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Printing and the Renaissance A paper read before the Fortnightly Club of Rochester, New York   By: (1872-1965)

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PRINTING AND THE RENAISSANCE

PRINTING AND THE RENAISSANCE: A PAPER READ BEFORE THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB OF ROCHESTER NEW YORK BY JOHN ROTHWELL SLATER.

[Illustration]

NEW YORK William Edwin Rudge 1921

PRINTING AND THE RENAISSANCE: A PAPER READ BEFORE THE FORTNIGHTLY CLUB OF ROCHESTER N. Y.

PRINTING did not make the Renaissance; the Renaissance made printing. Printing did not begin the publication and dissemination of books. There were libraries of vast extent in ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome. There were universities centuries before Gutenberg where the few instructed the many in the learning treasured up in books, and where both scholars and professional scribes multiplied copies of books both old and new. At the outset of any examination of the influence of printing on the Renaissance it is necessary to remind ourselves that the intellectual life of the ancient and the mediaeval world was built upon the written word. There is a naive view in which ancient literature is conceived as existing chiefly in the autograph manuscripts and original documents of a few great centers to which all ambitious students must have resort. A very little inquiry into the multiplication of books before printing shows us how erroneous is this view.

We must pass over entirely the history of publishing and book selling in ancient times, a subject too vast for adequate summary in a preliminary survey of this sort. With the fall of Rome and the wholesale destruction that accompanied the barbarian invasions a new chapter begins in the history of the dissemination of literature. This chapter opens with the founding of the scriptorium, or monastic copying system, by Cassiodorus and Saint Benedict early in the sixth century. To these two men, Cassiodorus, the ex chancellor of the Gothic king Theodoric, and Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order, is due the gratitude of the modern world. It was through their foresight in setting the monks at work copying the scriptures and the secular literature of antiquity that we owe the preservation of most of the books that have survived the ruins of the ancient world. At the monastery of Monte Cassino, founded by Saint Benedict in the year 529, and at that of Viviers, founded by Cassiodorus in 531, the Benedictine rule required of every monk that a fixed portion of each day be spent in the scriptorium. There the more skilled scribes were entrusted with the copying of precious documents rescued from the chaos of the preceding century, while monks not yet sufficiently expert for this high duty were instructed by their superiors.

The example thus nobly set was imitated throughout all the centuries that followed, not only in the Benedictine monasteries of Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, but in religious houses of all orders. It is to the mediaeval Church, her conservatism in the true sense of the word, her industry, her patience, her disinterested guardianship alike of sacred and of pagan letters, that the world owes most of our knowledge of antiquity. Conceive how great would be our loss if to archaeology alone we could turn for the reconstruction of the civilization, the art, the philosophy, the public and private life of Greece and Rome. If the Church had done no more than this for civilization, it would still have earned some measure of tolerance from its most anti clerical opponents. It is of course to the Eastern rather than to the Roman Church that we owe the preservation of classical Greek literature, copied during the dark ages in Greek monasteries and introduced into Italy after the fall of Constantinople.

A second stage in the multiplication and publication of manuscript books begins with the founding of the great mediaeval universities of Bologna, Paris, Padua, Oxford, and other centers of higher education. Inasmuch as the study of those days was almost entirely book study, the maintenance of a university library with one or two copies of each book studied was inadequate... Continue reading book >>




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