Printing and Publishing

views updated


PRINTING AND PUBLISHING. The shift from script to print in early modern communications was both dramatic and gradual. The invention of printing from movable type did produce many more books and led to a steep decline in the production of manuscripts by about 1475. Still, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, three or four hundred years after the introduction of movable type, manuscript was a legitimate form of publication in every field of scientific and literary endeavor. And while official communications from the political and religious spheres more and more began to take printed form, a lively network of clandestine manuscript production allowed unorthodox ideas to circulate outside the purview of the censors. Only by the turn of the nineteenth century did book production begin to assume its modern form. Then, the "typographical old regime," as the previous system is sometimes called, began to be replaced by the structure of an industry, divided into creative, editorial, and publishing sectors, that would emerge during the course of the century as capable of reaching the first mass audiences. Before then, individual entrepreneurs operated myriad relatively small firms in all the major cities without significant legal protection and under a regime of more or less strict political and ecclesiastical control. In spite of these conditions, printing and publishing exercised a profound influence on religious, intellectual, and political life wherever it flourished.


In the generation following Johannes Gutenberg, whose "forty-two-line Bible" was probably completed around 1455, the industry had already begun to take on the features that would characterize it for the next three and a half centuries. A typical operation, under the direction of a master printer, eventually included a compositor who was responsible for composing and justifying the lines of characters in his composing stick. He then tied up the page (i.e., the lead necessary to print a page) and imposed the pages of a sheet, situating the pages of lead so that the sheets would be printed correctly, with the chase and furniture around them, made up a form, and fixed the signatures so the sheets could be folded in an orderly succession when printed. A pressman and his companion were engaged in the actual printing of pagesone was responsible for inking the forms with leather ink balls while the other placed the wet paper upon the tympan, turned the frisket down, moved the carriage in for the correct positioning of the platen, and then pulled the bar two times on one side of a sheet. The whole print run was repeated on the other side for perfecting the sheets. A corrector read proof in the lead characters and then sent his corrections back to the compositor, who reopened the form and reworked the lines. Sixteenth-century printers and publishers formed into guilds, which eventually sought to set standards for the quality of the product and the payment of workers, while governing relations between firms.

The cost of materials, coupled with a primitive system of exchange, powerfully conditioned the average size of pressruns. Well into the eighteenth century, accounts between authors and printers and between printers themselves, often at the trade fairs of Antwerp, Leipzig, Frankfurt, and Lyon, were still being settled by barter of books or paper. To save paper, pressruns rarely exceeded the thousand or so copies that were ordered by authors or their agents, or that printers could be certain of exhausting in a short time. Often this meant the quantity a good pressman could pull in twelve hours of work. Few printers had more than a few type fonts on hand, with rarely enough characters to compose more than a few pages of a book. After several pages had been printed up in predetermined quantities, forms were untied and the type redistributed in the fonts for composing successive pages. Second pressruns thus, in effect, almost invariably entailed new editions.

Established from the outset at a high level of sophistication, the technology of printing evolved slowly. As late as the seventeenth century, the main changes in the wood-and-metal press that had been used by Gutenberg some two hundred years earlier were metal rails to make the carriage slide in and out more smoothly and accurately, and brass bars to connect the platen more firmly to the hose. Type founding became an industry in itself, developed notably by Claude Garamond (c. 14801561) in the sixteenth century, whereas the chief advances in the eighteenth century came from such exceptional founder-printers as Giambattista Bodoni (17401813) and John Baskerville (17061775). The manufacture of paper was also a separate industry, mostly located away from the larger cities, on clear streams and rivers, in towns like Fabriano and Salò in northern Italy, Chemnitz in Germany, Basel in Switzerland, and in regions like Alsace and the lower Rhineland. Already in the first decades of the sixteenth century, copper plate engraving began to take the place of woodcuts for illustrating works aimed at more cultivated audiences, although woodcuts did not disappear until well into the eighteenth century.


From Gutenberg's operation in Mainz, whether by emigration of personnel or by emulation of technique, the industry soon spread. If Cologne, at least for sheer number of editions, soon emerged as one of the greatest centers in Germany, beginning with the shop of Ulrich Zell (d. 1507), powerful rivals soon appeared across the Rhine. The lure of scholarly publishing may well have inspired Guillaume Fichet and Johann Heynlin to organize production in Paris in 1470; the presence of a commercial fair eventually made Lyon the second printing center of France, beginning with Barthélemy Buyer in 1473. In Westminster, William Caxton brought his experience on the Continent to bear on the project for an English press in 1476. Between 1465 and 1466 the first shops in Italy were opened in Subiaco outside Rome (Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz) and in Rome itself (Ulrich Han). Three years later the debut of Johannes de Spira began the rise of Venice, which in the age of Aldus Manutius (c. 14501515) and the Gioliti family of the sixteenth century established its place as the undisputed leader among the 250 or so cities and towns where printing now existed.

