Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/589

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



ber of each large enough to supply the reading demand had been turned out in manuscript. The literary output of new works in the Roman Empire was, from our modern standpoint, extraordinarily small. Aside from a few romances nothing existed in prose which would fall under our head of fiction. More than this, the output of scientific, descriptive and even historical writings was scanty in the extreme. Poetry, satire, philosophy and religion seem to have made up the greatest part of the output of new books in the Roman shops. Reading never became in the Roman Empire the necessity it has been to an educated man for many centuries past. Those who read habitually in the empire were the school children and scholars, and the wants of these last were supplied by the great libraries of Alexandria, Athens and Rome. Reading and writing were to others rarely more than a means of communication and of casting accounts or other commercial business.

Nevertheless, had printing been invented in the Roman Empire it would, no doubt, in the end, have created a demand for the books which it would almost certainly have called into being. Now the idea of typography, to nations possessing an alphabet, is so obvious that its failure to appear at all in Rome seems at first puzzling. Commercial enterprises are frequently started with no more prospect of gain than a printing office, if ready for work, would have faced in Rome. The real reason why in the conditions in the Roman Empire printing did not appear at all is revealed when we turn to the history of the early printers who invented the art in the fifteenth century. Though the idea of typography is obvious, the means first to make the idea actual were, we find, very far indeed from being so. Obscure though the early history of the art is, it is certain that effort after effort was made by several small groups of men in Holland and on the borders of Germany to make a commercial success of printing in the years between 1420 and 1450. The difficulties they encountered were manifold—a workable ink, a press which would give even impressions, but, most of all, type, both as regards its cutting or its casting and as regards its wear, we find giving them endless difficulties. We get some idea of the labors connected with the invention when we find Gutenburg trying to print at Strasburg as early as 1436. About 1442 he went to Mayence. There he exhausted his means in various experiments. In turn he took up and laid aside the different processes he had tried—xylography, movable types of cast iron, wood and lead. He invented new tools and experimented with a press made on the principle of a wine-press. He began work on nearly a dozen books and could finish none of them. In 1450 he entered into partnership with John Fust, a rich goldsmith of Mayence. Fust agreed to advance Gutenburg 800 gold florins for the manufacture of implements and tools and 300 for other expenses. In 1451 Peter Schoeffer, an employee in the establishment, at last hit on a