The library blog It’s All Good (or rather its 15th-century avatar Bibliotheca Ephemeris) has scored a real coup: an interview with an abbot who has returned in high dudgeon from Mainz, where he visited Johannes Gutenberg:

BE: Abbot Michael, can you please tell us what you discovered?
AM: This upstart Gutenberg claims he has created a device to allow ink to be directly applied to paper, without the intervention of a scribe! He has adopted a wine press, of all things, and places tiny pieces of wood on the face of the press, slathers ink all over the wood, and then presses the letters to the paper. He claims he can turn out dozens of pages a day this way.
BE: But you do not seem to be impressed.
AM: It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. This is not a dignified scriptorium, where monks illuminate manuscripts with leaf and ink. No, this is brute force work, simply dedicated to speedily turning out books. Can you tell me what civilized person would want this?

I was particularly moved by this plaintive outcry:

This is the worst part. ANYONE can set this type. Words can be changed by the typesetter, and who would be able to tell the difference? Do the typesetters require years of seminary training, an understanding of Greek, Latin, and Aramaic, and proper supervision by the hierarchy? No! And anything at all can be distributed like this. Where is the imprimatur, the nihil obstat? This will require the establishment of new institutions to prevent heresy from being introduced, to prevent the children and the feeble-minded from being misled.

(Thanks to Mark Liberman at Language Log for the link.)


  1. scarabaeus stercus says

    I luv it , more unemployment.

  2. The More Things Change says

    Damn those blog– uh, I mean, printers! Don’t they know that transmission of knowledge should be left to their betters?

  3. Methinks he means “adapted” a wine press. Unless, of ocurse, the press he adopted is an orphan and needs a good home!

  4. Ha, things never change, do they?
    I have been lucky enough to see (though not touch, of course) one of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles, at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. That was a fabulous day. A visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is pretty good, too.

  5. It’s an enjoyable piece, but I’d have to weakly echo the anonymous commentator on It’s All Good–Gorman does have some valid points within his general fog (more so in his L.A. Times article on digitizing books than in his damp squib against blogs). Gorman doesn’t seem to be arguing against the medium, but against blind faith in that medium and the way in which it tends to receive disproportionate interest and resources (which, by the way, has already gotten our society into trouble once with the bubble economy). I think these days it’s healthy to have a counterweight to galloping neophilia.

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