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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Henri-Jean Martin, La Naissance du livre

(Paris: Editions du Cercle de la Librairie, 2000)

Almost 500 folio pages printed in garamond 10, 8 and magnificently illustrated, this book is fated by its cost to be bought and read by a relatively small number. Clearly written, free of jargon, and wide ranging, this book cannot be miniaturized and paperbacked. It might, however, be made available on a CD-rom, but the result would be most awkward to read. Left with a romantic notion that important books always find their readers, I shall nonetheless write about it in an attempt to increase that number.

Martin has asked for help from former students, Jean-Marc Châtelain, Isabelle Diu, Aude Le Dividich, and Laurent Pinon to extend the range of the book to include maps, and scientific and courtly publications, thereby making the whole work more than one of synthesis, though it is that. I can only touch on some of the major themes here.

The illustrations are completely linked to the prose; images (letters are images!) And their material support may be studied to reveal general mental states — rationalities, if you will — that convey meaning, senses of time, social and psychological distances, and the aesthetic. What prompted change in lettering and in other images? Who was the intended and "real" reader? Martin explores all these issues and many more, with an open mind and a sense of joy at discovery that he conveys to his readers.

The author of this book, and the author of the one entitled Livre, pouvoir et société..., are one and the same, but one would never know it by reading these two books. There are no graphs in the new book. Gone is the preoccupation with market (almost) and measurement. Martin sets writing in the philosophical, ideological and biographical frameworks across Europe during the late-Medieval and Early-Modern centuries. The philosophical never becomes explanatory; it remains only contextual.
Henri-Jean Martin begins the book with a description of the survival of Livy in various late Antique and medieval manuscripts, and their discovery, collation, and eventual editing by Petrarch and other humanists. Great attention is paid to the breaks in the text, the capitals, the blank spaces, etc., in order to discern the point at which "ease of reading" came to the fore and displaced the "love of the full page" and the primarily aesthetic function of capital letters. HJM finds continuity, from the great calligraphed copies done for princes to the early printings. Livy was a monument, not a historian to be ready by all readers.

In note 30, HJM recognizes that the complexity and variety of late medieval and humanist "mise en page" makes his findings about Livy's reception possibly typical, but by no means certainly general for Antique texts. The field is therefore open for much more work.

Occasional perversities of reason are noted: after completing "their edition" (printed by Frober), Beatus Rhenansus and Galenius did not keep the precious manuscript on which the publication was based. For them, it had been replaced.

In the next section the adaptation of German printers in Rome to the local tastes in lettering (as opposed to more Gothic northern characters), occurred within the context of ecclesiastical patronage; the great effort to produce editions of ancient authors began with Lactansius, Suetonius, Pliny, with interesting complementary moves regarding glosses. Generally eliminated for the first editions of the Ancients, they returned in editions of the writings of the Church fathers and other more recent texts of great importance to university curricula. HJM carefully weaves his views about the remarkably creative type designers and founders — nothing is simple here.
Isabelle Diu explores the very important relations between printing and northern piety, particularly the Brethren of Common Life, particularly in Deventer. Here the princely movement held far less sway than the effort to create simplicity and clarity for teaching and devotion. Every attempt is made to increase access in this movement, even for the classics, which is not to say that the great princely model would never flourish in the North. It did.

The diffusion of printing across Europe raised possibilities of uniformization of editorial practice and type design, with the revived Antique Roman seemingly invincible once Humanists and the Pope had adopted it and it was given it great impetus. Thanks to Valla, Lefèbvre d'Etaples, Erasmus, and a few others, editorial practices for ancient texts would generally become uniform (e.g. eliminating glosses, then working toward placing variants in notes), but Roman type would not prevail in Germany. Elsewhere numerous bâtards would flourish; in Germany, thanks to a handful of artisans and merchants in Nuremberg, late Gothic writing would be articulated in fraktur. HJM presents Maximilian's own education and his efforts to sponsor a distinct Gothic type — largely in Augsburg — but it was the creation of the Nuremberg Chronicle and what followed it that assured the diffusion of a Gothic, distinctly non-Roman type design. Congruence, not coherence, in Imperial and artisan "taste" would thus make an enormous stylistic divide, with Western culture being the richer for it. The beauty of Gothic letters would mutate and mutate, influencing modernist movements but remaining Gothic. Cellini would create letters not unlike some Gothic "natural" ones for a family tomb, because the Roman was perhaps not distinctive enough, and perhaps too Roman for him.

The next chapter, on 14th- and 15th-century books in France and Burgundy, draws on François Avril and Nicole Reynaud's 1993 catalogue to describe the links between princely- aristocratic taste for illuminated books and the really quite numerous centers for production of the latter. The bourgeois' (legal professionals, merchants) interest in books of hours was quite distinctive and not just a trickle-down from the courtly. HJM asks: Were the remarkably beautiful books really made for reading? Kings and princes wanted to possess illuminated manuscripts of chronicles. To be sure, Charles V had a genuine interest in Oresme's work; but possession, in order to display a manuscript and show it to other princes, papal legates, etc., placed the manuscript into a larger cultural competition, e.g., between Burgundy and France. Did bourgeois patrons let their colleagues in the law courts and prestigious guilds know about their private book holdings? Still more intriguing is the role such objects played in marriage negotiations. Alberti (The Family) does not tell us whether the bride already knew about the treasures in books (and the sculpture of a saint not names!): he would show her.

