Monday, September 21, 2015

Printing Press: Mightier Than the Sword

Erasmus’s character and life pursuits remind me of Henry Ford, who changed the automobile industry forever and who said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Like Ford, Erasmus was a fearless innovator. He saw practicality in printing “small, handy, and cheap” books— a strikingly different approach to his era’s methods of publishing texts. But more than having business skills, says Paul Johnson, Erasmus was also a passionate scholar, popularizer, journalist, communicator, and editor who was “exhilarated by the smell of printer’s ink, the incense of the Reformation.” Clearly, Erasmus’s hard work to implement changes in printing was not driven by desire for profit alone. We read that Erasmus spoke languages imperfectly and promoted eccentric and controversial ideas, but that society “forgave most of his faults for the lively brilliance of his style.” It seems the man was destined for greatness from his infancy. He was a student in Gouda, home of the best cheese; he was trained to be a scholar of Latin, the language of the elite; after his parents’ deaths, was encouraged to become a monk, the profession of the most composed, dignified, and in-tune. Though his experience as a priest was short-lived, his upbringing prepared him for drastic societal impact via scholarly pursuits. That a man with so much education and social skill chose to channel his energies into the progression of printing speaks to the importance of Renaissance reform. Time dedicated to the printing press might have been “exhilarating” for Erasmus, but it was surely hard work, too. His efforts were meant to change the culture in unimaginable ways—education would allow students and teachers to be on the same page, quite literally. Economies would change as the need for publishers, bookstores, newspapers, and writers made business and books co-dependent. Culture itself would change as people started spending more time reading and studying, and thereby, less time working. The marriage of leisure and learning ignited society’s desire for luxury. It’s no wonder the people in Erasmus’s time “forgave his faults”—his efforts brought them unbelievable, rewarding changes.

"Erasmus Biography." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 2015.
"Typographia Conservatrix." Open Renaissance. Google Sites, n.d. Web. 2015.


  1. I thought the story of Erasmus to be really interesting, too. In a time of long-winded-ness, he realized very quickly how texts become shorter with ease of access. We simply don't have time to read long things, because there are so many other things we want to read too. The same thing has happened with the internet: texts are becoming shorter and shorter. I kind of want to see if I can dig up any of Erasmus' texts, though, just to experience them firsthand.

  2. Raised with Gouda cheese? No wonder he was a visionary. This post made me curious as to how Erasmus was perceived on a first impression--something like a Benjamin Cumberbatch, maybe: personable, confident, a little awkward. I think the comparison to Henry Ford is well-founded, though it would be hard to find evidence to compare some of their features (like, for example, Ford's explosive temper and permeating narcissism).

    Funny how the printing press preserved so much of the past, and yet raised so many questions.