The Crystal Goblet
by Beatrice Warde
Excerpt from a Lecture to the British Typographers Guild
Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose
your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that
it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before
you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns.
The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent.
Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall
know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have
no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation
of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands
of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the
amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because
everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide
the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.
Bear with me in this long-winded and fragrant metaphor; for you
will find that almost all the virtues of the perfect wine-glass
have a parallel in typography. There is the long, thin stem that
obviates fingerprints on the bowl. Why? Because no cloud must come
between your eyes and the fiery hearth of the liquid. Are not the
margins on book pages similarly meant to obviate the necessity of
fingering the type-pages? Again: The glass is colorless or at the
most only faintly tinged in the bowl, because the connoisseur judges
wine partly by its color and is impatient of anything that alters
it. There are a thousand mannerisms in typography that are as impudent
and arbitrary as putting port in tumblers of red or green glass!
When a goblet has a base that looks too small for security, it does
not matter how cleverly it is weighted; you feel nervous lest it
should tip over. There are ways of setting lines of type which may
work well enough, and yet keep the reader subconsciously worried
by the fear of "doubling" lines, reading three words as
one, and so forth.
Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many
of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and
maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving
the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline.
When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself, you
will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness
by aiming at something else. The stunt typographer learns
the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long
breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your
splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will
appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy
experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to
hold the vintage of the human mind.