Monday 19 August 2019

Stranger, pause and look

“Because reading books and having them bound represent two enormously different stages of development. First, people gradually get used to reading, over centuries naturally, but they don't take care of their books and toss them around. Having books bound signifies respect for the book; it indicates that people not only love to read, but they view it an important occupation. Nowhere in Russia has that stage been reached. Europe has been binding its books for sometime.” 

- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My sabre exploits (not rattling but waving?) took place in The Leeds Library, which is a fascinating place. It is older, both as an institution and a building, than the events whose bicentenary we were marking. Amongst its founding members was Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen.

It doesn't however predate the oldest book in its collection, which I had been privileged to handle just a few days earlier. That was printed in 1483, less than thirty years after Gutenberg had invented the process by which it was produced (*). The book in question is in Latin and is religious in nature. I also was able to look at one printed a couple of decades later, and in that case my 'O' Level Latin was sufficient to tell me that whoever wrote it really, really didn't like Martin Luther. So, within a few decades the new technology of printing was being used in support of religious hatred and persecution; who'd have thought it?

The printed pages of both books were original, but they had been rebound several times. I have always found bookbinding a fascinating craft, although I doubt it's usually as exciting as it is portrayed in Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel (which I recommend, but isn't as good as the Alatriste books). By an unexpected coincidence Conny Kreitmeier served an apprenticeship as a bookbinder before taking up music professionally. It has been too long (at least a week) since we had a video of Conny looking winsome, so here we go:

* As an aside, what was arguably the next major development in printing technology - the Wharfedale stop-cylinder press - was invented just round the corner from where I am writing this.

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