Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ancient Books & their Materials by Emily C. Pearson 1871

Ancient Books and their Materials by Emily Clemens Pearson 1871

The most ancient materials used for recording events were bricks, tiles, shells, and tables of stone. The modes of writing on these different substances were various. The tiles and brick were impressed with a stamp when in a soft state; the shells and tablets of stone were etched or graven, the figures or characters being cut in their surface, and in some cases also stained with various colors. It was by the ancient art of stamping that the walls, palaces, and Towers of Babylon were covered with hieroglyphics, which have but recently been brought to light from under the immense mounds of Mesopotamia by Layard and other explorers.

The patriarch Job, who is supposed to have lived about 2,300 years after the creation, exclaimed, "O that my words were now written! O that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen, and hid in the rock forever!" Stung with the unjust accusation of his friends, he desires to record his words that the generations following might see the justice of his cause. The English translation has given the allusion to printing to the text, the original word signifying rather to engrave on a plate, which was doubtless the only printing known to Job.

Montfaucon purchased at Rome in 1699 an ancient book entirely composed of lead. It was about four inches long and three inches wide; and not only were the two pieces that formed the cover, and the leaves, six in number, of lead, but also the stick inserted through the rings to hold the leaves together, as well as the hinges and nails. It contained figures of Egyptian idols, and unintelligible writing.

China, our ancestor in invention, from remote ages had a kind of stereotyping or printing. It was not, however, as some have supposed, like our printing, phonetic, or the expression of sound, but, like the Egyptian, hieroglyphical; being purely of an artificial structure, denoting every idea by its appropriate sign without any relation to the utterance, and speaking to the eye like the numerical ciphers of the Europeans, which every one understands and utters in his own way. And like most other nations of antiquity, the Chinese were content to remain without alphabetical writing. It is, however, due to the Chinese to add, that they led the way in making good printing-paper. When they invented making it, does not appear, some affirming that they had the use of it from time immemorial; others that they first discovered it in the second century of the Christian era.

Brass, as more durable, was used for inscriptions designed to last the longest, such as treaties, laws, and alliances. Seals, also, were used by the ancients for impressing soft substances. In the British Museum there is a stamp of metal with raised letters. On the back of it is a ring, enabling the owner to wear it as a signet; his name, Caius Julius Caecilius Hermias, being engraved in reversed letters upon it.

This seal of Hermias was intended for stamping parchment with ink, as is shown by the fact that the roughness of the surface below the letters unfits it for stamping any soft substance into which it would sink, as into wax. If rubbed with printers' ink and pressed upon paper, it prints very well. Thus the seed of this noble art was among the Romans. With a block of wood covered with raised letters, they might have printed a page, as well as a single name. But they were suffered to grope their way from age to age blindfolded to the art of which they had the clew. They almost grasped the great discovery, unconscious of the prize.

Quintilian, speaking of the education of youth, says, "When the boy has begun to trace the forms of the letters, it will be useful for him to have the letters of the tablet engraved, that through them, as through furrows, he may draw his style. For thus he will neither make mistakes, being prevented by the edges on both sides, nor will he be able to go beyond the proper bound; and by tracing quickly and frequently certain forms, he will strengthen his joints, and will not need the assistance of some one to put his hand above his own, and guide it." Here we find that the old Romans knew something of the art of stenciling.

The Emperor Justin, who lived in the sixth century, could not write, and, to avoid the shame of making only a mark for his name, caused holes to be bored through a tablet in the shape of the first four letters of his name. Through these holes he traced the letters in red ink. Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, it is said, wrote his name through a gold plate, in the same manner.

Tablets, or little tables of wood, as well as of metal, came at length to take the place of stone tables. The thin wooden tables were sometimes covered with wax, which was written upon with a style, or ivory pencil. These were so much hire tracing in the sand, as soon to be laid aside, and the smooth, inner bark of trees, called liber in the Latin, was used instead; also the leaves of the palm-tree, cloths of cotton and linen, the intestines and skins of animals, and the backs of tortoises. We derive our name book from the Danish bog, the beech-tree, since that was used to engrave on in Denmark, because of its abundance.

The Egyptians very early employed a broadleafed rush growing on the banks of the Nile, as a material upon which to write. This was the papyrus, a word which has given its name to our modern paper. Large bundles of papyrus manuscripts, covered with hieroglyphics, have been found in the ancient tombs and temples of that country, some of which are capable of being deciphered at the present day.

Parchment, which is the prepared skins of animals, came into use B. c. 250. It was so called from Pergamus (membrana peryamea), whose king, Eumenes, seeking to collect a library which should vie with that of Alexandria, and being debarred a supply of papyrus by the jealousy of the Ptolemies, had recourse to this substitute. After the eighth century, parchment generally took the place of papyrus.

