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 peoples 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 Europe.
The 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 touched upon.
In 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.
The 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.
It 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.
It 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, lillustration, la reliure. Paris 1886).
One 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.
On 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 expenditures.
Finally, in the 19th century the book becomes a powerful political weapon.
It 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.
The 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 Luthers 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 ones mother tongue.
That 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 ones 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 peoples 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.
Can 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.
Different 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.).
Censorship 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 dogmas.
The invention of printing must have provided serious problems for the church, as already in