It was in 1454 or 1455 that a middle-aged tinkerer in Mainz, Germany, named Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing system using interchangeable pieces of type. Slowly but steadily the use of this system of "movable" type spread. In 1475 printer and diplomat William Caxton set up a press at Bruges, Belgium. The following year he turned out the first book printed in the English tongue, The Recuyall of the Historyes of Troye . Seven years later, working in Winchester, England, he translated and printed a volume of Aesop's Fables . In 1549 London printer John Day, working in Aldersgate, printed The Folio Bible . By now the printing press had entered the New World, introduced to Mexico by Franciscan churchman Juan de Zumarraga. Boston got its first press in 1675, Virginia in 1682, Maryland in 1685, New York City in 1693.

Like the Internet today, or the mimeograph just before it, the printed word quickly became a weapon, embraced and denounced, sometimes by the same church or government. It was only 44 years after Caxton's Aesop, in Cologne, Germany, that Leo X issued his bull against Martin Luther. In 1619 William Brewster printed David Calderwood's denunciation of James I for attempting to force Episcopacy on the Scottish church. He published the work from Belgium, but even so was forced into hiding for his pains. America was hardly more friendly to civil liberties. On October 8, 1662, the Massachusetts Bay General Court adopted the Halfway Covenant. Among its provisions was the appointment of two licensors of printing presses. They were given full censorship powers. The fear of these powers apparently was a powerful deterrent; it would be another 13 years before Boston saw its first printing press. Back in England a treatise called An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government appeared in 1678. Toes obviously had been stepped on; on Mar 21, the London Gazette offered an reward to the person identifying the author. It would be a number of years before a former assistant to John Milton, the poet Andrew Marvell was identified as the culprit. James II was no friendlier to the press, especially in the colonies. In 1686 he banned the first House of Representatives and prohibited the use of printing presses. The tide would eventually turn with libertarians (small L) such as John Peter Zenger and Tom Paine.

But, eventually newspaper reading became an entrenched habit, on both sides of the Atlantic. The early innovations came from England. In 1666 the London Gazette inaugurated an "Advertisement Supplement". Fire sale items, I suppose. And on July 19, 1695 a notice appeared in a newspaper with the rather unwieldy title of Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade. It read, "A Gentleman about 30 Years of Age, that says he has a Very Good Estate, would willingly Match Himself to some young Gentlewoman that has a fortune of £3,000 or so thereabouts, and he will make Settlement to Content." The personal ad was born.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte