The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8

Author: Henry George Bohn  | Date: A.D. 143

Origin and Progress of Printing

A.D. 143


It was perhaps not altogether fortuitous that the invention of printing came concurrently with the Revival of Learning. Men’s minds were turned toward practical experiment in that art by the very influences made active through the labors of those scholars who ushered in the Renaissance. "The art preservative of all other arts" has also preserved the records of its own beginnings and development, although of its earlier sources our knowledge is very obscure, and even the modern achievement, which antiquity in various ways foreshadowed, is itself a subject of uncertainty and dispute.

Bohn, in his admirable survey of the origin and progress of modern printing, gives us a full and accurate account, from the earliest evidences and conjectures relating to antiquity to the latter part of the nineteenth century, confining himself, however, to European developments. But before the middle of the sixteenth century printing was introduced into Spanish America. Existing books show that in Mexico there was a press as early as 1540; but it is impossible to name positively the first book printed on this continent. North of Mexico the first press was used, 1639, by an English Non-conformist clergyman named Glover. In 1660 a printer with press and types was sent from England by the corporation for propagating the gospel among the Indians of New England in the Indian language. This press was taken to a printing-house already established at Cambridge, Mass. It was not until several years later that the use of a press in Boston was permitted by the colonial government, and until near the end of the seventeenth century no presses were set up in the colonies outside of Massachusetts.

In 1685 printing began in Pennsylvania, a few years later in New York, and in Connecticut in 1709. From 1685 to 1693 William Bradford, an English Quaker, conducted a press in Philadelphia, and in the latter year he removed his plant to New York. He was the first notable American printer, and became official printer for Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Maryland. His first book was an almanac for 1686. In 1725 he founded the New York Gazette, the first newspaper in New York. But the first newspaper published in the English colonies was the Boston News-Letter, founded in 1704 by John Campbell, a bookseller and postmaster in Boston. Only four American periodicals had been established when, in 1729, Benjamin Franklin, who was already printer to the Pennsylvania Assembly, became proprietor and editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Until the last quarter of the eighteenth century the progress of printing in America was slow. But in 1784 the first daily newspaper, the American Daily Advertiser, was issued in Philadelphia, and from this time periodical publications multiplied and the printing of books increased, until the agency and influence of the press became as marked in the United States as in the leading countries of Europe.

Even since the time when Bohn wrote, the progress made in various branches of the printer’s art has been such as might have astonished that famous publisher of so many standard works. Recent improvements for increasing the capacity of the press, and often the quality of its productions, are quite comparable to those which our own time has seen in other departments of industry, as in the applications of electricity and the like. In addition to the further development of stereotyping, there has been marvellous improvement in nearly all the machinery and processes of printing. This is especially marked in rapid color-printing, and in the successors of inadequate typesetting-machines—in the linotype, the monotype, the typograph, etc.

Most wonderful of all, perhaps, is the improved printing-press itself, in various classes, each adapted to its special purpose. The sum of all improvements in this department of mechanical invention is seen in the great cylinder-presses now in general use, especially the one known as the web perfecting press. This is a machine of great size and intricate construction, which yet does its complex work with an accuracy that almost seems to denote conscious intelligence. It prints from an immense roll of paper, making the impression from curved stereotype plates, runs at high speed, prints both sides of the paper at one run, and folds, pastes, and performs other processes as provided for. By doubling and quadrupling the parts, the ordinary speed of about twenty-four thousand impressions an hour may be increased to one hundred thousand an hour. The multicolor web perfecting press prints four or more colors at one revolution of the impression cylinder.

To meet the demands of such an enormous consumption of paper as the modern press requires, it was necessary to invent other processes and to utilize more abundant and cheaper material for paper-making than those formerly employed. This requirement has been supplied in recent years mainly through the extensive manufacture of paper from wood-pulp. This method, together with improved processes in the use of other materials, has removed all fear of a paper famine such as has sometimes threatened the printing industry in the past.

"Nature does not advance by leaps," says an old proverb; neither does her offspring, Art. All the great boons vouchsafed to man by a munificent providence are of gradual development; and though some may appear to have come upon us suddenly, reflection and inquiry will always show that they have had their previous stages.

Indeed, nothing in this great world which concerns the well-being of man takes place by accident, but is brought forward by divine will, precisely at the moment most suitable to our condition. So it was with astronomy, the mariner’s compass, the steam-engine, gas, the electric telegraph, and many other of those blessings which have progressed with civilization. The elements were there and known, but the time had not arrived for their fructification.

And so it is with printing: although its invention is placed in the middle of the fifteenth century, and almost the very year fixed, this can only be regarded as a matured stage of it. To illustrate this, I propose to begin with a cursory view of its primitive elements, of which the very first were no doubt initiative marks and numerals.

The use of numerals has been denominated "the foundation of all the arts of life"; and we know with certainty that several nations, and among them the Mexicans, had numerals before they were acquainted with letters. The first method of reckoning was with the fingers, but small stones were also used—hence the words "calculate" and "calculation," which are derived from calculus, the Latin for a pebble-stone.

The Chinese counted for many years with notched sticks; and even in England, in comparatively modern times, accounts were kept by tallies, in which notches were cut alike in two parallel pieces of wood. Shakespeare alludes to "the score and the tally" in his Henry VI; and this mode of keeping accounts is still adopted by some of the bakers and dyers in Warwickshire and Cheshire. And tallies are occasionally produced in the small-debt courts, where they are admitted as authentic proofs of debt. Hence the origin and name of the "tally court of the exchequer." The Peruvians, at the time they were conquered by Pizarro, counted with knotted strings.

After numerals, came picture-writing, hieroglyphics, and symbolic characters, such are were used by the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Mexicans; which, however unconnected they may be with each other, are of the same general character. Indeed, the Chinese have never advanced beyond symbolic characters, of which it is said they have more than one hundred thousand combinations or varieties.

Rude as these conditions of humanity may seem, they are matched in modern England, even at a very recent date, if we may credit a well-known story: A rustic shopkeeper in a remote district, being unable to read or write, contrived to keep his accounts by picture-writing, and charged his customer, the miller, with a cheese instead of a grindstone, from having omitted to mark a hole in the centre.

After picture and symbolic writings would follow phonetic characters, or marks for sounds; that is, the alphabet. Even the alphabet, which in civilized countries has now existed for more than three thousand years, was perfected by degrees; for it has been clearly ascertained that the earliest known did not comprise more than one-half or, at most, two-thirds of the letters which eventually formed its complement. Thus, the Pelasgian alphabet, which is derived from the Phoenician, and is the parent of the Greek and Roman, consisted originally of only twelve or thirteen letters.

The invention of the alphabet, which, in a small number of elementary characters, is capable of six hundred and twenty sextillions of combinations, and of exhibiting to the sight the countless conceptions of the mind which have no corporeal forms, is so wonderful that great men of all ages have shrunk from accounting for it otherwise than as a boon of divine origin. This feeling is strengthened by the singular circumstance that so many alphabets bear a strong similarity to each other, however widely separated the countries in which they arose.

In Egypt the invention of the alphabet is by some ascribed to Syphoas, nearly two thousand years before the Christian era, but more commonly to Athotes, Thoth, or Toth, a deity always figured with the head of the ibis, and very familiar in Egyptian antiquities. Cadmus is accredited with having introduced it from Egypt into Greece about five centuries later.

From the alphabet the gradation is natural to compounds of letters and written language, and, though speech is one of the greatest gifts to man, it is writing which distinguishes him from the uncivilized savage. The practice of writing is of such remote antiquity that neither sacred nor profane authors can satisfactorily trace its origin. The philosopher may exclaim with the poet:

Whence did the wondrous mystic art arise
Of painting speech and speaking to the eyes?
That we, by tracing magic lines, are taught
How both to color and embody thought?"

The earliest writing would probably have been with chalk, charcoal, slate, or perhaps sand, as children from time immemorial have been taught to read and write in India. The Romans used white walls for writing inscriptions on, in red chalk—answering the purpose of our posting-bills—of which several instances were found on the walls of Pompeii. Plutarch informs us that tradesmen wrote in some such manner over their doors, and that auction bills ran thus:

"Julius Proculus will this day have an auction of his superfluous goods, to pay his debts."

Next seems to have followed writing or engraving on stone, wood, ivory, and metals, of which we have many early evidences. The Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, was originally, we are told in the Bible, written upon two tables of stone; the pillars of Seth were of brick and stone; the laws of the Greeks were graven on tables of brass, which were called cyrbes. Herodotus mentions a letter written with a style on stone slabs, which Themistocles, the Athenian general, sent to the Romans about B.C. 500; and we have another evidence of the same period still existing—she so-called Borgian inscription, which is a passport graven in bronze, entitling the holder to hospitable reception wherever he demanded it. Upward of free thousand of such engraved tablets, including the famous Roman laws of the Twelve Tables, were consumed in the great fire which destroyed the Capitol in the time of Vespasian.

I could cite a great many other evidences of early writing on stone or brass, but will merely recommend you to see the Rosetta1

inscription, which is conspicuously placed in the British Museum. It is this very interesting stone which, being partly Greek and partly Egyptian, has enabled us to decipher so many Egyptian monuments.

Pliny informs us that table-books of wood—generally made of box or citron wood—were in use before the time of Homer, that is, nearly three thousand years ago; and in the Bible we read of table-books in the time of Solomon. These table-books were called by the Romans pugillares, which may be translated "hand-books"; the wood was cut into thin slices, finely planed and polished, and written upon with an iron instrument called a stylus. At a later period, tables, or slices of wood, were usually covered with a thin layer of hard wax, so that any matter written upon them might be effaced at pleasure, and the tables used again. Such practice continued as late as A.D. 1395. In an account roll of Winchester College of that year we find that a table covered with green wax was kept in the chapel for noting down with a style the daily or weekly duties assigned to the officers of the choir. Ivory also was used in the same way.

Wooden table-books, as we learn from Chaucer, were used in England as late as the fifteenth century. When epistles were written upon tables of wood they were usually tied together with cord, the seal being put upon the knot. Some of the table-books must have been large and heavy, for in Plautus a school-boy seven years old is represented as breaking his master’s head with his table-book.

Writing seems also to have been common, at a very early period, on palm and olive leaves, and especially on the bark of trees—a material used even in the present time in some parts of Asia. The bark is generally cut into thin flat pieces, from nine to fifteen inches long and two to four inches wide, and written on with a sharp instrument. Indeed, the tree, whether in planks, bark, or leaves, seems in ancient times to have afforded the principal materials for writing on. Hence the word codex, originally signifying the "trunk or stem of a tree," now means a manuscript volume. Tabula, which properly means a "plank" or "board," now also signifies the plate of a book, and was so used by Addison, who calls his plates "tables." Folium ("a leaf") has given us the word "folio"; and the word liber, originally meaning the "inner bark of a tree," was afterward used by the Romans to signify a book; whence we derive our words, "library," "librarian," etc. One more such etymology, the most interesting of all, is the Greek name for the bark of a tree, biblos, whence is derived the name of our sacred volume.

Before I leave this stage of the subject, I will mention the way in which the Roman youth were taught writing. Quintilian tells us that they were made to write through perforated tablets, so as to draw the stylus through a kind of furrow; and we learn from Procopius that a similar contrivance was used by the emperor Justinian for signing his name. Such a tablet would now be called a stencil-plate, and is what to the present day is found the most rapid and convenient mode of marking goods, only that a brush is used instead of an iron pen or style.

Writing and materials have so much to do with the invention of printing that I feel obliged to tarry a little longer at this preliminary stage. The most important of all the ancient materials for writing upon were papyrus, parchment, and vellum; and on these substances nearly all our most valuable manuscripts were written. Papyrus, or paper-rush, is a large fibrous plant which abounds in the marshes of Egypt, especially near the borders of the Nile. It was manufactured into a thick sort of paper at a very early period, Pliny says three centuries before the reign of Alexander the Great; and Cassiodorus, who lived in the sixth century, states that it then covered all the desks of the world. Indeed, it had become so essential to the Greeks and Romans that the occasional scarcity of it is recorded to have produced riots. Every man of rank and education kept librarii, or book-writers, in his house; and many servi, or slaves, were trained to this service, so that they were a numerous class.

Papyrus is a very durable substance, made of the innermost pellicles of the stalk, glued together transversely, with the glutinous water of the Nile. It was for many centuries the great staple of Egypt, and was exported in large quantities to almost every part of Europe and Asia, but never, it would appear, to England or Germany. After the seventh century its use was gradually superseded by the introduction of parchment; and before the end of the twelfth century it had gone generally out of use. From "papyrus" the name of "paper," which, with slight variations, is common to many languages, is no doubt derived.

Parchment and vellum—which are made from the skin of animals, the former from sheep or goat, the latter from calf, both prepared with lime—were in use at a very early period, long before their accredited introduction. It has been by some supposed that Eumenes, King of Pergamus, who lived about B.C. 190, was the inventor of parchment; but it was known much earlier, as may be seen by several references to it in the Bible (Isaiah, viii. 1; Jeremiah, xxxvi. 2; Ezekiel, xi. 9). It is, however, very probable that it may have been brought to perfection at Pergamus, as it was one of the principal articles of commerce of that kingdom.

