The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Fifteenth Century Books Part 1

It requires some effort to realize that before the invention of printing all books were in manuscript and that the laborious process of writing out each separate copy was the only means of reproducing a work. This business of making manuscript copies of books was carried on not only in the monastic scriptorium and other homes of scholarship, but was also followed as a regular profession, and in a great centre of learning, such as Paris, a vast number of calligraphers, rubricators, illuminators, binders, and others of kindred calling gained their daily living by this industry. To make twenty manuscript copies of a book was just twenty times the work of making one copy; but in the printing of a book, when once the type is set up, any number of copies can be produced with comparatively little additional labor. It was this tedious business of writing out every separate additional copy that impressed Caxton with the advantages of printing. For, having, as he relates in his Recuyell of the History of Troye, promised copies of the book to diverse gentlemen and to my friends, in the writing of the same my penne is worn, my hand weary and not steadfast, my eyen dimmed with overmuch looking on the whit paper.... Therefore I have practiced and learned at my great charge and dispense to ordeyne this said book in prynte after the manner and form as ye may here see.

Fifteenth Century Manuscript

The primary effect of the invention of printing was to render multiplication of copies of a book cheaper and more expeditious. It was, of course, a manuscript that the early printer had in his mind's eye when he set to work to produce a book. The result was not so much something entirely new in the shape of a printed book, as the production of a number of copies which closely resembled a manuscript in appearance. Indeed, an early printed book often looks so like a manuscript of the same work written in the formal book-hand, that, if the two were placed side by side, an unpracticed eye would find some difficulty in distinguishing between them. his types, as the letters used in printing are called, the pioneer printer naturally followed the formal book-hand used in the district in which he was working, or the special hand customarily employed in the particular class of book which he proposed to print. Latin Bibles and liturgical works were generally printed in the black-letter which, under the unifying influence of the Church, it had become the habit to employ in writing books for use in her services. In Germany varying forms of gothic text were adopted; while the round minuscule writing affected by Italian scribes formed the model for the roman type so widely favored in Italy. Caxton's first types were based on the ordinary Flemish book-hand which he was accustomed to see in manuscripts during his residence in the Low Countries.