Let’s hear the tale of how Josiah Wade’s hopes were dashed, before later they rose from the ashes; before his star climbed so high that he became the rich, well-respected mayor of Halifax.
He had a poor outlook, Josiah – his father dead before the age of five. Two years later, while still at school, he was obliged to start work. A clever boy, he acquired a berth with a watch-maker, there to make a metier of jewels, wheels, regulators. Parts which sprocketed or cogged together.
Aged thirty, already made good, aboard a boat to the States, he met the deviser of a letterpress. The Arab, it was called. Immediately captivated, he bought the rights to it. At home he modified, tweaked, cajoled the device to perform better. As he did so, he fell for the press of letters. How crisp they looked; each bite of colour the paper took. He would like to be reduced to the size of a crumb, so that he might walk the fibres of the paper, see the absorbed colour close up. Traverse the crossbars, perambulate the black uprights of his letters like they were the streets of a grimy city, be required to climb across the spaces which separated the words as if they were brick walls. How they smelt too – chemicals mixed with premium grade paper – was a pleasure. The same burst of pure joy came to him with the type set, the galley packed with words, brim-full with ideas, with – well, whatever it might be – fact or tale, frost or flame. Every pressed page required physical effort, with the heavy, spoked flywheel powered by a treadle. Vast swathes of time disappeared as he lifted or lowered the press, as he stacked what would become the pages of a book or the weekly Courier.
At the same time as he fell for letterpress, he also fell for a girl. People may have thought that he had perfected the Arab to make his pot of gold, but veiled from them was Josiah’s true motive. It was love which drove him. Elizabeth lived the other side of Huddersfield with her family. She was all he had ever dreamed of, vivacious, amiable, as tack-sharp as he himself; more so, he would admit – she had a way with words which touched or tickled him. But her father required her services still. She was the sole daughter. Josiah’s suit was rebuffed. He was crushed.
As he grieved, Josiah set stories, tales he had himself composed by oil lamp, bordered with flowers he etched, to give to the love of his life, the love who thus far had resisted his overtures despite what her heart bade her do. After several attempts to move her father, this seemed the last throw of the dice. A beautiful storybook, tailored to her tastes. But it differed from all previous books, of that he was sure. For from every story he had dropped each successive letter of the alphabet to produce a series of what the old-world Greeks called lipograms.
This was what lay at the roots of his efforts to perfect the Arab. Stories he hoped sweet Eliza would press to her heart. As she gazed at the majuscule letters of the book’s title, as she read its pages, she was deeply touched, but while she dared dream, as life stood, she feared she would have to reject his suit; his stories too. She must care for her father. Duty stood foursquare before her. With as much grace as he could muster, Josiah acquiesced, twice-crushed.
Yet as all passes, she reflected, so would her father. At which time she would be free to make her vows, if Josiah’s heart was still wholly hers. This is what she hoped, what she prayed might come to be, bowed over her bed before a sleep shot through with softly seductive dreams of the future.
It was refusal which drove Josiah to overcome all the other obstacles he faced. Without her, his life seemed empty, but he strove to fill it, to make good his promise to himself, to her, that the day would come, the day which saw them prosperously married.
He had become a master compositor. The letterpress flourished. Josiah had all that a heart might desire, save what it most cherished – Eliza. To occupy himself, he decided to give back some of what he had accumulated. Elected to serve his ward, he swiftly rose to be a committee chair. As well as wisdom, he brought fresh water to the populace. Josiah stood for – was the very model of – progress.
All the while, words still flew twixt the two would-be lovers. By post, they poured out their souls to each other. Years passed. Ultimately Josiah’s stoic wait was rewarded with the bittersweet arrival of a black-edged letter. From the midst of death, love could at last flourish. With what pleasure did Josiah see cards decorated with the marriage particulars roll off the letterpress? How happy was he as Eliza repeated the words he had wished to hear above all others? There is surely little cause to trouble readers of this tale with replies to either of those two queries.