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Origin Of The Materials Of Writing
by [?]

Who would not leave posterity such rhymes
As cedar oil might keep to latest times!

They stained materials for writing upon, with purple, and rubbed them with exudations from the cedar. The laws of the emperors were published on wooden tables, painted with ceruse; to which custom Horace alludes: Leges incidere ligno. Such tables, the term now softened into tablets, are still used, but in general are made of other materials than wood. The same reason for which they preferred the cedar to other wood induced to write on wax, as being incorruptible. Men generally used it to write their testaments on, the better to preserve them; thus Juvenal says, Ceras implere capaces. This thin paste of wax was also used on tablets of wood, that it might more easily admit of erasure, for daily use.

They wrote with an iron bodkin, as they did on the other substances we have noticed. The stylus was made sharp at one end to write with, and blunt and broad at the other, to efface and correct easily: hence the phrase vertere stylum, to turn the stylus, was used to express blotting out. But the Romans forbad the use of this sharp instrument, from the circumstance of many persons having used them as daggers. A schoolmaster was killed by the Pugillares or table-books, and the styles of his own scholars.[3] They substituted a stylus made of the bone of a bird, or other animal; so that their writings resembled engravings. When they wrote on softer materials, they employed reeds and canes split like our pens at the points, which the orientalists still use to lay their colour or ink neater on the paper.

Naude observes, that when he was in Italy, about 1642, he saw some of those waxen tablets, called Pugillares, so called because they were held in one hand; and others composed of the barks of trees, which the ancients employed in lieu of paper.

On these tablets, or table-books Mr. Astle observes, that the Greeks and Romans continued the use of waxed table-books long after the use of the papyrus, leaves and skins became common; because they were convenient for correcting extemporaneous compositions: from these table-books they transcribed their performances correctly into parchment books, if for their own private use; but if for sale, or for the library, the Librarii, or Scribes, performed the office. The writing on table-books is particularly recommended by Quintilian in the third chapter of the tenth book of his Institutions; because the wax is readily effaced for any corrections: he confesses weak eyes do not see so well on paper, and observes that the frequent necessity of dipping the pen in the inkstand retards the hand, and is but ill-suited to the celerity of the mind. Some of these table-books are conjectured to have been large, and perhaps heavy, for in Plautus, a school-boy is represented breaking his master’s head with his table-book. The critics, according to Cicero, were accustomed in reading their wax manuscripts to notice obscure or vicious phrases by joining a piece of red wax, as we should underline such by red ink.

Table-hooks written upon with styles were not entirely laid aside in Chaucer’s time, who describes them in his Sompner’s tale:–

His fellow had a staffe tipp’d with horne,
A paire of tables all of iverie;
And a pointell polished fetouslie,
And wrote alwaies the names, as he stood,
Of all folke, that gave hem any good.[4]

By the word pen in the translation of the Bible we must understand an iron style. Table-books of ivory are still used for memoranda, written with black-lead pencils. The Romans used ivory to write the edicts of the senate on, with a black colour; and the expression of libri elephantini, which some authors imagine alludes to books that for their size were called elephantine, were most probably composed of ivory, the tusk of the elephant: among the Romans they were undoubtedly scarce.