The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe by
Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
As presented to HU 520: The Rhetorics of a Print/Digital Culture by Diane Keranen, email@example.com
Preface “What were some of the most important consequences of the shift from script to print?”
Part I: The Emergence of Print Culture in the West focuses on the shift from script to print in Western Europe as she tries to block out the main features of the communications revolution;
Part II: Interaction with Other Developments deals with the relationship between the communications shift and other developments conventionally associated with the transition from medieval to early modern times, concentrating on cultural and intellectual movements.
Eisenstein first began to be concerned about the topic of this book in the early 1960s after reading Carl Bridenbaugh’s presidential address to the American Historical Association. The address, entitled “The Great Mutation,” raised alarms about the extent to which a “runaway technology” was severing all bonds with the past and portrayed contemporary scholars as victims of a kind of collective amnesia (page ix). Eisenstein felt this “lament over ‘the loss of mankind’s memory’” was merely symptomatic and thought Bridenbaugh’s view lacked the ability to present the alarms of the current cultural crisis into the proper perspective which historians ought to do. Eisentstein’s experience, and that of her collegues, lead her to consider that recall rather than oblivion was more accurately the threat and that the speed with which data was becoming available was much faster than we can make order of and comprehend it. “If there was a ‘run-away’ technology which was leading to a sense of cultural crisis among historians, perhaps it has more to do with an increased rate of publication than with new audiovisual media?” (page x)
She found support for this view from Marshal McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, where he provided additional evidence of how overload could lead to incoherence. He pronounced historical modes of inquiry to be obsolete and the age of Gutenberg at an end. (page x) One question Eisenstein explores is “What were some of the most important consequences of the shift from script to print?” (page x). This study undertaken to survey the consequences of the fifteenth-century communications shift was published as The Printing Press as an Agent of Change in 1979 in two-volumes. It has since been abridged (lacking the footnotes, citations and references, and addition of illustrations) as The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, first published in 1983 and reprinted 11 times since. Her study is presented in two parts; Part I: The Emergence of Print Culture in the West focuses on the shift from script to print in Western Europe as she tries to block out the main features of the communications revolution; Part II: Interaction with Other Developments deals with the relationship between the communications shift and other developments
conventionally associated with the transition from medieval to early modern times, concentrating on cultural and intellectual movements. She expresses the concern that it may not be wise to present views that are still in flux in a medium as fixed as print (the preservation powers of print are an important element according to EE, page xi) and she asks the reader to keep in mind the tentative, provisional character of her study, and not to interpret it as a definitive text but as an extended essay. (page xii) “Print culture” for the purpose of her study refers to post-Gutenberg developments in the West. She makes a point of clarifying that cultural change in Western Europe is in no way due completely to the changes in print and presents the study of print as one of the many agents of change in the communications network used by learned communities throughout Europe that had special effects. It is these effects of printing on the written and on the views of already literate elites and how they may be related to other concurrent developments that she is attempting to describe here.
Part I “…although the broader historical implications of these data are occasionally hinted at, they are never really spelled out”
“early print culture is sufficiently uniform to permit us to measure its diversity.”
Late manuscripts and early printed books were very similar in appearance…blurring the distinction of the shift from script to print making it appear gradual, although the shift was rapid in the method of reproduction.
New features available to printers…pushed publication “in a new direction—away from fidelity to scribal conventions and toward serving the convenience of the reader.”
The Emergence of Print Culture in the West An Unacknowledged Revolution Reproduction of written materials began to move from the copyist’s desk to the printer’s workshop and although the shift from script to print has had a drastic effect on our culture, Eisenstein found that there has been very little published study actually applied to understanding these effects. “Insofar as flesh-andblood historians who turn out articles and books actually bear witness to what happened in the past, the effect on society of the development of printing, far from appearing cataclysmic, is remarkably inconspicuous.” (3) Printed studies of the broader implications of effect of printing on “the evolution of humanity” do exist, and she cites Rudolf Hirsch (3), Febvre and Martin, and Steinberg (pg 4) and states “…although the broader historical implications of these data are occasionally hinted at, they are never really spelled out” (4). There is much written about how methods of book production itself changed after the mid-fifteenth century but little that investigates how access to a greater abundance and variety of written records affected ways of learning, thinking, and perceiving among the literate elites. (5) She reasons that the difficulty of clearly defining these effects is due in part to the near impossibility of understanding pre-printing culture. Because we learn and try to understand the script culture through printed historical records, our understanding is undoubtedly skewed. The varied manner in which script reproductions occurred also makes generalizations of the culture ineffective, however, “a major difference between the last century of scribal culture and the first century after Gutenberg” Eisenstein points
out, is that “early print culture is sufficiently uniform to permit us to measure its diversity.” (8-9) The “unacknowledged revolution” then, is the revolution or perhaps the evolution of a culture. A culture that no longer relied on the scribe and the scribal technology of reproducing manuscripts, a technology that often resulted in (and perhaps encouraged) corrupted reproductions. It is the revolution of a culture that produced printed texts and who was also influenced by its own invention, the printing press, in ways that have only been hinted at although recognized as an integral part of the history of our civilization. “The effects produced by printing have aroused little controversy, not because views on the topic coincide, but because none has been set forth in an explicit and systematic form” (4).
