home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives “Simple in vocabulary while majestic in effect”: 400th anniversary of the King James Translation of the Bible

“Simple in vocabulary while majestic in effect”: 400th anniversary of the King James Translation of the Bible

The most published book in the world celebrates its 400th anniversary.

King James Bible 1611. Title page

Soon after March 24th 1603, when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the English crown, a crowd of Puritans approached him with their petition. They requested that all traces of Catholicism were removed from the Church of England service. Upon thorough consideration of their request the King rejected the whole document and even threatened to “harry the Puritans out of the land, or else do worse”.

But he surprisingly agreed to commission a new translation of the English Bible — a last-minute added wish by one of the Puritans, known as Dr. John Rainolds, President of Corpus Christi College in Oxford. The 47 translators were selected based exclusively on their scholarly reputation without regard of religious convictions, thus about a quarter of them were Puritans.

Though it is officially called the Authorized Version, King James never technically authorized this new translation of the Bible into English. It is possible to assume that this version which is now firmly connected with the King’s name was called “authorized” in opposition to the two preceding attempts made by the early dissidents – Wycliffe and ill-fated Tyndale. This translation meant to play an important role in uniting all Protestant Englishmen despite their religious differences, the endeavor started by Elizabeth I with The Act of Uniformity in 1559.

Dedication to the King
Dedication to the King

 

As Leland Ryken puts it: “The King James style is a paradox: it is usually simple in vocabulary while majestic and elevating in effect. However imitated or parodied, the language is dignified, beautiful, sonorous and elegant.” *

These words capture well the impression King James Bible makes on all who love the English language.

Perhaps nothing influenced the English and eventually American literature and literary language more than KJB. Edmund Wilson thought that “other cultures have felt its impact, and none — in the West, at least – seems quite to accommodate to it. Yet we find we have been living with it all our lives”**

Small wonder: first [pilgrim] settlers in America were people of the Bible, and many early American towns carry Biblical names, such as Salem, Mass, 1626; Bethel, Conn, 1700; Shiloh, NJ, 1705; Ephrata, Penn, 1732; Nazareth, Penn., 1740;  Emmaus, Penn.,1740; Bethlehem, NH, 1774, etc. Seven towns named Galilee, fifteen named Trinity, fourteen – St. Joseph, including one in Missouri; as well as St. Mary, MO — one of the nineteen American towns with this name.

Everyday idiomatic usage is replete with hidden or obvious direct quotations from the KJB. Here are a few common examples:

At his wit’s end – Psalms, 107:27

God save the king – The First Book of Samuel, 10:24

My brother’s keeper – Genesis, 4:9

The land of the living – Job, 28:13

The root of the matter– Job 19:28

Fell flat on his face — Numbers 22:31

The salt of the earth– Matthew 5:13

Labor of love — Thessalonians 1:2, 1:3:

A two-edged sword—Proverbs 5:4

White as snow — Daniel 7:9:

A drop in the bucket — Isaiah 40:15

A wolf in sheep’s clothing — Matthew 7:15

Woe is me – Job 10:15

Beat swords into ploughshares — Isaiah II

In the twinkling of an eye1 Corinthians 15:52

Sign of the times — Matthew 16:3

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak Matthew 26:41

You reap what you sow — Galatians VI

Physician heal thyself — Luke 4:23

Man does not live by bread alone — Deuteronomy 8:3

A broken heart — Psalms 34:18

It’s better to give than to receive — Acts 20:35

Good Samaritan — Luke 10:30/33

Feet of clay — Daniel 2: 31-33

Don’t cast your pearls before swine — Matthew 7:6,

A voice crying in the wilderness– John 1:23

Awake and sing– – Isaiah 16:19

We also encounter these quotations in our everyday lives, as I did while at the ALA conference in Philadelphia last year where I took this picture.

Philadelphia Liberty Bell

“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) – The Liberty Bell in the Liberty Bell Center, Philadelphia.

Sources:

*Leland Ryken. How We Got the Best-Selling Book of All Time. WSJ, August 27, 2011

**Robert Alter. Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible. Princeton U Press, 2010.

John Bartlett. Familiar Quotations: A Collection of passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. Boston, 1855.

Highway 70 from Columbia, MO to St. Louis.

