s Essayist’s Guild, Massachusetts Bay Colony Chapter, echoed Mr. Hancock in his own broadsheet, The Weekly Fens:

An essayist apprentice becomes an essayist apprentice because he wishes to become an Essayist. If he had wished to learn the arcane arts of printing, that is the path he should have taken. An apprentice essayist studies under master essayists for Year upon Year to improve his pen, his Wit, and if he are so fortunate enough, to develop his own oeuvre. Staining one’s hands with ink should be a legacy of one’s quills, not printer’s plates. I will grant you, the Essayist and the Print Master may work in relative proximity to each other – the same neighborhood would be Acceptable – but they are like oil and water when mixed. Nothing good can come of it.

While these guildsmen made their thoughts known to the Publick, it took not long for Rebuttals to be in the offing. Six months after Mr. Hancock’s initial provocation, New Jersey essayist Josiah Jarvis-Jefferson offered a Riposte, defending his own practice of introducing apprentices to the workings of a Press.

These are young men, aged perhaps no more than five and twenty. Do they know at such an age that they will wish to continue as essayists when they are, say, 30? 40? Or in their waning days at 50? Or might they parlay these skills into another Trade? We all know that not all essayist apprentices remain in the Profession in which they trained. There is much value for these young men to understand the mechanics of the Printing Press, just as there is much value in the mastery of the written word. Printing presses are machines of our Modern age – machines I have no doubt will be used in myriad ways our Fathers could nay have imagined. Think of the opportunities these young men will have! As the French would say, they will be the entrepreneurs of Tomorrow.

In New York, the highly regarded Academick and Professor of Letters, Mr. Clay, wrote of a possible Conciliation between both camps:

We expect our apprentices to think critically, do we not? Is it not fair, then, to expect them to appreciate something of the ink-laden Science that brings their words to a broader Publick? Saying that they should become Master Printers I do not suggest. Rather, I speak of what might be described as a Print Literacy: a healthy acquaintance with the matter that may inform an essayist as he pursues his endeavours. For example, If a printer determines they do not have the Column Inches to publish an essay, should not the essayist understand the reasoning, and come to a suitable compromise with him? Are there not times where one might presume an essayist and a printer to work together? And if I may add for future Discussion: perhaps a printer should learn something of what it means to be an essayist as well. Is it not unreasonable?

Mr. Samuel Owens of North Carolina Colony, iconoclastic Publisher of The Durham Beast, did not mince words in a Commentery in his own tabloid.

Did we not settle this debate in 1705? Why must we waste our precious Resources on these dreadfully unproductive disputes? I expect all apprentice essayists who wish to write for my concern to understand Basick Printing. I ask them not to become master Ink Men, but I do ask that they parley – engage, if you will – with our Print Masters so the final Result of each edition is without Parallel.

And gentlemen, let us not ignore the Elephante in the room. Our industry is not yet a secure one; our future is in doubt. Who knows what tyrannical Regulations His Majesty may wish upon us next? Should we not have young men in our employ whose capacities extend beyond a single competence?

Example gratia: What if an essayist wishes to produce an engraving for his next report? I have many a talented Artist among my essayists, even if it is not his specifick bailiwick. Do we not waste his Talent by not allowing him to express himself through such creative means? If he displays such Enthusiasm, I would expect him to comprehend engravature as to assist the printer, even if he does not become a printer Himself, so his Work may excel to its fullest potential.

If we wish our industry to survive, nay, thrive, in these Colonies, we much embrace the possibility of multiple media, if you will: both text and engravature. And does that not require a modicum of Knowledge about the Printing Press?

In other News, a Mr. Franklin of Philadelphia announced with great Fanfare to his neighbours that he would serve as essayist, printer and Proprietor of his own Press. It is reported he is now seeking both essayist and print apprentices, who despite the usual Practice will be paid while under his tutelage and stationed in the same Office, working in union with one another. The name of Mr. Franklin’s Publication is forthcoming and expected to be known before the end of the year. A representative from His Majesty’s Essayist’s Guild, Pennsylvania Colony Chapter, could not be reached for Comment; another attempt to reach them will be made once the weather improves, hopefully next Month.

3 Responses to “Colonials Debate: Should Essayists Also Master The Mechanisms Of The Printing Press?”

  1. This is interesting but there are no links back to original sources. Where did these quotes come from?

  2. Andy Carvin says:

    I hope you’re joking, right?

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