Defining the Initial Shift She begins her study where many studies end: after the first dated printed products had been issued and the inventor’s immediate successors had set to work (13). The advent of printing, as Eisenstein defines it “is taken to mean the establishment of presses in urban centers beyond the Rhineland during an interval that begins in the 1460s and coincides, very roughly, with the era of incunabula. (13). Late manuscripts and early printed books were very similar in appearance. Florentine bibliophiles were sending to Rome for printed books as early as 1470 and some printed editions were actually bound with the same magnificent covers as manuscripts (19). Vespasiano da Bisticci, the most celebrated Florentine manuscript book merchant who
spurned the sale of printed books, in his Lives of Illustrious Men contains a reference to the beautifully bound manuscript books in the Duke of Urbino’s library and snobbishly implies that a printed book would have been “ashamed” in such elegant company” (18-19). He was forced out of business in 1478, while his chief rival, who sold printed books, stayed in business until his death in 1495. Eisenstein uses Vespasiano’s closing up shop as the point when a genuine wholesale book trade was launched. Early printers tried to copy manuscripts as faithfully as possible and fifteenth-century scribes copying from early printed books also stayed true to the printed form. “Thus handwork and presswork continued to appear almost indistinguishable.” (21) These attempts at copying each other and producing products that were nearly identical blurs the distinction of the shift from script to print making it appear gradual, although the shift was rapid in the method of reproduction. New features available to printers (graduated types, running heads, footnotes, tables of contents, superior figures, cross references, and others) soon began to be exploited and within a generation the commercial aspects of the booksellers trade pushed publication “in a new direction —away from fidelity to scribal conventions and toward serving the convenience of the reader.” (pg 22) “Title pages became increasingly common, facilitating the production of book lists and catalogues...hand drawn illustrations were replaced by easily duplicated woodcuts and engravings—an innovation which eventually helped to revolutionize technological literature by introducing ‘exactly repeatable pictorial statements’ into all kinds of reference works.” (22) By employing various devices such
B A. Script from a hand-copied Bible B. Early printed piece
The advent of printing led to the creation of a new kind of shop structure; to a regrouping which entailed closer contacts among diversely skilled workers and encouraged new forms of cross-cultural interchange. …the transmission of written information became much more efficient
as banderoles (small inscription), letter-number keys and indication lines “was important for technical literature because they expressed the relationship between words and things.” (24) The usage of woodcuts rather than hand drawn illuminations sealed the fate of the illuminator in the same way that printing sealed the fate of the scribe. (24) The advent of printing led to the creation of a new kind of shop structure; to a regrouping which entailed closer contacts among diversely skilled workers and encouraged new forms of cross-cultural interchange. (24) Financing large publications brought together rich merchants and local scholars. Previously divided cultural segments began to have regular direct contact. The printer bridged many worlds, he needed to obtain money, supplies and labor, develop complex production schedules, cope with strikes, estimate book markets, and line up learned assistants. He also needed to be on good terms with officials while cultivating talented authors and artists who might bring his firm profits or prestige. (25) In places where the printers enterprise prospered his workshop became a veritable cultural center that attracted local literati and celebrated foreigners, was both a meeting place and a message center for an expanding cosmopolitan Commonwealth of Learning. (25) The shift from scribe to printer represented a genuine occupational mutation. (29) For a while the trade in printed books flowed within the narrow channels of the manuscript book market. But soon the stream could no longer be contained. (29) The drive to tap markets went together with efforts to hold competitors at bay by offering better products or, at least, by printing a prospectus advertising the firm’s “more readable” texts, “more complete and better arranged” indexes, “more careful proofreading” and editing. (29) Promotional and advertising techniques contributed to new forms of personal celebrity.
