Musings – on the editor's mind
May 10, 2023
Before Tom Hanks rode through post-Civil War Texas on his rescue mission bringing the 10-years old Johanna to her grandparents south of San Antonio in the film “News of the World,” there was Paulette Jiles’ 2016 novel. Her protagonist, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, was older than the century, having been born in 1798. He had first seen war in 1812 and lived through it again in 1846 in Mexico.
Kidd was old, 72, and thoughtful and wise, not merely because he had experienced war three times, but because he was a printer in an era when every letter was molded out of hot lead and each word and line was set in a stick and rolled with wet ink before paper was pressed upon it. Finished, the words were fixed in time, each sheet off the press armor against whispering rumors.
Jiles has Kidd walk into a small town printer’s office, where he encounters this sign:
This is a printing office
Crossroads of Civilizations
Refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time
ARMOURY OF FEARLESS TRUTH
AGAINST WHISPERING RUMORS
INCESSANT TRUMPET OF TRADE
From this place words may fly abroad
NOT TO PERISH ON WAVES OF SOUND
NOT TO VARY WITH THE WRITER’S HAND
BUT FIXED IN TIME HAVING BEEN VERIFIED IN PROOF
Friend you are standing on sacred ground
THIS IS A PRINTING
Maybe Jiles found these words in her research. Maybe she made them up. But they are true in her novel and fiction often offers the possibility of larger truths.
A printer’s office was sacred ground throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Printers and their staffs were then some of the community’s best read and knowledgeable members. Printers were the allies of journalists. Indeed, they were often publisher and editor, as Benjamin Franklin was in the Crown colony of Pennsylvania.
Printers and publishers were often considered troublemakers. More than one was run out of town on a rail, or tarred and feathered, or had his office torched or lost his life.
Some printers and publishers take their words seriously, not because they are smarter than the average citizen but because they appreciate the fact that they stand on sacred ground. Words meant facts. Creating words did not put someone closer to heaven but some printers and publishers understood that the truth would set them, and everyone will.