Ancient books were not commonly disposed in a square form, as with us, but were rolled up. Hence the word volume, signifying a roll.

Paper from cotton and linen rags began, it is thought, to be made as early as the ninth century. For several centuries, however, the manufacture was so scanty as to increase very little the facilities for copying. Gradually, it became more plentiful, and writing material of small cost laid the foundation for that cheap and expeditious mode of copying which we call printing.

In the age when parchment was used, it was often difficult to be obtained; and it became common to erase the original writing from a manuscript and trace another upon it. A parchment thus used was called palimpsest, which means "twice prepared for writing." Thus, many valuable works were destroyed to make way for newer, and, in some cases, less important ones. Happily we live in a time when we have no occasion to destroy one library to produce another.

It seems strange, too, that a transcriber familiar with the labor of copying would not be deterred by his love of learning from putting even one book out of existence. But necessity knew no law; and the writer, deeming his own work to possess greater utility, sacrificed another to make room for it, — to such straits were the scribes sometimes brought for the lack of writing material. Struggling to express thought, there was no room to put it down. Written language, scarcely second to spoken language, had almost perished; and had the art of printing been invented before paper was known, it would have been comparatively useless.

The writing and rewriting on parchment, as it was often done two or three times, has recently led learned men to make these ancient parchments a study; and they have thus deciphered or read the last writing, then, effacing that, have deciphered the second, and, effacing that, have read the first, — often the most valuable, — and in this way have brought to light lost works, and found out many important facts of history.

The books of those early days were written out by hand, manuscripta; and the profession of the copyist was one of the most numerous, honorable, and lucrative. Some booksellers employed great numbers of copyists, paying them salaries, and made their own livelihood on the profits of selling the works thus copied. There were in Rome, and in some of the great cities of Greece and of Asia, particular places where such works were sold. The rich also sometimes had slaves, prized more highly and treated more familiarly than other slaves, who were devoted by them to copying the works of antiquity and of their time, for their libraries. Government, too, employed a great many copyists for its edicts, and orators employed them in transcribing their discourses. Later, the eunuchs copied at Byzantium the chief works of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew antiquity. Finally, there were the monks, who, in the retirement of the monasteries, gave their time very much to the multiplication of books by the slow process of writing.

In every great religious house, or abbey, there was an apartment called the scriptorium, or writing-room, where boys and young men were employed from morning till night in copying the singing-books of the choir, and the less valuable books of the library. Only a few of the monks copied in this large apartment, enough to give directions, and keep order among the boys and novices. Most of the "Holy Fathers," as they chose to be styled, spent their time in the cells, transcribing Bibles and other valuable works.

A monk copying. He has a cowl on his head, and wears the priest's long gown with flowing sleeves. His waist is girt with a belt; and he sits bolt upright, or slightly leans forward in the most perpendicular of arm-chairs, which seems to be joined to the desk of his cell. How curiously he holds his quill and pointed ferule! His prior is cautious and methodical; for he has chained the manuscript from which the monk is copying to the wall, as if experience had taught him that he cannot overmuch trust the brothers.

An author of those times would make a similar appearance, save that there would be no book before him, unless for reference.

Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, in his "Philobiblion," a treatise on the love of books, written by him in Latin in 1344, gives a good picture of the transcriber, or copyist of the monastery. He says: "As it is necessary for a State to provide military arms, and prepare plentiful stores of provisions for soldiers who are about to fight, so it is evidently worth the labor of the Church to fortify itself against the attacks of pagans and heretics with a multitude of sound books. But, because everything that is of use to mortals decays through lapse of time, it is necessary for volumes corroded by age to be restored by new successors, that books may not cease to exist. Hence it is that Ecclesiastes truly says, in the 12th chapter, 'There is no end of making many books.' For, as the bodies of books decay, so a remedy is found out by the prudence of clerks, by which a holy book paying the debt of nature [i. e., dying] may have one succeed it, and a seed may be raised up like to the most holy deceased, and that saying of Ecclesiastes, chapter thirtieth, be verified: 'The father is dead, and as it were not dead, for he hath left behind him a son like unto himself.'"

Then he goes on to upbraid the priests for soiling books, giving us rather an unfavorable impression concerning the habits of the monks. One would suppose that they could command the leisure to keep clean. The Bishop just quoted deplores "the unwashed hands, the dirty nails, the greasy elbows leaning upon the volume, the munching of fruit and cheese over the open leaves, which were the marks of careless and idle readers," and suggestive also, some would say, of lack of culture and refinement, and even that their religion was of a low type; else would it not, at least, have produced the virtue which is next to godliness?

Then follow sound and sensible directions how to use books. "Let there be a mature decorum in opening and closing of volumes, that they may neither be unclasped with precipitous haste, nor thrown aside after use without being duly closed."

