“The world’s history is a divine poem of which the history of every nation is a canto and every man a word. Its strains have been pealing along down the centuries, and though there have been mingled discords of warring and cannon and dying men, yet to the the Christian philosopher and historian – the humble listener – there has been a divine melody running through the song which speaks of hope and peaceful days to come.”
Thomas Cahill wrote a series of books collectively called The Hinges of History. He explains why he chose that title. “We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage – almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance.” The U.S. Constitution is undoubtedly one of those narratives of grace, a Hinge of History, a work of genius bestowed upon us during a unique time in human history. The Preamble, which is only one sentence, sums up the Constitution’s goals.
What invention educated and liberated ordinary people to the dismay of tyrannical clergy and aristocrats?
Imagine a day when books had to be written and copied by hand. That was a time when only the rich could afford such a luxury. Imagine how long it would take to handwrite a 200-page book. Now imagine how long it would take to make multiple copies.
In the fifteenth century, the printing process began maturing. The most significant improvement to the art was the invention of movable type. Before movable type, words were carved on a block of wood, inked, and then the impression was stamped. Later, individual letters were engraved on pieces of metal or wood, which could be arranged in any order. Now a printer could set and reset the type, a significant improvement over wood blocks.
Around 1450, a man named John Gutenberg, of Germany, was using movable type. One of the earliest productions using this process was papal “Letters of Indulgence.” On August 24, 1456, the Gutenberg Bible was completed.
The art of printing now spread throughout Europe. By 1466 printing operations in Rome were madly rolling publications off the press and book publishing became a huge business.
The first printing press in America was set-up in Cambridge, September 25, 1639. The first volume to roll off that press was the Bay Psalm Book.
Printing changed the world in three ways:
First: Books became widely circulated. Before Gutenberg, education was primarily in the hands of a hierarchical church. After Gutenberg, books were no longer the exclusive property of the rich and artificially privileged. Handmade books were expensive and hard to find since they were seldom copied more than once or twice per year.
Second: Learning was available to the common man. Now that books were being printed in mass quantities, ordinary people could afford them. It’s no coincidence that the era which saw the revolt against tyranny, slavery, and serfdom came on the heels of widespread learning.
Third: Accuracy. Mistakes were so prevalent in the handmade books that it was hard to find two copies of the same book which matched.
The printing press, in my opinion, is one of the greatest inventions in human history. Ordinary people became readers. Before the printing press, the upper-class and orthodox religious leaders were able to use superstition to control the masses. When the people became readers, however, they were able to question these superstitions with educated reason, which is the death knell of fear. Printing ended the clerical monopoly on education.
Will Durant has well said,
“Printing…made available to the public –cheap manuals of instruction in religion, literature, history, and science; it became the greatest and cheapest of all universities, open to all…it paved the way for the Enlightenment, for the American and French Revolutions, for democracy. It made the Bible the common possession…It facilitated the international communication and co-operation of scientists. It affected the quality and character of literature by subjecting authors to the purse and taste of the middle class rather than the aristocratic and ecclesiastical patrons.”
A Love Story for Book Nerds – By Daniel W. Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan)
For many years I frequented a used book store in Delavan, Wisconsin, with an awesome name – BIBLIOMANIACS! The store was situated on a picturesque street with a beautiful “old American” feel; a red brick street graced on both sides with old fashion street lamps each serving as host to a proudly waving American flag. I found remarkable treasures at Bibliomaniacs (that’s Book-Nerd speech for “awesome books”) throughout the years which still grace my bookshelves.
But there was one set of books adorning their shelves which eluded me for many years – President Woodrow Wilson’s gorgeous five-volume “History of the American People.” An original edition! (“Original Edition” is Book Nerd-Speech for “This is so awesome I’m going to cry, wet myself, or both – I must have it!”). Wilson wrote it when he was President of Princeton University.
I say the books eluded and teased me because I’m on a very tight budget and the set was a little pricey at $200.00. But there it remained for many years. Every time I’d visit Bibliomaniacs I’d head to the second-floor shelves (see circled spot in the interior photo below) to see if it was still there – Hello Old Friend! I’d open the volumes and smell the old paper, not just a quick whiff, but deep inhale, hold for 30-seconds, then exhale reverently (That’s Book-Nerd narcotics – old book smell). I began to wonder if I was the only person alive who recognized their worth. I visited that set for over five years, sniffing, reading, coveting it, and walking away sad I didn’t have more cash to my name. The set was like an old faithful friend waiting for my visit. (I know, I know, I’m a dork! I accept that).
One day I got terrible news – BIBLIOMANIACS was going out of business! I went into Book-Nerd mourning. At the time, I worked at Lake 961 Radio Station in Lake Geneva, which was about twenty minutes away from Bibliomaniacs. So on Saturday, July 20, 2013, after my “Saturday at the 70s” on-air shift, I went to BIBLIOMANIACS for their going out of business sale hoping to find one last treasure before my favorite haunt closed for good.