 

Tuesday Trivia

question marksThis semester, get acquainted with Special Collections and Rare Books by playing Tuesday Trivia!  Each week, we’ll post a question on our Facebook page.  Be the first to leave a comment on Facebook with the correct answer, and we’ll send you a Special Collections bookmark.  At the end of each month, the person with the most correct answers will win a “grand prize” – including packs of Special Collections notecards, publications, and more.

We’ve designed these questions to challenge you, but a hint: most of the answers can be found on the Special Collections website, in the MERLIN library catalog, or in the UM Digital Library.

Stay tuned for the first Tuesday Trivia question!

Welcome Back, Students!

Fall is in the air, and students are everywhere!  As we welcome members of this record-breaking freshman class, it may be interesting to see how their predecessors dealt with the first weeks of classes at MU twenty-five, fifty, and even 100 years ago.

100 Years AgoSavitar, 1911

The Savitar yearbook published a fictitious freshman's diary in 1911, which describes in humorous and exaggerated terms the experiences of a bumbling new student from rural Hemlock, Missouri.  He describes his first sight of the Quad, and the now-defunct tradition of freshman beanies:

The schoolhouses are all set around just like the town square at Hemlock except that there are six pillars covered with vines in the middle.  As soon as I came up on the walk on the square, some fellows grabbed me and made me shine shoes.  There are big signs pasted all over telling the freshmen to buy caps.  They tell me that I'll have to wear a red one but I won't do it because my hair is red. [see source online]

The university bulletin for 1911 records a total enrollment of 2,956 students in the Columbia campus.  One hundred years later, enrollment at MU is more than ten times that number.

50 Years Ago

Construction Nears End on Arts & Science BuildingThe current student newspaper, the Maneater, was in publication by 1955.  In the first week of classes in 1961, it reported that the new Arts and Science Building was nearing completion and would be in use later that semester. The new building would feature a language laboratory, increased classroom space, a public address and intercom system, and a special classroom equipped with closed-circuit television. And – perhaps most importantly – air conditioning.

The Arts and Science Building was home to the departments of English, History, German and Russian, and Romance Languages when it opened in 1961.  Classrooms and office space for these departments had previously been in Jesse Hall.

25 Years Agomaneater1986_lg

During the first week of classes in 1986, the Maneater documented registration delays.  Long lines of students snaked through the stairwells and corridors of Brady Commons, and the newspaper commented:

Director of Admissions Gary L. Smith said when the first online computers were used for registering students in April of 1985, approximately 40 to 50 students could be registered in five minutes.  But things were going a lot slower this week at Brady.

Student registrations were taxing the processing power of MU's relatively new computer network, causing the slowdown.  Over the past 25 years, various computerized registration systems have made waiting in line at Brady Commons obsolete – and Brady itself has become part of the new Student Center.

Want to Know More?

Records of of past student life, including documents, publications, photos, and memorabilia, are at the University ArchivesSpecial Collections also holds the student publications mentioned above, and over 100 years of the Savitar (1891-2000) are available in the University of Missouri Digital Library.

Instructor Resources

Don’t forget!  Special Collections is offering information sessions for instructors and new faculty in Ellis Library in the coming week.  Topics will include:

  • Specific materials and collections with potential for use in class visits or assignments
  • Instruction services offered by Special Collections – with opportunities for feedback and suggestions from workshop participants
  • Ideas for developing students’ research skills, visual literacy, and creativity, using Special Collections materials

Preview  the workshop and register online, or contact Kelli Hansen to schedule a session for specific departments, groups, or courses.

Leave a comment

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen is head of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille

Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille

The Bastille: “a place even the innocent must be afraid of.”[1] Parisians whispered of the prison’s rat-infested dungeons, torture machines, bread-and-water rations, and secret murder-rooms from which no prisoner ever emerged.

The Bastille embodied the French monarchy’s despotic rule, and as such, it was the first institutional casualty of the French Revolution. On today’s date in 1789, a mob of insurgents stormed the Bastille, liberated the few prisoners that remained, and massacred the guards, prison directors, and other staff.

Fear and Rumors

Illustration of the Bastille, from the 1789 English editionAlthough the Bastille could only hold around 50 prisoners, the rumors and mystery that surrounded it caused the prison to loom large in French culture. Rebellious subjects, religious dissenters, journalists, common criminals and those who simply incurred the king’s displeasure were all confined there. No one really knew what happened in the Bastille; prisoners were forced to take an oath of secrecy, promising never to divulge anything they saw or heard while inside the walls.

