Issue 82, Winter 1981
The text of this book was set, via computer-driven cathode ray tube, in a film version of 12 point Sophonisba, a typeface designed by A(rthur) A(delbert) Rawling for the Bald Eagle Linotype Company of Evanston, Illinois, in 1929. Due to the financial crisis of that year, the Bald Eagle Company went out of business before the typeface could be used, and its peculiar graces lay dormant all these decades, to be appreciated by the world for the first time only now. The unabashed scimitarsweep of its serifs was Rawling’s contemptuous response to the proliferating use of sans serif typefaces, “which the eye slides off like a buttered noodle off a fork,” he said. “They are the beloved of undergraduates, anarchists, sexual deviates, jazz babies and nincompoops—terms I consider synonymous.”
Rawling died in 1966 and therefore never knew the pleasure of seeing a book set in the typeface he designed with such artistry and love,and which he named after his wife, the former Sophonisba Blunt, daughter of General Horatius (“Stone-head”) Blunt, veteran of the Mexican border wars, and author of A Plain Blunt Man, his unpublished memoirs. Sophonisba was a lyric poet in her own right, who garnered a small regional reputation as The Sweet Warbler of Forest Park (a suburb of Chicago) and who published several volumes of her verse which she printed herself in 24 point Aesthetic on a small hand press in the basement of her parents’ house.
Her father named her after Hannibal’s sister, daughter of Hasdrubal, and the subject of James Thomson’s once popular tragedy, in which occurs a famous line that has long been the butt of mockery: “Oh, Sophonisba! Sophonisba, oh!” General Blunt wrote of that line: “Absurd it may be (both Fielding and Dr. Johnson ridiculed it), and yet on the lips of a fine declamatory actor, it can shred the heart. I do not approve of the substitution, ‘Oh, Sophonisba, I am wholly thine’—it lacks the ungirt emotion of the original.” Sophonisba Blunt Rawling was known as Sophie to almost everyone, including her mother and her husband, but excluding her father, who invariably addressed and referred to her by the long form of her Christian name. “What’s in a name?” he rhetorically asked in his autobiography, and rhetorically replied, “Not very much, perhaps, but what little there is should be granted its full value. Was Alexander the Great known as Alex, Julius Caesar as Julie, Napoleon as Nappie? No: but when, in our democratic slackness, we reduce our great men to cronies by disrespectfully calling them Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, we do great harm to them and to ourselves. I would as lief call our present chief executive ’Cal’ as I would refer to the King Jim Bible. Thankful I am that I was christened Horatius, a name that does not easily lend itself to diminutives.” For that very reason, however, his schoolmates, from kindergarten through West Point, blighted his life with the greeting, “Goodness gracious, here’s Horatius!” and invented a number of sobriquets of which the least offensive was “Stonehead,” sometimes spoken in variants such as “The Great Stone Head” (inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of nearly that title) or “Big Chief Stonehead” or “Herr Doktor Steinkopf.” The “Big Chief” appellation was not entirely inappropriate,because the General was reputed to be one-fourth Cherokee, which his flinty facial features seemed to confirm. He always insisted that the nickname "Stonehead" was a tribute to his stoic, chiseled, noble Cherokee profile, and was by no means to be misconstrued as a disparagement of his mental powers.