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A: Cambridge, England, United Kingdom

Chaytor's "From Script to Print. An Introduction to Medieval Literature"


In July 2014, just about the time that I celebrated my 69th birthday, I found a reference online to the 1945 book by H. J. Chaytor, From Script to Print. An Introduction to Medieval Literature. At the time of publication Chaytor was Master of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. As readers of my "About the Database" may know, began as an effort to understand and compare the transition from print to electronic information in our time with the transition from manuscript to print in the second half of the fifteenth century. This topic became a focus of my reading since about 2003, and I was surprised to learn that there was a relatively early study in English touching on the fifteenth century transition that was previously unknown to me. So, as is my habit, I obtained a copy of Chaytor's relatively short book of 156 pages, which remained in print from Cambridge University Press.

I did not hear of Chaytor's work previously because it was probably not cited in the standard works on the book history of the fifteenth century since it is primarily a study of medieval literature, especially that of the French troubadour. Rather than focusing on the standard issues that concern book historians of the period, such as the history and spread of printing and publishing, Chaytor was primarily interested in the effect of printing on aspects of French literature. Because he was interested in a class of lyric poetry that was primarily performed orally to an audience that was primarily illiterate, he did not discuss the medieval manuscript tradition in ways familar to the book historian. Instead he concentrated on the difference between troubadour literature distributed and published orally through "performance" during the medieval period prior to print, and a literature published and understood, after the introduction of printing, by an increasingly literate audience, through the reading of printed books. As Chaytor put it toward the end of his introduction, p. 4:

"In short, the history of the progress from script to print is a history of the gradual substitution of visual for auditory methods of communicating and receiving ideas." 

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