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WHEN in the depth of some Asiatic forest, shadowy with the green fans and sword-blades of the palm tribe, and the giant fronds of the purple-streaked banana, a sinewy savage stood, one day long ago, etching with a thorn on some thick-fleshed leaf, torn from the luxuriant shrubwood around him, rude images of the beasts he hunted or the arrows he shot,—the first step was taken towards the making of a book.
Countless have been the onward steps since then; but the old fact that the tree is the parent of the book still survives in many well-known words, which ever point us back to the green and perfumed woodland where sprang the earliest ancestor of those wondrous and innumerable compounds of author's brain, printer's
CAIRNS, GROVES, AND CORDS.
ink, and linen rag, now answering to the term book.
For example, take the Latin liber, and the English book and leaf. Who does not know that liber means originally the inner bark of a tree? Book is merely a disguised form of the word beech, into which it easily changes when we tone down k to ch soft ; and what could our Saxon forefathers have found, in the thick forests of their native Germany, better fitted for their rude inscribings than the smooth and silvery bark of that lovely tree? The word leaf tells its own tale. The trim squares of paper, sewed or glued together, which we call by that common name, find their earliest types in those green tablets we have spoken of, pulled fresh and sappy from the forest bough, and marked with the point of a little thorn; which, perhaps, by also pinning the pretty sheets together, may have done the double work of pen and binding-needle.
But fading leaves were too perishable to do more than suggest the notion of a book. Some more durable material was needed to keep alive the memory of those events—battles, huntings, changes of encampment, death of chiefs—which chequered the simple life of the early world. Groves were planted, altars raised, cairns heaped up,-each to tell some tale of joy or grief; but a day soon came when the descendants of the men who had raised these memorials wondered what the decaying trees, and the grey, mosscovered heaps of stones could mean—for the story had perished when the fathers of the tribe were gathered to their rest.
In some nations the earliest records were knotted cords. Strings of different colours, with knots of various sizes and variously arranged, contained the national history of the Peruvians. The Chinese and some negro tribes made use of similar cords.
But it was not in man, endowed by his Creator with the glorious faculties of reason and of speech, to remain contented with these imperfect means of keeping alive the memory of great events. The old book of green leaves was soon exchanged for a book of tough bark, and this for tablets of thin wood. Records, which men were very anxious to preserve, came to be engraven on slabs of rock or cut into plates of metal. The skins of various animals,
PARCHMENT AND PAPYRUS.
tanned into a smooth leather, afforded to the ancients a durable substance for their documents and books. Out of this class of writing materials came the parchment and the vellum, which have not yet been superseded in the lawyer's office, for no paper has been made to equal them in lasting power. Parchment takes its name from the old city of Pergamos in Asia Minor, whose king, when the literary jealousy of the Egyptians stopped the supply of papyrus, caused his subjects to write on sheep-skins, hence called Pergamena or parchment. Vellum, a finer material, is prepared calf-skin. Besides these, a common form of the book in Greek and Roman days consisted in tablets of wood, ivory, or metal, coated thinly with wax, on which the writer scratched the symbols of his thoughts with a bronze or iron bodkin, (ypadlov or stilus.) A cut reed, dipped in gum-water which was coloured with powdered charcoal or the soot of resin, represented long ago the pen and ink of modern days. With such appliances, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman scholars penned their early works on rolls of parchment or of papyrus, the famous rush-skin, which has given us a name for that common but very beautiful material on which we write our letters and print our books.
In swampy places by the Nile, where the retreating flood had left pools, a yard or so deep, to stagnate under the copper sky, there grew in old times vast forests of tall reeds, whose triangular stems, some six or eight feet high, bore tufted plumes of hair-like fibres. Wading in these shallows, where the ibis stalked, and the mailed crocodile crashed through the canes to plunge like a log in the deep current beyond, day after day bands of dark and linen-robed Egyptians came to hew down the leafless woods with knife or axe, and bear their heavy sheaves to the dry and sandy bank. It was the famous papyrus they cut, whose skin vied with parchment, as the writing material of the ancients. The several wrappings of the papyrus stalk being stripped off, the lengths were cemented either with the muddy water of the Nile, or more probably with the sugary juices of the plant itself. As skin after skin peeled away, the more delicate tissues, of which the finest paper was made, were found wrapping the heart of the stem. Pressing
and drying completed the simple process of making this much
It was then ready to receive the semi-liquid, gummy soot, with which the Xenophons and the Virgils of old Greece and Rome traced their flowing histories or sparkling poems.
