May 5

On May 5, 1637 William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, informed the Vice-chancellor of Oxford University, “You are now upon a very good way towards the setting up of a learned Press.” His Grace was referring to the code of statutes, called the Laudian Code, set up eleven months previously, under which a printing office could be efficiently operated. Above all it defined the duties of the printer-in-chief. A paraphrase of the sonorous Latin of the statute reads:

” ‘Tis provided by an University-Statute, That there be a Person set over the Printers, who shall be well-skill’d in the Greek and Latin Tongues, and in Philological Studies, with the title of Archi typographer, whose Office is to supervise and look after the Business of Printing, and to provide, at the University Expence, all Paper, Presses, Types, &c. to prescribe the Module of the Letter, the Quality of the Paper, and the Size of the Margins, when any Book is printed at the Cost of the University, and also to correct the Errors of the Press.”

In a number of these duties the architypographus in actual practice disdained to observe the letter of the statute, leaving the more onerous tasks to the “mechanic ware-houseman.” or technical foreman. A Corrector of the Press, Thomas Hearne, wrote out in 1715 what he believed to be the duties of the First Printer: “The Architypographus, or chief Printer, is to be a learned man. The rest are barely styled typographi, and one is not mentioned to have more Power or Authority than the rest. The Architypographus is to be a Governour & to preside over the rest, & he is to manage, as a Scholar, all things for the Honour and Credit of the University. And what they style a Ware-House Keeper is to be put in by the Architypographus, & is to act under him as his Servant.”

At the period of the formation of the Laudian Code, the University was plagued with a most inefficient chief printer, named William Turner. The Vice-Chancellor petitioned for Laud to prevent Turner from competing with the London booksellers. Compositors at the press enjoyed considerable freedom during this period and were men of some means in the community, being property owners. It was even said of them that “their daughters might marry a parson.” The compositor would be responsible for the production of a book, planning the format and setting the type, and even ordering the paper. He was then paid directly by the outside customer. On occasion compositors took orders for books without the permission of the Delegates who had authority over the conduct of the Press. In the light of such conditions there was constant pressure from the scholars at Oxford that the Press be brought up to a level of efficiency to do justice to the University.

It was not until 1649 that the University agreed to combining the offices of chief printer and architypographus. A further delay came until 1658, when Samuel Clarke, the Orientalist and M.A. from Merton College, was appointed to the post, which he held with distinction until his death in 1669. He too, however, had difficulties with the printers. But a start had been made, and the groundwork had been laid for the continuing selection of a scholar to be architypographus.

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