Reckon masters and instrument makers along with professors and preachers profited when their fame spread beyond shops and lecture halls. Due to the fragmentary evidence Eisenstein sees it as prudent to bypass the problems associated with the spread of literacy until other issues have been explored with more care. She writes, “When considering the initial transformations wrought by print, at all events, changes undergone by groups who were already literate ought to receive priority over the undeniable fascinating problem of how rapidly such groups were enlarged.” (31) “It is probable that only a very small portion of the entire population was affected by the initial shift… nevertheless…a fairly wide social spectrum may have been involved. (32) To describe the early reading public is difficult. Simply matching genres of books with groups of readers can not be taken for granted, “popular” works were those that appealed to diverse groups. Latin and vernacular-reading publics, pages and apprentices, landed gentry, courtiers, shopkeepers, clerks and plebes alike were all targets of the bookseller, as well as tutors of the princes, church school instructors, and chaplains. Translations of Latin biblical readings for the “poor preachers” not schooled in Latin found the picture bibles to be good guides. Also, book ownership did not relate directly to actual readership but for display, or read not by the target audience but by other publishers and authors who were wide-ranging readers. After the advent of printing…the transmission of written information became much more efficient. Gifted students could acquire the same knowledge that was once learned after many years at the foot of a master. The Gothic cathedral, the “encyclopedia in stone”, was threatened by the printed book which would make such “things”, crowded with memories, unnecessary. [The printed book] will do away with habits of
immemorial antiquity whereby a “thing” is immediately invested with an image and stored in the places of memory. (35) As learning by reading books took on new importance, the role played by mnemonic aids was diminished. The nature of the collective memory was transformed. (35) Defenders of the image note Gregory the Great’s dictum that statues served as “books of the illiterate.” (36) “…it may seem plausible to suggest that printing fostered a movement “from image culture to word culture”. (36) The cultural metamorphosis produced by printing was really much more complicated than any single formula can possibly express. (36) For instance, engraved images became even more abundant after the establishment of print shops throughout Western Europe. Many fundamental texts that lost their illustrations in the course of being copied for centuries by scribes only regained them after script was replaced by print. The printed image was the savior of Western science. Images were indispensible and “more valuable than many printed words” according to a Chinese maxim. We need to think beyond the simple formula “image to word.” The purpose of this preliminary discussion has been simply to demonstrate that the shift from script to print entailed a large ensemble of changes. (41) Much had changed!
Some Features of Print Culture During the first centuries of print, old texts were duplicated more rapidly that new ones, and authorities conclude that “printing did not speed up the adoption of new theories.” E.E. suggests that maybe other features, such as the increased output and dissemination of old texts and also that which distinguished the new mode of book production from the old one contributed to [new] theories. (42)
A closer look at wide dissemination: increased output and altered intake
More available books at a lower cost provided the purchaser a more varied literary diet than had been provided by the scribe. Merely by making more scrambled data available…printers encouraged efforts to unscramble these data which resulted in new combinations of old ideas individual access to diverse texts is a different matter from bringing many minds to bear on a single “standardized” text. the more standardization, the more compelling is the sense of individual self, resulting in a polarization that also affected other aspects of culture and produced a heightened awareness of boundaries both in place and customs, a general recognition of diversity… concepts of uniformity and diversity are interdependent
Although the printer duplicated a seemingly antiquated backlist, more available books at a lower cost provided the purchaser a more varied literary diet than had been provided by the scribe. (43) It was no longer essential to be a wandering scholar to consult different books, the era of intense cross referencing between one book and another began. (43) More abundantly stocked bookshelves obviously increased opportunities to consult and compare different texts. Merely by making more scrambled data available… printers encouraged efforts to unscramble these data. Increased output also created conditions that favored new combinations of old ideas at first and then, later on, the creation of entirely new systems of thought (44) Printing encouraged forms of combinatory activity such as interchanges between artists and scholars or practitioners and theorists in early modern science, which were social as well as intellectual exchanges, changing relationships between men of learning as well as between systems of ideas. (45) Cross-cultural interchange stimulated mental activities in contradictory ways: magical arts were closely associated with mechanical crafts and mathematical wizardry; “technology” went to press, but so did a backlog of mystery lore; few readers could discriminate between the two. A new form of enlightenment as well as a new mystification accompanied the advent of printing. (45) Duplication of primers, ABC books, catechisms, calendars, and devotional literature (a new wide-angled, unfocused scholarship together with a new single-minded piety). At the same time practical guidebooks and manuals became more abundant making it easier to plan getting ahead in this world. (48) All of these features changed patterns of cultural
diffusion, E.E. stresses that, moreover, individual access to diverse texts is a different matter from bringing many minds to bear on a single “standardized” text. (51) Considering some effects produced by standardization Early printing was not as standard as today’s printing, countless errata (corrections) had to be issued, which, in itself, demonstrated the ability to locate textual errors with precision. (51) Early printed copies were sufficiently uniform for scholars in different regions to correspond with each other about the same citation and for the same emendations and errors to be spotted by many eyes. (52) One subliminal impact…style books, which stripped scribal “hands” of personal identity, the very concept of a “style” underwent transformation with the standardized impressions made by pieces of type, idiosyncrasies of the individual had of the scribe were clear, as were the contrasts between the woodcut and original re-drawings (53) The process of standardization also brought out more clearly all deviations from classical canons reflected in diverse buildings, statues, paintings, and objects d’art , creating two categories of history, the classical and the nonclassical.(53) Disappearance of variations in bookhands brought about a polarization of two distinct type fonts “gothic” and “roman”, a polarization that also affected other aspects of culture. A heightened consciousness of the three orders in architectural prints, new treatises and old texts, uniform maps and a heightened awareness of boundaries both in place and customs, a general recognition of diversity, concepts of uniformity and diversity are interdependent—two sides of the same coin—the more standardization, the more compelling is the sense of individual self. (56) (Increasingly precise and detailed recording of observations in visible form