In 1715, Constantin de Renneville, a spy who was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven years, was the first to break the oath. Writing from the safety of England, Renneville published a dramaticized chronicle of his sufferings entitled L'inquisition Françoise, ou, l'histoire de la Bastille.

Following Renneville’s example, former Bastille inmates published tell-all pamphlets at sporadic intervals throughout the eighteenth century. These tales fueled the fear and speculation surrounding the prison. Were the pamphlets simply the sensationalized stories of a few unfortunates? Or did they tell of typical experiences at the Bastille? No one knew.

Bringing the Bastille to Light

Title page for the 1780 English editionIn 1774, a different type of pamphlet was published: Remarques historiques et anecdotes sur le château de la Bastille. The anonymous author described the Bastille in “seemingly objective terms, systematically and with exact figures (including a ground plan), and presenting individual cases only in an appendix.”[2]

Like earlier anti-Bastille pamphlets, Remarques historiques was soon translated, becoming Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille in English. For the first time, Europe saw, in relatively matter-of-fact terms, the treatment to which state prisoners were subject.

All the towers are closed below by strong double doors, with large bolts let into enormous locks. The dungeons under the towers are filled with a mud which exhales the most offensive scent. They are the resort of toads, newts, rats, and spiders. In a corner of each is a camp bed, formed of iron bars, soldered into the wall, with some planks laid upon them. In these are put prisoners whom they wish to intimidate, and a little straw is given them for their bed. Two doors, each seven inches thick, one over the other, close these dark deGround plan of the Bastille, from the 1780 English editionns: each has two great bolts, and as many locks. … There are five ranks of chambers. The most dreadful next to the dungeons, are those in which are iron cages or dungeons. Of these there are three. These cages are formed of beams lined with strong iron plates. They are six feet by eight.[3]

Torture chambers and murder rooms fail to appear in this description of the prison, and the author notes that “It sometimes happens that prisoners die in the Bastille by secret means; but the instances are rare.”[4] Historical Remarks also includes precise descriptions of the prisoners’ furnishings, provisions, health care, and communication with the outside world.

Revolution

Remarques historiques was quickly banned in France, but not before it had an effect. The precise details in the pamphlet injected a dose of reason into sensationalist anti-Bastille journalism and galvanized the underground press into a more radical and intense criticism of the government.

Title page for the 1789 English editionIn the rest of Europe, the pamphlet gained acceptance as a true and accurate depiction of the Bastille. English editions of the pamphlet came out in 1780 and 1784, and a new translation was issued after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The English criminologist and reformer John Howard endorsed it as “the best account of this celebrated structure ever published” and included content from the pamphlet in his survey of European penitentiaries.[5]

The revolutionaries that conquered the Bastille in 1789 paraded through the streets of Paris with keys, weapons, and the heads of prison guards and officials on pikes. Demolition of the hated structure began that very night, and within six months, the prison had disappeared. Today, only the foundations remain.

 

 

Read More

Historical Remarks on the Castle of the Bastille. London: Printed for T. Cadell and N. Conant.
1780 Edition | 1784 Edition | 1789 Edition

Hans-Jürgen Lüsenbrink and Rolf Reichardt. The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom. (Durham, NC, 1997). DC167.5 .L8713 1997

Christopher Prendergast. The Fourteenth of July. (London, 2008). DC167 .P74 2008


[1] Extract from a letter, 15 July 1789, quoted in Lüsenbrink and Reichardt, The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom (Durham, NC, 1997), 13.
[2] Lüsenbrink and Reichardt, 18.
[3] Historical Remarks (1780), 5-6.
[4] Historical Remarks (1789), 55.
[5] Historical Remarks (1789), title page.

 

 

 

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Descartes…L’Homme the Journey to Print

Descartes…L’Homme the Journey to Print

René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French thinker of the empiricist thinker. Descartes was born in la Haye, in Touraine. He was the son of a provincial governor, Joachim Descartes, and his wife Jeanne Brochard.  After a short career of practicing law he went to fight under Maurice of Nassau, in the rebellion against the Spanish. In 1619, he had a series of visions that compelled him to devote his life to science. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the protestant Dutch republic where his teachings and experiments would be more accepted. While there he corresponded and tutored a number of pupils that followed and studied his Cartesian teachings and his traité des passions, the study of emotions.

