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Title: John Gutenberg, First Master Printer
 - His Acts and Most Remarkable Discourses and his Death
Author: Dingelstedt, Franz von
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Gutenberg, First Master Printer
 - His Acts and Most Remarkable Discourses and his Death" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

  _First Master Printer,_
  His Acts, and most remarkable Discourses,
  and his Death.

  BY C. O. W.

  _First Master Printer,_
  His Acts, and most remarkable Discourses,
  and his Death.

  BY C. W.



_Only One Hundred Copies Printed._


  CHAPTER I. As how John Fust, master printer in the city of
    Maïence, gave his daughter Christine to wife to Peter
    Schoeffer his partner, and what came of it                      3

    what he did, while Peter Schoeffer was taking to wife the
    demoiselle Christine; all which should interest the reader     27

    came back to it, and what conversation he there held with
    the little Parisian                                            49

  CHAPTER IV. How two Crosiers being engaged in a quarrel, the
    poor people of Maïence were the sufferers, and Master John

  CHAPTER V. The Lord Archbishop Adolfe of Nassau having
    search to be made for him by one of his horsemen, who finds
    him in a fisherman’s hut                                       88

    repose of his soul: his poor remains sleep in an unknown
    tomb                                                          108


  _As how John Fust, master printer in the city of Maïence, gave
  his daughter Christine to wife to Peter Schoeffer his partner,
  and what came of it._

A wedding! how much joy is contained in that word! but even more in the
thing itself! You, however, who live in these days, can hardly form
an idea of what a wedding was in the good old times, for you possess
only the shadow, and even that is of the palest hue. Guests, among
whom the husband and the minister appear dressed in black from head to
foot, a large room furnished in the modern style, a very prosaic square
table, on which, after the marriage contract is signed, the repast is
served up, the whole accompanied with the stalest and most common-place
compliments, the coldest ceremonies.... No, no! a fig for your modern

Reader, you ought to have found yourself at the appointed hour at the
great St. Humbert at Maïence, in the street now called La Rue des
Savetiers, and which then bore the name of St. Quentin, for that which
I relate to you happened in the year of our Lord fourteen hundred and
sixty-one, before Maïence became a federal fortress. That was indeed a
wedding in the true sense of the word! A grand, a noble wedding! At the
moment when the clock struck twelve, the procession, attired in most
superb garments, came out of the church of St. Quentin, and, having
turned the corner of the Rue des Savetiers, took the road to the house
of the great St. Humbert. All along the route it was accompanied by the
joyous acclamations of the crowd; citizens, their wives and daughters,
opened their small casements, and put out their heads to gaze, and the
little boys in the street maliciously ran behind the wedding guests,
trying to jeer and to mock at the bridegroom, as is still the custom in
these days--one, indeed, of the only customs left us of olden times.

The sun shed his brightest and warmest rays on the house of the great
St. Humbert, for it was on the 14th day of August that Christine Fust,
the worthy daughter of the printer John Fust, espoused her father’s
partner, Peter Schoeffer of Gernsheim. On that day, too, the house of
the printer was open to all comers; those presses, generally so black
and so mysterious, were now crowned with flowers; the screws, the
levers, the timber, groaned no longer under the brawny arms of the
workman, and the paper and parchment remained neglected in a corner.
All the inmates were gone to the church of St. Quentin to be present
at the marriage; the workmen, dressed in their finest clothes, stood
ranged in a goodly group around their chief, who held firmly aloft the
banner of the Corporation, ornamented with the Imperial Eagle. The
Burgomaster himself, Jacob Fust, a master goldsmith, brother of the
printer, and rich beyond belief, had come in person to do honour to the
wedding of his niece. And how can we find fault with the father of the
bride, who walked proudly at the head of the band, arm-in-arm with his
brother the grandee and the renowned goldsmith, if he cast now and then
on the assembled crowd looks in which disdain was somewhat mingled. It
is true that he smiled more benignly at the windows from whence certain
silvery voices were heard to cry out as he passed, “We wish you much
happiness, Master Fust!” Or again, “May peace and a blessing rest on
the house of the printer!”

To speak truly, it must be confessed that the couple who had just been
united were not in their first youth, and if the bridegroom had nothing
in common with Adonis or Apollo, the bride on her side was far from
representing that type of beauty which the ancients have bequeathed
to us, and which may still be seen in the gallery of the Medici. Let
not this surprise you, reader! Peter Schoeffer in 1449 was already
renowned in the Academy of Paris for his skill in caligraphy; he had
even then rendered great services to Master Fust, who chose him for
his son-in-law; so you perceive that at the time of which we are
speaking there was no longer any question of youth or sprightliness for
Schoeffer. Christine, on her part, had no doubt chosen her husband for
his moral qualities; she had declared herself ready to bestow her hand
on the homeless stranger on the day on which he, who was then only her
father’s workman, should lay at her feet, reposing on a velvet cushion,
a copy of the admirable Psalter of the year 1457. Yes, it was not
until then that Christine consented to surrender her hand to that of
Schoeffer--to that hand which had designed the initials of the Psalter,
which had illuminated them in such brilliant colours, and had arranged
the beautiful types, the ink of which, it is maliciously said, still
clung to his fingers more or less.

