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Reviewed by:
  • Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order 1450–1830
  • A. S. G. Edwards
McKitterick, David. 2003. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order 1450–1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521 82690-X. $75.

This book is an enlarged version of David McKitterick’s 2000 Lyell lectures at Oxford. He is concerned with the relationships between manuscript and print cultures in western Europe from the invention of printing until the early nineteenth century. These relationships are explored through the perspectives of historical bibliography and the history of book as a means of examining “the changing ways in which authors, printers, publishers and readers have been related to each other” (8). [End Page 101]

McKitterick starts from the conviction that “print itself has been understood to be unstable since the mid-fifteenth century” (9). He speaks later of “the innate instability of printed texts” (97) and again, insists that “the process of printing was inherently unstable” (118). Behind this concern lies a larger interest in the ways in which meaning is related to such forms of transmission:

How and to what extent we comprehend the ways by which thought and knowledge have been shared and interpreted for five hundred years among authors, printers, publishers and readers, depends on understanding their medium


McKitterick rightly stresses the early continuity of manuscript and print as forms of textual transmission. “It is misleading to speak of any transition from manuscript to print as if it were a finite process” (47). He quotes Piccolomini’s praise of printed letter forms (“extremely neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow” [31]) to remind us that “the differences between the manuscript and the printed word were less important than their similarities” (31). Moreover, printing, he points out, did not eliminate the need for a whole range of manuscript insertions, sometimes substantial, within the printed text itself, which continued to form part of the print production process well into the seventeenth century. In addition, illustration and decoration often involved an admixture of manuscript and print, often through the intervention of an outside agency, usually a patron or commissioner. Similarly, engraved and/or colored plates afforded further possibilities of enlarging or reconfiguring the book. McKitterick urges a “more generous” sense of the scope of modern bibliography (78, 79) than has often obtained to consider the role of such materials in the conception of the early printed book.

Such emphasis on the potential for variation in the printed book allows McKitterick to further develop his claims about instability; the “conceptual association of printing with uniformity was one that was easily compromised” (108) by such factors, he argues. He offers a survey of the range of transmissional problems involved in printing that could prevent the publication of the form of the work the author had originally intended. Against any trust in the fixity of print he quotes Erasmus’ contrast between “the damage done by a careless or ignorant scribe” and the far greater harm done by an incompetent printer (110–11). The role of the press corrector, an often neglected figure, is given some prominence, particularly through an examination of Hieronymus Hornschuch, who compiled the first manual [End Page 102] of press correction, published in 1606, in itself a clear acknowledgement of the difficulties of print stability because of the continued processes of adjustment to the printed page that continued through the course of a print run. These are evidenced not just by press corrections, but also, at a later stage, by errata and corrigenda lists, and, in some instances, by authorial changes made by hand.

McKitterick goes on to develop this theme of variation in relation to issues of physical completeness in early printed books. Apart from the various errors that could occur in the course of printing (and the related question of the making up imperfect copies), there were also the larger ideological pressures to modify the printed text that resulted in expurgation, which McKitterick is able, at times, with dramatic detail (as in Figure 39 which shows the censor’s actual deletions to a printed book).

Chiefly concerned with eighteenth-century books, the later chapters are, at times, less clearly related to the arguments...


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pp. 101-104
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