The Printed Book

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

Scholar Printers of the Sixteenth Century Part 2

In order to compress these works into the limited compaEls of an octavo volume it was necessary to have recourse to some other type than the large roman or gothic letter used for the folios of the library and the cloister; and in 1501 Aldus had cut for him a small new type the form of which was based on the cursive hand then current in Italy: the neat compact letter which we call italic. For his Greek type the handwriting of his friend Marcus Musurus is said to have been taken as a model. Neither of these selections was entirely fortunate. The Greek type, which preserved all the ligatures and flourishes of the cursive hand, is by no means easy to read; but the wide influence of the Aldine 'books set a fashion in Greek letter which lasted nearly three centuries.

The italic letter, though elegant in appearance and extremely compact, is not nearly so legible as the roman type to which we, at the present day, are accustomed; but the new type was received with much favor, was extensively copied, and retained great popularity, especially for small books, throughout the sixteenth century. Basel had already been a centre of printing for some twenty years when John Froben, who was to become its greatest printer, published in 1491 as his first book an octavo Bible in small got-hie type. His press is remarkable for the number and importance of its productions, as well as for excellence of workmanship. In his desire for accuracy Froben surrounded himself with a number of scholars to whom he deputed the work of editing and correcting. Chief among these was Erasmus, who, after visiting him on several occasions, in 1521 permanently took up his residence with the printer and gave fresh impetus to the press. It was from Froben's press that the first published edition of the Greek New Testament (edited by Erasmus) was issued in 1516. In the same year he issued the works of St Jerome in nine folio volumes; and when, in 1527, he met with his death by a fall from an upper window, his largest undertaking, the works of St Augustine in ten folio volumes, was passing through the press.

In Froben's later years his most considerable contemporary in Basel was Adam Petri, who printed many works in the vernacular and favoured the writings of Luther and the reformers. But more prominent centres of printing in the cause of the reformers were Geneva, the Calvinist stronghold; Ziirich, where Christopher Froschauer, printer of many English books, including the first edition of the Bible in English (1535), was busy with Zwinglian literature; and Wittenberg, where Lutheran tracts came almost daily from the press of Hans Lufft. Later in the century the reputation of Basel as a centre of printing was upheld by another learned printer, John Oporinus (d. 1568), who, amollg other preparatory occupations, had for four years acted as assistant to Paracelsus. Oporinus is said to have printed upwards of seven hundred books, and at one time to have employed more than fifty workmen. It was in his office that John Foxe, of the Book of Martyrs, was engaged as reader of the press during his sojourn at Basel.