Saturday, December 13, 2008


Me, and a Dragon's Blood tree on the slopes of Skand, Socotra, Yemen.

By way of introduction and an invitation to this blog, to anybody out there in the Grid (with thanks to Michel Foucault), I would like to give a little bit of background as to its origin and to its purpose (not that I am certain that any purpose is really necessary as the blog is a thing in itself). 

Amongst other things, and trying not to sound like Karen von Blixen-Finecke, I was a publisher once. I loved the creative aspect of identifying authors and supervising the editing, design and printing of the books. I was a lousy salesman however and the company had to fold after six years. The company was called Wynkin deWorde after the man who was William Caxton’s typesetter and who took over Caxton’s press after his death in 1491. Wynkyn was a Lotharian i.e. a subject of the Duchy of Lorraine - an area hived off from the middle portion of Charlemagne’s empire in 855 - and was born in the town of Worth. Because of this he was, on his arrival in England, originally known as Wynkyn deWorth. The date of his birth is not known but was probably around about 1452. 

Given his expertise it is possible that Wynkyn was apprenticed into, at a very young age, the nascent movable metallic type industry in nearby Mainz. The printing house of Fust & Schoffer in Mainz was one of the most progressive. Fust had financed the development of Gutenberg’s movable metallic type and eponymous Bible and then gained control of that type in a lawsuit. A Psalter of Fust & Schoffer printed in 1457 is the first book with a printed date. In 1462 Mainz was sacked and many of the Fust & Schoffer artisans moved to Cologne. 

William Caxton, who was responsible for the first book printed in the English language – The Game and Playe of the Chesse in 1474 - and the first books printed in English in England – The Dictes and notable wise sayings of the Philosophers and the second edition of the The Game and Playe of Chesse in 1477 - learnt the art of printing with movable metallic type in Cologne between 1471 and 1472 and in Bruges between 1472 and 1476. He must have met Wynkyn deWorde in one or other of these places because deWorde followed Caxton back to England and became his printer at the Sign of the Red Pale in Westminster. This was encouraged as metallic type printing as a trade was unknown in England and unregulated and under an edict of 1484 printers were allowed to settle in the City without restraint. (By 1533 two years before deWorde’s death this was rescinded as enough home trained artisans were available.)

Following Caxton's death in 1491, deWorde inherited the Caxton equipment and stock, after a legal battle with Caxton’s estranged son-in-law, and initially remained in Caxton’s house until moving to the Sign of the Sun opposite where Shoe Lane joined Fleet Street in 1501. He was unusual in having both a dwelling house and a workshop and paid a considerable tithe of 66 shillings and 8 pence for this privilege. Fleet Street at that time was the home to cappers and saddlers but also ink makers. It also was an area where many country ecclesiastics had their city base. Between 1492 and his death in 1535 deWorde published nearly 830 known works. He was the first publisher in English to respond to secular readers needs by printing Romances and works for children. Initially using Textura typeface he introduced into England Roman typeface, the use of title pages, and the use of italic typeface for subtext within bold type. There has been some criticism of the quality of his printing and the fact that he did not strive harder to improve English wood engraving for blocks used in the illustration of his works. Wynkyn deWorde’s true genius, however, was his realisation of the need to cater for a general audience with a varied output and the print innovations he introduced to enhance that output. He was the first true publisher and his work attracted more and more printers to Fleet Street.

Wynkyn de Worde married Elizabeth in 1480. She and their only child Julian predeceased him but were buried with him near St. Katherine’s altar in the Church of St.Bride’s – The Printers Church- in Fleet Street where he had been a member of the brotherhood. Never pretending to be a scholar or academic he was a popular master who also managed to maintain cordial relationships with rival printers. 

I suppose this blog is dedicated to the memory of Wynkin deWorde, man and company.
Windsong, the running title of the blog, has many meanings. Primarily it is a sound of my childhood, the song of the wind in tall pine trees, high above my self. Secondly it was the title of one of my own books that explored in a fiction format the notion of spirit, redemption and retribution. The novel is not that readily available anymore but is available (like all Wynkin deWorde publications) on Google Books. Thirdly I suppose Windsong is an apt name for the airy freedom of blogging dialogue.
I like to travel in pursuit of background information for my fiction writing and in recent years this has involved following the ancient Frankincense trail from the island of Socotra off the Somalian coast to the Hadramaut in Yemen, to Marib, home of the Queen of Sheba, and to Petra, home of the Nabateans who profited most from the trade for many years. I have also spent a good deal of time in the far eastern part of Turkey, basing myself in Kars and covering all of the territory of the former Kingdoms of Georgia and Armenia and in particular the ancient Armenian capital of Ani. In the blog in future dispatches I will probably touch on the geography, smells and images of these places by way of exposing my soul.

Anyway to truth! 

I believe that all truth (even this argument), be it theological, scientific, legal, whatever, can only ever be an approximation and that fundamentalism in any sphere is not only illogical but is dangerous, both for society and the individual. The 10th of December 2008 was the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of the Declaration states, ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ (Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948) but as we have experienced as a human society in the historical past, and continue to experience in real time (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo etc., etc.), even in the behaviour of countries whose very foundations were established on the basis of rights, ‘There can be a stubborn investment even in cruelty…’ (Clive James in Cultural Amnesia, Notes from the Margin of My Time. Picador, 2007, p513). All in pursuit of the ‘things we don’t know we don’t know’ of Donald Rumsfeld, a truth that can only ever be an approximation! I’ll return to the transcendental Donald at some point in the future.

It is noteworthy that there is no article in the Universal Declaration invoking a Right to Truth and it is only recent times that the semblance of a legal right to truth has been established for the families of victims of gross abuses of humanitarian law.

Let’s start with a dialogue on truth.