Jefferson’s prescience; Bartram’s spleen

Contrasting notes from my reading over the holiday. I found a passage in Peterson’s Jefferson that I think is pertinent to the current arguments about restrictions of liberty during wartime. Writing during his vice-presidency in the hostile Adams administration during a British war scare, concerning to the Alien and Sedition acts (which entrenched xenophobia in the law and criminalized criticism of the government), Jefferson feared that the intent of the law’s framers was to trick the people into surrendering their power to the government:

The system of alarm and jealousy which has been so powerfully played off in England, has been mimicked here, not entirely without success. The most long-sighted politician could not, seven years ago, have imagined that the people of this wide-extended country could have been enveloped in such delusion, and made so much afraid of themselves and their own power, as to surrender it spontaneously to those who are manœuvring them into a form of government, the principal branches of which may be beyond their control.

On an entirely different topic, Alan Bartram’s Five Hundred Years of Book Design is an ill-titled, delightfully snarky romp through the sacred cows of typographic fame. Slagging such luminaries as Aldus Manutius (“ham-fisted production”), Plantin (“awkwardly aligned spreads”), Franklin (“confusing reading”), Fournier (“a little boring”), Didot (“the well-leaded verse cannot quite decide whether or not to look centred”), William Morris (“ponderous and solemn…the vegetation is beginning to resemble the monstrous growths dreamt up by H G Wells in these same years”), and Bruce Rogers (“effectively incomprehensible…unconvincing pastiche”), as well as a rogue’s gallery of forgotten also-ran book designers, the book applies modern production standards to often lauded works of typography. Of the greats, only Bodoni, Baskerville, and Gill seem to receive consistent praise for their combination of aesthetic and practical concerns. At $35, the book is a bit steep; better reading from the library, I think.