Martin ends by remarking on the preference in courtly milieux for illuminated manuscripts over paintings. I must send a copy of this paragraph to Richard Goldthwaite. The Florentine aristocracy that loved and collected paintings was not chivalric in the ways that the society around John the Good was chevalric, and would continue to be down into the reigns of Louis XII and Francis I; but the link between late chivalry and the preference for manuscripts over paintings remains to be elucidated in a broader understanding of magnificence, display and rural v. urban. After evoking the little learned, clerkly milieu that circulated between Avignon and the French royal court, HJM turns to a comparison of the reading, handwriting, and works of Clamanges, Fichet, and Heynlin. Trained as theologians in the prestigious universities (Paris, Milan, Leipzig, Louvain), each in nuance goes his way in regard to the "reception" of Italian Humanism. There is a sense that "ça bouge," and the old ways of training for eloquence no longer suffice; but their individual inclinations, opportunities and, finally, yes, aesthetic sensibilities keep them on distinctive itineraries. Their borrowings of manuscripts from the Sorbonne library, like their choices of books to copy, reveal complex responses — often still scholastic and Gothic — tinged with Humanistic attitudes and letter styles. HJM is struck by the diversity of the handwriting used by each (p. 111). Each loved Belles Lettres, but in his own way: each was responding by temperament to current philosophical moods. Fichet remained more open to Belles Lettres, perhaps because of the "négativisme" in the recent readings of older metaphysics grounded on Thomas and Aristotle. Heynlin continued to go deeper and deeper into Aristotle, though he labored to calligraph a Vergil!. For Martin, the arrival of printing will upset this happy fusion of late scholastic and Humanist culture.

he next chapter is, of course, about the first printed books in Paris, in the late 1470s under the aegis of Fichet and Heynlin. The first book is the Lettres of Barizza, which had not previously been published. How did Fichet or Heynlin procure them? Models of the Humanist rhetorical program, the Lettres and the books published soon after, reflect intense interest in the presentation of texts, including spelling, punctuation, and even pronunciation. There are beginnings of understanding the long and short syllables of Ancient Latin, and a strong awareness of the distinct territories of philosophy and rhetoric. These books, Cicero's De Officiis, editions of Valla and Dati, and Bessarion's Speeches are a Humanist movement recognizable and consciously facilitated by printing (p. 125) that invention that they thought was owed to Gutenberg. Copies were distributed to important personages, and in his later career Fichet becomes a true activist political Humanist.
The chapter on the education of princes and court culture contains what is known about the education of 14th- and 15th-century French kings and princes. Charles V and Charles VIII are rightly stressed. Programs of recommended reading are given considerable attention, notably Gerson's. Louis XI was certainly not the first to warn against too much education for princes — a theme destined to have a long life. Choisnet, one of the court physicians and a sometime astrologer, offered the future Charles VIII a body of principles about governing vaguely historicized and, interestingly, maxims. It would be Robert Gaguin who would bring the prince along the way of Italianate Humanism. Succinct reflections on the role of poetry in this court that still centered on the illuminated manuscript, introduces the career of Antoine Vérard and his production of La Mer des histoires. The synthesis of printing, wood-cut illustrations that are painted in the copies destined for grands personnages, and dedications almost submerges a banal, derivative text. Paul Saenger's doctoral thesis on Burgundian mirrors of princes has never been published, and until it is, the originality and mutations of the fifteenth century in France under Italian Humanist influence will be difficult to assess in the domain of historical thought.

The narrative of Charles VIII's invasion of Italy has the visiting and pillaging of libraries as its central theme. Just single illuminated manuscript, or perhaps a handful of illuminated ones pillaged from Milan, Pavia and Florence, the number rose to several hundred taken from Naples. Louis XII would continue the practice, with the result that several hundred of the "trésors" of the BN came from Italian libraries. Cardinal d'Amboise, Louis's minister, started a workshop for copying manuscripts out in Normandy and sponsored translations, with most curious results when it came to getting Petrarch into French. Claude de Seyssel's initiatives were much more effective, with the result that his translations led to an awareness by him of a new golden age (cf the Poujol edition, golden age centered on the conquering French). Seyssel's works were presented to Louis in magnificent copies. HJM seems a bit surprised that printed publication did not quickly follow. These works really were for the king's eyes — not unlike Bernard's Histoire printed in 12 copies during the reign of Louis XIII. As early as Francis I, some awareness of the prestige to be reaped from having a library — made up of treasured volumes — refracts a different emphasis than Charles V's greater belief in the immediate value of knowledge. The manuscript as art object seems strong still in the mind of Louis XII, but then he had Seyssel at work for him on the knowledge side, combined with eloquence. Seyssel almost seems like a Florentine chancellor. Thucydides and Xenophon, translated, would supply educational programs — the Monarchie de France — written at the beginning of Francis I's reign by a wise old councilor as part of an effort to tutor a prince who would not live to rule, a tragic story often repeated in the history of the Monarchy. It remains so interesting to compare the Monarchie with Budé's Institution; but that would take us far afield. JHM notes that some of the first printed pamphlets in France appeared immediately after Louis XI's death, and concurrently with a meeting of an Estates-General. As genres, these pamphlets often took the form of royal letters, poorly printed; but they appeared with increasing frequency and with wood-cut illustrations.