Such were the chief materials of which ancient books were made,—the hard and stiff substances being formed into angular tablets, which opened either like the leaves of a European book or like the folding compartments of a screen,—the soft and pliable, such as leather or linen, being rolled on ornamented, smoothlyrounded sticks, as we roll up our maps and wall-diagrams. Instead of showing, like our modern libraries, trim rows of books standing shoulder to shoulder with the evenness of well-drilled soldiers on parade—the juniors gleaming with magenta and gold, the seniors hoary in ancient vellum or sombre with dingy calfthe book-room of a Plato or a Seneca would have displayed a few circular cases, resembling our common bandbox, and filled with papyrus or parchment rolls, which, standing on end, displayed the bright yellow, polished vermilion, or deep jet of their smoothlycut edges.
Let us now see what the men, who wrought out the wonders of ancient history, cut or painted on their granite slabs, their cloths of cotton or linen, their sheep-skins, or their slips of bark.
Drawing and painting were, undoubtedly, the earliest methods of conveying ideas in books. And still, pictures and sketches aid many of our books and serials to convey a clearer meaning; else why do we love to read the Illustrated News, or turn the first thing in the Cornhill to the drawings of Millais and of Doyle? The various gradations by which the first rude sketch changed into that wonderful invention—a word formed of alphabetic symbols -cannot here be traced. Take two specimens of the phases which the growing art assumed.
A piece of cotton cloth is before us, brilliant with crimson and yellow and pale blue, and oblong like our modern page. picture-writing of old Mexico, relating the reign and conquests of King Acamapich. Down the left border runs a broad stripe of blue, divided into thirteen parts by lines resembling the rounds of a
It is a
ladder. This represents a reign of thirteen years. In each compartment a symbol expresses the story of the year.
A flower, denoting calamity, is found in two of them. But the chief story is told by the coloured forms of the centre, where we have the sovereign painted twice, as a stern-looking head, capped with a serpent crest, with a dwarfish, white-robed body, and, separate from the shoulder, a hand grasping a couple of arrows. Before this grim warrior at the top of the scroll lie a shield and a bundle
Face and feet are painted a dull yellow. Before his second effigy we have four smaller heads, with closed eyes and an ominous, bloody mark upon lip and chin, denoting the capture and beheading of four hostile chiefs. The four sacked and plundered cities are depicted by roofs falling from ruined walls; and beside each stands a symbol representing some botanical or geographical feature by which its site is characterized. Pictures of different species of tree distinguish two of the cities; the third stands evidently by a lake, for a pan of water is drawn close to it, united by a line to mark close connection.
By some such suggestive painting upon cotton cloth or aloe leaves did the frightened Mexicans, who dwelt on the coast of the great Gulf, convey to the inland towns the terrible news that Cortez and his Spaniards had appeared. They painted the great ships, the pale, bearded men, the cannon breathing flames and smoke and hurling distant trees in splinters to the earth ; and no sadder picture was ever unrolled in the splendid palace of Montezuma than the cotton cloth emblazoned with terrible meanings, which had been borne, with galloping of swiftest mules, up, up the rocky terraces of the plateau from the blue edge of the tepid
The link, which connects such picture-writing with that use of alphabetic symbols so familiar to us that we do not realize its wonder, lies in the hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians. Figures of natural objects abound in that system too, but they have now got a deeper meaning—the power of expressing abstractions, or qualities considered alone. Thus the queen bee represents royalty; the bull, strength; an ostrich feather, from the evenness of its filaments, truth