Parchment, in early times, was not only expensive, but often very difficult to procure; whence arose the practice of erasing old writing from it, and engrossing it a second time. Such manuscripts are called "palimpsests." Modern art has found the means of discharging the more recent ink, and thus restoring the original writing, by which means we have recovered many valuable pieces, particularly Cicero’s lost book, de Republica, and some fragments of his Orations.

The most ancient manuscripts, both on papyrus and parchment, were kept in rolls, called in Latin volumina, whence our English word "volume." Chinese paper, made from the bark of the bamboo, the mulberry, or the khu-ku tree, and so extremely thin that it can only be used on one side, is supposed to have been invented fifty years before the Christian era or earlier. Chinese rice-paper is made from the stems of the bread-fruit tree, cut into slices and pressed. The skins of all kinds of animals are used—among them the African skin, of a brown color, upon which the Hebrew Pentateuch and service-books used in the Jewish synagogues were formerly written. Silk-paper was prepared for the most part in Spain and its colonies, but was never brought to much perfection. Asbestos, a fibrous mineral, was made into paper, tolerably light and pliant, which, being incombustible, was denominated "eternal paper." Herodotus tells us that cloth was made of asbestos by the Egyptians; and Pliny mentions napkins made of it in A.D. 74. We know by tradition that the intestines of a serpent served for Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; and that the Koran was written in part on shoulder-bones of mutton, kept in a domestic chest by one of Mahomet’s wives.

We now come to the great period of writing-papers made from cotton and linen rags, as used at the present day, and which from the first were so perfect that they have since undergone no material improvement. Cotton-paper was an Eastern invention, probably introduced in the ninth century, although not generally used in Europe till about the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Greek manuscripts are found upon it of the earlier period, and Italian manuscripts of the later. It seems to have prevailed at particular periods, in particular countries, according to the facilities for procuring it, as it now does almost exclusively in America. Linen paper, the most valuable and important of all the bases available for writing or printing, is likewise supposed to have been introduced into Europe from the East, early in the thirteenth century, although not in general use till the fourteenth.

Before the end of the fourteenth century, paper-mills had been established in many parts of Europe, first in Spain, and then successively in Italy, Germany, Holland, and France. They seem to have come late into England, for Caxton printed all his books on paper imported from the Low Countries; and it was not till Winkin de Worde succeeded him, in 1495, that paper was manufactured in England. The Chinese are supposed to have used it for centuries before, and appear to have the best title to be considered the inventors of both cotton and linen paper.

Paper may be made of many other materials, such as hay, straw, nettles, flax, grasses, parsnips, turnips, colewort leaves, wood-shavings, indeed of anything fibrous; but as the invention of printing is not concerned in them, I see no occasion to consider their merits.

Before I pass from paper, it may not be irrelevant to say a word or two on the names by which we distinguish the sorts and sizes. The term "post-paper"is derived from the ancient watermark, which was a post-horn, and not from its suitableness to transport by post, as many suppose. The original watermark of a fool’s cap gave the name to that paper, which it still retains, although the fool’s cap was afterward changed to a cap of liberty, and has since undergone other changes. The smaller size, called "pot-paper," took its name from having at first been marked with a flagon or pot. Demy-paper, on which octavo books are usually printed, is so called from being originally a "demi" or half-sized paper; the term is now, however, equally applied to hard or writing papers. Hand-cap, which is a coarse paper used for packing, bore the watermark of an open hand.

I will now say a few words about pens and ink, for without them we could neither have had printing nor books. Pens are of great antiquity, and are frequently alluded to in the Bible. Pens of iron, which may mean styles, are mentioned by Job and Jeremiah. Reed pens are known to have been in common use by the ancients, and some were discovered at Pompeii. Pens of gold and silver are alluded to by the classical writers, and there is evidence of the use of quills in the seventh century. Of whatever material the pen was made, it was called a calamus, whence our familiar saying, "currente calamo" ("with a flowing pen"). The use of styles, or iron pens, must have been very prevalent in ancient days, as Suetonius tells us that the emperor Caligula incited the people to massacre a Roman senator with their styles; and, previous to that, Caesar had wounded Cassius with his style.

The next, and not the least important, ingredient in writing and printing is ink. Staining and coloring matters were well known to the ancients at a very early period, witness the lustrous pigments on Etruscan vases more than two thousand years ago; and inks are often mentioned in the Bible. Gold, silver, red, blue, and green inks were thoroughly understood in the Middle Ages, and perhaps earlier; and the black writing-ink of the seventh down to the tenth century, as seen in our manuscripts, was in such perfection that it has retained its lustre better than some of later ages. Printing-ink, by the time it began to be currently used for book-printing in the fifteenth century, had attained a perfection which has never been surpassed, and indeed scarcely equalled.

Paper and ink being at their highest point, we will now consider the advances which had in the mean time been made in engraving and type or letter cutting. It will be seen that the material elements of printing were by degrees converging to a culminating point. The evidences of engraving, both in relief and intaglio, are of very ancient date. I need hardly remind you of the exquisite workmanship on coins, cameos, and seals, many centuries before the Christian era, to illustrate the high state of cultivation at which the arts must then have arrived. The art of casting and chasing in bronze was extensively practised in the twelfth century, and I have seen a specimen with letters so cut in relief that they might be separated to form movable type. The goldsmiths were certainly among the greatest artists of the early ages, and were competent to execute forms or moulds of any kind to perfection.

In the British Museum is a brass signet stamp, more than two thousand years old, on which two lines of letters are very neatly engraved in relief, in the reversed order necessary for printing; and as the interstices are cut away very deeply and roughly, there is little doubt but that this stamp was used with ink on papyrus, parchment, or linen, for paper was not then known. Indeed, the experiment of taking impressions from it in printing-ink has been tried, and found to answer perfectly. A large surface so engraved would at once have given to the world an equivalent to what is now regarded as the most advanced state of the art of printing; that is, a stereotype plate. Vergil mentions brands for marking cattle with their owner’s name; probably this kind of brass stamp, but larger.

I could cite many more examples of ancient engraving which would yield impressions on paper, either by pressure or friction. But our business is with printing rather than engraving; I will, therefore, go back to the subject, and cite a very early and interesting example of stamping engraved letters on clay. I mean the Babylonian bricks, supposed to be four thousand years old, mostly sun-baked, but some apparently kiln-burnt almost to vitrification. Of these there are now many examples in England, added to our stores by the indefatigable researches of Layard, Rawlinson, and others. These bricks, which are about a foot square and three inches thick, are on one side covered with hieroglyphics, evidently impressed with a stamp, just as letters are now stamped on official papers.

