Sir Francis Bond Head Provides a More Human Perspective on the New Printing Technology


In December 1839 writer and politician Sir Francis Bond Head published a long article in The Quarterly Review entitled "The Printer's Devil". When this essay was published Bond Head had returned to England after two years in office as Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Bond Head's article was a review of two essays on printing by writer and publisher Charles Knight. One was an 87-page book by Knight, presumably entitled The Printer. This I have not seen. The other was "Printing in the Fifteenth and in the Nineteenth Centuries" published in Knight's The Penny Magazine, no. 369 (December 31, 1837). Knight was undoubtedly the most enthusiastic promoter of the new printing technology, often writing enthusiastically about the its adoption at the large London printing firm of William Clowes Ltd that operated somewhere between 15 and 25 steam driven Cowper & Applegath presses, as well as a large number of iron hand-presses for shorter printing runs. Knight was also fond of comparing the advances in production with events in the prior history of books and printing. In his essays Knight emphasized the advantages of the new technology for reducing book production costs and making information available more cheaply to the masses. Because many of Knight's publications were produced by Clowes, Knight had both a financial and social interest in the workings of Clowes' printing plant.

In contrast, Francis Bond Head in his review included more on the human side of the new technology, writing sympathetically about the work days of the staff at William Clowes, including the many young boys and girls who were employed there. Clowes was not critical of the working conditions at Clowes' printing plant. If anything, the working conditions were probably better than in many other factories at the time; instead Bond Head wanted to point out how the process of mechanization, which increased production at lower cost, had changed work.

Bond Head's essay was reprinted in the first volume of his Descriptive Essays Contributed to the Quarterly Review (2 vols., 1857). The reprint in that set does not indicate that Bond Head's essay was a review of Charles Knight's publications.

Sarah Wadsworth, "Charles Knight and Sir Francis Bond Head: Two Victorian Perspectives on Printing and the Allied Trades", Victorian Periodicals Review, 31 (1998) 369-386.

For an analysis of the economic writings of Charles Knight see William F. Kennedy, "Lord Brougham, Charles Knight, and The Rights of Industry," Economica, new Series, 29, No. 113, 58-71.


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