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ART. VII.-Kritische Geschichte der Erfindung der Buchdruck
erkunst durch Johann Gutenberg zu Mainz, begleitet mit einer, vorhin noch nie angestellten, genauen Prüfung und ganzlichen Beseitigung der von Shöpflin und seinen Anhängern verfochtenen Ansprüche der Stadt Strassburg, und einer neuen Untersuchung der Ansprüche der Stadt Harlem und vollständigen Widerlegung ihrer Verfechter Junius Meerman, Koning, Dibdin, Ottley, und Ebert. Von J. Wetter. Mit dreizehn grossen Tafeln voll sehr genauer Facsimiles. (Critical History of the Invention of Printing by John Gutenberg at Mayence, accompanied by (what has not hitherto been attempted) a thorough testing and perfect disproval of the Claim of the City of Strasburg, as advanced by Schöpflin and his followers, together with a new Examination of the Claim of the City of Haerlem, and a full Refutation of its defenders, Junius Meerman, Koning, Dibdin, Ottley, and Ebert. By J. Wetter. With thirteen large plates of very perfect Facsimiles.) Mainz, 1836. Svo. pp.
806. WHEN we consider the important changes which the Invention of Printing has already brought about in every quarter of the political and moral world, when we remember the power which that invention must exercise over those great questions which now interest all classes of society, questions, the answers to which are pregnant with the most decided influence over the unveiled destiny of thousands yet unborn,- we cannot but look upon the inquiry as to when this happy combination of human experience with human foresight was first effected, as one of considerable interest. That man whose inventive powers unlocked those treasuries of learning which had been before sealed up from all but the rich and the mighty,—that man whose genius snatched from misery and barbarism, the vassal and the bondsman, and made them partakers with the lords of the earth of the choicest gifts of wisdom and of knowledge,—that man deserves indeed to be reverenced and held in remembrance by his fellow men. That man was John Gutenberg of Mayence, whom all Germany now delights to honour, and whose claim to the proud title of Inventor of Printing has been, we think, most clearly and successfully established by Dr. Wetter, in the volume to which we now call the attention of our readers.
The course of inquiry which Dr. Wetter marked out for himself, on undertaking the volume in question, was to ascertain the origin of Printing, not the origin or invention of printing from solid blocks, but to discover from whom, at what period, and at what place, arose the felicitous idea of employing moveable types, of whatever material, and of combining them so as to form whole pages, and thereby perfect books. In this single idea, indeed, lies the whole merit of the invention, for it is clear that all that has since followed has been but a working out of that idea ; it being manifest that the attempt once made, and that successfully, to print a single page with moveable types, it would very soon lead to the second thought--that the labour of cutting an indefinite number of the saine letter might easily be avoided, by making the first letter a form from which a fitting mould might be contrived, wherein to cast as many letters as circumstances might render desirable. And he in whose active mind this primary idea was first conceived was John Gutenberg; and Mayence was at once the birth-place of the artist and of his invaluable art.
John Gutenberg was the younger son of Frielo Gensfleisch,* by Else zum Gutenberg, heiress and sole child of Claus von Gutenberg of Mayence, the last of his family. His birth must have taken place between the years 1393 and 1400; and the name which he assumed as the representative of the family of his maternal grandfather was Johann Gutenberg genannt Gensfleisch.
The intestine feuds between the patricians and the burghers, which at the commencement of the fifteenth century disturbed Mayence, and obliged many of the patrician families to quit that city, and take up their residence in the neighbouring states, appear to have occasioned Gutenberg's first departure from the place of his nativity.
In 1430 he is at all events found to be an alien from his native city; and, four years afterwards, we see him resident at Strasburg. From the old proceedings before the judicial tribunals of this latter city, which Schöpflin discovered among the inunicipal archives in 1745, we learn that, between the years 1436 and 1438, Gutenberg had communicated to a citizen of Strasburg, Andreas Dritzehn by naine, the art of polishing stones; that he afterwards became a partner with the above-named Dritzehn in a speculation by which they hoped to realize great profits; and further, that, after the death of the said Dritzehn, which took place at the termination of the year 1438, he, Gutenberg, was summoned before the municipal authorities of Strasburg by the brother of the deceased, in consequence of his having refused to admit him into the partnership. This proceeding gave rise to a long examination of witnesses ; and in their evidence, which, as we have already noticed, Schöpflin discovered in 1745, mention is made, · though in very ambiguous terms, and in very obscure passages, of a “ Press," “ Forms,” and “ Printing."
* It would certainly have afforded matter of delight to old Aubrey to have added to his chapter on “ Name Fatalities,” the fact that he who invented the art by which, in the commercial production of books, the goose. quill was entirely superseded, was him. self called Goose-Flesh, (Gensfleisch,) or, as it was latinized by one of his admirers, Ansicarus.
