Mary Erler

title.none: Crick and Walsham, eds., Script and Print (Mary Erler)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.037 05.01.37

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mary Erler, Fordham University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Crick, Julia, and Alexandra Walsham, eds. The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xiv, 298. $70.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-521-81063-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.37

Crick, Julia, and Alexandra Walsham, eds. The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. xiv, 298. $70.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-521-81063-9.

Reviewed by:

Mary Erler
Fordham University

Two earlier books cast their long shadows over this new volume. Michael Clanchy's From Memory to Written Record, England 1066 to 1307, its second edition published a decade ago, is still immensely powerful, right down to the minutiae of its specific illustrations of various reading practices--still the ones revived and re-cited to prove this or that point, as we see often in this volume. The introduction to The Uses of Script and Print, while summarizing previous work on the transition between these modes, has its own position, as we might expect: that writing and printing have overlapping, as well as separate, histories--and indeed that position, which emphasizes the parallels rather than the disjunctions between the two worlds, represents the new orthodoxy.

In adopting this perspective the volume necessarily challenges its other great predecessor, Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1980), whose view, although nuanced and complex, emphasized the radical differences between a manuscript culture and a print one. Eisenstein's work now receives a more mixed response, though many elements are still cited deferentially and even the thesis is still invoked at various points in this volume.

The introduction's central point is that manuscript use continues vital long after the arrival of print. This is not a new observation: what is new is the analysis of why manuscripts endured and for whom they filled a need. This portion of the introduction is fascinating and important to discussion of the script/print divide. The introduction is not quite so successful in presenting a considered overview of the situation. For instance the editors note the way print "served to nourish and reinvigorate unwritten tradition," i.e. orality (17), but they later say "wisdom transmitted by word of mouth was increasingly dismissed as untrustworthy and vulgar" (21)--and these contrasting points of view are not adequately distinguished in terms of period, nor differentiated in terms of their authors. Likewise, although the point is early made that the print medium was not necessarily well-regarded (20), with examples from sixteenth-century Italy and the English Civil War, a page later we are told that "over time ... printing did come to carry a kind of imprimatur," with an example from early nineteenth-century poet John Clare--a conclusion that seems somewhat facile and inadequately supported.

Like the introduction, Margaret Aston's epilogue offers an overview of the volume's themes, though her finale gives a richer and more personal response which finds particular stimulus in the subjects of talk, of sermons, and of community reading. Aston's summing-up of script and print's relation as demonstrating "a lasting permeability ... throughout the period" seems right, but raises the question how far the period extends. Perhaps such interpenetration of script and print might obtain as late as the nineteenth century. Her phrase describing the situation--interaction rather than impact--will be recalled in pursuing further work.

The volume is extremely interested in the relation of forms of communication, manuscript and print, to forms of religion, traditional and reformed. Half of the twelve essays examine this large topic, both before and after the reformation. Before considering these essays, however, we might look at the book's first contribution, appropriately placed because so widely relevant to all the volume's concerns. This is Felicity Riddy's answer to the question "How was publication done before printing?" She summarizes what we know--not always enough for firm conclusions--and offers a stimulating re-thinking, suggesting we define publication in its Middle English sense as "making known" rather than "issuing for sale." Requiring a discursive instead of a spatial publicness, such publication stresses the importance of talk; indeed it defines publication as being talked about. Similarly fruitful is Riddy's thinking on the responsibilities of the book's patron. Though some medieval dedications seem to imply that this important figure had the burden of disseminating the text, Riddy instead sees the book as an element in gift-exchange, the author presenting the work in return for expected rewards and favors. This reading seems especially plausible in light of the frequency with which inscriptions identify personal gift books as presented in exchange for prayers. The book, in other words, was often a counter in various sorts of transfer.

All the essays having to do with religion, with one exception, focus on the print half of the script/print continuum. This exception is David d'Avray's reiteration of the argument found in his 2001 book, Medieval Marriage Sermons, that substantive scribal changes to sermon texts argue against commercial scribes and for friars copying for themselves, and that the loss rate for medieval manuscripts, particularly sermons, was huge. James Clark's intriguing contribution traces the aborted beginnings of English Benedictine printing, and asks what might have happened if the Dissolution had not intervened in 1539. Though in the treatment of printing at St. Albans there are some discrepancies with the account given by STC, the essay is successful in drawing attention to this overlooked yet significant element in English printing history. Indeed, given another decade of life, monastic printing might have made its contribution to religious history as well. The 1536 confutation of John Frith printed at St. Albans, for instance, hints at such an outcome.