Another evidence of the same kind, and of about the same age, is the famous Babylonian cylinder found in the ruins of Persepolis, and now preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is about seven inches high, barrel-shaped, and covered with inscriptions in the cuneiform character, disposed in vertical lines, and affording a positive example of an indented surface produced by mechanical impression. Such cylinders are supposed to have been memorials of matters of national or family importance, and were in early ages, as we know by tradition, very numerous. Stamped or printed blocks of lead, bearing the names of Roman authorities, are to be found in the British Museum.

Printing on leather was practised by the Egyptians, as we discover from their mummies, which have bandages of leather round their heads, with the name of the deceased printed on them. And in Pompeii a loaf was found on which the name of the baker and its quality were printed. Among ancient testimonies, one of the most interesting is that afforded by Cicero in his de Natura Deorum. He orders types to be made of metal, and calls them formae literarum—the very words used by our first printers; and in another place he gives a hint of separate cut letters when he speaks of the impossibility of the most ingenious man throwing the twenty-four letters of the alphabet together by chance, and thus producing the famous Annals of Ennius. He makes that observation in opposition to the atheistical argument of the creation of the world by chance.

We have besides, in what is generally classed as a manuscript, a reasonable although disputed evidence of an elementary stage of printing; I mean the Codex Argenteus (or Silver Book) of Upsala, which contains a portion of the gospels in Mesogothic, supposed to be of the fourth or fifth century, the work of Ulfilas. In this codex the first lines of each gospel and of the Lord’s Prayer are in large gold letters, apparently printed by a stamp, in the manner of a bookbinder, as there are indentations on the back of the vellum. The small letters are written in silver. The whole is on a light purple or violet colored vellum.

Having said enough, I think, of the ancients’ knowledge of typeforms and printing materials, I pass on to the recognized establishments of the art in the fifteenth century; for, whatever knowledge the ancients had of printing, it would appear to have yielded no immediate fruits to posterity.

But before I proceed to modern times, I am bound to note that the Chinese, who seem to have been many centuries in advance of Europe in most of the industrial arts, are supposed to have practised block-printing, just as they do now, more than a thousand years ago. Nor does the complicated nature of their written language, which consists of more than one hundred thousand word-signs, admit of any readier mode. But they print, or rather rub off, impressions with such speed—seven hundred sheets per hour—that, until the introduction of steam, they far outstripped Europeans. Gibbon, it will be remembered, regrets that the emperor Justinian, who lived in the sixth century, did not introduce the art of printing from the Chinese, instead of their silk manufacture.

Block-printing ushered in the great epoch; and the first dawn of it in Europe seems to have been single prints of saints and scriptural subjects, with a line or two of description engraved on the same wooden plate. These are for the most part lost; but there is one in existence, large and exceedingly fine, of St. Christopher, with two lines of inscription, dated 1423, believed to have been printed with the ordinary printing-press. It was found in the library of a monastery near Augsburg, and is therefore presumed to be of German execution. Till lately this was the earliest-dated evidence of block-printing known; but there has since been discovered at Malines, and deposited at Brussels, a wood-cut of similar character, but assumed to be Dutch or Flemish, dated "MCCCCXVIII"; and though there seems no reason to doubt the genuineness of the cut, it is asserted that the date bears evidence of having been tampered with.

There is a vague tradition, depending entirely on the assertion of a writer named Papillon, not a very reliable authority, which would give the invention of wood-cut-printing to Venice, and at a very early period. He asserts that he once saw a set of eight prints, depicting the deeds of Alexander the Great, each described in verse, which were engraved in relief, and printed by a brother and sister named Cunio, at Ravenna, in 1285. But though the assertion is accredited by Mr. Ottley, it is generally disbelieved.

There is reason to suppose that playing-cards, from wooden blocks, were produced at Venice long before the block-books, even as early as 1250; but there is no positive evidence that they were printed; and some insist that they were produced either by friction or stencil-plates. It seems, however, by no means unlikely that cards, which were in most extensive use in the Middle Ages, should, for the sake of cheapness, have been printed quite as early, if not earlier, than even figures of saints; and the same artists are presumed to have produced both.

From single prints, with letter-press inscriptions, the next stage, that of a series of prints accompanied by letter-press, was obvious. Such are our first recognized block-books, among which are the Apocalypse, and the Biblia Pauperum (or Poor Man’s Bible), supposed to have been printed at Haarlem by Laurence Koster, between 1420 and 1430; I say supposed, because we have no positive evidence either of the person, place, or date; and Erasmus, who was born at Rotterdam in 1467, and always ready to advance the honor of his country, is silent on the subject. We rely chiefly upon the testimony of Ulric Zell, an eminent printer of Cologne, who is quoted in the Cologne Chronicle of 1499, and Hadrian Junius, a Dutch historian of repute, who wrote in the next century. Both agree in ascribing the invention of book-printing from wooden blocks, as well as the first germ of movable wood and metallic type printing, to Haarlem; and Junius adds the name of Laurence Koster. His surname of Koster is derived from his office, which was that of custodian, sexton, or warden of the Cathedral Church of Haarlem. The story told of the accident by which the discovery was made is as follows:

Koster, as he was one day walking in a wood adjoining the city, about the year 1420, cut some letters on the bark of a beech tree, from which he took impressions on paper for the amusement of his brother-in-law’s children. The idea then struck him of enlarging their application; and, being a man of an ingenious turn, he invented a thicker and more tenacious ink than was in common use, which blotted, and began to print figures from wooden tablets or blocks, to which he added several lines of letters, first solid, and then separate or movable. These wooden types are said to have been fastened together with string.

One thing seems pretty clear, which is, that, whether or not Koster was the printer, the first block-books were produced somewhere in Holland, as several are in Dutch, a language seldom, if ever, printed out of its own country. They were generally printed in light-brown ink, like a sepia drawing, which, I think, was adopted with a view to their being colored—a condition in which we find the greater part of them. When these prints were colored they presented very much the appearance of the Low Country stained-glass windows.

Block-books continued to be printed and reprinted, first in Holland and afterward in Germany, with considerable activity, for twenty or thirty years, during which period we had several editions of the Biblia Pauperum, the Ars Moriendi (or Art of Dying), the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, and many others, chiefly devoted to the promulgation of scripture history. The earliest ones are printed, or rather transferred by friction—and therefore on one side only of the paper—entirely from solid blocks; later on, some portions were printed with movable types of wood; and at last the letter-press was entirely of movable metal types. Junius says that Koster by degrees exchanged his wooden types for leaden ones, and these for pewter; and I will add that it is not unlikely they may have been cast in lead or pewter plates from the wooden blocks, as metal-casting was well understood at the time.