The betrothal dated from the year 1457; but, as the father had
insisted on proving the character and the talent of his workman,
he had made it a condition that the two volumes of the great Latin
Bible should be completed before the fulfilment of the marriage. On
St. John’s day, 1462, the finishing touch was put to the work. Peter
Schoeffer wrote upon the last page to the effect that the task was
ended; he printed his father-in-law’s arms alongside, and on the
following 14th of August the book was exposed to the public, at the
same time that the marriage was announced; John Fust slyly remarking
that he brought on that day two treasures to light, the one conjointly
with Schoeffer, the other he generously made over to him.

To the two treasures were allotted their separate place of honour.
Christine dazzled the eyes of the public, robed in rich crimson velvet,
such as was seldom worn in those days by citizens’ daughters. Her
little white wreath was attached to her hair by a string of Venetian
pearls, presented on that very morning by her uncle the Burgomaster,
and it must be allowed the pearls became her well. The Bible, on its
part, had its silver clasps well rubbed and polished, and, being
placed on a table, it shone, to the edification and admiration of all

If at the end of the table where the Burgomaster presided, dividing the
wedding guests on his right and left, there reigned a certain degree of
solemnity, it was made up for at the lower end, round the long board
prepared for the workmen, where the most noisy and expansive gaiety
prevailed. That patriarchal custom which required that the head of the
family, after having tasted of a dish, should join in a prayer with all
the guests, that custom, at the time of which we speak, had even in
the richest families fallen into disuse, only when, as on the present
occasion, a dignitary happened to be at table, a special gravity was
observed, and a great decorum maintained. “Noblesse oblige,” says the
proverb, so we must not be surprised if the Burgomaster, instead of
taking part in the joyous hilarity of his relatives, and especially of
his workmen, looked around him with anxious and pensive eyes. The cares
of government clouded his countenance, and occasionally wrinkled his
fine lofty brow.

In truth, alarming days were hovering over the good city of Maïence.
Two crosiers were clashing rudely for precedence, both being
competitors for the Archi-episcopal throne; and, as generally happens
in such conflicts, the blows fell less heavily, and in less number,
on the backs of the actual combatants than on those of the victims
who were the objects of contest. A year previously the Archbishop
Dietrich d’Isembourg had been deprived of his see for failing in proper
respect towards his spiritual pastor, and Adolfe of Nassau, appointed
Archbishop in his room, was preparing seriously, arms in hand, to expel
a predecessor who seemed far from disposed to yield his post with a
good grace. All the Rhine country, the Palatinate, Bavaria, Würtemberg,
and even Brandenberg itself, had taken part in the quarrel, for one
side or the other; in the city of Maïence Dietrich d’Isembourg reckoned
partisans who were still holding office side by side with those who
secretly favoured the new order of things, and rivals and enemies met
together full of an animosity which they took but little pains to

To this cause of dissension was added the quarrel between the citizens
and the nobles--a quarrel which dated forty years back, and was even
now far from being quelled; descendants of the emigrant families ran
about the town exciting the malcontents, they themselves only awaiting
an opportunity to regain, in the general confusion, the privileges
which they had lost.

These were the grave matters which pre-occupied the mind of the
Burgomaster of Maïence, the great Jacob Fust, and left him but little
leisure to think of anything but his cares at the wedding of his niece
Christine. Did a noisy _vivat_ make itself heard at the lower end
of the table, was a joyous song resounding, near the entrance door,
in honour of the newly-married couple, the Burgomaster would raise
himself anxiously on his great carved oaken arm-chair, and, commanding
silence, exclaim, throwing his head back, “These are sad times in
which we live;” and his brother the printer would echo his words,
throwing back his head in like manner. As for the bridegroom he was in
the height of good humour, for the pre-occupations of his uncle the
Burgomaster affected him but very slightly. “Eh! what then,” said he
to the assembled guests, “are we not here in our free city of Maïence,
under the protection of the pastoral staff of His Grace our Archbishop,
whom may God protect? Let my Lord of Nassau intrigue, and cabal as he
will, as long as the Rhine flows between him and us, as long as our
good walls defend us, we may laugh at his Grace; and moreover our art,
our beautiful art, does it not flourish more and more every year? Have
we not five good presses in the workshop? Have we not fifty vigorous
arms employed in our service? Come, come, my gracious uncle, come,
worthy father, put away your fears, and your scruples; fill up your
glasses, and second me when I drink to ‘the noble art of printing,’
with ‘three times three.’”

