THE TWO MEN first met during the winter of 1907-08. The place was the Hotel Lafayette in New York City, and what brought them together was that a mutual friend, the bookseller Lewis Hatch, had identified Rudolph Ruzicka to Daniel Berkeley Updike as being an artist to whom the Merrymount Press might confidently turn for the provision of something needed within a book the Press was then preparing to issue. Nearly seventy years later Rudolph Ruzicka would recall of the occasion: "Updike and I had a disagreement at that meeting. I was quite interested in encouraging modem or contemporary art, particularly in printing. I was probably motivated by economic considerations, because of course if printers used only old ornamentation, where would present-day artists come in? That was one of the points of our disagreement. Updike's tendency of course, which was largely practical, was just to borrow things from the past. We argued about that quite violently."
Only twenty-four years old at the time of this initial encounter with D. B. Updike, Ruzicka had in 1894 emigrated with his parents to the United States from a small town, Kourim, in central Bohemia. At fourteen he left school in Chicago, where the family had settled, and began an apprenticeship as a wood engraver. Over a period of a half-dozen years he worked for a number of Chicago firms. Then, in 1903 he moved to New York, in order to pursue there a furtherance of his career. By the time of his introduction to Updike in the winter of 1907-08, he was on the staff of Calkins & Holden, one of the city's leading advertising agencies, but also trying, concurrently, to devote himself to his own, independent work as a wood engraver.
When he and Rudolph Ruzicka met, Daniel Berkeley Updike was already widely acknowledged as ranking among America's foremost printers. He had in 1880, at age twenty, left Providence, Rhode Island, his native city, to take up employment with the Boston publishers Houghton, Mifflin & Company, ultimately being assigned responsibilities particularly associated with that firm's printing plant, the Riverside Press. Next, in 1893, he set up his own office in Boston, to provide typographic design, consulting, and supervisory services. This, in turn, was followed by his acquisition of type and equipment to permit an in-house carrying forward of both composition and manufacturing operations. And, finally, in 1896 the establishment had adopted as its designation the name "The Merrymount Press."
Correspondence between Updike and Ruzicka, who were in due course to develop so close and long-continuing a personal friendship, while engaging on frequent occasion in various working relationships as well, began soon after their rather hostile and contentious interview at the Hotel Lafayette. It was Updike who wrote first, in a letter that emphasized his desire to see specimens of Ruzicka's recent engravings and which also made guarded reference to the possibility of there being proffered an engraving assignment from the Merrymount Press - an assignment that would turn out to entail a rendering of the central decorative feature and border elements (based upon a design recently done for Updike by William Addison Dwiggins) to adorn the title page of a volume in the Press's first "Humanists' Library" series.
Among the subjects treated of in Ruzicka's letters from this early period is his personal work then in progress-especially his wood-engraved portrait of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, soon to be included in a publication entitled A Portfolio of Prints that he and certain of his Calkins & Holden associates, styling themselves the "Graphic Arts Club," would bring forth during 1 908. -
D.B. U. to R.R. - February 26, 1908 ... I have not received the examples of wood engraving which you very kindly said you would forward. I want very much to see them, as I have a design which I might be able to put in your hands. May I, therefore, hear from you as soon as may be as to this?
I am a little afraid my design is too fine for your style, but nevertheless, should like to give you a trial if I can ....
R.R. to D.B. U. - February 27, 1908 ... I received your kind note regarding the promised examples of my wood engravings and beg to explain my delay in sending them at an earlier date.
In the first place, the portrait of St. Gaudens is now in the hands of the printer, (who by the way never seems able to give me the right colors); then I have something in the work, a river scene which will I hope show my ability to somewhat better advantage than anything I have heretofore attempted.
In view of your letter I am sending you a registered package containing the following:
One of my early attempts at East River "landscape", an unsuccessful thing throughout as my impatience to cut got the better of my judgement, the result being both bad drawing as well as engraving; the same stands true of the little initials which suggested to me a series but were not intended for anything definite; the Emerson portrait a proof of which you have already seen[;] and finally a trial proof of the St. G. wrestled from the printers this noon ....
A knowledge that my work will be of definite use will be an encouragement I felt missing in most of my previous work and I assure you that anything I will do for you will be done in the best spirit I am capable of and to your satisfaction, I hope ....
D.B. U. to R.R. - March 2, 1908 ... Thank you very much for your letter. The registered package has also arrived with the four interesting enclosures.
I like what you have sent me very much. The Saint-Gaudens seems to me the best thing which you have done .... I am holding these here for a day or two and will then return them.
I am sending you something which you might like to try your hand on, namely, a title page to be cut on wood, to the weight of line shown in drawing. I send you a book in this series and the cutting must be made to go with that of the initial letters and the colophon engraving therein, although I do not mind if it has a little more snap than these have. It is so difficult to get a happy mean between something which is polite, smooth and lifeless; and something which has a little "kick" to it. Unfortunately, this last quality generally goes it too hard.
The title page design which I send is to have lines of type in the panels as shown. These will be printed in. The engraved design will be printed entirely in red, or at least that is my present view ....
Will you look into this and tell me how much you think it would be worth to do, and, if you care to undertake it, let me know? ...