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c h a p t e r o n e • On the Continuity of Continuity: Print Culture Mythology and the Type of the Gutenberg Bible (B42) Proponents of Print Culture have now for decades debated the nuances of this notion: its relation to Oral Culture, learning, individuality, technology, and the obligatory Rise of Humanism. Print culture is a given, and all that is left for scholars to do is mop up: when did print culture emerge? what is its technological essence? In 2003, I argued the reverse—not of one of these positions, but of all of them: the entire notion of print culture is constructed in bad faith, and acts not to reveal or uncover evidence but to create specious supporting evidence.1 My subject in this chapter is early type, how little we know about it, and how our ignorance challenges larger cultural narratives generated by modern studies in the History of the Book. Early typography was subjected to minute and detailed study by German, Dutch, and English scholars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (I discuss this further in Chapter 2 below). These scholars were what we now call ‘‘analytical bibliographers’’— they looked at material books for evidence of early printing practices. The identification of a particular typefont could identify a particular printer; the nature of the impressions left by these typefaces could reveal the techniques used to manufacture them.2 Yet in 1958 Henri-Jean Martin and Lucien Febvre , in one swat of Annales rhetoric, ruled all this once ‘‘unimpeachable’’3 evidence out of court: ‘‘We get no nearer to a solution [concerning early printing techniques] by looking at the books since no evidence of actual 18 chapter one techniques used can be found by examining them.’’4 This is an extraordinary statement, and even reading it today, I cannot help but look for a redeeming trace of irony that I realize is not there. Twenty years later, in her now seminal work on print culture, Elizabeth Eisenstein was equally cavalier, denying in her preface that any scholarship existed at all ‘‘on the subject’’—the subject being her particular theory of print culture (‘‘there was not even a small literature available for consultation’’).5 Another extraordinary statement, and here I am not even tempted to look for irony. The kindest thing one could say about either claim is that such an assertion was a devious way of defining as irrelevant mountains of material evidence readily available ‘‘for consultation’’ (the 10,000–15,000 incunables in the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library) and the equally imposing mountains of scholarly material that in fact had been written about such things, much of it inconveniently in German, and some of it even less conveniently in Dutch.6 What do such statements imply about their own evidentiary basis? The Myth of Continuity and the Early Fifteenth-Century Printing Press A children’s pop-up book from 1995 shows Gutenberg in his printing shop along with his familiar accouterments: the press, typecase, and so on.7 (My Figure 5 I hope captures the spirit of this book, whose publishers will not allow it to be reproduced.) Nearly all these details come from descriptions of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century printing house and the way things were done more than 200 years later. It is easy to deride the pop-up book, as some bibliographically inclined reviewers have done. But the assumptions embodied in this book have a strong pedigree in scholarship. I quote from some of the top experts and writers in this field: Stephen Füssell (1999): ‘‘The technical essentials of Gutenberg remained unchanged for 350 years.’’ Maurice Audin (1972): ‘‘[from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century] l’atelier typographique n’a pas beaucoup varié.’’ Henri-Jean Martin (1987): ‘‘If Gutenberg had walked into the print shop of David Sechart of Angoulême as described in Balzac’s Illusions perdus of 1820, he would have been at home in a few hours.’’ A variation appears even in R. B. McKerrow’s classic Introduction to On the Continuity of Continuity 19 Figure 5. Gutenberg and his press. Bibliography for Literary Students (1927): ‘‘After a comparatively short period of experiment, methods were evolved which remained extraordinarily constant for centuries so that we can say that in all essentials of book production there was little difference between the methods of 1500 and those of 1800.’’8 Yet there is very little evidence regarding the nature of fifteenth...


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