brought the more standardized image, which in turn led to recognition of the apparent diversity of individuals. 60) Circulation of royal portraits and engravings of royal entries made it possible for a reigning dynasty to impress a personal presence in a new way upon the consciousness of all subjects in an “exactly repeatable” and recognizable “image” Standardization and the routines of the printer of efficient planning, methodical attention to detail, and rational calculation in the production process(and the many how-to manuals produced at the time) was conducive to a “spirit of the system,” It’s much easier to find things when they are each disposed in place and not scattered haphazardly.” (64) Some effects produced by reorganizing texts and reference guides: rationalizing, codifying, and cataloguing data Basic changes in book format might well lead to changes in thought patterns, for example, the order of alphabetization did not exist before printing. (64) The competitive commercial character of the printed book trade when, to attract purchasers while keeping competitors at bay, coupled with typographic standardization made more systematic cataloguing and indexing highly desirable. (66) These utilities of cataloguing, cross-referencing, and indexing reflected new opportunities among clergymen and clerks to realize old scholarly goals. (68) The desire to have “everything in its right place” (68) a dis-order previously concealed by oral presentation and piecemeal copying became more visible to copy editors and idexers and more offensive to publishers who valued systematic routines. (70)The Ramist doctrine, treating everything topically, owed its popularity to the fact that printing made of textbooks a profitable genre. (71) Increasing familiarity with regularly numbered pages, punctuation marks, section breaks, running head, indexes,
and so forth helped to reorder the thought of all readers, whatever their profession or craft .(73)
[Alphabetization] was so little the case before printing that a Genoese compiler of thirteenthcentury encyclopedia could write that “ ‘amo’ comes befor ‘bibo’ because ‘a’ is the first letter of the former and ‘b’ is the first letter of the latter and ‘a’ comes before ‘b’ …by the grace of God working in me, I have devised this order.”
Fresh observations could at long last be duplicated without being blurred or blotted over the course of time. Thus a knowledge explosion was set off.
The ability to continually improve successive editions made the future seem to hold more promise of enlightenment than the past.
The new process of data collection: from corrupted copy to the improved edition The succession of Latin Bibles turned out by Robert Estienne and atlases turned out by Ortelius “suggest how the immemorial drift of scribal culture had been not merely arrested but actually reversed.” (73). In the hands of ignorant printers driving to make quick profits, data tended to get garbled at an ever more rapid pace, but under the guidance of technically proficient masters, the new technology also provided a way of transcending the limits which scribal procedures had imposed upon technically proficient masters in the past, under proper supervision, fresh observations could at long last be duplicated without being blurred or blotted over the course of time. (74) Thus a knowledge explosion was set off. (75) Some sixteenth-century editors and publishers…created vast networks of correspondents and solicited criticism of each edition, sometimes publicly promising to mention the names of readers who sent in new information or who spotted errors which would be weeded out. (74) Within three years Ortelius acquired so many new maps that he issued a supplement of 17 maps which were later incorporated in to his Theatrum. In his lifetime he published 28 editions of the atlas. (75) The ability to gain this kind of feedback helps define the difference between data collection before and after the communications shift. (76) The ability to continually improve successive editions made the future seem to hold more promise of enlightenment than the past (78) Typographical fixity is a basic prerequisite for the rapid advancement of learning. (78) Considering the preservative powers of print: fixity and cumulative change Of all the new features introduced by the duplicative
powers of print, preservation is possible the most important, no manuscript could be preserved for long without undergoing corruption by copyists, (to be transmitted from one generation to the next information had to be conveyed by drifting texts and vanishing manuscripts) (79), preservation could be achieved by using abundant supplies of paper, quantity counted for more than quality. (See Jefferson’s letter to Feorge Wythe, page 80) “the lost cannot be recovered; but let us save what remains; not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use, in consigning them to the waste of time but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.” (81) The notion that valuable data could be preserved best by being made public, rather than by being kept secret, ran counter to tradition, led to clashes with new censors, and was central both to early modern science and to Enlightenment thought. (pg 81) Once Greek type fonts had been cut, neither the disruption of civil order in Italy, the conquest of Greek lands by Islam, nor even the translation into Latin of all major Greek texts saw knowledge of Greek wither again in the West. This fixity involves the whole modern “knowledge industry” itself. (81) Typography arrested linguistic drift, enriched as well as standardized vernaculars, and paved the way for the more deliberate purification and codification of all major European languages, duplication of vernacular primers and translations contributed in other ways to nationalism. linguistic “roots” and rootedness in one’s homeland would be entangled. (82) Printing contributed to permanent fragmentation of Latin Christendon by the duplication of documents pertaining to ritual, liturgy, or canon law, local printing firms were not under the pope’s control but served national clergies, an Antwerp printer joined forces with a king of Spain to supply all Spanish
priests with a sixteenth-century breviary—its text having been slightly altered from the version authorized by postTridentine Rome (83) Fixity also made possible more explicit recognition of individual innovation and encouraged the staking of claims to inventions, discoveries, and creations (84) Printing forced legal definition of what belonged in the public domain (84), only after printing did plagerism and copyright begin to hold significance for the author. A thirteenth-century Franciscan, Saint Bonaventura, said that there were four ways of “making books,”(85) (curiously absent is original composition): 1. scriptor, writing the work of others, adding and changing nothing 2. compiler, writes the work of others with additions which are not his own 3. commentator, writes others work as principle, adds own for explanation 4. author, self as principle work, with others for confirmation Veneration for the wisdom of the ages retrospectively cast ancient sages as individual authors. Early printers were primarily responsible for forcing definition of literary property rights, for shaping new concepts of authorship, for exploiting bestsellers and trying to tap new markets. (86) There was no was of recognizing unprecedented innovations before the advent of print. Steady advance implies exact determination of every previous step...printing made this determination “incomparably easier.” Progressive refinement was made possible. (87) New, improved editions of ancient texts also began to accumulate, uncovering more schools of ancient philosophy than had been dreamed of before, scattered attacks on one authority...provided ammunition for a wholesale assault on all received opinion. (87) Claims of having inherited their magic mantel were put forth by new romanticists trying to resurrect scribal arts in the age of print. Even the
“decay-of-nature” theme, once intimately associated with the erosion and corruption of scribal writing, would be reworked and reoriented by gloomy modern prophets who envisaged a “run-away technology” and felt regress, not progress, characterized their age. (89)
The more reading, the more likely one is to encounter familiar quotations, describing familiar episodes, originating symbols or stereotypes.
