Happy New Year everyone. Over the holidays I have had chance to catch up on my reading, a pastime that most of us now take for granted. This was not always the case however. During the Seventeenth century only a few people could read and books were both extremely expensive and thin on choice. A licence was needed in order to run a press and punishment for printing without one was hanging!
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678) became very popular and remains one of the world's most read books.
In 1688 King James II was deposed by William of Orange, the ruling monarch now not ruling absolutely but by consent of Parliament. This led to a new, modern, free-thinking country and also to a lapse in the Licencing Act which meant that booksellers could now introduce new works without fear and thus began the introduction of newspapers, magazines and works for entertainment. The Daily Courant was first published on March 11th 1702.
Discerning readers met at local coffee houses and gentlemen's debates became fashionable as was to own a smart library. Appearance became all important. Every village had a book binder, book covers could be personalised. To be portrayed in a painting with a book showed that you were very important. One of these collectors, William Beckford, built an ivory tower high above his house in order to keep his 11,000 books.
Samuel Johnson published his dictionary in 1755 - the Oxford English would not be available for another 100 years.
The British Library publishes more new titles than anyone else in the worls - there are 150 million books, 400 miles of shelving. In the Kings Library (George III) there are 65,000 books including maps, architecture, and drama - he even had his own bindery. Only the curators can enter this part of the library.
However, even though the Eighteenth century was an Age of Enlightenment, reading was still only available to the upper classes. Reading was seen in the lower classes as being unnecessary and was looked on by the rich as a skill that might give those below stairs ideas above their station. However public readings did become popular, Blue Coat/charity schools were introduced - Christ's Hospital in Sussex was one of these and is still fulfilling it's role today.
The demand came for cheaper books and travelling salesmen carried short stories, ballads and newspapers. The first circulating library was invented in Edinburgh by Alan Ramsey and by 1740's most towns had their own library. Women began reading more and they had access to all the talking points that had been purely male-dominated. Elizabeth Montague founded a salon to discuss books and this helped to establish women as both writers and intellectuals.
I found this yesterday and was fascinated - the world's oldest printed book 'The Diamond Sutra' - was published in 808 AD in China. This was just a 7-page scroll printed with wood blocks and, until the 11th century the Chinese and Koreans continued to experiment producing type with clay, wood, bronze and iron. It wasn't until 1440 that Johann Gutenberg invented the press and printed his first book, a Latin Bible, in 1455.
Then, in 1475, William Caxton produced the first book printed in English 'The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye. Pope Paul IV issued his 'Index of Forbidden Books' in 1559 and in 1639 Stephen Day printed 'Freeman's Oath' - the first book published in the American colonies.
The 'Gentleman's Magazine' is considered to be the first modern magazine. it contained essays, poems and political commentary. It made its first appearance in 1731.
Pierre Fournier developed the point system in France during 1764 which was refined by Francois Didot. This established type measure consistency throughout the world.
In 1771 the Encyclopedia Britannica was published in Scotland.
In 1822 American-born William Church invented the first mechanical typesetting device.
The 'Illustrated London News' used woodcuts and engravings for the first time in 1842, meaning that illustrated journals became exceedingly popular. Richard Hoe, in 1851, patented the first rotary press which enabled printing to be both quicker and cheaper - the New York Times debuted costing just a penny.
The Copyright Act came into force in 1891 - this prohibited the reprinting of English books in paperback making them virtually non-existent. However, in 1936 Allen Lane's Penguin Press re-introduced the paperback with 'Gone With The Wind' by Margaret Mitchell.
1950 saw Charles Schulz introduce the 'Peanuts' comic strip and Rolling Stone, in 1967, spawned the popularity of special-interest and regional magazines.
This brings us up to date with desk-top publishing packages being available from 1985 and then the Kindle in 2007 we can now do everything for ourselves - enjoying thousands of books on a small tablet. Amazing.
William Shakespeare invented over 1700 words now commonly used in the English language. That is staggering. He changed nouns into verbs, added prefixes and suffixes to existing words, connected words that had never before been used together and some were completely new. Words such as assassination, besmirch, buzzer, dauntless, bedazzled and lonely as well as phrases such as 'A plague on both your houses' (Romeo and Juliet), 'Be-all and the end-all' (Macbeth) appear throughout his 38 plays, 154 sonnets, narrative poems and various verses.
He was familiar with seven foreign languages and had the largest vocabulary of any writer, either before or since, at 24,000 words.
Whether or not you join in with the 'authorship doubters' this is an amazing feat for anyone and for schools and universities to now - after 400 years - still be studying his work is incredible.