|The Story of Books
by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
New York D.Appleton and Company 1901
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|France was somewhat late in availing herself of the advantages offered by the new art, although Peter
Schoeffer had had a bookseller's shop in Paris. In 1470, Guillaume Fichet, Rector of the Sorbonne, invited
three German printers-Ulric Gering, Michael Friburger, and Martin Cranzto come and set up a
printing-press at the Sorbonne. The first work they produced there was the Epistolae of Gasparinus
Barzizius. For this and a few other volumes they used a very beautiful Roman type, but after the closing
of the Sorbonne press in 1472 they established other presses elsewhere in Paris and adopted a Gothic
character similar to that of the contemporary French manuscripts, and therefore more likely to be popular
with French readers.
The first work printed in the French language, however, is believed to have been executed,chiefly, at any
rate, by an Englishman, probably at Bruges, five years later, that is, about 1476. The book was Le Recueil
des Histoires de Troyes, the Englishman was William Caxton. Caxton also printed at the same place, and
about the year 1475, the first book in the English language -a translation of Le Recueil. In both these
works he may have been assisted by Colard Mansion, believed by some to have been his typographical
tutor, though so eminent an authority as Mr. Blades holds that Le Recueil was printed by Mansion alone,
and that Caxton had no hand in it. As with so many other questions concerning early typography, there
seems to be no means of deciding the point.
The first work in French which was issued in Paris was the Grands Clzroniques de France, by Pasquier
Bonhomme in 1477.
Holland and the Low Countries can show no printed book with a date earlier than 1473, while the
celebrated city of Haarlem's first dated book was produced ten years later. But printing was very possibly
practiced in these countries at an earlier period, and some undated books exist which those who ascribe
the invention of typography to Holland consider to have been executed by Dutch printers before any
German books had been given to the world. Those who stand by Germany of course think otherwise.
In the year just named-1473-Nycolaum Ketelaer and Gerard de Leempt produced Peter Comestor's
Historia Scholastica at Utrecht, and Alost and Louvain also started printing. The types of John Veldener,
the first Louvain printer, have a great resemblance to those used by Caxton, and have led some to
believe that Veldener supplied Caxton with the types he first used at Westminster.
About the same time, Colard Mansion, noted for his association either as teacher or assistant with
Caxton, is supposed to have introduced printing into Bruges. His first dated book was a Boccaccio of
1476, and he continued to print until 1484, when he issued a fine edition, in French, of Ovid's
Metamorphoses. After this nothing more is known of him. Blades thinks that his printing brought him
financial ruin, and suggests that he may have joined his old friend Caxton at Westminster, and helped
him in his work, but this is only conjecture. We have already seen that it was from Colard Mansion's press
that the first printed books in the English and French languages were produced.
The first Brussels press was established by the Brethren of the Common Life, a community who had
hitherto made a specialty of the production of manuscript books. At what date they began to print in
Brussels is uncertain, but their first dated book, the Gnotosolitos sive speculum conscientiae, is of the
year 1476. The Brethren also had an earlier press at Marienthal, near Mentz, and subsequently set up
others at Rostock, Nuremberg, and Gouda.
The Elzevirs belong to a somewhat later period than that with which we are concerned in these chapters,
but a name so famous in bibliographical annals as theirs cannot well be passed over. The first of the
Elzevirs was Louis, a native of Louvain, who in 1580 established a book-shop in Leyden, gained the
patronage of the university, and opened an important trade with foreign countries. Certain of his sons
and successors became printers as well as booksellers, and produced work of the highest excellence.
Some of them opened shops or set up presses at Amsterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht, and also
established agencies or branches elsewhere, and extended their trade all over Europe.
The history of the partnerships between different members of the family, and of the sixteen hundred and
odd publications which they printed or sold, is a complicated subject upon which there is no need to enter
here. The last of the Elzevirs, a degenerate great-great-grandson of the first Louis EIzevir, was Abraham
Elzevir, of Leyden, who died in 1712, leaving no heir, and at whose decease the press and apparatus were
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