The Printed Book

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

Scholar Printers of the Sixteenth Century Part 4

After the accession of Henry II, in 1547, the royal protection was less effective, and the persistent opposition of the theologians at length drove Estienne to quit Paris for Geneva, where he was able to continue his work in a freer atmosphere. He died in 1559, leaving a flourishing business to his eldest son Henri, who was one of the greatest scholars of his time.

Lyons in the early part of the sixteenth century earned notoriety by its piracies of Aldine and other desirable editions of the classics, but the work of Sebastian Gryphius (c. 1524-56) has given it a more worthy reputation in the annals of printing. Gryphius was one of the printers who favored italic type, and of his numerous productions the most familiar are the little volumes of Latin classics in small italic letter with his device of a griffin on the title page. These handy pocket editions became very popular and the format was adopted by Guillaume Roville, likewise of Lyons, and by other publishers. Gryphius also issued in two folio volumes, in 1536-8, the Oommentarii Linguae Latinae of his friend, the unfortunate Etienne Dolet, who for a short time himself exercised the art of printing at Lyons.

In the second half of the sixteenth century attention gravitates to the Low Countries, and especially to the Plantin press at Antwerp. It is related that Christopher Plantin, worker in fine bindings and ornamental leather caskets, while taking home a valuable piece of work one night was set upon by some street revellers and severely wounded in the arm. Being thus incapacitated from following his craft he returned to his original occupation of printing, and from a small beginning built up one of the largest printing houses in Europe. The extent of his business, the importance of his publications, and the excellence of his workmanship brought Plantin a European reputation. The books which issued from his press cover a wide range of subjects: science, history, jurisprudence, the writings of the Fathers, Greek and Latin classics, and books in Hebrew. Many were finely illustrated, and all bear evidence of the care and taste he bestowed upon them in his ambition to be numbered among the great printers. His biggest work, the Antwerp Polyglot Bible (1569-73) exhibits the fine and handsome character of the types which distinguish his books. In 1570, Plantin received from Philip II a special privilege for the printing of liturgical books, and his press was soon sending forth missals, breviaries, books of hours, and other service books in enormous numbers. This class of book came to be a main feature in the output of the Officina Plantiniana, and was afterwards one of the chief sources of the prosperity of this great house.