The pretensions of Haarlem and Koster have for more than a century been a matter of fierce controversy; and there have been upward of one hundred and fifty volumes written for or against, without any approach to a satisfactory decision. This one thing is certain, that, whether or not we owe the first idea of movable type to Laurence Koster or to Haarlem, we do not owe to the period any very marked use of it; that was reserved for a later day.

There is a story current, dependent on the authority of Junius, that Koster’s principal workman, assumed to be Hans or John Faust—and some, to reconcile improbabilities, even say John Gutenberg—who had been sworn to secrecy, decamped one Christmas Eve, after the death of Koster, while the family were at church, taking with him types and printing apparatus and, after short sojourns at Amsterdam and Cologne, got to Mainz or Mayence with them, and there introduced printing. He is said by Junius to have printed, about the year 1442—that is, two years after Koster’s death—the Doctrinale of Alexander Gallus and the Tracts of Peter of Spain, with the very types which Koster made use of in Haarlem; but as no volume of this kind has ever been discovered, nor any trace of one, the entire story is generally regarded as apocryphal. Laurence Koster died in 1440, at the age of seventy; therefore any printing attributed to him must be within that period.

What has hitherto been advanced proves only that mankind had walked for many centuries on the borders of the two great inventions, chalcography and typography, without having fully and practically discovered either of them.

We now come to the great epoch of printing—I mean the complete introduction, if not actually the first invention, of movable metal or fusile types. This took place at Mainz, in or before 1450, and the general consent of Europe assigns the credit of it to Gutenberg. Of a man who has conferred such vast obligations on all succeeding ages, it may be desirable to say a few words.

John Gutenberg was born at Mainz in 1397, of a patrician and rather wealthy family. He left his native city, it is said, because implicated in an insurrection of the citizens against the nobility, and settled at Strasburg, where, in 1427, we find him an established merchant, and sustaining a suit of breach of promise brought against him by a lady named Ann of the Iron Door, whom he afterward married. While resident here, and before 1439, his attention appears to have been actively directed to the art of printing, as we learn by a legal document of the time, found of late years in the archives of Strasburg. He is there stated to have entered into an engagement with three persons, named Dreizehn, Riffe, and Heilmann, to reveal to them "a secret art of printing which he had lately discovered," and to take them into partnership for five years, upon the payment of certain sums.

The death of Dreizehn before he had paid up all his instalments led to a suit on the part of his relations, which ended in Gutenberg’s favor. In the course of the evidence one of the witnesses, a goldsmith, deposed to having received from Gutenberg three or four years previously—that is, about 1435—upward of three hundred florins for materials used in printing. Other witnesses proved the anxiety that Gutenberg had shown to have four paged of type distributed which appear to have been screwed up in chase, and lying on a press on the deceased’s premises.

This would be evidence that Gutenberg had arrived at a knowledge of movable types, either of wood or metal, and probably of both, before 1440; and, had it not been for the rupture of the partnership before anything had been printed by the new process, Strasburg might have claimed the honor which is now given to Mainz.

Soon after this—it is supposed in 1444—Gutenberg returned to his native city, by leave of the town council, which he was obliged to ask, bringing with him all his materials. In 1446 he entered into a partnership with John Faust—a wealthy and skilful goldsmith and engraver—who engaged, upon being taught the secrets of the art and admitted into a participation of the profits, to advance the necessary funds, which he did to the extent of two thousand two hundred florins. Goldsmiths, it should be borne in mind, were then the great artists in all kinds of metal work, and extremely skilful in modelling, engraving, and casting, which were exactly the arts required for type-founding.

The new partnership immediately commenced operations, hired a house called Zumjungen, and took into their employ Peter Schoeffer, who had been Faust’s apprentice, as their assistant. Faust is supposed to have employed himself in cutting the type, which is an extremely slow process, till Peter Schoeffer, afterward his son-in-law, suggested an improved mode of casting it in copper matrices struck by steel punches, pretty much in the same manner as was till recently practised throughout Europe. The firm had for some time previously adopted a method of casting type in moulds of plaster, which was a tedious process, as every letter required a new mould.

Although to Gutenberg are undoubtedly due all the main features of metal-type printing, yet we owe, perhaps, to the practical skill of Faust, and the taste of Schoeffer, who was an accomplished penman, the exquisite finish and perfection with which their first joint effort came forth to the world. This was a Latin Vulgate, printed in a large cut metal type, and commonly called the Mazarin Bible, because the first copy known to bibliographers was found in the library of Cardinal Mazarin. It consists of six hundred and forty-one leaves, forming two, sometimes four, large volumes in folio; some copies on paper of beautiful texture, some on vellum. It was without date or names of the printers, as it was evidently intended to present the appearance of a manuscript; but it is supposed, on good evidence, to have been printed between 1450 and 1455, and it is not improbable the volumes were all that time, that is, five years, and some say more, at press; for we know, by certain technicalities, that every page was printed off singly.

These precious volumes, as splendid as they are wonderful, have excited the admiration of all beholders. The sharpness and elegant uniformity of the type, the lustre of the ink, and the purity of the paper leave that first great monument of the typographic art unsurpassed by any subsequent effort; nor could it be exceeded with all the appliances of the present day.

"It is a striking circumstance," says Mr. Hallam, "that the high-minded inventors of this great art tried, at the very outset, so bold a flight as the printing of an entire Bible, and executed it with astonishing success. It was Minerva leaping on earth in her divine strength and radiant armor, ready, at the moment of her nativity, to subdue and destroy her enemies."

There is a curious story current about this Bible, which, as it is connected with a popular fiction, I will venture to repeat. It is that Faust went to Paris with some of his Bibles for sale, one of which, printed on vellum and richly illuminated, he sold to the King for seven hundred and fifty crowns, and another to the Archbishop of Paris for three hundred crowns, and to the poorer clergy and the laity copies on paper as low as fifty crowns, and even less. Faust does not appear to have disclosed the secret of how they were produced, and probably let it be supposed that they were manuscript; for the aim of the first printers was to make their books equal in beauty to the finest manuscripts, and as far as possible undistinguishable from them, to which end the large capitals and decorations were filled in by hand.

The Archbishop, proud of his purchase, showed it to the King, who, comparing it with his own, found with surprise that they tallied so exactly in every respect, excepting the illuminated ornaments, as convinced them that they were produced by some other art than transcription; and on further inquiry they found that Faust had sold a considerable number exactly similar. Orders, therefore, were given without delay to apprehend and prosecute him as a practitioner of the black art in multiplying Holy Writ by aid of the devil. Hence arose the popular fiction of the Devil and Dr. Faustus, which, under different phases, has found its way into every country in Europe, and probably gave rise to Goethe’s celebrated drama.