By the second half of the sixteenth century, the printing epicenter of Europe began to shift northward. With twenty-four presses and over a hundred workers at the height of his activity, Christophe Plantin (15141589), who had offices in Antwerp, Leiden, and Paris, ran the largest printing firm of his age, occupied by, among other commitments, official work for the monarchy of King Philip II of Spain. With a complete type foundry attached to the printing operation, the firm was able to produce 2,450 editions in thirty-four years of activity. A former employee of Plantin, Louis Elzevier (15401617), subsequently dominated the market in Leiden.


The vast majority of book production in the early modern period was as uncontroversial as it was unliterary and unscientific. However, almost from the outset, printers became involved in the great cultural movements of the time. Aldus Manutius of Venice was by no means the only humanist who practiced the printing trade, although his case has become paradigmatic. Applying his scholarly knowledge of Latin and Greek, he produced a repertoire of products including the great works of classical antiquity, with text compressed by his innovative italic font, and one work of great beauty, the lavishly illustrated 1499 edition of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Dream of Poliphilo). The Gioliti family, also based in Venice, contributed to the growing reputation of Italian literature with editions of such authors as Petrarch and Ariosto. In a slightly later period, Robert Estienne, of the Parisian family that moved in circles close to the humanist theologian Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (c. 14501536), found himself in the midst of the contention between Protestants and Catholics in the Reformation. His celebrated polyglot New Testament, presenting the Vulgate (traditional Latin), the Greek text, and the Latin translation of the latter by Erasmus, eventually had to be produced in Geneva because of the controversies it aroused in France among authorities in the faculty of theology of the University of Paris.

Wherever important changes were occurring, from Renaissance humanism to the Protestant Reformation, from the birth of modern science to exploration in the New World, the specific role of the press could scarcely be distinguished from the role of other agents of change. Obviously, the printer's art, apart from advantages of speed and diffusion, could be particularly effective for delivering content when combined with various forms of illustration. Almost from the outset, the satiric print, political and religious, and often using primitive xylographic techniques, was a frequent accompaniment to text. Scientific illustration reached a peak of perfection in Basel in 1543 with the publication of Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem (Seven books on the structure of the human body), setting the standard for later productions such as those by Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (17071788). Mapmaking advanced from the Cosmographiae Introductio of Martin Waldseemüller, published in 1507 in Saint-Dié (Lorraine) along with a map showing the first depiction of America as such, to the projections of Gerhard Mercator (15121594), printed in Amsterdam, to the elaborate editions, printed by the Blaeu family in the same city in the 1640s1660s, concerning every spot on the known globe.

In the realms of visual arts and music, mechanical reproduction contributed, in ways that still need further study, to education, to the introduction of new categories of leisure-time activities, and even to changing styles. Music printing constituted a particular challenge because notes and other symbols had to be superimposed over a fixed staff. Although the method of movable type, used to particular effect by Ottaviano dei Petrucci in Venice in the early sixteenth century, demanded the extra expense of plural impressions, it spread widely due to the absence of a workable alternative. The engraving of entire sheets of music, first tried in the early sixteenth century, eventually came to be preferred. Still in the eighteenth century, however, important English music publishers like Henry Playford (16571709) used the earlier method.


Regulatory mechanisms emerged slowly as officials in church and state began to recognize the potential of the press for ideological purposestheir own and others'. Each new press rule provoked authors, printers, publishers, and purchasers to conceive of new strategies of evasion. Books destined for more tightly controlled markets were shipped in via the free ports or smuggled across political boundaries in shipments of other merchandise. Few dared to suggest, with the early seventeenth-century Italian polemicist Ferrante Pallavicino (16151644), that censorship was an advantage; but no one could deny that the demand for certain works was inevitably enhanced by official sanctions.

Preliminary indices of forbidden books drawn up by the faculty of theology of the University of Paris (1540s) and by the Venetian government (1547) in the first decades of the sixteenth century were soon followed by those of Pope Paul IV and the Council of Trent (1564). By the time of the foundation of the Congregation of the Index in 1572, most civil governments had deputed various combinations of churchmen and government representatives to approve manuscripts for publication and oversee book imports.

Censorship was by no means exclusive to Roman Catholic areas, in spite of the relative press freedom advocated by John Milton in his pioneering tract, Areopagitica, in 1644. In fact, even in Milton's own thought, press freedom rarely extended to what were unanimously regarded as dangerous matters in religion and politics. Where prepublication censorship went out of fashion, as it did in Britain after 1695, libel laws continued as an effective method of controlling ideas.

Printers and authors may have regarded piracy as being as serious a problem as censorship. They were fully prepared to protect their vested interest in intellectual property whenever they could. At the local level, they could count on applying for fifteenor twenty-five-year exclusive privileges to print particular works, enforced by heavy punishments meted out by government agencies. They could also be sure that, if the work was successful, printers in other states would print it with impunity, as no rules had any application outside the state where they were issued. Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz, Spanish-born cleric and correspondent of Pierre Gassendi and Réné Descartes, in his Syntagma de arte typographica (1662; Collection concerning the typographical art), condemned the custom of seizing, using, and selling the writings of authors without their permission, citing the only international convention unequivocally binding all humanitynamely, the divine injunction against stealing. His appeal fell on deaf ears.


