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   Chapter 5 THE CULTURE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

A Political and Social History of Modern Europe By Carlton J. H. Hayes Characters: 8866

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


[Sidenote: "Culture"]

"Culture" is a word generally used to denote learning and refinement in manners and art. The development of culture-the acquisition of new knowledge and the creation of beautiful things-is ordinarily the work of a comparatively small number of scientists and artists. Now if in any particular period or among any special people, we find a relatively larger group of intellectual leaders who succeed in establishing an important educated class and in making permanent contributions to the civilization of posterity, then we say that it is a cultured century or a cultured nation.

[Sidenote: Greek Culture]

All races and all generations have had some kind of culture, but within the recorded history of humanity, certain peoples and certain centuries stand out most distinctly as influencing its evolution. Thus, the Greeks of the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ gathered together and handed down to us all manner of speculation about the nature of the universe, all manner of hypothetical answers to the eternal questions-Whence do we come, What are we doing, Where do we go?-and this was the foundation of modern philosophy and metaphysics. From the same Greeks came our geometry and the rudiments of our sciences of astronomy and medicine. It was they who gave us the model for nearly every form of literature-dramatic, epic, and lyric poetry, dialogues, oratory, history-and in their well-proportioned temples, in their balanced columns and elaborate friezes, in their marble chiselings of the perfect human form, they fashioned for us forever the classical expression of art.

[Sidenote: Roman Culture]

Still in ancient times, the Romans developed classical architecture in the great triumphal arches and in the high-domed public buildings which strewed their empire. They adapted the fine forms of Greek literature to their own more pompous, but less subtle, Latin language. They devised a code of law and a legal system which made them in a real sense the teachers of order and the founders of the modern study of law.

[Sidenote: Mohammedan Culture]

The Mohammedans, too, at the very time when the Christians of western Europe were neglecting much of the ancient heritage, kept alive the traditions of Greek philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. From eastern Asia they borrowed algebra, the Arabic numerals, and the compass, and, in their own great cities of Bagdad, Damascus, and Cordova, they themselves developed the curiously woven curtains and rugs, the strangely wrought blades and metallic ornaments, the luxurious dwellings and graceful minarets which distinguish Arabic or Mohammedan art.

[Sidenote: Medieval Culture]

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries-the height of the middle ages -came a wonderful outburst of intellectual and artistic activity. Under the immediate auspices of the Catholic Church it brought forth abundantly a peculiarly Christian culture. Renewed acquaintance with Greek philosophy, especially with that of Aristotle, was joined with a lively religious faith to produce the so called scholastic philosophy and theology. Great institutions of higher learning-the universities- were now founded, in which centered the revived study not only of philosophy but of law and medicine as well, and over which appeared the first cloud-wrapped dawn of modern experimental science. And side by side with the sonorous Latin tongue, which long continued to be used by scholars, were formed the vernacular languages-German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.-that gave a wealth of variety to reviving popular literature. Majestic cathedrals with pointed arch and flying buttress, with lofty spire and delicate tracery, wonderful wood carvings, illuminated manuscripts, quaint gargoyles, myriad statues of saints and martyrs, delicately colored paintings of surpassing beauty-all betokened the great Christian, or Gothic, art of the middle ages.

[Sidenote: New Elements in Culture of Sixteenth Century]

The educated person of the sixteenth century was heir to all these cultural periods: intellectually and artistically he was descended from Greeks, Romans, Mohammedans, and his medieval Christian forbears. But the sixteenth century itself added cultural contributions to the original store, which help to explain not only the social, political, and ecclesiastical activities of that time but also many of our pres

ent-day actions and ideas. The essentially new factors in sixteenth-century culture may be reckoned as (1) the diffusion of knowledge as a result of the invention of printing; (2) the development of literary criticism by means of humanism; (3) a golden age of painting and architecture; (4) the flowering of national literature; (5) the beginnings of modern natural science.

THE INVENTION OF PRINTING

The present day is notably distinguished by the prevalence of enormous numbers of printed books, periodicals, and newspapers. Yet this very printing, which seems so commonplace to us now, has had, in all, but a comparatively brief existence. From the earliest recorded history up to less than five hundred years ago every book in Europe [Footnote: For an account of early printing in China, Japan, and Korea, see the informing article "Typography" in the Encyclop?dia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. XXVII, p. 510.] was laboriously written by hand, [Footnote: It is interesting to note the meaning of our present word "manuscript," which is derived from the Latin-manu scriptum ("written by hand").] and, although copyists acquired an astonishing swiftness in reproducing books, libraries of any size were the property exclusively of rich institutions or wealthy individuals. It was at the beginning of modern times that the invention of printing revolutionized intellectual history.

Printing is an extremely complicated process, and it is small wonder that centuries of human progress elapsed before its invention was complete. Among the most essential elements of the perfected process are movable type with which the impression is made, and paper, on which it is made. A few facts may be conveniently culled from the long involved story of the development of each of these elements.

[Sidenote: Development of paper]

For their manuscripts the Greeks and Romans had used papyrus, the prepared fiber of a tough reed which grew in the valley of the Nile River. This papyrus was very expensive and heavy, and not at all suitable for printing. Parchment, the dressed skins of certain animals, especially sheep, which became the standard material for the hand- written documents of the middle ages, was extremely durable, but like papyrus, it was costly, unwieldy, and ill adapted for printing.

The forerunner of modern European paper was probably that which the Chinese made from silk as early as the second century before Christ. For silk the Mohammedans at Mecca and Damascus in the middle of the eighth century appear to have substituted cotton, and this so-called Damascus paper was later imported into Greece and southern Italy and into Spain. In the latter country the native-grown hemp and flax were again substituted for cotton, and the resulting linen paper was used considerably in Castile in the thirteenth century and thence penetrated across the Pyrenees into France and gradually all over western and central Europe. Parchment, however, for a long time kept its preeminence over silk, cotton, or linen paper, because of its greater firmness and durability, and notaries were long forbidden to use any other substance in their official writings. Not until the second half of the fifteenth century was assured the triumph of modern paper, [Footnote: The word "paper" is derived from the ancient "papyrus."] as distinct from papyrus or parchment, when printing, then on the threshold of its career, demanded a substance of moderate price that would easily receive the impression of movable type.

[Sidenote: Development of Movable Type]

The idea of movable type was derived from an older practice of carving reverse letters or even whole inscriptions upon blocks of wood so that when they were inked and applied to writing material they would leave a clear impression. Medieval kings and princes frequently had their signatures cut on these blocks of wood or metal, in order to impress them on charters, and a kind of engraving was employed to reproduce pictures or written pages as early as the twelfth century.

It was a natural but slow evolution from block-impressing to the practice of casting individual letters in separate little pieces of metal, all of the same height and thickness, and then arranging them in any desired sequence for printing. The great advantage of movable type over the blocks was the infinite variety of work which could be done by simply setting and resetting the type.

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