December 6

William Shakespeare built his King Henry VI trilogy upon the life of that most unfortunate of English Kings, who was born upon this day in 1421. During Henry’s lifetime, the art of printing was established, but he was murdered in the Tower of London before it was brought to English soil. Shakespeare, however, in the second part of the play, puts a speech into the mouth of one of his characters—a speech which unquestionably represented the opinions of the established authorities of the period, although it is historically inaccurate. The rebel, Jack Cade, when Lord Say is brought before him, says:

“. . . Thou has most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school; and whereas, before, our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be us’d, and, contrary to the King, his crown, and dignity, thou hast built a paper-mill. It will be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb, and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear. . . .”

No sooner had the knowledge of printing spread from Mainz, than it was realized that the craft must be controlled or suppressed. Possibly one of the earliest statements on this matter came from Mainz itself in 1486. when Archbishop Berthold appointed a book-censor, issuing a Penal Mandate under which it was forbidden to translate Latin and Greek into the vulgar tongue:

“Although by a certain divine art of printing, abundant and easy access is obtained to books on every science necessary to the attainment of human learning; yet we have perceived that certain men, led by the desire of vain glory or money, do abuse this art; and that what was given for the instruction of human life, is perverted to the purposes of mischief and calumny. For to the dishonouring of religion, we have seen in the hands of the vulgar certain books of the divine offices and writings of our religion, translated from the Latin into the German tongue.”

The first general Papal Bull to be issued about printing came from the pen of Pope Innocent VIII, in 1487, stating in part:

“With the misuse of the printing press for the distribution of pernicious writings, the regulations of the Church for the protection of the faithful enter of necessity into a new period. It is certainly the case that the evil influence of a badly conducted printing press constitutes today the greatest damage to society. . . .”

King James I in 1607 stated the case for royal authority, when he condemned a book to be burned: “From the very highest mysteries of the Godhead and the most inscrutable counsels in the Trinitie to the very lowest pit of Hell and the confused actions of the divells there, there is nothing now unserched into by the curiositie of men’s brains, so that it is no wonder that they do not spare to wade in all the deepest mysteries that belong to the persons of the state of Kinges and Princes, that are gods upon earth.”

Leave a Reply