Throughout our period, the quantity of printed material increased in absolute terms as well as in proportion to the rising population of Europe. And apart from the now ubiquitous broadsheets in various combinations of text and illustration, new genres emerged for reaching larger audiences. In France, bibliothèque bleue, and in England, "chapbooks," referred to cheaply printed pamphlets in small formats with primitive woodcut illustrations that were sold mainly by itinerant hawkers. The first newspapers were produced in Antwerp in 1605, and by mid-century they existed in every major city. Whether privately controlled (as in Germany and England) or sponsored by governments (as in France and certain parts of Italy), they spread widely. The eighteenth century added variety magazines to the growing repertoire of literature on which the middling ranks of people had begun to rely for instruction, information, and entertainment.

A veritable "reading revolution" hasbeenattributed to the eighteenth century, entailing a shift from an "intensive" style (fewer books read carefully) to a more "extensive" style (more books, read carelessly). Whether this was actually true or existed only in the imaginations of contemporary observers and modern scholars is difficult to say. In any case, new genres aiming at larger audiences and new methods of distribution were accompanied by new practices of sociability, especially where coffeehouses, as exemplified in the pages of The Spectator (17111712) of Joseph Addison andRichard Steele, became places of discussion and cultural exchange. In London, the number of booksellers rose to some six hundred by the end of the century. In eighteenth-century Germany, reading societies and lending libraries fed the appetites of ever larger numbers of readers.

Industry growth and audience development pushed early modern structures to the limits. Subscription publishing allowed printers to plan more carefully for the long term even where credit was tight. Some of the most important works of the eighteenth century were published by this method, including the Encyclopédie conceived by Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert (35 vols., 17511780). Works of imaginative literature were meanwhile published in weekly or monthly installments to sustain reader interest, with considerable influence on the history of the English novel. Freedom to innovate depended to some degree on the abrogation of guild privileges and, in many parts of Europe, the abolition of guilds. The Remondini firm of Bassano took advantage of its location outside the urban epicenter of the Venetian Republic in order to join papermaking operations with type founding, as well as to manufacture a wide variety of print products besides books, including prayer cards, games, and even wallpaper, in a vast strategy to undercut Venetian competitors.


By the end of the century, the figure of the editor/publisher, as distinct from the author and the master printer, began to emerge. Charles-Joseph Panckoucke, for instance, undertook such longterm projects as the reprint of the French Encyclopédie and the direction of the Encyclopédie méthodique, begun in 1781 as a continuation of the former and eventually completed in 166 volumes, along with several newspapers in and around Parisall before finally purchasing a single press himself. And while John Bell exercised a similar entrepreneurial function in London, publishing several periodicals and newspapers, James Lackington in 1793 opened what may have been the largest book warehouse of the time, including over 500,000 volumes.

Even before mass literacy made a genuine mass market possible in Europe, the premises were laid for transition to a system in which the visual medium, mostly in the form of the products of the printing press, would take the place of speech as the premier method of communicating ideas. The way was prepared, to quote the McLuhanesque phrase, for the irreversible emergence of "typographical man," with all the accompanying cultural consequences that came to define the mental orientation of the modern age.

See also Antwerp ; Bible: Translations and Editions ; Caxton, William ; Censorship ; Dissemination of Knowledge ; Encyclopédie ; Gutenberg, Johannes ; Index of Prohibited Books ; Journalism, Newspapers, and Newssheets ; Libraries ; Literacy and Reading ; Milton, John ; Venice .


Primary Source

Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises: Or, the Doctrine of Handyworks, Applied to the Art of Printing. Edited by Herbert Davis and H. Carter. London, 1958. Originally published in London, 16831684.

Secondary Sources

Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France. Princeton, 1987.

Darnton, Robert. The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 17751800. Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

Dooley, Brendan, and Sabrina Baron, eds. The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe. London, 2001.

Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 14501800. Translated by David Gerard. London, 1976. Translation of L'apparition du livre. Paris, 1958.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. London, 1972.

Infelise, Mario. L'editoria veneziana nel '700. Milan, 1989.

Ing, Janet Thompson. Johann Gutenberg and His Bible: A Historical Study. New York, 1988.

Krummel, D. W., and Stanley Sadie, eds. Music Printing and Publishing. The Norton/Grove Handbooks in Music. New York, 1990.

Lowry, Martin. The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Oxford, 1979.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man. Toronto, 1962.

Voet, Leon. The Golden Compasses: A History and Evaluation of the Printing and Publishing Activities of the Officina Plantiniana at Antwerp. 2 vols. Amsterdam, 19691972.

Brendan Dooley