Silent reading and “silent instruction” has become increasingly more pervasive and ever more elaborately institutionalized after the shift from script to print.
Print houses provided wandering scholars with a meeting place, message center, sanctuary, and cultural center all in one, encouraging a formation of an ethos which was specifically associated with the Commonwealth of Learning.
Amplification and reinforcement: the persistence of stereotypes and of sociolinguistic divisions With ever more frequent repetition of identical messages, one passing reference could lead to a hundred-fold encounter for the well-read individual, therefore having an impression on the mind of the reader. The more reading, the more likely one is to encounter familiar quotations, describing familiar episodes, originating symbols or stereotypes. (89) The frequency with which all messages were transmitted was primarily channeled by the fixing of literary linguistic frontiers. A reinforcement was involved in relearning mother tongues when learning to read, which went together with the progressive amplification of diversely oriented national “memories.” (90) Even more than the learned Latin journals that were read by a limited segment of the population, the fixing of religious frontiers that cut across linguistic ones in the sixteenth century had a powerful effect on the frequency with which certain messages were transmitted. (Catholic church Latin vs vernacular biblical translations of Protestant regions area a good example of diverse messages within linguistic groups.) (90)
The Expanding Republic of Letters The rise of the reading public The replacement of discourse by silent scanning, of face-to-face contacts by more impersonal interactions, probably did have important consequences, it follows that we need to think less metaphorically and abstractly (than McLuhan’s
“typographical man”), more historically and concretely, about the sorts of social and psychological effects that were entailed and how different groups were affected. (92) Although concern about how silent reading and “silent instructors” “carry farther than do public lectures” was apparent to a sixteenth-century professor of medicine, (92) silent reading and “silent instruction” has become increasingly more pervasive and ever more elaborately institutionalized after the shift from script to print. (93), the recourse to the spoken word cannot be assumed to have diminished. To the contrary, priests and orators both benefited from the way their personal charisma could be augmented and amplified by the printed word. Recourse to silent publication undoubtedly altered the character of some spoken words, affected exchange between members of parliament due to their printed debates, altered the way poetry and song were recited: this literary culture created by typography was conveyed to the ear. Most rural villagers were exclusively a hearing public up until the nineteenth century, even though what they heard had been transformed by printing two centuries earlier. (93) Sermons had at one time been coupled with news about local and foreign affairs, real estate transactions and other mundane matters. (94) The printing of newspapers offered and alternative news source, this decentralization from the pulpit has a significant connection with the weakening of local community ties, it was no longer necessary to come together get the news. A people assembled (oral tradition) vs a people dispersed (men of letters,) changed what it mean to participate in public affairs, (95) links to larger collective units were being forged (96), new forms of group identity, vicarious participation and a mass consciousness.(97) The power of officials and bureaucrates were extended once government regulations
became subject of the duplicative powers of print. Fear of expanded states provoked countermeasures from parliaments and assemblies. Propaganda wars exacerbated the traditional tensions between court and country, crown and estates. The rise of a new class of “men of letters” Were the new groups who engaged in the production and distribution of printed materials part of a new social class of intellectuals? (98) From the “low-life of literature” of eighteenthcentury France’s frustrated literary careerist in translating Enlightenment doctrines into radical political action to the profitable clandestine book trade and black market books, smuggling of vernacular Bibles and Galileo’s evasion of the officials who placed him under house arrest, the story of the “fourth estate” remains to be told. (99) Paradoxically enough, the same presses which fanned the flames of religious controversy also created a new vested interest in ecumenical concord and toleration (100); during the sixteenth century, such printing shops represented miniature “international houses,” they provided wandering scholars with a meeting place, message center, sanctuary, and cultural center all in one, encouraging a formation of an ethos which was specifically associated with the Commonwealth of Learning. (101) This was the era when men of letters and learning were likely to be familiar with print technology and commercial trade routes and the simplicity of the early press made it possible for American men of letters to act as their own printers. (Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin). (102) The historical and social consciousness of men of letters in early modern Europe was well in advance of that of other groups. (103)
It should also be noted that the full flowering of high Renaissance culture, where the first Grub Street subculture thrived, owed much to early printers. The new medium had a stimulating effect on inventive and imaginative faculties and contributed to a heightened sense of individuality and personality which continues to distinguish Western civilization from other cultures even now. The preaching of sermons is speaking to a few of mankind… printing books is talking to the whole world. “The art of Printing will so spread knowledge, that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties will not be governed by way of oppression”…and in general, brought Western Europe out of the Dark Ages.
