Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/590

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

commercially feasible method of casting type. This discovery, which enabled printing to become a business success, he communicated to Fust, and the two, after getting rid of Gutenburg by a legal device, then printed the famous "Great Bible" of 1456.

The story of the invention of printing thus shows clearly that without a strong money-making stimulus, the years of thought, labor and expense necessary to make a business success of the art would not have been hazarded. This money-making stimulus existed in the fifteenth century but was lacking in ancient times. The first printers came on the scene at the beginnings of the renaissance, when in Germany, where the awakening took a religious direction, there was a strong commercial demand for bibles and works of devotion, which was not supplied by the manuscript output. Moreover, eager readers for the literature of Greece and Rome and for the writings of the Church fathers could be found in every European country touched by the early Renaissance. This antique and religious literature and the bible, in the Vulgate and in translations, furnished the materials for the first printers till the controversies of the Reformation brought more grist to the mill. Between 1456 and 1478 the new art had been exercised in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain and Scandinavia. By the beginning of the sixteenth century it is computed that 16,000 editions of books had been printed.

On the other hand, in the Roman Empire, the popular old books were already in sufficiently large manuscript circulation and what there was of new material was amply cared for by the few publishing houses of Alexandria and Rome. In the Roman Empire the demand either for new books or for new copies of the old was too well supplied for inventor after inventor to take up some thirty-five years in perfecting movable type. It was the insight that the demand for more books would afford great gain if gratified which induced the long labors which ended in a practicable method of producing and using movable type. No such prospect existed in antiquity. To a Roman of the Empire a printing press would have seemed a commercially useless contrivance.

Whether, of course, fragmentary printing with some rude and easily produced sort of movable type, such as would be made of carved wood, ever occurred at all in ancient times can not be said. Not improbably, it did; the Cretan inscription, noticed above, had it been impressed on papyrus by ink, would have been an example of rudimentary typography. Possibly, for all we know, attempts of this sort, made for the amusement or for the novelty of the thing, may have occurred time and time again.