The Printed Book

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

Scholar Printers of the Sixteenth Century Part 1

By the beginning of the sixteenth century the art of book printing had nearly freed itself from the leading-strings of the manuscript. Instead of continuing to imitate the form and conventions of written books it was fairly started on the course of developing its own characteristics. In the process, the printed book sacrificed, as was perhaps inevMiable, something of the dignity and restraint that belongs to the manuscript. But, on the other hand, by its facility of production and comparative cheapness, it acquired a practical convenience which has given it universality and made it a necessary adjunct to daily life.

A book now usually declares its personality at the outset, by displaying on a title page its subject, the name of its author, and the address of the bookseller by whom it is published. Generally the date is also given, though this is sometimes relegated to the colophon which is still retained for the purpose of recording the name of the printer, who by this time was often distinct from the publisher. Pagination, head-lines, lists of contents or chapters, and other aids to ready use are commonly found, and in its main features the book differs in no material respect from the book of today. The most striking and far-reaching innovation of the early years of the sixteenth century-perhaps the only important fundamental step in the whole process of the development of the printed book-was the introduction of small compact type, the use of which enabled the size of books to be reduced to handy and portable dimensions.

At this time, interest in the evolution of the book as the product of a new art gives place to interest in the printing press as an aid to the progress and expansion of learning and literature, before it became, as it did later, an instrument for the popular diffusion of knowledge. "The dominant feature of the sixteenth-century press is the succession of scholar-printers who in various centres-Aldus in Venice, Froben in Basel, Badius and the Estiennes in Paris, Plantin in Antwerp-by their learning and their personal character and influence directed its power into channels which nourished and fed the desire for knowledge and learning.

From the outset of his career as a printer (1494 -1515) Aldus Manutius deliberately devoted his energies to the cause of scholarship, and in the twenty-one years of his activity did more than any other man to facilitate the spread of the new learning among the- scholars of Europe. Many masterpieces of ancient Greek literature made their first appearance in print at his press; but the work by which he is most widely known is the long series of small octavo volumes of Greek and Latin classics bearing the familiar device of the Aldine anchor. It was doubtless a scholar's sympathetic understanding of the need for a form of book which, by its cheapness and handy size, might become the personal belonging and intimate companion of the student, that led the printer to make this new departure.




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