Part II Interaction With Other Developments Eisenstein provides, in Part II, a basis for some tentative conclusions concerning the effects of the communications shift upon three movements which seem strategic in the shaping of the modern mind. The specific relationship between the advent of printing and fifteenth-century cultural change involves a complex ensemble of many interrelated changes. (111)
The Permanent Renaissance Mutation of a Classical Revival Do we really know in which century Western culture moved from the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, to become modern? E.E. begins to answer this question by asking, more directly, “What was peculiar to the transitional age itself?,” and believes that printing deserves to be put first. (113) New [printing] trades…are being created…traditional skills (metalworkers and merchants) are being directed toward new ends.(114) The advent of printing… brought about the most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life in the history of Western civilization. (115) It is clear that the literary diet of a given sixteenthcentury reader was qualitatively different from his fourteenth-century counterpart. His staple diet had been enriched, and intellectual ferment had been encouraged, whether he consulted living authors or dead ones, “new” books or “old” ones. (116) Augmented book production altered patterns of consumption and changed the nature of individual intake. (116) “Something important and revolutionary had occurred,” not adequately covered by the term “Renaissance.” It makes sense to employ the term to
the cultural movement initiated by Italian literati and artists in the age of scribes and expanded to encompass many regions and field of study in the age of print, but it doesn’t cover the ensemble of changes which were ushered in by with the major communications revolution ushered in by print. (145) It should also be noted that the full flowering of high Renaissance culture, where the first Grub Street subculture thrived, owed much to early printers. The new medium had a stimulating effect on inventive and imaginative faculties and contributed to a heightened sense of individuality and personality which continues to distinguish Western civilization from other cultures even now. (146) It took at least a century of printing before the multiform maps and tangled chronologies inherited from scribal records were sorted out, and more uniform systems for arranging materials developed. Before then, there was no fixed spatiotemporal reference from which men of learning shared. It is not “since the Renaissance,” but since the advent of printing and engraving, that “the antique has ben continually been with us.” (122)
Western Christendom Disrupted Resetting the Stage for the Reformation Western Christendom was clearly disrupted by the printing revolution. The notion of an “apostolate of the pen” ( The preaching of sermons is speaking to a few of mankind… printing books is talking to the whole world. 157) points to the high value assigned to the written word as a means of accomplishing the church’s mission on earth.
It helps to explain the enthusiastic welcome given to the press by the fifteenthcentury Roman church. Not only did the church legitimate the art of printing, it provided a most important market for the infant industry. For fifty years before the Protestant Revolt, churchmen in most regions welcomed an invention which served both priests (liturgical lessons) and laymen (prosperous businesses). (158) The priest may have claimed the sacred office of mediating between God and man, but when it came to scriptural exegesis many editors and publishers felt that Greek and Hebrew scholars were better equipped for the task. (159) It was printing which introduced a new drive to tap mass markets. (159) Luther himself described printing as “God’s highest and extremist act of grace, whereby the business of the Gospel is driven forward.” English Protestants pointed the way to later trends… “The art of Printing will so spread knowledge, that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties will not be governed by way of oppression…” (150) Printing was a device which ended forever a priestly monopoly of learning, overcame ignorance and superstition, pushed back the evil forces commanded by Italian popes, and in general, brought Western Europe out of the Dark Ages. The activities of the printers, translators, and distributors…acted as agents of the change. (152) The roman Catholic policy was to uphold the medieval Latin Version of the Bible in the attempt to withstand two different threats emanating from Greek and Hebrew studies on the one hand and from vernacular translations on the other. (160) However, it was still threatened by lay
A sixteenth-century vernacular-translation movement affected many secular trends Possibly the most fundamental divergence between Catholic and Protestant cultures can be found closest to home. The Protestant theme that “Masters in their houses ought to be as preachers to their families that from the highest to the lowest they may obey the will of God,” diverged from the Catholic’s warning “You should nott be your owne masters… household religion is a seed-bed of subversion.” (167) but offered no effective substitute to ensure religious observances within the family circle. Perhaps civil war in Christendom was not inevitable, but the advent of printing did, at the very least, rule out the possibility of perpetuating the status quo.
