The Definitive Dwiggins no. 26—New Light on Updike’s Dislike of Goudy

Both D.B. Updike and Stanley Morison disliked Fred Goudy and Goudy’s typefaces. In their correspondence they reveled in tossing insults at both. One of the more notable (and memorable) instances is this passage from Updike to Morison:

Poor man, I have never seen anybody with such an itch for publicity, or who blew his own trumpet so artlessly and constantly. He once asked me why I did not employ him for decorative work instead of Dwiggins, for “I taught Mr. Dwiggins all he ever knew.” I replied that the result was surprising because I liked Mr. Dwiggins’ work and not his. Since then our relations have not been quite so cordial. [1]

Updike’s account of his meeting with Goudy is not entirely accurate, though the gist of it is certainly the same.

I recently discovered the original account in the Thomas Maitland Cleland Papers at the Library of Congress. It was buried in a folder of undated, incompletely dated and unidentified correspondence. In a letter headed “Saturday March 14” Updike wrote to Cleland:

I had a cable from Dwiggins saying that they had a smooth crossing and are both well. It seemed to me that he had not fairly got on the boat before I had a visit from Mr. Goudy who very kindly offered to do for me any work heretofore entrusted to Dwiggins. He said that he knew the kind of things I liked; and intimated that altho’ he could not approve of it perhaps, he was able to work in styles foreign to his own tastes! I gently intimated to him, that I should by no means feel justified in asking him to transgress his own artistic principles. He concluded the seance by saying that as he, Goudy, had taught Dwiggins all he knew that he felt that that fitted him as a “remplacement” for Dwiggins! What a horrid little person he is, so
“[reaching]” and grimy, and insufferable! I ought to have pitied him, I suppose, but instead I told him that I did not think that there was the least chance of having anything for him to do. Seriously, one has to protect oneself against the [vanity?] and graspingness of that kind of a man. He hoped, (he said) that his [journey?] wd. do.

But it was such a “forlorn hope”! I have to laugh, but all the same I was amazed at him. [2]

The letter was written in 1908. W.A. Dwiggins and his wife Mabel left for Europe on February 26 of that year, arriving in Southampton on March 4. Dwiggins cabled Updike upon arrival: “26DI M BT Southampton 4 / UPDIKE / BOSTON / SMOOTH OPTIMUM / 5 PM.” This is the setting for the letter to Cleland.

Here is the fuller context of the letter. From 1900 until 1907 Cleland (1880–1964) was Updike’s favorite artist, even after his return to his native New York following the failure of his Cornhill Press in 1901. But once Cleland became art director for McClure’s magazine in 1907, Dwiggins took over as Updike’s favorite artist, a position he held until around 1913 when he was supplanted by Rudolph Ruzicka. But with Dwiggins in Europe and Cleland busy with McClure’s (and Ruzicka not yet known to Updike), Goudy quite reasonably saw an opportunity.

Prior to his work with Updike, which began in the spring of 1906 but did not become serious until early 1907, it was true that everything Dwiggins knew about lettering and decoration had come through his association with Goudy. Goudy had been his teacher for a course in those fields at the Frank Holme School of Illustration in Chicago. After leaving the school, he worked with Goudy for nearly two years in a studio on Michigan Avenue. Then, in the fall of 1904 he accepted Goudy’s invitation to move to Hingham to become part of the relocated Village Press. Even though Dwiggins went out on his own in the spring of 1905 and Goudy subsequently moved to New York City the following year, he remained in touch with his mentor.

A year earlier Dwiggins had proposed to Goudy that they form a Society of Calligraphers, though nothing came of it. They stayed in touch—with Dwiggins checking on Goudy following the Parker Building fire of January 10 that destroyed his office—and visiting the day before boarding the SS. Majestic to sail to England. It is even possible that Dwiggins suggested to Goudy at that meeting that he handle any decorative or lettering work that Updike needed during Dwiggins’ absence. Certainly, Goudy was not trying to take work away from his former student as Updike believed. If that has been the case Dwiggins and Goudy would not have remained on good terms in the years that followed. [4] Dwiggins even did some work for Goudy in 1911, though by then Updike’s view of Goudy had begun to influence his own. [5]

In assessing Updike’s story about Goudy it should be remembered that in 1908 Goudy—as well as Dwiggins and Cleland—was scuffling financially. He had yet to focus his energies on type design. He had not attained the international fame that irritated Updike and Morison so much in 1937.

Updike’s anecdote about Goudy says as much about him as it does about Goudy. It points up Updike’s social, intellectual and geographic snobbishness. Goudy’s visit to him violated his New England Episcopalian notions of proper behavior in which self-promotion and active solicitation of money (work) were frowned upon. Such actions, though, were expected of someone like Goudy, an uneducated hick from the Midwest.

Whether one agrees with Updike’s assessment of Goudy (and, later, of his typefaces), it is important to put his view into its proper historical context. In one way, it is unfortunate that Updike did not hire Goudy for work in 1908 since if he had Goudy’s work, like that of Cleland and Dwiggins, might have taken a different turn.

[1] Stanley Morison & D.B. Updike: Selected Correspondence edited by David McKitterick (London: Scolar Press, 1980), p. 187. Updike to Morison, 13 October 1937. Letter no. 95. [2] Box 21, Thomas Maitland Cleland Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. The three words in brackets are difficult to confidently decipher. But Martin Hutner, the Updike expert, supports my guesses. Updike’s handwriting can be especially difficult to interpret because he made letters and letter combinations in a variety of ways within a single document.
[3] Dwiggins’ 1908 trip to Europe was facilitated by Updike who helped organize and finance it. Some of the advice he gave Dwiggins came from Cleland who had made a similar trip in the summer of 1907.
[4] When Goudy made his first trip to Europe in 1910 Dwiggins gave him advice just as Updike and Cleland had done for him earlier.
[5] As early as 1908 Dwiggins had begun to accept Updike’s view of Goudy. During his European trip he wrote Updike that he was subscribing to his “succinct classification of the gentleman. Am afraid that even my long-suffering charity is on the point of collapsing. Some persons are impossible. What? He was known in certain Chicago circles as The Bug. So much for Brer Goudy.” Despite this view, which seems to have been tailored to fit Updike’s prejudices, Dwiggins, as I have indicated above, remained friendly with Goudy for several years after this and, even decades later, still appreciated the help Goudy had given him at the start of his career.