In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction: The Manuscript Copy and the Printed Original in the Digital Present1
  • Sonja Drimmer

On April 1, 2007, Google altered the login page of Gmail to announce a new analogue service (fig. 1).2 The service, Gmail Paper, promised users print-on-demand copies of their emails, stacked in archive boxes and shipped directly to their homes or work-places. Three photos of cheerful laborers and a satisfied customer lined the top of the webpage, with captions hailing the ease of service relations in a digital economy: “You click. We stack. You get.” Testimonials from beta users included advocacy from crafty types such as Anna-Christina D., life coach (“Gmail [Paper is a scrapbooker’s dream. I paper archive all of my son’s emails, cut them out in creative shapes, and paste them in my binders”), and endorsements from Luddites such as Kevin S., CEO of AdventaStar, Inc. (“I’ve always felt uneasy about the whole internet thing. With the help of Gmail Paper, now I’m taking matters into my own hands, literally”).3 Readers attentive to the release date of this service will have guessed that this was an April Fool’s hoax. And if we assume that Twitter—even in its nascent days—was a reliable barometer of immediate response, it is clear that few were fooled and many amused.4 But why was this so amusing? Why should it be funny or ridiculous that someone might want copies, in paper, of something they have typed into or read from a digital format? To inquire into the nature of the prank requires that we estrange the assumptions on which its success as a prank depends.

A different set of assumptions governs a manuscript of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers produced in 1477. A collection of aphorisms culled from ancient wise men, originally composed in Arabic by Abū al-Wafā’ Al-Mubaššir ibn Fātik in the middle of the eleventh century, the Dictes and Sayings was subsequently translated into Spanish, Latin, and French. From the last of those versions Anthony Woodville, the second Earl Rivers (d.1483), produced this English translation. The [End Page 93] manuscript is a handsome volume, with a prologue introduced by a vine-stem initial, a Janus-faced ornament plucked from the modish Italian books that revived them under the (mistaken) belief that they were ancient Roman forms (fig. 2). Across the page, a presentation miniature depicts Woodville kneeling before Edward IV to present a luscious book in an emerald-green binding and shimmering gold foredges, the hub around which the main actors of the scene congregate. The text beneath the miniature iterates in words the personalization of the social interaction in image, referring ambiguously to the book in the picture and to the very book in which the words appear:

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Fig. 1.

Screenshot of the Gmail Paper Announcement Archived online at: <<>>, accessed March 20, 2020.

This boke late translate here in sightBy Anthony Erle [Woodville] that vertueux knyghtPlease it to accepte to youre noble graceAnd at youre convienient leysoure and spaceIt to see reede and understondA precious jewell for alle youre lond

(Lambeth Palace Library MS 265, fol. vi verso)

Everything about the appearance of this manuscript and the intimate address it contains suggests that it emerges wholly from the world of the scriptorium and the small trade in bespoke books. Yet as the scribe who signs himself Hayward alerts us in its colophon (fig. 3), “Here endeth the book namede the dictes or sayinges of philosophres emprinted by me William Caxton at Westmynster the yere of our lorde MCCCC [End Page 94] lxxvij” (Lambeth Palace Library MS 265, fol. 102r). What this colophon makes evident is that this is a handwritten copy of a printed book. And while the text of this manuscript closely follows its printed source, its appearance, including elaborate decorated initials and, not least, the presentation miniature, rejects the printed book’s aesthetic. Just as the Gmail Paper prank depends on its electronic origins only to reject...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 93-119
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.