erudition on the part of a scholarly elite and by lay Bible reading among the public at large of the Greek and Hebrew studies that forced their way into the schools and the expanded market of vernacular catechisms. Latin no longer served as a sacred language veiling sacred mysteries. (161) A sixteenth-century vernacular-translation movement affected many secular trends. Nicholas Culpeper, accused the college of Physicians of being papist because they resisted using vernaculars in medical texts. (164) John Lilburn held that the law of the land should not be hidden in Latin and old French, but instead should be in English so that “every Freeman may reade it as well as the lawyers.” (165) Possibly the most fundamental divergence between Catholic and Protestant cultures can be found closest to home. The Protestant theme that “Masters in their houses ought to be as preachers to their families that from the highest to the lowest they may obey the will of God,” diverged from the Catholic’s warning “You should nott be your owne masters…household religion is a seed-bed of subversion.” (167) but offered no effective substitute to ensure religious observances within the family circle. (168) Printers therefore tended to expand and diversify more rapidly under Protestant than Catholic rule. (171) the incentive to learn to read was eliminated among lay Catholics and officially enjoined upon Protestants. (173) Roman Catholic censorship efforts backfired when it published the Index librorum prohibitorum that listed antiRoman passages that made it easier for Protestant propagandists to locate them. (173) It was the profit-seeking printer and not the Protestant divine who were on the Catholic censored list. (177) Eager to expand markets and diversify production, the enterprising publisher preferred the Protestant Rome over the Catholic one.
(177) Printers became independent agents, a “third force,” not affiliated with any one church or state, but clearly affiliated with the interests of early modern capitalism. (178) The demand for vernacular Scriptures, Psalters, and service books among enclaves of Protestants of foreign soil also encouraged an interchange between printers and “communities of strangers.” (180) In the late sixteenth-century, for the first time in history of any civilization, the concept of…the “family of man” on a truly global scale, was being extended to encompass all the peoples of the world. (182) Perhaps civil war in Christendom was not inevitable, but the advent of printing did, at the very least, rule out the possibility of perpetuating the status quo. (186)
The Book of Nature Transformed Printing and the Rise of Modern Science Because the exploitation of the mass medium was more common among pseudoscientists and quacks than among Latin-writing professional scientists, who often withheld their work from the press, (187) it appears plausible to play down the importance of printing. (187) The “spread of new ideas,”through print deserves consideration, textual traditions were no more likely to continue unchanged after the shift from script to print than were scriptural traditions. (188) How could the “great book of Nature” be investigated without exchanging information by means of “the little books of men” (188) In my (Eisentstein’s) view, the movement reflected disenchantment with those forms of teaching and book learning which had been inherited from the age of scribes…inconsistencies and anomolaies became more apparent after printed materials began to be produced, a distrust of received opinion and a fresh
look at the evidence recommended itself to all manner of curious men. (194) Classical authors had warned against trusting handcopied books and especially hand-copied pictures for the excellent reason that they degenerated over time, (195) In duplicating crude woodcuts, publishers were simply carrying on where fifteenth-century copyists left off. It was not so much a new awareness of the “Inadequacies of purely verbal description” as it was the new means of implementing this awareness that explains the “sixteenth-century revolution.” For the first time the work of skilled draftsmen could be preserved intact in hundreds of copies of a given book. It was the printing of books that paved the way and provided the indispensible step for the rise of modern science. (196) The “process of feedback” was an important consequence of printed editions. This kind of checking could not occur until uniform [printed data] encouraged exchange of information between [discoverers] and publishers. (200) However, natural barriers to knowledge were less of an obstacle than “notions of the world” were. (201) Manuscript maps were “secretly and well wrapped so that no man could see it”. To make multiple copies would not lead to improvement…” (201) Before the outlines of a comprehensive and uniform world picture could emerge, incongruous images had to be duplicated in sufficient quantities to be brought into contact, compared and contrasted. (204) This scholarly computation and cross-referencing was formerly unthinkable. The flow of information had been reoriented, and this had an effect on natural philosophy that should not go ignored. (206)
Resetting the stage for the Copernican revolution
Astronomers have to study observations made at different intervals over long periods of time. Copernicus’s failure to
In Eisentstein’s view, the movement reflected disenchantment with those forms of teaching and book learning which had been inherited from the age of scribes… inconsistencies and anomolaies became more apparent after printed materials began to be produced, a distrust of received opinion and a fresh look at the evidence recommended itself to all manner of curious men. After 1543 commentaries, epitomes, or addenda devoted to one master’s work had been superseded by a confrontation with alternatives that forced some sort of choice, which pointed to a cognitive breakthrough of unprecedented kind.
