We may have the great honour to be present at the decline of printing
as such. The books as the mass pastime have been ousted from our lives for
several decades already. Modern electronic mass media (radio, television) are
ousting books more and more; the bookshelves in people’s homes are getting sparse.
However, several hundreds years ago the invention of printing was the initial
factor that at once changed all conditions of the intellectual life of Western
present paper is an attempt at seeing connections between the invention of
printing and one of the most significant events in the life of mediaeval Europe
the Reformation. The fighting of the Catholic church against books and the
creation of the powerful institution of censorship will be viewed. There will
also be an attempt to view how printing stimulated the growth of national
conscience and the forming of literary language. Besides that, the development
of political science in the 16th century and the formation of the
bases of the future middle class and the basic political parties will be
Europe the books became cheaper and more widespread when the use of paper
became more frequent, especially as a strong rise of intellectual life of society
went together with this after the crusades and the development of universities.
In the 13th century there was a special post in the universities,
the so-called STATIONARII. These people urged students to copy books, took
books on commission from the Jewish usurers who did not have the right to sell
books themselves and from leaving students; therefore the stationarii were the
first booksellers in new Europe. In the beginning of the 14th
century in Paris the booksellers as such separated from the Stationarii; but
even they still gave oath to the university and were subordinate to it. In the
end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century in
the “Latin quarter” whole houses and side streets were inhabited by
book-copiers, calligraphers, bookbinders, parchment-makers, paper-sellers. In
1403 text-writers in London united into a special guild; the same thing
happened in some places in Holland as well. In the 15th century in
Italy there were booksellers who kept a large number of scribes in their stores, so they could
publish books even before the invention of printing. At this time in all big
cities of Europe there were public libraries where books could be taken home
(libri vagantes), whereas other books, especially valuable and voluminous ones
were attached to writing desks with iron chains. Already in the 15th
century almost everywhere there were booksellers and corporations of book-copiers who tried to satisfy the needs not
only of rich people, but of people with medium income as well. The books sold
were books of prayers, didactic and secular (entertaining) books. But still, if
a layman started reading or even copying books at the time, he did it basically
not for his own pleasure and not for education. He was most probably interested
in the matter of saving his soul.
invention of printing considerably lowered the value of manuscripts; but their
production did not decrease immediately, as first printed books were mere
copies of contemporary manuscripts. Rich book-lovers of the time could also
prefer manuscripts, which were usually made by famous masters and richly
decorated. Nevertheless, the calligraphers’ struggle with the printing press
was hopeless: a new, powerful industry appeared in the world.
can be said that in 17th century the book became democratic. The printing
press made it available and the demand made it interesting for the mass buyer.
In the 17th century the book penetrates all estates, it becomes both
interesting and instructive.
is natural that in the 17th century because of the improvements in
printing business the production of books makes progress in quality, cheapness
and beauty. “…The book puts on a wig… and all runs in allegory and
conventionality.” (H. Bouchot. Le livre,
l’illustration, la reliure. Paris 1886).
of the most important epochs in the development of printing was the 19th
century. In the first quarter of the 19th a good book started to
bring good money to its author who started to get royalties not from separate
rich people or the government but from the buyers. Famous writers become rich
men and, provided the conditions are favourable even a mediocre worker gets
possibilities for comfortable existence thanks to the book. It must be in the
beginning of the 19th century when people began to give the word
writer” the same meaning as we do now.
the other hand, the profitable industry started bringing decent income to
publishers. Now the publishers think over the problem of making a good book
cheaper, so that every person could form a private library without special
in the 19th century the book becomes a powerful political weapon.
may be said that for the first time the influence of the invention of printing
became obvious in Italy. The citizens of Italy in the 14th century
searched for, collected and copied ancient manuscripts with great enthusiasm.
This hobby must have spread from Italy to other Western European countries.
There is a well-known saying “An invention is the child of necessity” and it
was probably an unusual passion for classical writers at the time, which drove
human, thought to think out mechanic ways of reproduction of works of fiction.
Their wearing copying by hands could not satisfy the risen needs. In 1500
printing was practiced already in 18 Western European countries, and in the
cultural world of the time there were up to 240 towns which had their own
printing-houses. Books became relatively cheap, and the circle of people who
partook of thoughts of the greatest wits of antiquity by way of reading
immensely broadened. Undoubtedly, having received such great amount of
information, human thought started working faster than ever before. At least,
the mental outlook of the mass that directly or indirectly participated in
intellectual movements broadened.
church as the main guard of mediaeval traditions received the first strike from
printing. The success of such a great as the Reformation cannot surely be
reduced to the invention of printing only. However, one cannot be imagined
without the other. One of the reasons of the success of the Reformation
propaganda was the availability of books. Luther himself called the invention
of printing “the second redemption of the humankind” not without reason ( П. Мижуев.
