Caslon, William

, eminent in an art of the greatest consequence to literature, that of letter-founding, was born in 1692, in the part of the town of Hales-Owen which is situated in Shropshire. Though he justly attained the character of being the Coryphaeus in letter-founding, he was not brought up to the business; and it is observed by Mr. Mores, that this handiwork is so concealed among the artificers of it, that he could not discover that any one had taught it to another; but every person who had used it had acquired it by his own ingenuity. Mr. Caslon served a regular apprenticeship to an engraver of ornaments on gun-barrels, and, after the expiration of his term, carried on this trade in Vine-street, near the Minories. He did not, however, solely confine his ingenuity to that instrument, but employed himself likewise in making tools for the book-binders, and for the chasing of silver plate. Whilst he was engaged in this business, the elder Mr. Bowyer accidentally saw in a bookseller’s shop, the lettering of a book uncommonly neat; and inquiring who the artist was by whom the letters were made, was thence induced to seek an acquaintance with Mr. Caslon. Not long after, Mr. Bowyer took Mr. Caslon to Mr. James’s foundery, in Bartholomew-close. Caslon had never before that time seen any part of the business; and being asked by his friend if he thought he could undertake to cut types, he requested a single day to consider the matter, and then replied that he had no doubt but he could. Upon this answer, Mr. Bowyer, Mr. Bettenham, and Mr. Watts, then eminent printers, had such a confidence in his abilities, that they lent him 500l. to begin the undertaking, and he applied himself to it with equal assiduity and success. In 1720, the society for promoting Christian knowledge, in consequence of a representation from Mr. Solomon Negri, a native of Damascus, in Syria, who was well skilled in the Oriental tongues, and had been professor of Arabic, in places of note, deemed it expedient to print, for the use of the eastern churches, the NVw Testament and Psalter in the Arabic language. These were intended for the benefit of the poor Christians in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, | Arabia, and vEgypt, the constitution of which countries did not permit the exercise of the art of printing. Upon this occasion, Mr. Caslon was pitched upon to cut the fount; in his specimens of which he distinguished it by the name of English Arabic. After he had finished this fount, he cut the letters of his own name in pica Roman, and placed them at the bottom of one of the Arabic specimens. The name being seen by Mr. Palmer (the reputed author of a history of printing, which was, in fact, written by Psalmanaazar), he advised our artist to cut the whole fount of pica. This was accordingly done, and the performance exceeded the letter of the other founders of the time. But Mr. Palmer, whose circumstances required credit with those whose business would have been hurt by Mr. Caslon’s superior execution, repented of the advice he had given him, and endeavoured to discourage him from any farther progress. Mr. Caslon, being justly disgusted at such treatment, applied to Mr. Bowyer, under whose inspection he cut, in 1722, the beautiful fount of English which was used in printing Selden’s works, and the Coptic types that were employed in Dr. Wilkins’s edition of the Pentateuch. Under the farther encouragement of Mr. Bowyer, Mr. Bettenham, and Mr. Watts, he proceeded with vigour in his employment, and Mr. Bowyer was always acknowledged by him to be his master, from whom he had learned his art. In letter-founding he arrived at length to such perfection, that he not only relieved his country from the necessity of importing types from Holland, but in the beauty and elegance of those made by him, he so far exceeded the productions of the best artificers, that his workmanship was frequently exported to the continent. Indeed, it may with great justice and confidence be asserted, that a more? beautiful specimen than his is not to be found in any part of the world. Mr. Caslon’s first foundery was in a small house in Helmet-row, Old-street. He afterwards removed into Ironmonger-row; and about 1735, into Chiswell-street, where his foundery became, in process of time, the most capital one that exists in this or in foreign countries. Having acquired opulence in the course of his employment, he was put into the commission of the peace for the county of Middlesex. Towards the latter end of his life, his eldest son, William, being in partnership with him, he retired in a great measure from the active execution of business. His last country residence was at Bethnal-green, where he died | Jan. 23, 1766, aged seventy-four. He was interred in the church-yard of St. Luke, Middlesex, in which parish all his different founderies were situated, and where they are still carried on by one of his descendants, under the firm of Caslon and Cattierwood. Mr. Caslon was universally esteemed as a fist-rate artist, a tender master, and an nonest, friendly, and benevolent man and sir John Hawkins has particularly celebrated his hospitality, his social qualities, and his love of music. 1


Nichols’s Life of Bowyer. Hawkins’s Hist of Music. Biog. Brit.