 

L'Homme cover with acid specklingThe copy in the collection is bound in calf skin, a common binding of the 17th and 18th centuries. The speckling technique used on it was created by sprinkling acid over the leather and then wiping it clean after a period of time. This technique has created problems in some specimens in today’s world as the acid continues to erode the boards. The printer of this text, Jacques Le Gras, was the original publisher. Shortly afterward, the text was moved to a different printing house and released in a larger run from the printers Charles Angot and Théodore Girard.

The book itself is best described in the Heirs of Hippocrates (1974) text, “This first French edition is the original text as composed by Descartes and is edited by his good friend, Claude Clerselier (1614-1684). This edition also contains the first printing of his treatise ‘De la formation du foetus,’ completed just before his death. The fine woodcuts in this edition were partly based on Descartes’ drawings from the manuscript and partly prepared by the co-editors, Louis de la Forge (1632-1666?) and Gerard van Gutschoven (fl. 1660) … Descartes was prepared to publish this book in 1633 but decided to withhold it when he learned of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. As a result, the first edition was not published until 1662 [in Latin], twelve years after Descartes’ death … It is sometimes called the first book on physiology, and that could be argued, but there is no doubt that the Cartesian philosophy exerted a tremendous effect on the evolution of medicine.”

Eye with muscle purportedly drawn by DescartesDescartes decision to withhold this text from the public may have spared him from the kind of persecution Galileo endured upon the publication of his Dialogs, 1632. However, Descartes did not escape allegations that his beliefs were atheistic and pelagianistic, which is the idea that people, can avoid sin without God’s grace. These accusations started in the 1640s when the rector at the university at Utrecht began making these charges. These denunciations regarding his atheistic thoughts become more heated as scholars from Leiden, a university town, became involved.  At one point in the summer of 1647, Descartes returned to France for the second time in that decade, where he contemplated staying to escape these charges. He did return to the Dutch republic, but by the end of the decade he had traveled to Stockholm to tutor Christina of Sweden. The arrangement for tutoring her was extremely strenuous, she required sessions before dawn in the brisk air of the Swedish winter. By February 1650, he had fallen ill and ultimately died from pneumonia.

Image from L'Homme drawn by an illustrator other than Descartes.The journey to publish L’homme was led by Claude Clerselier, a staunch Catholic, who came into the ownership of Descartes’ papers via his brother-in-law, the French ambassador to Sweden. Clerselier edited this text and considerable correspondence, which helped shape Descartes’ image in the following years. The quality of the 1664 French edition made Clerselier the understood guardian of Descartes’ body of manuscripts. The book itself is interesting because Descartes’ essay is the smallest portion of the over four hundred page text. The accompanying essays, forwards and remarks make up the majority of the pages. Clerselier’s remarks include, among other things, a reasoning of the illustrations included, of which many were provided by Florentius Shuyl and Clerselier himself. One image of particular interest was drawn by Descartes. Clerselier kept the original drawing, an eye held by muscle, to prove it was Descartes work. However, there is a notable difference in the artistic styles between the eye and some of the other pieces, particularly in their background detail.  The additional contributions to the text include Louis de La Forge’s remarks that expand on the Descartes text and attempt to clarify the conceptual leaps Descartes makes in L’Homme.

This exceptional text was purchased in the spring of 2010 by University of Missouri Ellis Library Special Collections and Rare Books, through a donation by Mr. Richard Toft.

 

Bibliographic Information:

L’homme

A Paris: Chez Iacques Le Gras, au Palais, à l’entrée de la Gallerie des Prisonniers, MDCLXIV, [1664]

QP29 .D44 1664

 

Russian Maps Digital Exhibit!!!!

Russian Map Banner

 

Mapping the Past: Rare Russian Maps from Special Collections has been created as a digital highlight of books and maps on the website of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.  This virtual exhibit describes the cartographic trade and the exploration of the Russian empire from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The display was originally mounted as a physical exhibit in the Ellis Library colonnade at the University of Missouri in April 2011.

 

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Jenson in Venice, or Contra Gentiles beati Thome de Aquino

Jenson in Venice, or Contra Gentiles beati Thome de Aquino

This post highlights Summa Contra Gentiles by St. Thomas Aquinas published in Venice in 1480 by Nicolas Jenson, one of the most renowned printers.  The book is of special importance to all with an interest in theology, history of book printing, and rare books.  This is one of the four incunabula recently acquired by the Special Collections and Rare Book department.