supply the kind of fresh findings that were later proved by Tych Brahe needs to be balanced against his sustained efforts to unscramble dusty records by observers in the past. (207) Until half a century after Copernicus’ death no potentially revolutionary changes occurred in the data available to astronomers. (208) Copernicus interpreted Ptolemy, rather than perform astrological study, and opened Tycho’s eyes to the need for fresh data. (209) Contradictory predictions concerning the conjunction of planets encouraged him to reexamine the “writing in the skies.” (211) The desire to find an orbit for a purely transitory, ephemeral phenomenon marked an important shift in the theoretical interpretation of comets.” (212) Observed details could not be dislodged from their appointed places until scribal transmissions had come to an end. (212) Tycho set out to become an astronomer by defying his tutor and teaching himself. He bypassed the traditional master-apprentice relationship by taking advantage of printed materials. He had at his disposal, as few had before
him, two separate sets of computations based on two different theories, compiled several centuries apart, which could compare with each other. (215) He was the first careful observer who took full advantage of the new powers of the press—correctable successive editions. (216) After 1543 commentaries, epitomes, or addenda devoted to one master’s work had been superseded by a confrontation with alternatives that forced some sort of choice, which pointed to a cognitive breakthrough of unprecedented kind. Challenges were being issued in the form of open letters alerting all European astronomers to observe a particular event and recheck their findings against different predictions, (225) a practice in regions where there was a free trade in ideas. Another look at Galileo’s trial Three alternative planetary models and six sets of conflicting tables were in circulation. The shifting fortunes of war altered activities of publishers, and science went underground and even abroad thanks to the help of the Royal Society, who were publishers of technical
literature, and provided encouragement and group support to Italian virtuoso which they lacked at home. (243) Being condemned by Italian censors for engaging in “commerce with Protestants” was sometimes advantageous to the Commonwealth of Learning. Often banned material, once printed, was quite popular. The Royal Society was aware of the special service the press was rendering to scientific advance. Anxious authors were encouraged to publish and “bring out the opinion of all the learned, and perhaps where you have not yet seen, they will shed a fuller light.” (244) Galileo’s Dialogue on Two World Systems was such a provocative and polemic treatise it almost seemed to court censorship in a way that is quite typical of most serious scientific work. (250-251) New opportunities to profit from banned titles were extended to Protestant firms, at the same time, new risks and uncertainties were posed for scientific publishers in Catholic lands. (250) The continuous operation of printing firms beyond the reach of Rome was of vital concern to Western European scientists.
Conclusion One cannot treat printing as just one among many elements in a complex causal nexus, for the communications shift transformed the nature of the causal nexus itself.
The vernaculartranslation movement not only enabled evangelists to bring the Gospel to everyman but also tapped a vast reservoir of latent scientific talent by eliciting contributions from reckon masters, instrument makers, and artist-engineers. Protestant encouragement of lay reading and self-help was especially favorable for interchanges between readers and publishers—which led to the quiet displacement of ancient authorities and to expansive data collection of a new kind.
Scripture and Nature Transformed Within the space of a century and a half a revolution had occurred in the way in which men regarded the universe. Eisenstein seeks to understand “how it all came about” by considering the effects of a definite communications shift that occurred in the move from a script culture to print one that moved man from the Middle Ages to early “modernity.” (255) Her approach is to discuss movements (the Renaissance, the Reformation, a knowledge revolution) and discern features which were not present in earlier epocs which altered the textual traditions upon which each movement relied. This approach showed how movements aimed at returning to a golden past were reoriented in a manner that pointed them away from their initial goal and led lay humanists, priests and natural philosophers to a division of opinion (because of the permanence of print, and the ability to compare and contrast texts) and ultimately to a reassessment of inherited views. (256) By placing more emphasis on the shift from script to print, many diverse trends could be accommodated without resorting to extending intellectual feuds. (257) The novelty of being able to assemble diverse records and reference guides and of being able to study them without having to transcribe them helped to heighten awareness of anomalies in these inherited views. Changes wrought by printing had a more immediate effect on cerebral activities and on the learned professions than did many other kinds of “external” events. Previous relations between masters and disciples were altered. Students who took advantage of technical texts which served as silent instructors were less likely to defer to traditional authority
and more receptive to innovating trends. (261) Both Copernicus (in an attempt to preserve and emend Ptolomy’s astrological work) and St. Jerome (to protect the scripture from further corruption) used untraditional means to propell their work, which sent it in and unconventional direction, so that they broke new paths in the very act of seeking to achieve old goals. (265) The vernacular-translation movement not only enabled evangelists to bring the Gospel to everyman but also tapped a vast reservoir of latent scientific talent by eliciting contributions from reckon masters, instrument makers, and artist-engineers. Protestant encouragement of lay reading and self-help was especially favorable for interchanges between readers and publishers—which led to the quiet displacement of ancient authorities and to expansive data collection of a new kind. Finally, the same censorship policies and elitist tendencies that discouraged Catholic Bible printers (the Catholic leadership stand that laypersons should not seek knowledge themselves but to rely on the mystery decifering Latin church) eventually closed down scientific publication outlets in Catholic lands. (265-266) Open the book of nature. Bring out the opinion of the learned. One cannot treat printing as just one among many elements in a complex causal nexus, for the communications shift transformed the nature of the causal nexus itself. Some final remarks
My Comments This is a very extensive study of her topic, and I would say it is valuable reading for anyone interested in an such study of historical cultural change relative to print technology. I would, however, suggest that the student choose the original work, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, unless they are widely studied in the history of culture, scripture and science. The lack of the footnotes in this version leaves many valuable details and insights out of the picture.
The unevenly phased continuous process of recovery and innovation that began in the second half of the fifteenth century are impossible to gauge at present and remain to be described.