Essay: The Printing Press: Renaissance Invention that Changed the World

The Printing Press:

Renaissance Invention that Changed the World

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate Studies; originally written for Humanities 530 Spring 2015}

The collaboration of the printing press issued forth a movement of literary zeal and a resurgence of the human capacity to reason. Physically, the machinery granted man the ability to mass-produce texts in a cost effective way. Mentally, the printing press brought unlimited possibilities for the human mind to consider. Spiritually, the movement shook the foundation of the Christian church on two fronts: first, allowing the people the ability to own their own bible, and secondly the grander meaning of literature – the breathing room to interpret the scripture for themselves without the aid of a priest.

Jensen notes the printing press “had a greater effect over a longer period of time and upon more people {…} Some scholars have pronounced it the single most important development of the Renaissance and perhaps of the entire world” (Jensen 217). Since the 12th century, typographers were skilled in using hand-carved wood block plates to copy manuscripts, but the process was long and served only the intended copy.   Johannes Gutenberg’s contribution to the printing press – movable letters – the canvas itself required updating to better accommodate the costs. Moving from parchment and vellum to processed linen afforded works to be completed en masse: “A cheap, durable and easily produced material was required to match the mass-production capabilities of the printing press, and the printers found it in paper” (Chamberlin 164). Linen-paper is seen as early as the twelfth century to accommodate the growing universities throughout Europe, and with the inclusion of the printing press man-hours for paper production spiked. This created a demand for workers, paper producers as well as goldsmiths, in need to create many movable type letters for the growing presses throughout Europe. Another area of work inside the book itself developed during Elizabethan times – advertising. Without the staunch support of the nobility, publishers turned to other business to lessen their expenses of publication by providing advertising through illustrations: “In this instance, the printer placed the illustration after the headline, so the illustration became part of the title page itself, followed by the printer’s device and retail information. {…} assisted in advertising and promoting the pamphlet” (Voss 739).

The Greek classics were reproduced, once Hellenistic manuscripts were found, and a renewed desire for ‘pre-original sin’ theory flourished. Renaissance man discovered in the classics the importance for humanity and avenues to freely express man’s desires – without the judgment and restrictions of church doctrine (Manchester 105). This, in a sense, permitted man to value the human experience instead of devaluing life in hopes of death as Christian claims insisted that happiness and love were found only in heaven. Even though the church demonstrated strict limitations to advancement, Manchester notes that the institution was not penalized: “The Christian faith was not repudiated, but the new concept of the cultivated man was the Renaissance homo universal, the universal man: creator, artist, scholar, and encyclopedic genius in the spirit of the ancient paideia” (Manchester 105).

Typographers, scribes, and copiers were preferred by the upper crust as class held snobbish designs on common people controlling the press: “The invention of printing was denounced by, among others, politicians and ecclesiastics who feared it as an instrument which could spread subversive ideas” (Manchester 95-96). A copied manuscript was a work of art that took numerous months to complete. While a copy of work, handwritten manuscripts were original and unique reproductions. The printing press attempted to mimic the artistry of copied works by including illuminated initials and hand-drawn rubrics, but “The new craft did not at once cause the collapse of the copying industry; wealthy scholars were at first prejudiced against the use of print, deeming it an unworthy method to enshrine the thoughts of the great” (Chamberlin 166). The true distaste lay in the wealthy snubbing the thought of the common people experiencing life as grandly as they could, and possibly a fear of knowledge bridging the gap between the classes.

Works Cited

Chamberlin, E. R. Everyday life in Renaissance Times. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons,


Jensen, De Lamar. Renaissance Europe: Age of Recovery and Reconciliation.

2nd ed. Lexington, Massachusetts:   D.C. Heath and Company, 1992.

Manchester, William. A World Lit only by Fire The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance:

Portrait of an Age. Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Company, 1993.

Voss, Paul J. “Books for Sale: Advertising and Patronage in Late Elizabethan England.”

The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3(1998), pp. 733-756. Accessed 6

March 2015.

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Essay: Beware the Imagination

Beware the Imagination

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate studies; originally written for Humanities 530 Spring 2015}

The French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, takes a new approach with expository writing in the form of the essay. His tone is unlike other philosophers in the sense that the writing itself is very casual and easy to read. Faculties of thought are expressed in his Essays, and Montaigne’s initial perspective of the imagination is that it is a tremendously powerful thing – if one perceives the imagination to be true, it may conjure a new reality. By his empathetic nature, Montaigne notes his avoidance of his imagination as much as he can as: “…the very sight of another’s pain materially pains me, and I often usurp the sensations of another person” (364). Empathy, or understanding another person’s grief so truly that it resonates inside the self, to Montaigne is a wonder of the imagination. He recommends keeping the imagination in check so as not to arrive at a misfortunate end.

Too much authority is awarded by the imagination. In Gallus Vibius’ case, his fascination with madness drove him out of his mind, and he was known to be lost to wisdom (366). The capabilities of the imagination appear limitless, according to Montaigne’s stories, as long as one fully gives over to the power of internal thought or awkward mishap. Mary Germain underwent serious physiological changes due to a robust leap – she became a he. Mary Germain was a girl from her birth till her twenty-second year; Montaigne met with Germain who was: “…very full of beard, old, and not married. He told us, that by straining himself in a leap his male organs came out; and the girls of that place have, to this day, a song, wherein they advise one another not to take too great strides, for fear of being turned into men, as Mary Germain was” (368). Biology was not understood fully in the Renaissance, but the altering of one sex to another seems a bit extreme for a power of thought. If manliness were related to exertion alone, then all women – in wanting to maintain their sex – would avoid leaping about in fear of physical activity encouraging the growth of male organs.

Montaigne is leery of the imagination in which he charges passion with violent causation – to give into the illusion of the imagination is to give it grounds to grow into an accepted reality. The power of the mind and the human conception of reality are subjected to various weaknesses of fancy, and mankind must keep their emotions in check: “Neither is this disaster to be feared, but in adventures, where the soul is overextended with desire or respect, and, especially, where the opportunity is of an unforeseen and pressing nature; in those cases, there is no means for a man to defend himself from such a surprise, as shall put him altogether out of sorts” (372-73). Care should be taken, in regards to passionate thought, so as to cement the minds of men in realistic reason over imagination.

Montaigne’s credibility is rooted in reason. The anecdotes he shares in Chapter XX, to expound on the powers of imagination, do not belong to him: “…for the tales I borrow I charge upon the consciences of those from whom I have them. The discourses are my own, and found themselves upon the proofs of reason, not of experience; … if I do not apply them well, let some other do it for me” (391). The importance of his stories is not in the absolute truth of the happenings but more concerned with the plausibility of thought. Montaigne concerns himself with what may happen, and given that the power of imagination resides inside all of mankind, he urges caution to the avenues of adventurous thoughts.

Works Cited

Montaigne, Michel de. The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Complete. Trans. Charles

Cotton. Ed. William Carew Hazlitt. Ebook #3600: Project Gutenberg, 2012

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