Shows fifteenth century leather tooled binding with copper clasps

On the warm and humid Venetian day of June 13th, 1480 the book was finally finished. Nicolas Jenson had only two months to live: he wasn’t well and felt old, tired and lonely. His children were in France: daughters Joanna, Catherine, and Barbara were young and unmarried, still living in Sommevoir with his beloved brother Alberto and his mother donna Zaneta; his son Nicolas, whose behavior worried him a lot, was in Lyon. A “most honorable tradesman, alien and printer of books”, Messer (as stated in his official will and testament), Nicolas Jenson, a very rich man, felt with some sadness that this strange place was going to be his final destination. A Frenchman, he had come here twelve years prior, when Venice was already in a long and exhausting war with the Turks, and when two years earlier the Doge Giovanni Mocenigo had made peace with Mehmed II, the famine and plague were still ravaging La Serenissima (the name of the Republic of Venice). Messer Jenson was a very successful printer; even his rivals admitted that the elegance of his Venetian Gothic type was unmatched — after all, he published a good quarter of all the books printed in Venice from his arrival in 1468 to 1480* , and Pope Sixtus IV made him Count Palatine.

Contra Gentiles was his second book published this year. By the end of July the last part of De humilitate interiori et patientia vera by Johannes Carthusiensis was to become his last printing venture. After his death his printing partner John of Cologne published a few more titles from the stock left after Jenson’s repose, under the joint name of Johannis de Colonia, Nicolai Jenson, and Sociorumque.

Nicolas Jenson was a master, not a scholar like Aldus, Merula, or Caracciolo, and thus he was in need of assistance by monks in proofreading the works of philosophy and especially theology. Petrus Albus Cantianus, a Dominican friar, was the editor of Contra Gentiles: at the very end of the text, after the colophon, we find his letter to Petrus Frigerius, Archbishop of Corfu (“Veneto theologico Excellentissimo Archiepiscopo Corkire[n]si ordinis”) confirming that he checked and corrected the text.

Why did Jenson decide to publish Contra Gentiles in 1480, when the market was still saturated with the books by Aquinas? Only four years earlier Contra Gentiles was brought out in Venice by Francis Renner of Heilbronn and Nicolas of Frankfurt, and before that, in September of 1475, in Rome, by Arnold Pannartz, and before him in 1473-74 Georg Reyser printed it in Strasburg. And this is not counting numerous editions of his most widely known and enormously influential Summa Theologiae.

St. Thomas Aquinas‘s authority in the Roman Church was indisputable: his works were the basis of Thomist theology and philosophy. It is widely believed that Aquinas wrote Contra Gentiles in Italy between 1261 and 1264 at the request of St. Raymond of Penafort, Magister General of the Dominican order, who wanted to have a good and convincing resource for the missionaries in Tunisia and Murcia, a Moorish kingdom in southern Spain.  While written most probably in Rome, it is supposed to be based on his lectures he read at the University of Paris between 1257 and 1259.  Aquinas’ intention was to give his students clear and focused answers to the most important questions about God, creation, providence and salvation. Each of the four books that constitute this work consists of about a hundred chapters (102, 101, 164, 97, to be precise). Each chapter is a question/postulate (Quod veritati fidei Christianae non contrariatur veritas rationis <That the truth of reason is not in opposition of the Christian faith>) which is then proved in a series of arguments and counter arguments, supported by citations from the Scriptures, and led to a logical conclusion.

medieval handwritten title on a blank page Thomas contra gentilesOur book looks characteristically mediaeval: in contemporary brown tooled leather binding over wooden boards with the front half of embossed metal clasps still present. The title is written in a contemporary hand on the fore-edge and at the top of the blank recto of the first printed page: Tho[mae] [contra] gentiles. The watermarks {a crown without arch between two chain-lines} suggest that Jenson bought the paper from Genf (Genève), and the binder of the book had a paper stock {watermark: Virgin Mary in a shield} produced in Dorpat (modern Tallinn) or Riga in Livonia in the 15th century.

