« PreviousContinue »
time could term the language barbarous, or inadequate to the purposes of the divine, the orator, and the poet.
Thus a firm basis was laid by them on which to erect the superstructure of a National Literature.
THE ART OF PRINTING, ITS PROFESSORS AND PATRONS.
A LONG period of gross darkness succeeded the time of Wickliffe and Chaucer. Public events will in some measure account for the check that mental activity received. Both Henry IV. and his son, the fifth of the name, adopted the plan of diverting the attention of the people from political grievances and theological investigations, by leading them to war with France. And when, at length, these foreign contests ended, there ensued the terrible civil broils — the Wars of the Roses
– that lasted thirty years, were signalized by twelve pitched battles, cost the lives it is said of eighty princes of the blood, almost annihilated the ancient nobility of England, and, what was much worse, devastated the land, checked the efforts of industry, impoverished and brutalized the people, and obviously prevented the spread of learning and the advance of civilization.
The two great events of the fifteenth century were the introduction of the art of printing, and the discovery of America. It will be interesting to note some of the subordinate matters connected
with literature, prior to the introduction of that art which was to enfranchise the human mind.
It is a little humbling to the pride of human genius to note how the perpetuating and multiplying of a thought depended on small matters. The causes that principally operated to keep the human mind in darkness for ages, were the scarcity of materials for writing, and the consequent dearness of manuscripts.
Stone slabs, metal plates, wooden blocks, the bark of trees, leaves of a tough fibre, and papyrus, manufactured from a species of rush, which the ancients procured exclusively on the banks of the Nile, were the first materials used before prepared skins, as parchment and vellum, were introduced. An iron graver was the pen used for stone or metal surfaces. A coating of wax was spread over the wooden blocks for occasional rather than permanent writing; which had the convenience of being easily obliterated by heat, and presented a smooth surface. A bone or ivory style was the implement used for writing on this. Egyptian reeds were used for writing on bark, papyrus, and parchment. The use of quill pens, though known in the seventh century, did not become general till six hundred years later.
The tablets, or thin slices of wood, when fastened together, formed a book, Codex, so called from resembling the trunk of a tree split into
planks — hence our word code. The leaves used for writing give us our word Folio, from the Latin folium, a leaf. When the inner bark was preferred, that of the lime tree especially, it was called liber — hence Liber, the Latin name for a book, and the root of many words referring to books. When these bark books were rolled into a portable form they were called volumen-hence our word volume. And the primitive meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word boc, is the beech tree.-- from which our word book.
Paper from rags—first cotton and then linen was made, according to Dr. Robertson's account, in the eleventh century. The learned historian of the middle ages, Hallam, entirely discredits the assertion that paper was in use so early, He dates its introduction, if not invention, as late as the thirteenth, or early in the fourteenth century.* This useful material must have supplied a most important means of improvement. Parchment and vellum had always been dear, and owing to the monopolies in the manufacture they were scarce; and, therefore, in themselves, were likely to become sources of temptation to persons who cared not for what was written thereon, indeed, could not understand it, but who could always find a market for the material, whether written on or blank. The loss of several of the valuable manu
* See Hallam's "Introduction to the Literature of Europe," vol. i. pp. 55-57.
scripts of antiquity is to be accounted for most probably in this way. So that the invention of paper could not fail to be a great boon to society.
The art of transcribing was carried on principally by the monks. Every great abbey, and most convents, had a scriptorium, or writing room; and the immense sums paid for manuscripts induced poorer orders of monks and nuns diligently to cultivate the art of transcribing. As writing materials became more accessible, the number of copyists increased. Some of that trade, or profession, were to be found in every great town, especially in such as had universities. At the time when printing was introduced into Paris, more than 6000 persons subsisted by copying and illuminating manuscripts.
The earliest books were rolled on a cylinder, and called, as we said, volumen; and then a ball of wood or ivory was fastened on the outside for security and ornament, and completed the binding, if so we may call it. Julius Cæsar, introduced the custom of folding his letters in the square form, like our books. In the middle ages the monks were the bookbinders. And there were also traders called ligatores, whose business it was to sell covers, which were chiefly made of sheep and deer skin. Books were often sold in the porches of the churches; but the slow
of multiplying books by transcribing them with the