Monday, May 09, 2016

Typographical terror in later works on witchcraft

The bad news about witchcraft and the devil raging in the last days was spread by print. Some of the earliest works about witchcraft were formidable accomplishments on the page, oceanic commentary lapping around islands of text:

(An image from the Gale Witchcraft database, as reviewed on this blog in 2010). 

Works in English on witchcraft tend to be far more haphazard printing jobs: written up in self-justificatory haste, printed at full speed without much in the way of editing. Over in Boston, Cotton Mather's printers manage to suggest (appropriately enough) a hyperventilating author, in a state of typographical terror:

I was interested to look at how Joseph Glanvill had his Blow at Modern Sadducism printed in 1668: particularly this little trick: the word 'witchcraft' starts to be set in large case black letter capitals:

while 'The Royal Society' gets the dignity of full caps. Roman:

As the land of spirits is a kind of unexplored new world

Glanvill encourages the members to pursue (in a strange pun) 'luciferous enquiries'

Inquiries both light-bringing and Satanic in subject matter.

Yet the black letter for 'Witchcraft': the intended contrast has to be between the beautiful clarity of the Royal Society's thinking, and the black nature of witchcraft (the OED has "black letter" from 1639, though it appears to be present as early as 1584 in The cauteles, canon, and ceremonies, of the most blasphemous, abhominable, and monstrous popish Masse. Black letter days are inauspicious days in the church calendar (as opposed, of course, to red letter days). So, his choice of an Old English typeface (as Black Letter would also be called) for WITCHCRAFT contrasts blackness and evil against lucidity and good. It has (incidentally) to be by Glanvill's direction, these are the only uses of black letter in the book.

All this said, 'Black Letter' would also become 'Gothic': even as he wants to argue that witchcraft is a real and present danger, there's an effect of something dated, slipping into the past, while THE ROYAL SOCIETY owns the future.

I must look out more attentively for typographical devices in witchcraft texts. Richard Bernard's Guide to Grand Jury-Men switched its final diagram of 'What the Lord Doth' versus 'What Satan Doth' from two columns on a page to facing pages between 1627 and 1629 editions, that might be a start.

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