”A poem begins….

…..as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness…”*

*Robert Frost, writing to Louis Untermeyer.

One day in 1883, the Metropolitan Railway was carrying Mr William Morris and Mr Emery Walker, master printer, home to Hammersmith from a Socialist League meeting at Bethnal Green. (Five years later, Emery Walker was to give a lecture on the history of typography, at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of that year, which is now considered the defining moment of the modern interest in that subject.) On that very journey, it is reported, Morris proposed: “Let’s make a new fount of type”. The pair also decided to open a Hammersmith branch of the League.

The “Golden Type” was born, and Walker and Morris went on to produce fifty two works in sixty six volumes until the closure of the Kelmscott Press following the death of William Morris in 1896.

From 1903-1933, Emery Walker and his daughter, Dorothy, lived at 7, Hammersmith Terrace, and I have just had the delight of being shown round its complete and authentic Arts and Crafts interior. Walker initially leased the house from T J Cobden-Sanderson, barrister turned bookbinder, buying it freehold from him in the 1920s. Cobden-Sanderson was the originator of the Doves Bindery, named after a nearby pub.

Walker went on to found the Doves Press in 1900 with Cobden-Sanderson, developing for the purpose the Doves Roman type. At this point I recommend you to the 2015 account by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, “The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100 Year Mystery”, and “X Marks the Spot”, a piece by Justin Quirk. For a clue to Cobden-Sanderson’s emotional nature, I quote from his journal: “The terrible vision of the rush of its mighty but ordered forces, in the sun and the moon and the stars…”.

Contemporary typographer Robert Green has devoted years to crafting a digital reproduction of the famous typeface: “In search of perfect curves and precise serifs, he reckons he has redrawn it at least 120 times. “I’m not really sure why I started. In the end it took over my life.” “.

So much so that three years ago this month, he commissioned a cadre of ex-military divers who work for the Port of London Authority to dive for, and in the event find, several hundred pieces of the original type. Green describes it as “very elegant, kind of spiky in a way, but that gives it authority – and it’s got this lovely angle, so it has got some humanity to it.”.

In 2017, Green created typographic window installations, featuring the revived Doves type, for the Folk Clothing store in Great Windmill St, Soho. In this work he quoted Iain Sinclair, the writer, filmmaker and psychogeographer. Sinclair’s “Edge of the Orison” reconstructed the poet John Clare’s walk from Dr Matthew Allen’s private lunatic asylum in Epping Forest to his home near Peterborough. In “Rodinsky’s Room”, Sinclair writes about Claybury Asylum, another psychiatric hospital in Essex. Folk Clothing have described Robert Green and Iain Sinclair as “London fugueurs”.

The Swedish painter, Johan Furaker, based his 2011 exhibition on the Bordeaux fugueur, Albert Dadas, who in 1887 was the first subject on record to attract the diagnosis of “pathological runaway”. He was examined not only by Dr Albert Pitres but also by Jean-Martin Charcot and Gilles de la Tourette. From the age of twelve, over a period of thirty five years, Dadas was given to wandering as far as Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Constantinople and Moscow, often without papers. Dr Pitres’s intern instructed Dadas to carry documents explaining that he was suffering from dromomania, or hysterical fugue, and lived in Bordeaux, and requesting that he be sent home as soon as possible.

It’s worth noting that the present day William Morris Centre, a hub for forensic psychological therapies, is named to commemorate Morris’s time at the Red House in nearby Bexleyheath.

Dadas explained to the young psychiatrist that he loved walking and travel, though when he eventually returned home his mind would be a blank; he remembered nothing of his journeys.

Only under hypnosis, much in fashion at the time, did he recall his wanderings.

“If the moon smiled,

She would resemble you.

You leave the same impression

Of something beautiful,

But annihilating.”

Sylvia Plath, “The Rival”.

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