In spite of the obscurity in which the whole of the matters treated in this document are involved, it has bitherto been looked upon as clearly referring to the art of printing with moveable letters, and of establishing the claim of Strasburg to be considered as the birth-place of that art. Dr. Wetter, on the contrary, is of opinion, and it seems to us very properly so, that the printing in question was nothing more than printing from solid blocks; and that his readers may be enabled to judge how far his views are well founded, be reprints the document verbatim, from the copy printed by Schöpflin in bis well-known work, “Vindicia typographica,” accompanying such reprint by notes in support of his opinion; and which, as we have already said, appears to be founded on reasoning which it is impossible to resist. This document is followed in Dr. Wetter's book by a chronological abstract of the facts produced in evidence, which our limits compel us to omit, with the exception of one or two passages which have the strongest reference to the points under consideration. It appears then, from the testimony of some of the witnesses, that shortly before Christmas-day, 1438, Gutenberg sent his servant to Andreas Dritzehn and Andreas Heilmann, two of his partners, to fetch away the “ forms.” And here we may remark at once, that Dr. Wetter shows very clearly that the term form, when used in this process, does not bear the meaning attached to it in the printing offices of the present day, where it is used to express the body of type set up ready for the press, but means either engraved blocks, the engravers of which were at that time called formschneider, form-cutters; or else, which seems most clearly established, forms for casting metal mirrors, the production of such articles, for sale at the great religious jubilee held at Aix-laChapelle, being one of the objects for which the partnership between Gutenberg and bis associates had been formed. We next learn that on the 27th of December Andreas Dritzehn lay sick in the chamber of Mydehart Stocker; and that, immediately after his death, which took place in the course of Christmas, Gutenberg said the " press” must be sent for: he was afraid lest any body should see it, for that people wanted to do so ; and that he sent his servant Beildeck to take it to pieces (do sante er sinen kneht harjn su zur legen), and to invite Claus Dritzehn to a conference with him at St. Arbagast, where he resided.
The servant went, according to his own statement, to Claus Dritzehn, with Gutenberg's request, that he would not show the press which he had in his possession to any one, but go to the
press and open the two screws whereby the pieces would fall from one another, and that he should lay the pieces either in the press or upon it, so that no one might remark what it was. At the same time Anton Heilmann, it appears, sent to Conrad Sahspach, who had made the press and knew all about the matter, to take the pieces from the press, and to separate them from one another, so that no one might know what it was.
This chronological statement is immediately followed by a series of extracts from the writings of all those bibliographers who have made the Strasburg process the subject of their consideration, Dr. Wetter detailing their views in their own language, while he keeps up a running fire of commentary upon their statements and opinions, in the shrewd notes by which the extracts are accompanied. Schöpflin, as the first who printed the trial in question, leads the way; and some estimate may be formed as to the manner in which the expressions used in the document in question have been strained, by the supporters of the claims of Strasburg, to imply what they by no means express, when Schöpfin in his comments upon it, speaks of Gutenberg sending his servant Beildeck to Claus Dritzehn, with a request that he would take the four pages (?) (pagina) out of the press,—the word page never once occurring, the term used by all the parties who speak upon the point being invariably “stücke,” pieces. Again, Schöpflin says that Dritzehn was not to show the press to any one, but without delay to open the little screws, by which the columns were held together, whereby the letters would fall from one another, and the matter thereby remain concealed. Who would believe after this that the original says nothing about columns or letters, but merely that Dritzehn was to open the screws (wirbelin) of the press, whereby the pieces (stücke) would fall from one another, that he should then lay those pieces in or upon the press, so that nobody might see or make out their use.*
Having resolved in his own mind to gratify his long cherished prejudices, and award to Strasburg the honour of being the birthplace of printing, Schöpflin readily saw in the obscure and doubtful terms used in this judicial document a clear and satisfactory detail of the origin, nay more, of the whole process of printing by means of moveable types; and, as he jumped thus readily to his conclusions, it is not to be wondered at, that a careful and minute investigation of the evidence adduced upon this trial satisfied Schöpilin that Gutenberg practised this art at Strasburg, not indeed with his own hands, but that he was the inventor and director of the work. Why Gutenberg should not have practised it with his own hands at Strasburg, seeing how actively he busied himself in that way, some few years afterwards at Mayence, Schöpflin never thought to inquire. Had he entered into a further investigation of this part of the case, he might have been staggered by the difficulty of finding a satisfactory explanation why Gutenberg, who at Mayence had all his attendants sworn to secresy, should at Strasburg, instead of having the whole process of his wondrous invention carried on under his own eye, and having the requisite machinery and materials for it in his own possession, have entrusted all these to the charge of the neediest of his associates. One passage, however, of Schöpflin's book will serve to show how imperfect was his knowledge, or how confused were his ideas, relative to the subject upon which he was treating. Instead of seeing that the first step to Gutenberg's invention was his actually applying the art of printing from wooden blocks to the production of books, he says in his “ Vindicia,” page 11,“ Gutenberg discovered and practised the art of printing with carved letters at Strasburg before Schöffer invented matrices, or Coster block books,- antequam matrices invenerat Schoefferus el tabellas Costerus."
*" Claus Dritzehn solte gon uber die pressen und die mit den zweijen wirbelin uff dun, so fielent die stücke von einander. Dieselben stücke sollte er dann in die presse oder off die presse legen, so kunte darnach nieman gesehen, noch ut gemerken.”-Lorrentz Beldeck's Evidence, Wetter, p. 61.
Our limits will not, of course, admit of our entering into an examination of the various opinions which this process against Gutenberg has drawn from those who have made it the subject of their remarks. We must, therefore, content ourselves with contending for that interpretation of the evidence, which common sense points out as the most obvious, looking at the ordinary acceptation of the words, and which is also that most satisfactorily borne out by subsequent events. In fact, the whole claim of the city of Strasburg to be considered the birth-place of typography, like that of Haerlem (of which we shall speak hereafter) is founded upon the error of confounding the production of books by means of solid blocks with the invention of printing properly so called.
Gutenberg undoubtedly made this first step towards his great discovery at Strasburg. At Strasburg, too, the first printing press ever constructed was made under his directions, for the purpose of taking off impressions from the blocks, which process had previously been effected by means of a rubber', a mode of operation which not only rendered it impossible to print upon both sides of the paper, but gave a polish to the side to which the