ne of America's foremost calligraphers here tells the complete and fascinating story of writing characters. In the days before history men scratched upon the walls of their caves animal portraits and startingly lifelike hunting scenes. Later, the Egyptians produced a really systematic means of writing, and their decorative hieroglyphics were in use as long as five thousand years before the birth of Christ. In spite of their various styles of writing—hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic—the Egyptians never really produced a true alphabet. That step, the most important of all, was taken by the efficient, commercial Phoenicians, who quite ironically made one of the greatest contributions to civilization when they carried their writing to the peninsula of Greece. In Greece, the letters, which hitherto had varied widely according to the whim of the writer, became well-formed, definite characters. The Romans made further improvements and incorporated into their alphabet all the letters that we have today except J, U and W. They produced on memorial columns the most beautiful capital letters that have ever been inscribed.
The evolution of small letters followed. From the Roman incised capitals a succession of scribes over a span of centuries developed first the Square Capitals, then the Rutic Capials. By the fifth century A.D. manuscript work was chiefly conducted in Christian monasteries where the beautiful unicals and semiunicals were perfected. Charlemagne undertook to revise the somewhat haphazard recrding of Church literature and under him Alcuin of York designed the exquisite Caroline letter, which was the forefunner of all modern small-letter alphabets. In the hands of his followers the Caroline small letters continued to changed in character and finish, attaining their present form several centuries before the invention of printing.
The early printers simply copied the best of the handwritten characters that were in existence. In fact they had to copy to compete! In the same way, when we moderns invented typesetting devices and high-speed machinery, we too adopted our mechanically produced letters from letter forms that had been nurtured and polished for thousands of years. And that is the way they are today.
Mr Ogg makes it very clear that letters are not merely geometric symbols. The characters themselves are a form of art that is a priceless heritage. Full of love and admiration for these letters, he has drawn examples of all—the ancient, the medieval, the modern—with the skill and devotion of a manuscript scribe. He has enlivened this history with thumbnail stories: the discovery of the Altamira wall paintings; the strange letter to Darius; the finding of the Rosetta stone; the competition of Saint Columba and Saint Finnian. He tells how type is made and how a modern printing press works. He explains the principles of Egyptian hieroglyphics. He makes it clear how the Chinese "alphabet" works. In short he covers the whole alphabet story from beginning to end!
This is a used copy in good vintage condition with some wear to the dust jacket and yellowing.
By Oscar Ogg. Hardcover. 262 pages. Published by Thomas Y Crowell Company, 1959.