The History of Printing.

Scientific American 40, 26.6.1847

Foremost of the mechanical arts which promote the prosperity of man, is Printing. There is none which has exercised, or will probably exercise a more beneficial influence upon him than this. There is none which af fords him greater help in lessening the evil of his lot. What activity it has given to thought - what a light it has thrown upon the dark places of the world - how rapidly and how widely it has spread the seeds of knowledge - what a comparative stability it has given to language! "What diverse effects this new invention of printing hath produced," was a remark of Cardinal Wolsey, and every year since his time has given occasion for a repetition of the same observation. At the dawn of so much enlightenment the moles and bats might well be alarmed, and declare that they must root out printing, or printing would root out them. Thus Andrew Marvell expressed the sentiments of such persons in a cutting strain of irony - "it was a happy time when all learning was in manuscript, and some little officer did keep the keys of the library. There have been ways found out to banish ministers, to find not only the people but even the grounds and fields where they assembled in conventicles; but no art yet could prevent these seditious meetings of letters. Two or three braway fellows in a corner, with mere ink and elbow grease, do more harm than a hundred systematic divines with their sweaty preaching. Oh printing! how hast thou disturbed the peace of mankind! - that lead when moulded into bullets, is not as mortal as when fermed into letters!"

The origin of the art in the East, is dated by some writers before the birth of Christ, and in China it is supposed to have been known in a rude way for three thousand years "As the stone Me (a word signifying ink) which is used to blacken the engraved characters, can never become white, so a heart blackened by vice, will allways retain its blackness." So said the emperor Van Vong, who flourished 1220, B. C. in all probability the printing thus alluded to was done by the application of eachengraved block to the paper by the hand. The Chinese, however if they can be said to possess the art of printing, seem to have kept it to themselves, and like all hoarded wealth, it appears to have done its possessors little good. The disemination of books must have been very slow as long as they were entirely produced by the hand and pen. Caxton uttered his complaints agains the labor of transcription in these words: - "Thus end i this book, and for mache as in writing of the same my penne is worn, myn hande wery, and myn eyne dimmed with over m och e looking on the whyt paper, and that age creepeth on me daily." Earlier than his time a few books had been executed from engraved blocks of wood, of which the earliest is dated in 1423, and contains the curious print of St. Christopher, alluded to in the history of engraving. The manuscripts produced by the monastic scribes and others, were frequently richly ornamented with miniature painting, and the writers took delight in colorin (or miniaturing, as it has been called), the capital letters throughout. Such Manuscripts as these are now stored up in museums as specimens of the industry and ingenuity of past times, when newspapers and magazines were not. Of course it was only the rich that could afford to buy books. We learn from a letter addressed by Bonomia Becatellus to the king of Naples, that the price of a volume of Livy's works, was 120 golden crowns, and that to purchase the whole he had to sell a piece of land. it is a fact, that a Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the homilies of Harmon, bishop of Halberstadt, 200 sheep, five quarters of wheat, and five quarters of rye.

There have been four principal competitors for the honor of having invented the art, namely, Gutemberg, of Mayence, Fust or Faust of Strasburg, Schoeffer or Gernsheim and Costar of Haarlem. if ever any man deserved to be held in grateful remembrance by his fellows, it is the inventor of printing, but such was the ambiguous manner in which it came to light, and so little information is there upon which we can rely touching its early history, that the matter must, we fear for ever remain abrouded in uncertainty like the beginnigs of many other important things. However it is usually considered that Gutemburgh, alias Gensfleisch, has the best claims to the invention. He settled at Strasburg abotu 1424 as a merchant, and about 1442, he produced some school-books, printed from types, and eight years afterwards, he published a printed Bible, in the latin language, which has been commonly called the Mazarine Bible, because a copy was unexpectedly found about the last century, in the library of Cardinal Mazarine at Paris. in the mean time he had entered into partnership with Faust, which was dissolved by reason of some disagreement that occured, and the two men set up business separately in Strasburg. in 1457, an edition of the Paulter was published by Faust and Schoeffer - in the preface to which, they assumed the credit of the new invention. To the latter has generally been assigned, a contrivance by which the making of types was facilitated, namely by forming punches of engraved steel, whereby matrices were struck, and then the types cast. As to Costar, so dubious and uncertain is the origin of his splendid discovery, it has been asserted that no such person existed. However, at Haarlem, they have a different tale, and the current tradition is, that to beguile an idle hour, when strolling in a forest near Haarlem he began to carve letters in the bark of a beech tree, and then took an impression of them. He then took a loose piece of wood and did the same thing, only he laid upon the characters a species of adhesive ink. With such rude materials as these, he produced a book in Flemish, but as he printed the leaves only on one side, he glued them in pairs back to back. He then tried metal types, and his experiment succeeded completely. it happened that amongst the persons he employed there was one who disregarded the oath his master imporsed, and having learned the secret of making moveable letters, he stole away secretly to Mayence. This was no other than the above mentioned Faust. Whether we believe this story or not, true it is, that the Haarlem people have raised monuments to their illustrious Costar, and celebrate an annual festival to his memory as the undoubted inventor of printing.

Gutemburg removed from Strasburg to Maence, and having there procured an advance of money, he set up a press and issued a Latin Dictionary, a Bible, and some other works. The works of the printers were then stopped by the invasion of Adolphus, Count of Nassau, whose service Gutemburg entered, and we hear no more of him as a printer. Faust is reported to have gone to Paris to sell some of his Bibles, and to have died there of the plague, and the name of Schoeffer alone, afterwards appeared on the books issued from that press. The popular story of Dr. Faustus and the Devil, found in so many languaes, is said to have taken its rise from this individual. it seems that the better to keep their invention secret, the old printers formed their type in the shape of written characters; but as they sold their ooks at a rate much less than the venders of manuscripts could possibly afford, sixty crowns instead of five hundred, was the price asked for a bible, Faust was charged with having dealing with the evil one. Something peculiar in the colour of the red ink with which the books were ornamented was noticed it was affirmed that it was the blood of the printer which the devil compelled him to use. He was apprehended on a charge of sorcery, and condemned to be burnt, but he saved himself by revealing his secret.

(To be continued.)

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