In 1455, as we find by a notarial document, dated November 6th of that year, Faust separated from Gutenberg, and successfully instituted proceedings against him for money advanced. Gutenberg, who had exhausted all his means in bringing his invention to maturity, was obliged to mortgage and in the end surrender all his materials, and, it should seem, his printed stock. His impoverishment may easily be accounted for when we are told, as a received fact, that before the first four sheets of his Bible were completed he had already expended four thousand crowns upon it—a large sum in those days. Of this his then wealthier partner reaped all the subsequent advantage.

After this period, Faust, and his son-in-law, Peter Schoeffer, in possession of the materials, printed on their own account, and, within eighteen months of their separation from Gutenberg, produced the celebrated Latin Psalter of 1457, the first book in any country which bears a complete imprint—that is, the name of the printer, place, and date. This magnificent volume, of which the whole edition was printed on vellum, is now even rarer than the Mazarin Bible, and of extraordinary value; the letters are very large and bold, cast in metal type, and the ornamental initials are beautifully cut in wood.

Two years later, that is, in 1459, Faust and Schoeffer produced an almost facsimile reprint of the Psalter, and in the same year Durandi Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, the latter with an entirely new font of metal type—the first cast from Schoeffer’s punches—which some, in the erroneous belief that the Psalter was printed from wooden types, have asserted to be the first dated book printed with metal type. Then followed, in 1460, the Constitutiones Clementis V, a handsome folio, and in 1462 their famous Latin Bible, the first one with a date.

In the mean time, Gutenberg, undaunted by the loss of all that had cost him so many years of unremitted application and his whole fortune, began afresh; and this time, it should seem, with better success, as we find him, in 1459, undertaking to present, for certain considerations, all the books he had then printed, or might thereafter print, to a convent where his sister was a nun. No book, however, has yet been discovered bearing the name of Gutenberg; and we can only guess what came from his press by a peculiarity of type, of which, after the first Bible, the most marked is the famous Catholicon, dated 1460—a kind of universal dictionary, the germ of all future cyclopaedias, and which became so popular that more than forty editions were printed of it in as many years. In 1465 Gutenberg retired from printing, being appointed to a lucrative office at the court of the Archbishop of Mainz, and in 1467 he died.

And here we take leave of Gutenberg, with admiration for his patience, his perseverance, and his self-sacrifice in a cause which has produced such glorious fruits. He was one of those noble spirits who are endowed with a perception of what is good, and pursue it independent of worldly considerations. Posterity has done him tardy justice in erecting a marble monument to his memory and establishing a jubilee, which gave rise to one of the most touching of Mendelssohn’s compositions.

By this time the secret had transpired to the neighboring states, and Mentelin, of Strasburg, and Pfister, or Bamberg, were, before the beginning of 1462, in full activity. Indeed, Pfister is, by some, thought to have printed before 1460; and his finely executed Latin Bible, in cast type, was for many years regarded as the first.

At this critical period, when the art was reaching its zenith, the operations of the Mainz printers were suddenly brought to a standstill by the siege and capture of the city in 1462. The occasion of this was a fierce dispute between the Pope and the people as to who had the right of appointment to the archbishopric, lately become vacant. The original hive of workmen dispersed to other states, and by degrees the mysteries of the art became spread over the civilized world. Such, indeed, was the fame printing had acquired, and its manifest importance, that every crowned head sought to introduce it into his kingdom, and welcomed the fugitives. Within a few years of this period the art had been carried by the scattered German workmen into Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland; and before the close of the fifteenth century it was practised in more than two hundred twenty different places.

Before entering upon the history of printing in England, I will take leave to call your attention to a few prominent facts connected with its progress abroad, as well as to some points of its early condition which could not be conveniently introduced in chronological order. All the books printed previously to 1465 are in the Gothic, or black letter, which still remained the favorite in Germany and the Low Countries long after the Italians introduced their beautiful Roman letter. The first books in which any Greek type occurs are Cicero’s Offices, printed by Faust and Schoeffer in 1465, directly after the resumption of their establishment; and Lactantius, printed the same year by Sweynheim and Pannartz, in the monastery of Soubiaco at Rome. The first book printed entirely in Greek was Constantine Lascar’s Greek Grammar, Milan, 1476.

One of the earliest of the Italian books, and, to use the words of Dr. Dibdin, perhaps the most notorious volume in existence, was the celebrated Boccaccio, printed at Venice by Valdarfer in 1471. This book deserves particular mention, because of an extraordinary contest which once took place for its possession between two wealthy bibliomaniacs. It was a small black-letter folio, in faded yellow morocco, and supposed to be unique. Its history is this: In the early part of the eighteenth century it had come accidentally into the possession of a London bookseller, who successively offered it to Harley, Earl of Oxford, and to Lord Sunderland, then the two principal collectors, for one hundred guineas; but both were staggered at the price and higgled about the purchase. An ancestor of the late Duke of Roxburghe, whom nobody dreamed of as a collector, hearing of the book, secured it, and then invited the two noblemen to dinner, with the view of parading his trophy. In due course he led the conversation to the book, and, after letting them expatiate on its rarity, told them he thought he had a copy in his bookcase, which they emphatically declared to be impossible, and challenged him to produce it. On producing the book, about the purchase of which they had only been temporizing, they were not a little chagrined.

This same copy made its appearance again, half a century later, at the Duke of Roxburghe’s sale in 1812, a time when bibliomania was at its height. Loud notes of preparation foretold that it would sell for a considerable sum; five hundred and even one thousand guineas were guessed, as it was known that Lord Spencer, the Duke of Devonshire, and the Marquis of Blandford were all bent on its possession, but nobody anticipated the extravagant sum it was to realize. After a very spirited competition, it was knocked down to the Marquis of Blandford for two thousand sixty pounds. This book was resold at the Marquis of Blandford’s sale, in 1819, for eight hundred seventy-five guineas, and passed to Lord Spencer, in whose extraordinary library it now reposes.

Before the commencement of the sixteenth century, that is, within forty or fifty years of the invention of printing with movable type, upward of twenty thousand volumes had issued from at least a thousand different presses. All the principal Latin classics, many of the Greek, and upward of two hundred fifty editions of the Bible, or parts of the Bible, had appeared.

