BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett


The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


Lost Illusions

by Honoré de Balzac

Excerpt:

De Balzac.

PART I

TWO POETS

At the time when this story opens, the Stanhope press and the ink-distributing roller were not as yet in general use in small provincial printing establishments. Even at Angoulême, so closely connected through its paper-mills with the art of typography in Paris, the only machinery in use was the primitive wooden invention to which the language owes a figure of speech—' the press groans' was no mere rhetorical expression in those days. Leather ink-balls were still used in old-fashioned printing houses; the pressmen dabbed the ink by hand on the characters, and the movable table on which the forme of type was placed in readiness for the sheet of paper, being made of marble, literally deserved its name of'impressionstone.' Modern machinery has swept all this old-world mechanism into oblivion; the wooden press which, with all its imperfections, turned out such beautiful work for the Elzevirs, Plantin, Aldus, and Didot is so completely forgotten, that something must be said as to the obsolete gear on which Jerome-Nicolas Séchard set an almost superstitious affection, for it plays a part in this chronicle of great small things.

Séchard had been in his time a journeyman pressman, a 'bear' in compositors' slang. The continued pacing to and fro of the pressman from ink-table to press, from press to ink-table, no doubt suggested the nickname. The 'bears,' however, make matters even by calling the compositors monkeys, on account of the nimble industry displayed by those gentlemen in picking out the type from the hundred and fifty-two compartments of the cases.

In the disastrous year 1793, Séchard, being fifty years old and a married man, escaped the great Requisition which swept the bulk of French workmen into the army. The old pressman was the only hand left in the printing-house; and when the master (otherwise the 'gaffer') died, leaving a widow, but no children, the business seemed to be on the verge of extinction; for the solitary ' bear' was quite incapable of the feat of transformation into a 'monkey,' and in his quality of pressman had never learned to read or write. Just then, however, a Representative of the People being in a mighty hurry to publish the Decrees of the Convention, bestowed a master printer's license on Séchard, and requisitioned the establishment. Citizen Séchard accepted the dangerous patent, bought the business of his master's widow with his wife's savings, and took over the plant at half its value. But he was not even at the beginning. He was bound to print the Decrees of the Republic without mistakes and without delay.

In this strait Jerome-Nicolas Séchard had the luck to discover a noble Marseillais who had no mind to emigrate and lose his lands, nor yet to show himself openly and lose his head, and consequently was fain to earn a living by some lawful industry. A bargain was struck. M. le Comte de Maucombe, disguised in a provincial printer's jacket, set up, read, and corrected the decrees which forbade citizens to harbour aristocrats under pain of death; while the 'bear,' now a ' gaffer,' printed the copies and duly posted them, and the pair remained safe and sound.

In 1795, when the squall of the Terror had passed over, Nicolas Séchard was obliged to look out for another jack-of-all-trades to be compositor, reader, and foreman in one; and an Abbé who declined the oath succeeded the Comte de Maucombe as soon as the First Consul restored public worship. The Abbé became a Bishop at the Restoration, and in after days the Count and the Abbé met and sat together on the same bench of the House of Peers.


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