PS: Bernard Guenée published an article about royal letters in a recent number of the Annuaire Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de France. These were manuscript copies from, I think, the fourteenth century, copies sent to royal officials and high-ranking sujects throughout the realm. The Crown diffused information, official information on matters of import. The circles of persons who receive and read these letters, like arrêts from the Parlement, constituted le public. To be sure, it is not the same public as the one created around the theater in the late 17th century; but that there was some sort of accountability — keeping subjects informed — certainly waxed and waned over the centuries. Printing facilitated this already old practice, and there would be attention to personal and general royal letters. Jeff Sawyer's Printed Press comes to mind here. I must look to see if Christian Jouhaud cites it. Sawyer's findings are also characteristic of the atmosphere before, during and after an Estates-General. And what of the exchanges of letters between "la mère" and "le fils"? These too became printed and public, as Marie and Louis punched away at one another.
The chapter on the acceptance in France of a foreign, that is, Roman type (and italic type!) is the story of the influence of Aldus on French printing, and of some local talent, notably De Coline and Garamond. De Tory's role is mixed: superb illustrations derived from Italianate models, and rather poor type fonts! There is a short summary of the importance of the Estienne brothers, with their achievements in spelling and punctuation related to printing. Links to the court counted, of course; but artisan-artists really had a great deal to do with the success of Roman type fonts. In Nuremberg the artisan-artists had been linked to merchants (very elite rich merchants!), just as they had been in Venice; but in France the Roman made its was as a Venetian triumph, not a modern Roman one, and the influence of Humanist thought occurred around princesses and chancellery officials. HJM does not discuss Tory's study of the proportions in architecture and letters, perhaps because it was derivative; but Tory's work influenced how one looked at letters and discussed their beauty — something few artisan-artists in Paris could do at the time. Through all this runs HJM's perspective on the relation between increased sales and increasingly "aired" pagination and the use of paragraphs. There are similarities here to Landes's findings about watches: a cheaper book that is more difficult to read than one that is more expensive but easier to read. For a lower price, the customer may prefer to strain his eyes and own a less accurate watch.
The chapter on printing and publishing in Lyon down to 1550 is one of the richest and most complex in the book. Only someone with HJM's learning and energy could make sense of so much. I shall ask Gérard Defaux to comment on it. First, the Lyonnais were not swept off their feet by Roman, nearly as quickly as Paris was — very probably in order to hold a provincial market. From highly remarkable manuscript or illustration, the Lyonnais turned to printing, with the knowledge of exactly what was transpiring in Venice and in Paris. The first books were medical and juristic, as well as "myth-histories" by the Le Roys.

HJM captures something of the excitement in Lyonnais printing circles: the relations between genre, market, and the personal taste of a given printer made for a truly lively moment in the cultural history not just of the Lyonnais and of France, but in that of the world. Rabelais and Marot, Castiglione and Froissart are linked to printers such as Juste and De Tournes, as the great decisions were made in favor of conformity in grammar, orthography, and mise en pages — combined with tasteful varieties of type. It was inevitable that a type design somewhat resembling writing, in lieu of either Roman or Gothic type designs, would be created. It actually came quite late, when Grandon in the 1550s created the caractère de civilité that would have such a long life, especially in the North.

Turning to the question of the rise of illustration in books, HJM turns to Jean-Marc Chastelain, Laurent Pinon and Aude Le Dividich for their special expertise. After exploring the illustration as initially primarily a teaching device in devotional works, the chapter turns to the appreciation for a book because of the dilectation it gives, as a certain crudeness was superseded by finer, more pleasing and intellectually more meaningful woodcut illustrations. Just which "incidents" from the texts are chosen to be illustrated remains fascinating and difficult to interpret. Complexity did not yield quickly before simplicity and clarity of meaning.

May 1, 2002. Other sirens, other tasks lure me away from completing this comment. The last chapters merit close study by all interested in religious reform and print culture, and in the rise of the illustrated luxury book. Here are the titles of the remaining chapters:

V. La normalisation de la prose (XVe-XVIIe siècles)
1. La révolution inconsciente
2. Le texte médiateur: la restitution de la Parole divine
3. L'image du texte: les humanistes face à l'Antiquité
4. La normalisation de la prose de la langue française
5. La libération de l'œil: de la schématisation géographique à la symbole mathématique
VI. Entre imagination et raison: mises en texte baroques et classiques
1. Pour la gloire de Dieu et du roi: le livre de prestige au XVIIe siècle
2. Les livres des saints: l'apport de l'extérieur
3. Les mises en texte des livres religieux du Siècle des saints
4. Typographie et littérature: la mise en texte du livre classique
5. Les chemins de la novation