One of the most active and enterprising of the early printers was Anthony Koburger of Nuremberg, an accomplished scholar, who began there in 1472, and before the year 1500 had printed thirteen large editions of the Bible in folio, and a prodigious number of other books. He kept twenty-four presses at work, employing one hundred workmen, and had sixteen shops for the sale of books in the principal cities of Germany, besides factors and agents all over Europe. He printed, in 1493, that grand volume, the Nuremberg Chronicle, which is illustrated with upward of one thousand woodcuts by Michael Wohlgemuth, the master of Albert Durer, and is curious as being one of the first books in which cross-hatchings occur in wood-engraving.

The sixteenth century opened with another invention in type, the Italic, which was beautifully exemplified in a pocket edition of Vergil, the first of a portable series of classical works commenced in 1501 at Venice by the celebrated Aldus Manutius, who, after some years of preparation, had entered actively on his career as a printer in 1494, and deservedly ranks as one of the best scholars of any age.

Then came the Giunti, the learned family of the Stephenses, of whom Robert is accredited as the author of the present divisions of our New Testament into chapters, and Henry, author of the great Greek Thesaurus, the most valuable Greek lexicon ever published. To the opprobrium of the age, he died in an almshouse.

Among many others immortalized by their successful contributions to the great cause we must not forget the Plantins, whose memories are still so cherished at Antwerp that their printing establishment remains to this day untouched, just as it was left two centuries ago, with all the freshness of a chamber in Pompeii, the type and chases of their famous Polyglot lying about, as if the workmen had but just left the office.

The accordance of the art of printing with the spirit of the times which gave it birth must be regarded as singularly providential. The Protestant Reformation in Germany was brought about by Luther’s accidentally meeting, in a monastic library, with one of Gutenberg’s printed Latin Bibles, when at the age of twenty. "A mighty change," says Luther, "then came over me," and all his subsequent efforts are to be attributed to that event. His recognition of the importance of printing is given in these words: "Printing is the best and highest gift, the summum et postremumdonum by which God advanceth the Gospel. Thanks be to God that it hath come at last. Holy fathers now at rest would rejoice to see this day of the revealed Gospel."

William Caxton, by common consent, is the introducer of the art of printing into England. He was born about 1422, in Kent, and received what was then thought a liberal education. His father must have been in respectable circumstances, as there was at that time a law in full force prohibiting any youth from being apprenticed to trade whose parent was not possessed of a certain rental in land. In his eighteenth year Caxton was apprenticed to Robert Large, an eminent London mercer, who in 1430 was sheriff and in 1439 Lord Mayor of London. At his death, in 1441, he bequeathed Caxton a legacy of twenty marks—a large sum in those days—and an honorable testimony to his fidelity and integrity. Soon after this the Mercers’ Company appointed him their agent in the Low Countries, in which employment he spent twenty-three years.

Facsimile of a page from Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy—the first book printed in the English language

In 1464 he was one of two commissioners officially employed by Edward IV to negotiate a commercial treaty with Philip of Burgundy; and in 1468, when the King’s sister, Margaret of York, married Charles of Burgundy, called "the Bold," he attached himself to their household, probably in some literary capacity, as in the next year we find him busied in translating at her request. During the greater part of this long period he was residing or travelling in the midst of the countries where the new art of printing was the great subject of interest, and would naturally take some measures to acquaint himself with it. Indeed, it has been said that he had a secret commission from Edward IV to learn the art, and to bribe some of the foreign workmen into England. Be this as it may, we know that Caxton acquired a complete knowledge of it while abroad, for he tells us so, and that he had printed at Cologne the Recueil des Histoires de Troye (or Romance History of Troy), in 1465, and in 1472 an English edition of the same, translated by himself. These two early productions are remarkable as being the first books printed in either the French or English language.2

The English edition was sold at the Duke of Roxburghe’s sale for one thousand sixty pounds, and is now in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire.

Caxton returned to England about 1474, bringing with him presses and types, and established himself in one of the chapels of Westminster Abbey, called the Eleemosynary, Almondry, or Arm’ry, supposed to have been on the site of Henry VII’s chapel. A printer would naturally resort to the abbey for patronage, as in those days it was the head-quarters of learning as well as of religion. Before the foundation of grammar schools, there was usually a scholasticus attached to the abbeys and cathedral churches, who directed and superintended the education of the neighboring nobility and gentry. He was, besides, one of the members of the scriptorium, a large establishment within the abbey, where school and other books used to be written.

The first book Caxton printed, after he returned to England and established himself at the Almonry, is supposed to be The Game and Play of Chesse, dated 1474. But some have raised doubts whether this was printed in England, as there is no actual evidence of it. One of the arguments is that the type is exactly the same as what he had previously used at Cologne; but this is no evidence at all, as both the type and paper used in England for many years came from Cologne, and there is no doubt that Caxton brought some with him. A second edition of the book of chess, with woodcuts, was printed two or three years later, and this is generally admitted to have been printed in England.

The first book with an unmistakable imprint was his Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers, which had been translated for him by the gallant but unfortunate Lord Rivers, who was murdered in Pomfret castle by order of Richard III. The colophon of this states that it was printed in the Abbey of Westminster in 1477. He appears to have printed but one single volume upon vellum, which is The Doctrynal of Sapience, 1489, of which a copy, formerly in the King’s Library at Windsor, is now in the British Museum. This is a very interesting work as connected with Caxton, being entirely translated by himself into English verse. It is an allegorical fiction, in which the whole system of literature and science comes under consideration.

Caxton died in 1491, after having produced, within twenty years of his active career, more than fifty volumes of mark, including Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, and his own Chronicle of England. Before Caxton’s time the youths of England were supplied with their school-books and their reading, which was necessarily very limited, by the Company of Stationers, or text-writers, who wrote and sold, by an exclusive royal privilege, the school-books then in use. These were chiefly the A B C’s, (called Absies), the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the address to the Virgin Mary, called Ave Maria.

The location of these stationers was in the neighborhood of St. Paul’s Cathedral, whence arose the names Paternoster Row, Creed Lane, Amen Corner, and Ave Maria Lane. Manuscripts of a higher order, that is, in the form of books, were mostly supplied by the monks, and were scarcely accessible to any but the wealthy, from their extreme cost. Thus, a Chaucer, which may now be bought for a few shillings, then cost more than a hundred pounds; and we read of two hundred sheep and ten quarters of wheat being given for a volume of homilies.

Minstrels, instead of books, were in early times the principal medium of communication between authors and the public; they wandered up and down the country, chanting, singing, or reciting, according to the taste of their customers, and had certain privileges of entertainment in the halls of the nobility.