The beginning of "inserted" chapter 21

Jenson’s division of chapters differs from some of the known printed editions. He thought, for instance, that chapter 20 (Quod Deus non est corpus) was too long and he divided it after the 11th argument thus making an additional chapter 21, “Obiectiones co[n]tra hu[n]c processum”. (Objections against this reasoning). On the other hand, his Book Three consists only of 163 chapters instead of 164 in several other editions. The very first line of Chapter 20 also differs from the majority of modern texts and coincides with the Roman edition of 1894 that reads: “Ex praedictis a[u]t[em] oste[n]ditur,[ quod] Deus non e[st] corp[us]”; in later editions it reads: “Ex praemissis etiam” etc. St. Thomas’ hand was notoriously difficult to read, and it is not my task here to determine what manuscript was used by Jenson for his publication, but it is interesting to observe that even after seven hundred years of studying the text even at the beginning of the twentieth century, some passages were still being disputed, and monks who spent their entire lives reading, editing and publishing it, complained about difficulties in decoding it.

Picture of the beginning of the book with large initialThe text is rubricated with red and blue capitals.  A large and very elaborate first capital “v” in “Veritatem” opens the book, and each objection and counter argument is marked with red paragraph mark up to Book Four, chapter 11; after that, hand written capital letters at the beginning of chapters continue, but paragraph marks are much rarer and frequently coincide with short contemporary notes in the text, as if a reader was rubricating while reading.

More than just another remarkable example of an incunabulum printed by one of the greatest printers of Venice, our book carries a fitting St. Thomas’ message not only to Jenson and his contemporaries, but to the posterity — and thus to us — as well, namely that “of all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is the more perfect, the more sublime, the more useful, and the more joyful.” (Book 1, Ch. 2)

*There were 596 books brought out in Venice in that period, of which number 150 were published by Jenson.

Bibliography:

  • Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274. Incipit tabula cap[itu]lo[rum] libri [contra] ge[n]tiles b[ea]ti Thome de Aquino. [Venice : Nicolas Jenson, 1480]   BX1749 .T38 1480
  • Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274. Summa contra gentiles : libri quatuor Thomae Aquinatis, ad lectionem codicis autographi in Bibliotheca Vaticana adservati, probatissimorum codicum meliorisque notae editionum, fideliter impressi ; volumen unicum. Romae : Ex typographia Forzanii et Socii, 1894. BX1749.T38 1894
  • Corpus Thomisticum Sancti Thomae de Aquino. http:/www.corpusthomisticum.org
  • Jenson, Nicolas, ca. 1420-1480. The last will and testament of the late Nicolas Jenson, printer, who departed this life at the city of Venice in the month of September, A.D. 1480. [Chicago, Ludlow Typograph Co., 1928] Z232.J54 L3 1928

Happy Geek Pride Day!

Did you know today is International Geek Pride Day?  Here in Special Collections, we’re celebrating with a selection from the Comic Art Collection.  This collection contains over 3,500 catalogued comic book titles and hundreds of pieces of original art from cartoonists like Mort Walker, Frank Stack, and John Tinney McCutcheon, ranging in date from the 1850s to the present.

The Comic Art Collection unites fun and fandom with serious scholarship.  It has been used by faculty and students for everything from freshman composition assignments to studies of the history of popular culture.  In 2008, scholars, comic enthusiasts, artists, and students of all interests demonstrated the collection's broad appeal by convening at Ellis Library to celebrate 75 years of the comic strip Alley Oop.  Special Collections holds the papers of the comic strip's creator, V.T. Hamlin.

{click any image to start slide show}

Cover from the original Star Wars comic, 1977Cover from Captain America, 1968Cover from a 1987 Batman comicCover from a 1988 Action Comics with SupermanIllustration from a Buck Rogers comic, 1940sCover from Red Ryder Comics, 1942Illustration from Dick Tracy, 1943Cover from Flash Gordon, 1950Cover from a comic book edition of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan,  1960Cover from an Alley Oop comic book, 1955Illustration from a comic version of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, 2001Cover for Fray by Joss Whedon, 2003

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Comic Art Collection is open to the public in the Special Collections Reading Room. All patrons – geeks and non-geeks alike – are welcome to make use of these materials.

Leave a comment

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen is head of the Special Collections and Rare Books department.

home Resources and Services, Special Collections and Archives Presses and Preachers, or, What an Incunable Can Tell Us about Technology and Faith

Presses and Preachers, or, What an Incunable Can Tell Us about Technology and Faith

The Special Collections and Rare Book department recently acquired four incunables,[1] and we’ll be featuring them individually on the blog.  This post highlights Sermones de adventu by Roberto Caracciolo (Venice, 1474), a book interesting for what it can tell us about religion and technology.

