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Text 11




Controls over printing. The church at first had every reason to welcome printing. Bibles (preferably in Latin), missals, breviaries, and general ecclesiastical literature poured from the early presses of Europe; and the first best-seller in print was a devotional work by Thomas a Kempis, De imitatione Christi (Imitation of Christ), which went through 99 editions between 1471 and 1500. Such sales were matched, however, between 1500 and 1520 by the works of the humanist Erasmus, and, after 1517, by those of the “heretic” Martin Luther. The church had always exercised censorship over written matter, especially through the universities in the late Middle Ages. As the works of the reformers swelled in volume and tone, this censorship became increasingly harsh. The Inquisition was restored, and it was decreed in 1543 that no book might be printed or sold without permission from the church. Lists of banned books were drawn up, and the first general Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) was issued in 1559. Dutch printers in particular suffered under the Inquisition and a number went to the stake for publishing Protestant books. To avoid such a fate, some resorted to the fake imprint, putting a fictitious printer or place of publication on the title page, or omitting that information.Censorship also began to be exercised in varying degrees by individual rulers, especially in England, where church and state had been united under Henry VIII after his defection from Rome. The Tudors, with little right under common law, arrogated to themselves authority to control the press. After about 1525, endless proclamations were issued against heretical or seditious books. The most important was that of 1538 against “naughty printed books,” which made it necessary to secure a license from the Privy Council or other royal nominees for the printing or distribution of any book in English.In this attempt at control, an increasingly prominent part came to be played by the Stationers' Company. Since its formation in 1403 from the old fraternities of scriveners, limners, bookbinders, and stationers, it had sought to protect its members and regulate competition. Its first application for a royal charter in 1542 seems to have gone unheeded; but in 1557, an important date in the English book trade, the interests of the crown (then the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor), which wanted a ready instrument of control, coincided with those of the company (under a Roman Catholic first Master), and it was granted a charter that gave it a virtual monopoly. Thereafter, only those who were members of the company or who otherwise had special privileges or patents might print matter for sale in the kingdom. Under the system of royal privileges begun by Henry VIII, a printer was sometimes given the sole right to print and sell a particular book or class of books for a specified number of years, to enable him to recoup his outlay. This type of regulation now came into the hands of the Stationers' Company. After licensing by the authorities, all books had to be entered in the company's register, on payment of a small fee. The first stationer to enter a book acquired a right to the title or “copy” of it, which could then be transferred as might any other property. As the beginning of a system of copyright, this procedure was an admirable development; but the grip that the company obtained and its self-interested subservience to authority were to stunt the free growth of the English book trade for the next 100 years.The flourishing book trade: 1550–1800 From the mid-16th through the 18th century, there were virtually no technical changes in the methods of book production, but the organization of the trade moved gradually toward its modern form. The key functions of publishing, selecting the material to be printed and bearing the financial risk of its production, shifted from the printer to the bookseller and from him to the publisher in his own right; the author, too, at last came into his own. The battle with the censor became increasingly fierce before any measure of freedom of the press was allowed. Literacy grew steadily and the book trade expanded, both within and beyond national boundaries.




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