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Origin Of The Materials Of Writing
by [?]

It is curious to observe the various substitutes for paper before its discovery.

Ere the invention of recording events by writing, trees were planted, rude altars were erected, or heaps of stone, to serve as memorials of past events. Hercules probably could not write when he fixed his famous pillars.

The most ancient mode of writing was on bricks, tiles, and oyster-shells, and on tables of stone; afterwards on plates of various materials, on ivory, on barks of trees, on leaves of trees.[1]

Engraving memorable events on hard substances was giving, as it were, speech to rocks and metals. In the book of Job mention is made of writing on stone, on rocks, and on sheets of lead. On tables of stone Moses received the law written by the finger of God. Hesiod’s works were written on leaden tables: lead was used for writing, and rolled up like a cylinder, as Pliny states. Montfaucon notices a very ancient book of eight leaden leaves, which on the back had rings fastened by a small leaden rod to keep them together. They afterwards engraved on bronze: the laws of the Cretans were on bronze tables; the Romans etched their public records on brass. The speech of Claudius, engraved on plates of bronze, is yet preserved in the town-hall of Lyons, in France.[2] Several bronze tables, with Etruscan characters, have been dug up in Tuscany. The treaties among the Romans, Spartans, and the Jews, were written on brass; and estates, for better security, were made over on this enduring metal. In many cabinets may be found the discharge of soldiers, written on copper-plates. This custom has been discovered in India: a bill of feoffment on copper, has been dug up near Bengal, dated a century before the birth of Christ.

Among these early inventions many were singularly rude, and miserable substitutes for a better material. In the shepherd state they wrote their songs with thorns and awls on straps of leather, which they wound round their crooks. The Icelanders appear to have scratched their runes, a kind of hieroglyphics, on walls; and Olaf, according to one of the Sagas, built a large house, on the bulks and spars of which he had engraved the history of his own and more ancient times; while another northern hero appears to have had nothing better than his own chair and bed to perpetuate his own heroic acts on. At the town-hall, in Hanover, are kept twelve wooden boards, overlaid with bees’-wax, on which are written the names of owners of houses, but not the names of streets. These wooden manuscripts must have existed before 1423, when Hanover was first divided into streets. Such manuscripts may be found in public collections. These are an evidence of a rude state of society. The same event occurred among the ancient Arabs, who, according to the history of Mahomet, seemed to have carved on the shoulder-bones of sheep remarkable events with a knife, and tying them with a string, hung up these sheep-bone chronicles.

The laws of the twelve tables, which the Romans chiefly copied from the Grecian code, were, after they had been approved by the people, engraven on brass: they were melted by lightning, which struck the Capitol; a loss highly regretted by Augustus. This manner of writing we still retain, for inscriptions, epitaphs, and other memorials designed to reach posterity.

These early inventions led to the discovery of tables of wood; and as cedar has an antiseptic quality from its bitterness, they chose this wood for cases or chests to preserve their most important writings. This well-known expression of the ancients, when they meant to give the highest eulogium of an excellent work, et cedro digna locuti, that it was worthy to be written on cedar, alludes to the oil of cedar, with which valuable MSS. of parchment were anointed, to preserve them from corruption and moths. Persius illustrates this:–