Scholarly publishing - a long and distinguished genealogy

By , Rosemary Herbert is a free-lance writer living in Newton, Mass.

Volumes have been written on the history of printing and publishing. With gratitude to the authors of these, this article continues our investigation and celebration of scholarly presses with a nutshell history of the advances that made publishing possible.

Before there could be publishing as such, there had to be a means of printing that could turn out multiple copies of texts with some speed and economy. A German Renaissance man, Johann Gutenberg, is credited with inventing movable type and the printing press. Writes Warren Chappel in his excellent ''A Short History of the Printed Word,'' (Boston: Nonpareil Books. 1970), ''The invention of typographic printing did not drop from the heavens, although it must have been very much in the air, and the air was becoming increasingly charged, intellectually, by the emerging Renaissance.'' In Gutenberg's day several essential technologies, invented centuries earlier, had made their way to Europe: The idea of printing from raised characters in stone or other carved surfaces was employed by the Chinese as early as the second century; ink was developed that would spread evenly, and transfer well to paper; and the papermaking process invented about AD 105 by the Chinese had reached Europe in the 12th century.

Although wooden, stone, and bronze printing had been developed in Asia, the invention of movable type by Gutenberg was an independent development. And although scholars note that a Hollander, Laurens Janszon Coster, may have invented an earlier but inferior process before Gutenberg, the German's work remains the landmark effort in early printing. A goldsmith by profession, Gutenberg sculptured his letters, modeled on the fashionable hand of his day, in steel from which a casting mold could be made. His great achievement was to form letters that could be moved and used in different order to print texts that would change from page to page.

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No less important are his invention of a printing press and a means of holding the type in place while the printing process occurred.

By 1487 presses were established in major cities throughout Europe. It was at one of these, Cologne, that William Caxton learned the art of printing.

Caxton was a cultured Englishman about 55 years old when he ''retired'' from his business and diplomatic pursuits and turned his hand to literature, notably to translating into English ''The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy.'' This book , printed at Caxton's Press in Bruges in 1475, is recognized as the first book to be printed in English.

One year later, Caxton established in London the first printing press in England. Caxton not only oversaw the printing work in his establishment but, encouraged often by members of the royal court, he continued in his translation endeavors, putting out between 1469 and 1491, 24 translations from the Latin, French, and Dutch.

According to George Parker Winship's ''William Caxton and His Work'' (Berkeley, Calif.: Books Arts Club/University of California, 1937), this remarkable man is also responsible for printing ''four cornerstones of English literature'': Chaucer's ''The Canterbury Tales'' and his ''Troilus and Cressida''; William Gower's ''Confessio Amantis''; and Sir Thomas Malory's ''Morte d'Arthur.''

Toward the end of 1491, Caxton finished his translation of St. Jerome's ''Vitae Patrum'' (Lives of the Fathers) and died the following day. Wynkyn de Worde, who is thought to have been managing the technical operations of the Caxton Press for some time, took over the press and added some new type of his own. He soon added his own name along with Caxton's in his printer's device, a decorative design that identifies the printer of a book. Wynkyn moved his shop from Westminster to Fleet Street, where by the year 1500 bookmaking establishments congregated. In 1508 Richard Pynson became the king's printer while Wynkyn became the official printer for the King's mother, the Duchess of Richmond.

In 1557, Mary I and Philip granted the charter incorporating the Stationer's Company. By then, printing had been introduced into 10 towns outside of London. The provisions of the charter essentially restricted printing to London, Oxford, and Cambridge and had little impact at first since printing in the eight other towns had already faltered economically.

Scholars agree that the first book printed at Oxford was misdated. The omission of an X in MCCCCLXVIII gave rise to the erroneous belief that this volume predated Caxton's work. It is now believed that Oxford's first book was printed in 1478, one year after the first book was produced by Caxton's press. The first printer at Oxford was Theodoric Rood of Cologne.

After 1486 there was no further printing in Oxford until John Scolar established a press in 1517. This was a short-lived enterprise, ceasing in 1519. Although the title ''University printer'' was not bestowed until 1585, ''Some Account of the Oxford University Press,'' a volume put out by the press itself in 1922, states that ''there is no doubt that (Scolar's) press was really the University Press; for many of the books have the imprint in Alma Universitate Oxoniae or bear the University Arms, and some are issued with the express privilege of the Chancellor of the university.''

Cambridge University's earliest printing needs had been filled by licensed stationers until Richard Croke, a pupil and friend of Erasmus, returned to Cambridge and found no Greek textbook available for his students. While a printer in Cologne filled Croke's commission, the scholar and other university members raised a (STR)20 loan from the university to enable John Siberch to set up a Cambridge press in 1521. Earlier than Oxford, Cambridge obtained a charter from Henry VIII in 1534 entitling them to print ''all manner of books''; but Cambridge did not exercise this privilege until 1583, when Thomas Thomas was chosen University printer. Not only did this stir up the wrath of the Stationer's Company, who regarded Henry VIII's charter as an infringement of their monopoly, but it spurred an envious Oxford to seek a similar official permission from Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I.

The Oxford arguments for a university press cite the early hopes of scholars to disseminate their own work and impress others, particularly foreign rivals.

''First of all: Hidden away in the libraries of the university there are many very important manuscripts foully beset by dust and rubbish . . . these could . . . be rescued from vanishing forever and spread all over Europe doing credit to our nation. Second: There are men in this place extremely skilled in all manner of languages and liberal arts who given a press could very easily and swiftly refute the charge of laziness brought against them by foreigners. Third: Foreigners have always thought it self-evident that where there is a settlement of scholars, there should be printers. . . . A university cannot be deprived of printers,'' they concluded, ''without loss to literature.''

Our next article will take us to Oxford today where just one branch of its university press is located, the home of a publishing house respected by scholars - including ''foreigners'' - the world over.

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