Back to the Fraktur

A little while ago, I posted a few odd thoughts on the intersection of print and content in response to a much better piece of writing addressing that subject (among other things). As it turns out, I’m not quite finished with those thoughts, so I return to them here by way of yet another deaccessioned library book in my own collection: Auswahl aus Luthers Deutschen Schriften, edited with Introduction and Notes by W. H. Carruth and printed by The Athenaeum Press (Ginn & Company, Publishers) in 1899.

Cover, Auswahl aus Luthers Deutsche Schriften, 1899

Cover, Auswahl aus Luthers Deutsche Schriften, edited with introduction and notes by W.H. Carruth.

Unlike the edition of Nietzsche from 1922 that I discussed in my previous post, this earlier publication is a textbook intended for university students in the United States. It was published under the imprint of the Athenaeum Press in Boston by Ginn & Company, as a part of Athenaeum’s International Modern Languages Series. It’s in better shape than the Nietzsche book, perhaps in part due to its sturdier construction: sewn binding, heavier paper, hard cover. The Athenaeum Press is worth a post of its own, as one of the earlier printing operations built in Cambridge back when the Harvard University Press and the Riverside Press were the biggest players in town. [1]


Title page. Note the typefaces used for the German-language bits (a mix of sizes from Athenaeum’s leaded German type set) and for the name of the press (in a different Blackletter-style typeface — probably Athenaeum’s Priory Text 10 pt No. 1).

The earliest pages of the text provide a convenient snapshot of the interesting choices being made in the presentation here, including Jacob Grimm’s laudatory comment on the importance of Martin Luther’s language on the title page itself. The editor, W. H. Carruth (Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of Kansas, in the years before he became Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford), chose to assemble a selection of the writings of Martin Luther in a form that rationalized rather than normalized the text:

The rationalizing of the present text proceeds on the theory of removing all merely typographic obstacles to ease of reading, without changing anything that can be essential to the attempt to arrive at the phonetics, and above all the inflection, syntax, and vocabulary of the original (Carruth, Introduction, x).

Unlike the business of normalizing a text, the kind of rationalizing project that Carruth takes on here aims to preserve not just the apparent content expressed in the text, but also the manner of its expression. Luther’s spelling and grammar, for example, were not always regular and do not consistently match later standard or hochdeutsch usage (obviously!). In addition to the unique features of the text as written, earlier print editions sometimes introduced changes from Luther’s original manuscripts that became part of later print conventions. While these things might be corrected in a normalized edition aimed at presenting the book’s content as clearly as possible, a student of Luther’s actual language would be more likely to find a rationalized text (or a diplomatic reprint) useful. This includes preserving not only variant spellings and syntax, but also preserving the typography, for which reason Carruth’s collection of Luther’s writings features an introduction, notes, and editorial commentary in an Antiqua type mingled with Luther’s actual words in Fraktur.


A sample of the typeface mix in the Carruth collection — Antiqua mixed with Fraktur in the presentation of a diplomatic reprint

While Fraktur is used in both the Nietzsche text and in this one in order to signify a kind of authenticity with regard to the language and culture that produced the material it presents, the typeface comes to do so for each book in quite different ways. Long before the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute under way during the time period in which Carruth’s selections of Luther’s writings were printed in the United States, the use of a variety of Fraktur was a relatively reliable way to identify the works of the reformers, including Luther himself. Fraktur was for printing (reformer’s) German, Antiqua was for printing Latin. To present Luther’s German in Fraktur, then, is about more than preserving orthography — it is an act of theological preservation, in which the content of the text is deeply bound up in the typographical means used to express it. This is how Fraktur becomes “German” (and a sort of “people’s” German at that, in acknowledgement of the role Luther himself plays in the development of the language); it is the seed that eventually flowers into the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute of the 19th and 20th centuries. Carruth’s rationalized or diplomatic presentation of Luther’s writings thus occupies a rather different place from Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche‘s reprinting of her brother’s work; the American Carruth is a scholarly outsider acting as a preserver of “authentic” German language, history, and identity where Förster-Nietzsche casts herself as its restorer or protector.

  1. For those interested in exploring the history of the Athenaeum Press further (or just mildly curious about it and about the history of publishing in the US), I recommend taking a look at this lovely Souvenir of the Athenaeum Press and this fascinating silent film about Ginn & Company that includes footage covering most of the actual letterpress printing process they used at Athenaeum. Ginn & Company is now owned by Pearson, and the historic building that housed the Athenaeum Press is currently home to a great many businesses that are not, as it happens, publishers.

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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One Response to Back to the Fraktur

  1. Pingback: Fraktur-ed Fairy Tales | Ginger WAS The Professor!

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