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Early Printing
by [?]

When the art of printing was established, it became the glory of the learned to be correctors of the press to eminent printers. Physicians, lawyers, and bishops themselves occupied this department. The printers then added frequently to their names those of the correctors of the press; and editions were then valued according to the abilities of the corrector.

The prices of books in these times were considered as an object worthy of the animadversions of the highest powers. This anxiety in favour of the studious appears from a privilege of Pope Leo X. to Aldus Manutius for printing Varro, dated 1553, signed Cardinal Bembo. Aldus is exhorted to put a moderate price on the work, lest the Pope should withdraw his privilege, and accord it to others.

Robert Stephens, one of the early printers, surpassed in correctness those who exercised the same profession.[6]

To render his editions immaculate, he hung up the proofs in public places, and generously recompensed those who were so fortunate as to detect any errata.

Plantin, though a learned man, is more famous as a printer. His printing-office was one of the wonders of Europe. This grand building was the chief ornament of the city of Antwerp. Magnificent in its structure, it presented to the spectator a countless number of presses, characters of all figures and all sizes, matrixes to cast letters, and all other printing materials; which Baillet assures us amounted to immense sums.[7]

In Italy, the three Manutii were more solicitous of correctness and illustrations than of the beauty of their printing. They were ambitious of the character of the scholar, not of the printer.

It is much to be regretted that our publishers are not literary men, able to form their own critical decisions. Among the learned printers formerly, a book was valued because it came from the presses of an Aldus or a Stephens; and even in our own time the names of Bowyer and Dodsley sanctioned a work. Pelisson, in his history of the French Academy, mentions that Camusat was selected as their bookseller, from his reputation for publishing only valuable works. “He was a man of some literature and good sense, and rarely printed an indifferent work; and when we were young I recollect that we always made it a rule to purchase his publications. His name was a test of the goodness of the work.” A publisher of this character would be of the greatest utility to the literary world: at home he would induce a number of ingenious men to become authors, for it would be honourable to be inscribed in his catalogue; and it would be a direction for the continental reader.

So valuable a union of learning and printing did not, unfortunately, last. The printers of the seventeenth century became less charmed with glory than with gain. Their correctors and their letters evinced as little delicacy of choice.

The invention of what is now called the Italic letter in printing was made by Aldus Manutius, to whom learning owes much. He observed the many inconveniences resulting from the vast number of abbreviations, which were then so frequent among the printers, that a book was difficult to understand; a treatise was actually written on the art of reading a printed book, and this addressed to the learned! He contrived an expedient, by which these abbreviations might be entirely got rid of, and yet books suffer little increase in bulk. This he effected by introducing what is now called the Italic letter, though it formerly was distinguished by the name of the inventor, and called the Aldine.


[Footnote 1: China is the stronghold where antiquarian controversy rests. Beaten in affixing the origin of any art elsewhere, the controversialist enshrines himself within the Great Wall, and is allowed to repose in peace. Opponents, like Arabs, give up the chase when these gates close, though possibly with as little reason as the children of the desert evince when they quietly succumb to any slight defence.]