«Книга и книжное дело». Москва 1913. с. 3).
Luther did a lot in the sphere of printing himself, though. He democratized the
book and assisted in the spread of books of small format and small volume, and
the so-called pamphlets or brochures as well (Flugschrift). It may be said that
Luther did a revolution in printing, this even disregarding the publishing of
the Bible. For example, if in Europe by 1500 “not more than 25,000 books had
been published” (Энциклопедический словарь, Москва, 1911, с. 368 т. 24), then 4,000 copies of Luther’s Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the
German Nation were sold in five days. Mediaeval Catholicism was not only a
religion; it established limits to the whole culture and social organization of
the mediaeval catholic peoples. During the period of the Reformation bookprinting
rebelled against one of the foundations of the mediaeval Catholicism, and namely
against the universalism and the denial of nationality. The Reformation first
gave the possibility to read the Holy Scripture and do divine service in one’s
is why in some countries printing started from the Bible (e.g. in Estonia in
1535). Printing helped the national character of the 16th century
Reformation to become apparent. And the possibility to do divine service in one’s
mother tongue thanks to books also played its part in national oppositions to
Rome. Besides that, many publicistic works of the time were directed against Catholicism
(“Dark people’s letters”). It is not impossible that, as we cannot speak about
the history of the Reformation beginning with 17th century because
even the Reformators of the 17th century themselves were aware that
they had had the predecessors, it was due to printing that the Reformators
managed to tear whole nations away from Rome, which their forerunners had not
been able to do.
it be supposed that printing became very dangerous for the Catholic church, and
if the answer is yes, then when did the church resort to counter-measures? The
history of European censorship may help in viewing this matter.
scholars treat censorship law development differently, but they agree in one: “
putting borders between the previous and the following epochs to the invention
of printing” (Книготорговое
и библиотечное дело. Ленинград, 1981 с. 96.).
was born long before the appearance of printing. Looking at its main objectives
beginning from the 14th century one can see it as the means used by
the church for fighting against heresies and the distortion of holy books. For example,
in the reign of Pope Urban VI in the 14th century it was prescribed
to look through and to approve for use only those books that were copied
correctly and did not contain anything that did not correspond to the church
invention of printing must have provided serious problems for the church, as
already in 1471 Pope Sixt IV prescribed that not a single book of spiritual
context could be published without the preliminary permission of the church
authorities. Some archbishops began to introduce preliminary censorship. The
strengthening of censorship naturally fell to the time of the beginning of the
greatest struggle between the Catholic church and the reformers that are in the
14th century. The governments also took measures to guide the power
of print to their benefit and protect themselves from harm that could be done
by the book. The books unavoidably promoted the intellectual development of the
people, mutual relations and urged people to compose and criticize. These “dangerous”
sides of the printing business lead to the attempts of the state and the church
at introducing control over book printing. From the 16th century on censorship
starts to be done by the secular authorities as well side by side with church authorities
(for the first time in the reign of Charles V). In the end of the 16th
century there is already censorship in all Western European countries where
there were printing houses. Though in England, for example, according to the
law of 1542 printing of books of secular contents was declared free. However, a
hundred years did not pass when in 1637 a new decree declared free from
prosecution only the issues that had been printed only with the permission of
particular censoring organs. In France in the reign of Francois I an attempt
was made to prohibit printing houses at all. But the books proved to be so
interesting and useful for the middle classes of population, that the ban
turned out to be futile: the books were obtained and printed beyond the law.
Nevertheless, measures of this kind as well as softer ways of influence
slowered the development of printing considerably. Printing, however, played
one of the most significant parts in the spread of Reformation, and without the
influence of printing no political events might not have happened. The victory
of the Reformation in many countries most probably did not weaken suspiciousness
on the part of the state, but it directed the attention of authorities to the
fact that printing may be very useful for it. Censoring institutes are becoming
stronger, and one more small revolution is being done: the official print is
being created. On the one hand the official print was certainly necessary for
any cultural state, however, together with censorship and bribing of the
private book printing, this led to the decrease of the enlightening function of
print. Regarding mass movement of the time of the Reformation in Europe as the
beginning of the way of the book, it can be said that already in a hundred years’
time the situation for printing becomes more difficult. The common political
reaction that governed Europe everywhere in the 17th century
reflected deadly on the fates of books in all countries. The 17th century
may be considered the time when censorship was established everywhere. This
partly led to the development of printing in Holland, which was the freest
country at the time. On the other hand, the state authorities were more worried
by small and cheap literary works of the publicistic nature, which were
available for a rather broad circle of readers and, therefore capable to arouse
excitement. That is why censorship did not prevent publishing of books aimed at
the broad circle of readers in particular scientific works or some expensive
Reformation and book printing are connected with each other. The printed word
helped one of the most important events of modern history to happen. And the
Reformation cannot likely be called only a religious movement. Thus, obtaining even
the clerical literature in one’s mother tongue, the possibility to do divine
service in one’s own language favoured the growth of national self-consciousness.
