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The Earliest Printed Books by M. H.

A recent lecture of the Rev. Dr. Storrs in New York, before the Society for the Advancement of Science and Art, must have been very interesting to an ordinary audience, but for one composed of professed promoters of learning it could hardly have been sufficiently exact to give general satisfaction if the newspaper reports of it were at all correct. They represent the lecturer as saying that an immense number of books date back to 1450. Now, the first printed book bearing a date is the Psalter of Füst and Schoeffer, 1457. A portion of the Bible was printed by Gutenberg and Füst in 1450, but the work was so expensive and so imperfect that it was abandoned. In 1452, after Schoeffer joined the firm, another Bible is supposed to have been printed, but no copy of it is known to exist. Of course it is well known that many of the earliest printed books are without date, but none could have been printed before 1450; and there is no proof, we believe, that the Bible said to be of 1455 bore that or any date. In that year the firm of Gutenberg, Füst and Schoeffer dissolved. L. Grégoire in his Dictionnaire Encyclopédique, published in Paris in 1817, says that there are only three or four copies of the Füst Bible known to exist. Dr. Storrs, however, says, without giving his authority, that there are fifteen.

The sole idea of the early printers was to imitate exactly the manuscript characters of the scribes. The initial letters of the Bibles and the numbers of the chapters were therefore added with a pen in blue and red ink alternately; and there is not the slightest doubt that these first books were palmed off upon an unsuspecting public as manuscripts. All the servants or employés of Füst and Schoeffer were put under solemn oath to divulge nothing of the secret concerning printing. It is to the policy which the first printers exerted to conceal their art that we owe the tradition of the Devil and Dr. Faustus. Füst having printed off quite a number of Bibles, and had the large initial letters added by hand, he took them to Paris and sold them for about fifty dollars apiece. The scribes demanded about ten times that sum, and they earned the money, for it must have been an herculean task to copy, as they did, every letter of the Bible with such exquisite care, and then draw and illuminate the heads of the chapters and the initial letters. It was a marvel how this new man could produce these ponderous books at so low a rate. And then the uniformity of the letters and the pages increased the wonder, until the cry of "sorcerer" was raised: complaints before the magistrates were made against him, his lodgings were searched and a great number of copies were found and confiscated. The populace in their ignorance and superstition declared that he was in league with the devil, and that the red ink with which the books were embellished was his blood. It is a satisfaction to know that the Parliament of Paris passed an act to discharge the sorcerer from all prosecution in consideration of the usefulness of his art.