The rest of the essays treating religion and print are firmly post-Reformation. Alexandra Walsham provides a survey of dissenting books from the Lollards though the seventeenth century (the brevity of the Catholic list vs. the Protestant one is notable). The second half of her essay questions the classic linkage of Protestantism and print (a caveat found elsewhere in the book), suggesting that print was seen as useful in times of persecution or in the absence of a preacher, but was judged second-best to the oral delivery of the word.

If this essay stresses the importance of the oral over the printed word, Thomas Freeman's contribution, on the scribal culture of the Marian martyrs, emphasizes the importance of writing over print to controversialists on the other side of the fence, for instance in waging internecine doctrinal disputes or correcting texts before printing. Eisenstein's ideas about the stability of print, challenged elsewhere, are influential here and in the following essay, Ann Hughes', where Eisenstein's thesis on the power of print to forge "impersonal communities linked by ideology" is invoked to illustrate the intermingling of speech, manuscript and print around the seventeenth-century Presbyterian text Gangraena. Scott Mandelbrote examines the relative weight given to manuscript and to print sources in establishing post-Reformation printed editions of the bible, concluding, surprisingly, that manuscript sources were not always preferred and in fact that "reverence for traditions embodied in print" to a large extent displaced the authority of manuscript. Mandelbrote's lucid essay shows how first one, then the other form of writing was dominant, concluding that, "almost paradoxically, manuscripts and their histories retained an ability to challenge and undermine, as well as to uphold, [scriptural] traditions that were supported by print" (153).

Among the remaining essays, those whose focus is not religious, perhaps the most widely useful is Anthony Musson's contribution on law and text. It asks about the effect of the movement from oral to written law in the late Middle Ages, and in doing so, gives a brief clear history of the evolution of legal practice and the development of legal texts. The interaction between oral and written forms of law is explored and the question of who had access to law is entertained. At every point Musson is synthesizing the work of numerous others to offer his magisterial overview, a piece of work that, with its frequent definition of terms, is bound to be illuminating to nonspecialists.

Equally memorable, though for its originality rather than its synthetic power, is Christopher Marsh's call for acknowledgement of ballads as song, and his demonstration of the evocative force of tunes, containing "a hidden code of meanings and associations" (176). A contribution that challenges, just slightly, Michael Clanchy's classifications is Andrew Butcher's thoughtful and delicate exploration of the work of town clerks as historians. Using anthropology and linguistics, Butcher sees these histories or administrative writings, usually viewed as part of the development of "practical literacy," as instead expressing the community to itself. Not personal, yet incorporating individuals, these town chronicles were the product of "fellow speakers engaged with one another and with a local speech community, even a speech/text community"--a term that describes, as well, Felicity Riddy's account of the readers and talkers around Julian of Norwich.

Jonathan Barry's analysis of forms of communication--script, print, speech--in Bristol from 1640 to 1714 is so firmly and intentionally subordinated to a presentation of the local context that produced these forms that what emerges is simply an essay on the city's history. Julia Crick's essay, a byproduct of her forthcoming edition of Anglo-Saxon charters, looks at the practice of seventeenth-century editors of these records, and hence at their attitudes toward the past revealed in their use of sources, but the evidence is tortuously involved and in the end, serves only to illustrate the relative interchangeability of manuscript and print sources.

The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700 grew out of a conference held at the University of Exeter in April 2000. Unlike many collections of conference proceedings, this collection's success rate, through its individual essays, is high, and the introduction's framing of the issues in current scholarship, as well as its presentation of those issues in historical context, is valuable. Christopher Marsh calls the process "that grand, never-ending transition from a culture centered on orality and aurality...towards one centered more on literacy..."(172). This book constitutes a lively and judicious marker of where we are now in reflecting on the differences between writing and print, and at the same time does much to make that reflection both more full and more subtle.