I parked on that brick street one last time, got out of my car with a sense of nostalgia, the American flags are waving in the wind. I step on the sidewalk and see the “Going Out Of Business” banner in the window screamed the end of an era. It was like I was losing a friend. Deep breath. Hold back the tears. Time for one last treasure hunt. Here we go!
I spent about an hour looking around. I didn’t find anything I wanted within my price range that I didn’t already have. Then it was time to visit my old friend one last time and say my final goodbyes. I knew that even at half-price, the Wilson set would still be too steep for me. So up I went to the second floor where my friend had resided for so many years. I opened volume one to repeat my sniffing and coveting ritual. At the top of the inside cover, I see $20.00 written in pencil. I said to myself, “Just as I thought, it went from 40 to 20-bucks per volume, still too steep.” I tenderly put the book back on the shelf realizing that this was the last time I would see this set, my old friend. I wondered who the more fortunate person would be who would ultimately give them a home, hoping they’d end up in the hands of someone who would appreciate their worth. I gave them one last look, “Bye-bye old friend!” I’m misty at this point – don’t judge me. If John Wayne can kiss Walter Brennan in Rio Bravo, I can get misty over a book!
I walked back down the stairs to talk to the woman who worked the counter for years. We chatted for a bit, and I thanked her for providing me with years of happy-book-hunting adventures, and I wished her success in her future endeavors. Then I told her my story about those Wilson books, and she replied, “I’m so sorry you misunderstood; those books are $20.00 TOTAL, not per-volume.”
I ran up those stairs with child-like excitement, carefully grabbed the books off the shelf, and said, “You’re moving in with me, Mr. President.” I hurried down the stairs and laid 22-bucks on the counter. She laughed hysterically, handed me over 90-cents change, and said I made her day.
I said my final goodbyes to my benefactor, walked out with the books in a box, laid them on the passenger seat, and then drove home with my treasure. I laid them lovingly on my shelf and there they are to this day, three feet from where I type. I put him next to Teddy Roosevelt for company.
The following narrative, written by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, is an Indian’s observation of what the white man learns in Church.
Conrad (says the Indian), you have lived long among the white People and know something of their Customs. I have been sometimes at Albany, and have observed that once in Seven Days they shut up their Shops, and assemble all in the great House; tell me, what is it for? what do they do there?—
They meet there, says Conrad, to hear and learn good Things.
I do not doubt says the Indian, that they tell you so: They have told me the same; But I doubt the Truth of what they say, and I will tell you my Reasons. I was lately to Albany to sell my Skins, buy Blankets, Knives, Powder, and Rum. You know I us’d generally to deal with Hans Hanson, but I was a little inclin’d this time to try some other Merchant; however, I call’d first upon Hans, and ask’d him what he would give for Beaver. He said he could not give more than four Shillings a Pound; but says he I cannot talk on Business now; this is the Day when we meet together to learn good Things, and I am going to the Meeting. So I thought to my self, since we cannot do any Business to day, I may as well go to the Meeting too; and I went with him.
There stood up a man in black, and began to talk to the people very angrily. I did not understand what he said; but perceiving that he look’d much at me, and at Hanson, I imagin’d he was angry at seeing me there, so I went out, sat down near the House, struck Fire and lit my Pipe, waiting till the Meeting should break up. I thought too that the Man had mention’d something of Beaver, and I suspected it might be the Subject of their Making. So when they came out, I accosted my Merchant,
Well, Hans, says I, I hope you have agreed to give more than four Shillings a Pound. No, says he, I cannot give so much; I cannot give more than three shillings and sixpence. I then spoke to several other Dealers, but they all sung the same Song. Three and sixpence, Three and sixpence. This made it clear to me that my Suspicion was right; and that whatever they pretended of meeting to learn Good Things, the real purpose was to consult how to cheat Indians on the Price of Beaver.
Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be of my Opinion. If they met so often to learn Good Things, they would certainly have learnt some before this time. But they are still ignorant. You know our Practice. If a white Man in travelling thro’ our Country, enters one of our Cabins, we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, we give him Meat and Drinks that he may allay his Thirst and Hunger, and spread soft Furs for him to rest and sleep on: We demand nothing in return. But if I go into a white Man’s House at Albany, and ask for Victuals and Drink, they say, where is your Money? and if I have none; they say, Get out you Indian Dog. You see they have not yet learnt those little Good Things, that we need no Meetings to be instructed in, because our Mothers taught them to us when we were Children: And therefore, it is impossible their Meeting, Should be as they say, for any such purpose, or have any such Effect. They are only to contrive the Cheating of Indians in the Price of Beaver.