[William Morris] was at pains to explain that he did not make a servile copy of the Rubeus fount because he recognized that ‘it is no longer tradition if it be servilely copied, without change, the token of life.’
Readability is very largely a question of habit. The basic truth is that we read most easily the types that we read the most frequently. In setting himself the task ‘to redeem the Gothic character from the charge of unreadableness which is commonly brought against it,’ Morris largely ignored the fact that Gothic letterforms were so infrequently read as continuous texts by his contemporaries that such letterforms, however beautifully and skilfully he interpreted them, were bound on account of their unfamiliarity to be considered less readable than roman type. His own satisfaction with gothic type was that it provided a richer texture that was to him a pleasure in itself, and also made it a better foil for fine woodcut illustrations than any page of spindly roman type.
Among the photographic enlargements supplied by Walker were some lines from Morris’s copy of Aretino’s Historia Fiorentina, printed at Venice in 1476 by Jacobus Rubeus in a type that closely resembled Jenson’s. From this original Morris evolved the design of his Golden type (so named because it was to be used to compose the Kelmscott edition of The Golden Legend). After thoroughly absorbing the characteristics, virtues, and defects of the Rubeus fount by repeatedly drawing over the enlargements, Morris then drew the designs for his own type in the same large scale as Walker’s enlargements. Next his drawings were photographically reduced by Walker to the scale in which the Golden type was to be cut. At this stage both Morris and Walker criticized them and brooded over them. Finally Morris worked over his drawings yet again until he was thoroughly satisfied with their design in every detail. He was at pains to explain that he did not make a servile copy of the Rubeus fount because he recognized that ‘it is no longer tradition if it be servilely copied, without change, the token of life.’ He set out to make his letter pure in form—‘severe, without needless excrescences: solid without the thickening and thinning of the line, which is the essential fault of the ordinary modern type, and which makes it difficult to read; and not compressed laterally, as all later type has grown to be owing to commercial exigencies.’ He was conscious too that his roman type, especially in the lowercase, tended rather more to the Gothic than did his fifteenth-century Venetian model.