Digital Gutenberg
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Before leaving the Gutenberg era behind, I need to say something on behalf of the hand-copied books, and also something about the political consequence of the book trade.

The Gothic hand-copied manuscript, for all of its more serious failings, was a thing of beauty and grace. Many of the copyists were artists of the first rank and able scholars. The Gothic book, with its illuminated pages and esoteric conventions, could hardly be counted as worthless. Many of the new mass-produced books were at least imitative of their form, especially in the matter of the use of illustrations and decorations. In fact, there have been numerous attempts to revive the Gothic book in the five hundred years since, some successful -- as in the case of the nineteenth-century English artist and poet William Blake.

It is a fact that without the almost heroic efforts of many of the hand copyists to rescue -- sometimes at sword point -- the ancient manuscripts stored in the monastic libraries of Europe, the world might well have been deprived of the works of many of the ancient writers. This was certainly the case with Lucretius, whose great work De rerum natura was to be a cornerstone of much intellectual effort coming up to that great ferment we call The Enlightenment. For a time it seemed that the fate of Lucretius depended on the existence of a single manuscript. There are chilling accounts of the mistreatment and neglect of countless other rare manuscripts, as the monks who were their custodians thought nothing of shredding a little Aristotle or Epicurus for stuffing, something to put in the cracks in the old stone walls to keep out the cold of winter.

Finally, it must be said that mass-market publishing put many hundreds of ordinary copyists out of a job. They protested as best they could -- picketing the print shops and enlisting the help of authorities -- but the tide was against them, just as it was against the censorship that civil and church authorities sought to impose on printers and publishers. What they feared, of course, was a loss of authority and the erosion of doctrine. There was in Europe at that time a rising spirit of humanism, and it was being fed by the new books. The university towns and seats of power, enamored of the status quo, had lost influence to the international trade centers, which were generally more progressive and liberal in their outlook. Printers, to their credit, found ways to avoid censorship, often by making the author anonymous and providing a false publication history. It is easy to suppose, though, that students of the medieval universities may have been the first eager clients of the new booksellers, as the cost of hand-copied texts was entirely prohibitive unless you were fortunate enough to have a wealthy patron.

The stage was thus prepared for the next part of the Gutenberg revolution. I will call this second phase Gutenberg, Part One and a Half.

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