Renaissance Preachers

Author's nameThe author of this book, Fra Roberto Caracciolo de Lecce, was one of the most successful preachers of the fifteenth century, hailed as a “second St. Paul” for his oratorical talents.

As a preacher, Caracciolo’s crowd-pleasing specialties were melodrama and spectacle; he even boasted that he could reduce any audience to tears.  His career started early.  By 1450, when he was only in his mid-twenties, he was well-known enough to be chosen by Pope Nicholas V to deliver the official canonization eulogies for Bernardino of Siena.  Later in his career, when asked to preach a crusade sermon against the Ottoman Turks, he did so in full knight’s armor, complete with a sword.  It’s no wonder that large, enthusiastic crowds flocked to hear him wherever he went.

Eager to capitalize on the popularity of Caracciolo and his colleagues, printers issued voMarginalialumes of their sermons in Latin and vernacular Italian.  Caracciolo alone had at least eight different editions of his sermons printed throughout Italy from the 1470s until his death in 1495.  By the time the sixteenth century drew to a close, over one hundred editions of his works had been printed throughout Europe.

This volume contains Caracciolo’s sermons on Advent, St. Joseph, the Beatitudes, divine charity, and the immortal soul, as well as a sermon by the canon lawyer Dominicus Bollanus on the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.  It preserves the words Caracciolo’s audiences heard and read so that we can access them today.  Thanks to this copy’s scattered marginal notes in sixteenth-century handwriting, we can even know how they responded.

The Fifteenth-Century Tech Boom

Title pageAs Caracciolo’s career as a preacher reached its height, Italy stood on the brink of a technological revolution.  Gutenberg had developed movable type in Mainz around 1455, but it took about a decade for the technology to reach Italy.  Venice had to wait even longer – until 1469.  That’s the year that Johannes of Speyer emigrated from Mainz, got a five-year monopoly from the Doge, and set up shop as the city’s first printer.

Unfortunately for the Speyers, Johannes died around eighteen months later, invalidating the monopoly.  His brother Vindelinus attempted to carry on the business, but Johannes’ death touched off an equivalent of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s.   Within three years, there were at least a dozen printing shops in Venice, all producing the same Greek and Roman texts – over 80 different editions of them by the end of 1472.  By 1473, the book market was so glutted with classics that the bottom dropped out.

This was merely the first in a series of market collapses, but most of Venice’s new high-tech start-ups went out of business as a result.  The Speyer press survived – barely.  Vindelinus sold a large stake in the company to two new investors: Johannes de Colonia (also called Johannes of Köln or Cologne), and Johannes MaColonia and Manthen's colophonnthen de Gerresheim.   Colonia and Manthen became the senior partners in the business; Vindelinus’ name disappeared from the company until 1476.

Colonia and Manthen were prolific printers, producing 86 editions from 1474 to 1480.  They gave up on the Greek and Roman classics after 1475 and shifted their focus to the more profitable market in law, theology, and philosophy.   This book is an example of the output from their reinvented company, produced during their first year of business.

Although the Speyer brothers are sometimes credited as the originators of Roman type, this book was printed using their space-saving but Backwards Nelegant Gothic.  Like many other early printed books, the printers left space for initials and ornament to be added by hand.  In this copy, several of the initial Ns are written backwards, for what reason we do not know.

There’s much more this book could tell us; a book is never just a book when it’s in Special Collections.  As its own history shows, this particular book has been an active participant in a tradition of study that has continued for hundreds of years.

Want to Read More?

The following resources are available at MU Libraries.

 

BindingAguzzi-Barbagli, Danilo.  “Roberto Caracciolo of Lecce,c. 1425-6 May 1495.” In Contemporaries of Erasmus: a biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation. Ed. Peter G. Bietenholz, Thomas B. Deutscher, associate editor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, c1985.

Gerulaitis, Leonardas Vytautas.  Printing and Publishing in Fifteenth-Century Venice.  Chicago: American Library Association, 1976.

Telle, Emile V.  “En marge de l’éloquence sacreé aux XVe-XVIe siècles: Erasme et Fra Roberto Caracciolo.”  Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance.  Travaux et Documents 43 (1981): 449-470.


[1] The word incunabulum (plural incunabula, or incunable(s), if you prefer English) means in the cradle in Latin.  It is generally applied to printed books produced prior to 1501, in the earliest years of printing.