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ORIGIN OF THE MATERIALS OF WRITING.
When men had not yet discovered the art of recording events by writing, they planted trees, erected rude altars, or heaps of stones, as remembrances of past events. Hercules probably could not write when he fixed his famous pillars.
The most ancient mode of writing was on bricks, tiles, and oyster shells, and on tables of stone ; afterwards men wrote on plates of various materials, on ivory, barks of trees, and leaves of trees.
Engraving memorable events on hard substances, it has been observed, was giving speech to rocks and metals. In the Book of Job mention is made of writing on stone, on rocks, and on sheets of lead. It was on tables of stone that Moses received the law written by the finger of God Himself. Hesiod's works were written on leaden tables ; lead was used for writing, and rolled up like a cylinder, as Pliny states. There was a very ancient book, which consisted of eight leaden leaves, which had on the back rings, fastened by a small leathern rod to keep them together. Men afterwards engraved their statements on bronze. The laws of the Cretans were on bronze tables, and the speech of Claudius, engraved on plates of bronze, is yet preserved in the Town Hall of Lyons, in France. Several bronze tables, with Etruscan characters, have been dug up in Tuscany. The Romans etched their public records on brass, and the treaties made by them with the Jews and Spartans were engraved on that durable metal.
Among these early inventions many were singularly rude and miserable substitutes for a better material. In the shepherd state they wrote their songs with thorns and awls on straps of leather, which they wound round their crooks. The Icelanders appear to have scratched their Runes, a kind of hieroglyphics, on walls ; and Olof, according to one of the Sagas, built a large house, on the hulks and spars of which he engraved the history of his own and more ancient times; while another northern hero appears to have had nothing better than his own chair and bed on which to perpetuate his heroic acts. At the Town Hall in Hanover twelve wooden boards are preserved, overlaid with bees-wax, on which are written the names of owners of houses, but not the names of streets. These wooden manuscripts must have existed before 1423, when Hanover was first divided into streets. The ancient Arabs, according to the history of Mahomet, seem to have taken the shoulderbones of sheep, on which they carved remarkable events with a knife ; and after tying them together with a string, they hung these chronicles up in their cabinets.
The laws of the Twelve Tables, which the Romans chiefly copied from the Grecian code, were, after they had been approved by the people, engraved on brass. They were afterwards melted by lightning, which struck the Capitol and consumed other laws, a loss highly regretted by Augustus. This manner of writing we still retain for the inscriptions, epitaphs, and other memorials designed for the information of posterity.
These early inventions led to the discovery of tables of wood; and as cedar has an antiseptic quality from its bitterness, they chose this wood for cases or chests to preserve their most important writings. The expression of the ancients, when they meant to give the highest eulogium of an excellent work, was that it was worthy to be written on cedar, alluding to the oil of cedar, with which valuable
manuscripts of parchments were anointed, to preserve them from corruption and moths. The same reason for which they preferred the cedar to other wood induced them to write on wax, which, from its nature, is incorruptible. Men generally used it to write their testaments on, in order that they might not decay through the lapse of time. This thin paste of wax was also used on tables of wood, that it might more easily admit of erasure.
They wrote with an iron bodkin, which was called a stylus. The stylus was made sharp at one end to write with, and blunt and broad at the other, to deface and correct easily; hence the phrase vertere stylum, to turn the stylus, was used to express blotting out. But the Romans forbade the use of this sharp instrument, from the circumstance of many persons having used them as daggers. A schoolmaster was killed by the styles of his own scholars. They substituted a stylus made of the bone of a bird, or other animal, so that their writings resembled engravings. When they wrote on softer materials they employed reeds and canes, split like our quill pens at the points.
The Greeks and Romans continued the use of waxed table-books long after the use of the papyrus, leaves, and skins became common, because they were more convenient for correcting extemporaneous compositions. From these table-books they transcribed their performances correctly into parchment books. The writing on table-books is particularly recommended by Quintilian in the third chapter of the tenth book of his “Institutions,” because the wax is readily effaced for any corrections. He confesses weak eyes do not see so well on paper, and observes that the frequent necessity of dipping the pen in the inkstand retards the hand, and is but ill suited to the celerity of the mind. Some of these table-books are conjectured to have been large, and perhaps heavy, for in Plautus a schoolboy is represented as breaking his master's head with his table-book. According to Cicero it appears that the critics were accustomed, in reading their wax manuscripts, to notice obscure or vicious phrases by joining a piece of red wax, as we should underline such by red ink.
Table-books written upon with styles were not entirely
laid aside in Chaucer's time, for he alludes to them in his Sompner's tale :
His fellow had a staffe tipped with horne,
Of all folke that gave hem any good. By the word pen in the translation of the Bible, we must understand an iron style. Table-books of ivory are still used for memoranda, written with black lead pencils. The Romans used ivory to write the edicts of the senate on with a black colour.
ORIGIN OF THE MATERIALS OF WRITING.
PART II. In the progress of time the art of writing consisted in painting with different kinds of ink. This novel mode of writing occasioned them to invent other materials on which to write, as the thin bark of trees and plants, linen; and when this latter was found apt to become mouldy, they prepared the skins of animals. Those of asses are still in use, and on those of serpents were once written the Iliad and Odyssey. The first place where they began to dress these skins was Pergamus, in Asia, whence the Latin name is derived of Pergamence, or parchment. These skins are, however, better known among the authors of the purest Latin under the name of membrana, so called from the membranes of various animals of which they were composed. The ancients had parchments of three different colours, white, yellow, and purple. At Rome white parchment was disliked, because it was more subject to be soiled than the others, and besides dazzled the eye. They generally wrote in letters of gold and silver on purple or violet parchment. This custom continued in the early ages of the church ; and copies of the evangelists of this kind are preserved in the British Museum.
When the Egyptians employed for writing the bark of a