To write, to live

It was quite a few time ago that we reported about having found on the last page of an old printed book one of the most perfect expressions of satisfaction we have ever encountered. It had the form of a couplet in a neat calligraphy, certainly from the 16th century, saying: “Si la fortuna más tuviera: más me diera. / Si más recebir pudiera: la fortuna más me diera”. (If Fortune had more, she would have given me more / If more I could receive, more would have Fortune given.) The anonymous author must have been caught in that moment of five hundred years ago by an overflowing sense of fulfillment, so overflowing that he had to immediately note it down in an incunabula. And not just any incunabula, but in the Fasciculus temporum by Werner Rolewinck (1425-1502). We might imagine that the author wanted to express his happiness precisely on having this book in the hand. Of course we were also thrilled to have it in ours five hundred years later and to have witnessed the lively tension between the world of the printed book and the manuscript culture flourishing within the cover of these books.

In fact, the Fasciculus temporum was a bestseller of its age. It was first published in Cologne in 1474 and we know about 35 editions until 1500 (of which two in German, five in French and one in Dutch). Its 1480 edition of Seville by Bartolomé Segura and Francisco del Puerto is also important for the history of the Spanish book, being the first illustrated volume printed in the Hispanic peninsula. The copy we speak about – and of which we present some pages – was printed in Lyon by Mathias Huss sometime around 1495.

The Fasciculus temporum is the first book that recognized the unique importance of the invention of printing. Along the narration of the events marking the history of mankind from the Creation to the 1457th year of the Lord, Rolewinck attributed an utmost importance to the revolutionary perspectives of printing. He writes: “This is the art of arts, the science of sciences, through whose right practice the valuable treasures of wisdom and knowledge, that all men desire by instinct, come out of the deep shadow of hiding to enrich and illuminate this world which is in the hands of evil. The unlimited power of books which in Athens or Paris or in other schools or sacred libraries was made known only to a very few students, now spreads through this discovery to every tribe, people, nation and language to all parts of the world.” And he sums up the success of this unique invention: “et impressores librorum multiplicantur in terra”. [and the printers of books multiply on the face of the earth] *

This specimen has survived in an almost perfect condition. The leaves are numbered in Roman numerals up to LXXXX. Someone – perhaps the very author of the happy couplet – left several notes in Catalan on the margins. The notes are certainly close to the date of publication, and they become more abundant as the text begins to speak about more recent years, complementing and commenting the events related to the history of Spain and Catalonia. The same hand also included some additional pages with the continuation of the chronicle. Moreover, a booklet of seven full leaves written in another hand was bound together with the volume, with the first page dated of 21 October 1501 and ending with the genealogy of the princes of Prades.

At the very end of the book, on the same last pages where the happy couplet was written, someone considered it worth to add a last event as a definitive conclusion of the history of the world: “on the 5th of February 1725 Sr. Francisco Corró, barber begins to shave the beard to Sr. Pau Mora, Parson of Porreras” (the original is in Catalan: “lo dia 5 de febrer de 1725 comensa a fer la barba al Sr. Pau Mora, prevere de Porreres, lo Sr. Francisco Corró, barber”):

Who said, then, that book printing put an end to the manuscript tradition? In view of these examples, what a nice alternative history of mankind – or at least of culture – could be deduced from reading the annotations, deletions and inserted manuscripts hiding between the pages of printed books, examining in the lives of their readers what they did to the books and what the books did to them! We do not know when this copy arrived to Mallorca, but it was printed around 1495, that is fifteen years after the first (woodcut) Mallorcan print, and ten years after the founding of the first printing house on the island. It is in these final years of the 15th and the first ones of the 16th century that this new object enters the homes, occupies a space, and develops into a new type of partner with answers always at hands, giving prestige to its owner – or threatening him when its title appears in an index librorum prohibitorum –, that is, assuming certain characteristics of a living being. As Lotte Heillinga says it in one of her illuminating studies on the history of printing:
a book purchased by an individual could receive the same treatment as a member of the family, it could be appreciated or criticized, become someone to grow up with or to be consulted at all times, someone that could be abused and whose friendship could be then recovered. Fortunately, these relationships have left many visible traces in various kinds of notes, expressing fascination and boredom, and leaving to us the traits of the teacher or of the desired woman. (Impresores, editores, correctores y cajistas. Siglo XV, Salamanca: Instituto de Historia del Libro y de la Lectura, 2006, p. 47)
Or even the names of the priest and the barber of a village whose name is not known (what does this recall?), fixed forever on the flyleaf of an incunabula comprising the history of the world.

The priest and the barber visit Don Quixote who is ailing and is about to start the second part
of his adventures. Vida y hechos del ingenioso cavallero don Quixote de la Mancha,
Madrid: Pedro del Castillo - Manuel de la Puerta, 1723, vol. II, cap. 1, p. 1.