It may be wondered that Caxton, like many of the foreign printers, did not begin with, or at least some time during his career print, the Scriptures, especially as Wycliffe’s translation had already been made. But there were good reasons. Religious persecution ran high, and the clergy were extremely jealous of the propagation of the Scriptures among the people. Knighton had denounced the reading of the Bible, lamenting lest this jewel of the Church, hitherto the exclusive property of the clergy and divines, should be made common to the laity; and Archbishop Arundel had issued an enactment that no part of the Scriptures in English should be read, either in public or private, or be thereafter translated, under pain of the greater excommunication. The Star Chamber, too, was big with terrors. A little later, Erasmus’ edition of the New Testament was forbidden at Cambridge; and in the county of Surrey the Vicar of Croydon said from the pulpit, "We must root out printing, or printing will root out us."

Winkin de Worde, who had come in his youth with Caxton to England and continued with him in the superintendence of his office to the day of his death, succeeded to the business, and conducted it with great spirit for the next forty years. He began by entirely remodelling his fonts of Gothic type, and introduced both Roman and Italic; became his own founder, instead of importing type from the Low Countries; promoted the manufacture of paper in this country; and such was his activity that he printed the extraordinary number of four hundred eight different works. He deserves, perhaps, more praise than he has ever received for the important part he played in establishing and advancing the art in England.

But no one of our early printers deserves more grateful remembrance than Richard Grafton, who, in 1537, was the first publisher of the Bible in England. I say in England, because the first Bible, known as Coverdale’s, and several editions of the Testament, translated by Tyndale, had been previously printed abroad in secrecy. Grafton’s first edition of the Bible was a reprint of Coverdale and Tyndale’s translation, with slight alterations, by one who assumed the name of Thomas Matthew, but whose real name was John Rogers, then Prebendary of St. Paul’s, and afterward burned as a heretic in Smithfield. Even this was printed secretly abroad, nobody yet knows where, and did not have Grafton’s name attached to it till the King had granted him a license under the privy seal. Though this year, 1537, has by the annalists of the Bible been called the first year of triumph, on account of the King’s license, yet Bibles were still apt to be dangerous things to all concerned; and what was permitted one day was not unlikely, by a change in religion or policy, to be interdicted the next with severe visitations.

Although Henry VIII had recently completed his breach with Rome and been excommunicated, he alternately punished the religious movements of Protestants and Catholics, according to his caprice; and it was but a few years previously that the reading of the Bible had been prohibited by act of parliament, that men had been burned at the stake for having even fragments of it in their possession, and that Tyndale’s translation of the new Testament had been bought up and publicly burned (1534) by order of Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London; and even as late as May, 1536, the reading of the sacred volume had been strictly forbidden.

Grafton, therefore, must have been a bold man to face the danger. Thus, in 1538, when a new edition of the Bible, commonly called the "Great Bible," afterward published in 1539, was secretly printing in Paris at the instance of Lord Cromwell, under the superintendence of Grafton, Whitchurch, and Coverdale, the French inquisitors of the faith interfered, charging them with heresy, and they were fortunate in making their escape to England.

Shortly after the death of Caxton’s patron, Lord Cromwell, Grafton was imprisoned for the double offence of printing Matthew’s Bible and the Great Bible, notwithstanding the King’s license; and though after a while released, he was again imprisoned in the reign of Philip and Mary on account of his Protestant principles; and, after all his services to religion and literature, died in poverty in 1572.

Printing was now spreading all over England. It had already begun at Oxford in 1478—some say earlier—at Cambridge soon after, although the first dated work is 1521; at St. Albans in 1480; York in 1509; and other places by degrees.

Printing did not reach Scotland till 1507, and then but imperfectly, and Ireland not till 1551, owing, it is said, to the jealousy with which it was regarded by the priesthood.

We will now take a rapid survey of the vast strides printing has made of late years in England, and therewith close. The principal movements have been in stereotyping, electrotyping, the improvement of presses, and the application of steam power. Stereotyping is the transfer of pages of movable type into solid metal plates, by the medium of moulds formed of plaster of Paris, papier-mâch, gutta-percha, or other substances. This art is supposed to have been invented, in or about 1725, by William Ged, a goldsmith of Edinburgh. A small capitalist, who had engaged to embark with him, withdrawing from the speculation in alarm, he accepted overtures from a Mr. William Fenner, and in 1729 came to London. Here he obtained three partners, in conjunction with whom he entered into a contract with the University of Cambridge for stereotyping Bibles and prayer-books. But the workmen, fearing that stereotyping would eventually ruin their trade, purposely made errors, and, when their masters were absent, battered the type, so that the only two prayer-books completed were suppressed by authority, and the plates destroyed. Upon this the art got into disrepute, and Ged, after much ill-treatment, returned to Edinburgh, impoverished and disheartened. Here his friends, desirous that a memorial of his art should be published, entered into a subscription to defray the expense; and a Sallust, printed in 1736, and composed and cast in the night-time to avoid the jealous opposition of the workmen, is now the principal evidence of his claim to the invention.

But the time had not come; for without a very large demand, such as could not exist in those days, stereotyping would be of no advantage. Books which sell by hundreds of thousands, and are constantly reprinting, such as Bibles, prayer-books, school-books, Shakespeares, Bunyans, Robinson Crusoes, Uncle Toms, and very popular authors and editions, will pay for stereotyping; but for small numbers it is a loss. After the invention had been neglected long enough to be forgotten, Earl Stanhope, who had for several years devoted himself earnestly to the subject, and made many experiments, resuscitated it, in a very perfect manner, in 1803; and his printer, Mr. Wilson, sold the secret to both universities and to most of the leading printers. To the art of stereotyping the public is mainly indebted for cheap literature, for when the plates are once produced the chief expense is disposed of.

Something akin to stereotyping is another method of printing, called logography, invented by John Walter of the London Times, in 1783, and for which he took out a patent. This means a system of printing from type cast in words instead of single letters, which it was thought would save time and corrections when applied to newspapers, but it was not found to answer. A joke of the time was a supposed order to the type-founder for some words of frequent occurrence, which ran thus: "Please send me a hundredweight, sorted, of murder, fire, dreadful robbery, atrocious outrage, fearful calamity, alarming explosion, melancholy accident; an assortment of honourable member, whig, tory, hot, cold, wet, dry; half a hundred weight, made up in pounds, of butter, cheese, beef, mutton, tripe, mustard, soap, rain, etc., and a few devils, angels, women, groans, hisses, etc." This method of printing did not succeed; for if twenty-four letters will give six hundred sextillions of combinations, no printing-office could keep a sufficient assortment of even popular words.

1See vol.1., 2.

2See accompanying facsimile of a page of the English edition—a reproduction as faithful as possible in text, color, texture of paper, etc.

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Chicago: Henry George Bohn, The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed May 25, 2024,

MLA: Bohn, Henry George. The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 25 May. 2024.

Harvard: Bohn, HG, The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 25 May 2024, from