However, any public movement at the time involved reaction. In particular, the
connection may be traced between the influence of printing to the success of
the Reformation and a whole number of religious wars that followed the division
of Europe on two camps: the Catholic one and the Protestant one. At the time
the Catholics of different countries joined efforts relying on the power of
Spain, which caused the Protestants of different countries to unite as well.
printing, in the same indirect way, also obviously led to the reforming of the
Catholic church itself. Before the beginning of the Reformation the Catholicism
was unorganized, but the incentive from outside led to re-organization of the
Catholic church. The Jesuits order was created, The Higher Court of Inquisition
was established in Rome, the list of forbidden books was compiled, and the
strict book censorship was organized. One more fact points at the significance
of the book in the struggle between the Reformation and the Catholic church. When
in may of 1521 Emperor Charles V issued an edict which proclaimed Luther an
outlaw as a heretic and a person disobedient to the authorities. Luther hid in
the castle of Wartburg. He did not prepare a rebellion there, though. Luther,
most likely was busy with what he himself considered the most important: he
began translating the Bible into German. Not only did this result in the
appearance in Germany of the most important book in German. One of the main
successes of this translation was the foundation of the German literary
language. “Not only did he [Luther] promote the success of the Reformation, but
he laid the foundation of the literary German language as well” (N.
Kolsnitskiy. Germany in XV – XVII centuries.
Moscow, 1980. p. 119). The analogous situation occurred in many countries.
The unified system of printing created not only a special branch of industry
(printing houses). In Western European countries, and not only there, there appears
a stable form of their own literary language, and the most essential works of
literary authors, both past and contemporary, were brought in correspondence
with them. Thus, in Estonia, where books of spiritual contents in Estonian were
issued in the 17th century with the purpose of the spread of
religious faith, there even appeared “two literary languages: the Tallinn
literary language (the capital) and the
Tartu literary language (the university town of Estonia)” (History of Estonia, Tallinn, 1982 p. 111). An interesting
metamorphosis happened here: in the end of the 17th century the
Tartu literary language, where, by the way, a gymnasium was founded by the
Jesuits order in 1583, outstripped the literary language of Tallinn in the
number of issues published. It may show that not always the actual capital
cities influenced the society the most. It is not impossible that, apart from
other things, we owe the appearance of the phrase ”the cultural capital” to the
birth of printing.
about the political treatises of the
Antiquity and the Middle Ages, it can be noted that after such treatises as “Artashastra”,
the works of Plato, Aristotle (Politica),
Augustine Aurelius (“On the City Divine”), a new splash of development of
political thought happened right in the time of the spread of printing. It will
be enough to mention Niccolo Macchiavelli and Hugo Gracit. “Polemics of the
divine and the material powers are the struggle between the church and the
state apparatus” (I. Ekimov. Lectures.
Tartu, 1993. p. 4), and it happened during the beginning of the Italian
Renaissance. Niccolo Macchiavelli may have become the founder of the theory of
the state with free morals, the theory, which penetrated the humans’ hearts
with the help of books, and led to the development of another theory, a little
later than the described period, in the 18th century in the works of
Charles-Louis de Montesquieu, in particular, in his book On the spirit of laws. The basic principle of division of powers
into the legislative, the executive, and the judicial was introduced by Hugo
Gracit in the 17th century; later this theory was developed by
Montesquieu. Some politologists think that the USA is developing according to
not surprising that under the influence of the growth of education of the
people the population started to understand politic better. In the end of the
17th century the political movement was formed that survived until
nowadays : liberalism. The impetus to the development of the liberalism, whose
homeland is in England and, partly, France, was given by the development of the
Reformation as well, and therefore printing played an important part in the
formation of this movement. Besides that, as a reaction to liberalism conservatism
and socialism were formed as well. And even though liberalism was finally
formed during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the time of its
formation is still considered to be the end of the 17th century, and
the reason for this – the development of the Reformation.