Says an English writer: "When a volume was at last produced in fair parchment, or vellum, after the arduous labor of years, it was covered with immensely thick lids of wood and leather, studded with large nails, and curiously clasped, and was studiously preserved from the common gaze on the shelves of the monastic library.

"The splendid volumes thus made, bore evidence, however, not only of persevering industry, but of great ingenuity; the letters at the beginning of each chapter or section being adorned with curious devices. Frequently, too, a painting called an illumination was introduced radiant with gold, crimson, and azure. But no vulgar or unpriestly eyes looked on their contents, unless, indeed, we except kings and princes; they were only unclasped on days of solemnity, by the abbot or the prior, and then restored, like the jewels of the priesthood, to their dusty cases."

Montgomery says, "The readers of those days were rather gluttons than epicures in their taste for literature," canonizing all books because they were books, as children eulogize their toys without noticing the quality. "To say all that could be said on any theme, whether in verse or prose, was the fashion of the times; and as few read but those who were devoted to reading by an irresistible passion or professional necessity, and few wrote but those who were equally impelled by an inveterate instinct, great books were the natural produce of the latter, who knew not how to make little ones; and great books only could appease the voracity of the former. Great books, therefore, were both the fruits and the proofs of the ignorance of the age. They were mostly composed in the gloom and torpor of the cloister, and it almost required a human life to read the works of an author of this description, because it was nearly as easy to compound as to digest such crudities." These labors of the learned could not of course interest the common people, as they could neither understand nor buy them. These were books without meaning, — with so little logic and connection that the more one read, the deeper he got into the maze or tangled mass of words. "And the lucubrations through a thousand years, of many a noble, many a lovely mind, which only wanted better direction how to unfold its energies or display its graces to benefit or delight mankind, were but passing meteors, that made visible the darkness out of which they rose, and into which they sank again to be hid forever."

Nevertheless, we owe it to the monks to say that there were many good and learned men among them, and for much that is valuable in our libraries we can not thank them enough. We can never consult a concordance of the Bible without calling to mind that they first conceived the idea of such a work, and numbers of them, jointly laboring long and incessantly, nobly laid its foundations, on which others who came after raised the structure and reaped the glory.

It will be readily inferred from what has been said that books in those times were scarce and costly. Only the rich could afford to have them, and they had but very few. The monasteries and universities had libraries, and occasionally one was found in the castles of the nobility. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Strasbourg, was famed for its splendid collection of five hundred volumes. The Countess of Anjou bought a book of Homilies, paying for it two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet. Henry V., King of England, borrowed a book from the Countess of Westmoreland; and not having returned it at his death, the Countess petitioned the Privy Council that it might be restored to her by an order under the privy seal, which was done with all formality.

Richard de Bury, whom we have already mentioned, had gathered in his life-time, by copying with his own hand and by purchase, a valuable library. In his will he bestowed a portion of it upon "a company of scholars residing in a hall at Oxford," and one of his chapters is headed "A Provident Arrangement by which Books may be lent to Strangers," meaning, by strangers, students of Oxford not belonging to that hall.

This library, from which a book could not be borrowed without giving ample security, was finally given to Durham, now Trinity College, and contained more books than all the bishops of England had then in their possession. For many years after they were received they were kept in chests, under the custody of several scholars chosen for that purpose. It was not till the reign of Henry IV. that a library was built in that college; and then the books were taken out of the old sepulchral chests, and "were put into pews or studies and chained to them." In 1300, the library of Oxford consisted of a few tracts kept in a chest.

The statutes of St. Mary's College, Oxford, in the reign of Henry VI., furnish striking proof of the obstacles to study caused by a scarcity of books. "Let no scholar occupy a book in the library above one hour, or two hours at most, so that others shall be hindered from the use of the same." This reveals quite a famine of books, but not so great as at a still earlier period of the Church, when one book was given out by the librarian to each of a religious fraternity at the beginning of Lent, to be read diligently during the year, and to be returned the following Lent.

The old way of shutting up books in chests shows that they could not be often changed, for whenever one was wanted the whole pile must be disturbed.

The next plan was to allow the books the privilege of light and air, but to chain them to desks and in cages, as if their keepers looked upon them literally as riches with wings ready to fly away.

The following passage, malediction of some grim friar perhaps, was often written on the first leaf of a book: "Cursed be he who shall steal or tear out the leaves, or in any way injure this book."

A milder and more modern couplet, is —

"Steal not this book for fear of shame,
For here you see the owner's name."

Thus various were the devices from time to time to secure the possession of treasures more precious than gold.

How different the state of things at this day! Instead of being rare and expensive luxuries, books are abundant both in the homes of the rich and the poor.

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