education of common people affected the political life inside some separate states
as well. For example, “The Glorious Revolution in England, in some people’s
opinion, was a compromise between the rising middle class and the former
large-scale feudal landowners” (Kарл Маркс. Сочинения. Москва, 1983. Т. 22, с. 309). A
new class of bourgeoisie appears in Europe, and Europe itself is entering a new
era, the era of the Enlightenment. “Having survived two bourgeois revolutions
in the 17th century England found itself at the river-head of the
European Enlightenment” (History of
literature. ed. Z. Plavskin. Moscow, 1991. p. 21). Thus, in Europe in the
17th century the necessary prerequisites for the great Industrial Revolution
of the 18th century were created.
the 15th century the level of
the development of the scientific knowledge was extremely low. People
judged the natural and social world only on the basis of religious dogmas or,
at best, on the basis of superficial
observation of the surrounding reality.
the social practice faced man with the problems which were impossible to solve
on the basis of old conceptions. Empirical knowledge was accumulating. Now the
scientifically based knowledge, which summed up the experience and created the
theory, had the decisive importance.
the bases of modern sciences were created in the Middle Ages. New ways of research,
based on observation, experience, and experiment were worked out. New knowledge
in the spheres of mechanics, astronomy, chemistry, natural sciences, and
geography was accumulating. New sciences also appeared – such as hydrodynamics,
trigonometry. At the same time people were doing a large number of inventions
and discoveries: the microscope, the telescope, the thermometer, the barometer
were created; it was proved that the Earth is spherical, and that, together
with other planets, it spins around the sun. Europeans get to know about all
the continents of the Earth. A new outlook is created, the views on the state
and society change.
that, in the 15th century a way of production of the cheap writing
material (paper) and book printing were invented, which became a true
revolution in the development of science and education. The exchange of knowledge and the spread of new ideas would
have been impossible without that. The radical turn in the development of scientific
thought, which led to deep economic changes and the birth of capitalism.
the development of scientific thought did not come to Europe without blood. As
it was mentioned earlier, in the middle of the 16th century
all-European Catholic reaction began, and Italy became its first victim. After
the re-organization of the Inquisition in 1542 in Rome the Higher Tribunal was
established, headed by cardinal Caraffa. In the reign of this cardinal the
struggle with the educated thought and books reached its acme. When cardinal
Caraffa became Pope Paul IV, he issued the first “index of forbidden books” in
1559. In the following years this index was periodically reprinted and added to
with the greatest works of human thought (Boccaccio and Macchiavelli in
particular). A punishment threatened one for reading these books, the books
themselves were burnt down. The struggle of the church with the epoch of the
Renaissance began. Book censorship was given into the hands of Inquisition,
many thinkers died in fire.
Printing was the greatest
achievement of the epoch of the Renaissance, this invention virtually turned
over the whole European life in the 16th century. The beginning of
the mass spread of the book may be considered the period of the Reformation. On
the other hand, Luther himself said that it was printing that helped him to
spread his views. The book favoured the spread of the Reformation, which, in
its own turn, led to the division of Europe into two fighting camps and to
religious wars of the 16th-17th
centuries. Books served as a weapon for fighting between the Catholic and the Reformist churches. The
institute of censorship appeared and took its final shape in Europe. This censorship
somewhere remained up to now.
Together with the publication
of works of literary authors the
official print also appeared and became a weapon in the hands of state
But probably the most
important thing is that printing led to lowering prices on books and, therefore,
the increase of their availability for the population. This, in its own turn,
led to the increase of education and
enlightenment among people. There are bourgeois revolutions in Europe, a new
class of population is being formed.
Scientific and creative
thought is being stimulated, new sciences appear. Printing creates an
additional possibility for the spread of scientific knowledge. Literary
languages of European peoples’ are formed, which, in their turn, leads to the
growth of national self-consciousness.
Fist significant treatises
on political philosophy since the times of Antiquity appear. A most important
principle of the division of powers appears; the first political parties
appear. Europe approaches the epoch of the Enlightenment.
REFERENCES Book --. --. --. A collection of lectures Book --. --. --. --. --. --. --. Medeval history. Моscow, 1980. Энциклопедия Брокгауза и Ефрона. Moscow, 1911. К. Marx. «Сочинения».Moscow, 1983, vol. 22. History of literature. Redactor: Z. Plavskin. Мoscow, 1991. I.Ekimov. Lectures. Tartu, 1993. History of Estonia.Tallinn, 1982. N.Kolesnitskiy. Germany in XV-XVII centuries. Moscow, 1980. Books and printing. Leningrad, 1981. P.Mizhyef. Books and printing. Moscow, 1913. H. Bouchot. Le livre, l’illustration, la reliure. Paris, 1886 (quoted from translation). Рассказы летописей XV-XVII веков. Moscow, 1976. Typology of readers and biblyografy. Moscow, 1985. Books in Russia in XVII cent., Leningrad, 1970.
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