The guests responded to this appeal, and the noise of the _vivat_ had
scarcely subsided when a great disturbance was heard on the stairs
adjoining the banquet-room, and a confusion of voices and footsteps,
which seemed to indicate a quarrel. The host was about to rise and
go in person to the spot from whence the noise proceeded, to call
the disputants to order, when the door was suddenly thrown open. On
the threshold appeared two workmen, dragging a third individual by
his arms, and who, to judge from his age and appearance, was only an
apprentice; “Look, master,” said the eldest of the men, “here is a
fellow who dares to disturb your festival by coming even into your
house to abuse your art, and your noble trade.” “Yes, it is true,”
continued the second workman, “but it shall not be permitted, were I
never again to touch a type, or the cheek of a pretty maiden!”

“It is the Strasburger who lies!” exclaimed the young boy, making
vigorous efforts to free himself from the gripe of his accusers. “I
said not a word against you or your art; it is they, on the contrary,
who slandered your son-in-law, and even your daughter dame Christine;
and you see, master, that was more than I could bear, so my French
blood rebelled.” “Let peace be in this house,” replied Fust, in a
commanding tone; “and you Strasburger, who are the eldest, you speak
first, and let go your hold of the Parisian!”

“Master, we were down below there, sitting drinking our beer, as your
worshipful company, saving your presence, is now seated drinking your
wine; we sang, we drank, we laughed, not a soul among us thought
of quarrelling; suddenly, I had just delivered myself of a little
_bon-mot_, such as is not unusual at our German weddings--”

“Strasburger, what was that _bon-mot_? Come, out with it frankly!”

“I said,” replied the workman, hesitating, “I said--”

Here the Parisian, with the vivacity of a Frenchman, interrupted the
other, and repeated the _bon-mot_ in question--a witticism so strongly
seasoned, that, although it might be allowable at a country wedding, it
could not be repeated here without a breach of good manners.

This unexpected communication was received with a violent burst of
laughter from the male part of the company, including even the worthy
Burgomaster Jacob Fust, the bridegroom alone felt his anger rising,
and, having some difficulty in restraining himself, he bounded from his
seat, while the cheeks of his gentle better-half, Christine, became of
a deeper hue than the velvet of the dress she wore.

The Strasburger, emboldened by the success of his _bon-mot_, and by
the excellent reception it had met with, cast a look of triumphant
satisfaction on the little Parisian, who stood by speechless and
astounded. At this moment a bashful glance directed to him by dame
Christine, unseen by all the rest, rewarded him for his chivalrous
conduct. The old workman continued his harangue.

“Master, you see, it is on account of this innocent jest that the
fellow has made this disturbance; he pretended that the honour of your
house was compromised, as well as that of the dame, your daughter,
which God defend from injury; he struck the table violently with
his fist, and, in fact, behaved like a madman. The Frankforter, who
stands there, tried by a paternal remonstrance to bring him to reason,
and we were once more seated behind our goblets, when, behold, the
young good-for-nothing recommences. We were drinking unanimously to
the health of the art of printing, that it might flourish at least
a thousand years, when all on a sudden, with his two little spindle
legs, he leaps on the table, upsets the goblets, and exclaims that we
must not forget him who first invented the trade, who was the author
of all our good fortune, him who revealed our beautiful art to the
world at large. We both opened our mouths wide--may the Lord forgive us
our sin--the wretch told us he was going to speak of the Holy Trinity,
when, behold, he calls out, with all the force of his lungs, ‘Long
live Gutenberg; long live Master Jean Gutenberg, of Maïence!’ The
Frankforter then seized him by one leg, I by the other, we dragged him
down from the table and brought him here. Now he stands before you, he
who was not ashamed in your own house to give all the honour and praise
to Gutenberg.” The Strasburger was silent. At the name of Gutenberg the
company became visibly embarrassed; the countenances of some of the
guests evinced an ironical pleasure. Peter Schoeffer, looking down,
busied himself awkwardly in readjusting the frill of his shirt, while
Master Fust, not caring particularly to meet the fiery eye of the
little Parisian, turned alternately from one workman to the other.

“Children,” replied he, after a moment’s painful pause, “children, you
are but simpletons after all; what is the use of troubling your heads,
on a day like this, with such nonsense? Leave Gutenberg to himself, and
let us enjoy in peace the good which God has given us!”

“Master,” exclaimed the little Frenchman, in a lofty tone, and
interrupting Fust, without hesitation, “that is what we have done; but
allow me to say one word, one only, with an honesty worthy of the great
art which we promote; if all this company thinks to-day of you, and of
Master Peter Schoeffer of Gernsheim, of his letter-founding, of his
skill in engraving, in illuminating, in printing, ought we, on that
account, to forget the man to whom we owe all that we now have? That
is why, I say it again, and may all those who feel as they ought to do,
say it after me, ‘Long live Gutenberg of Maïence, the first printer of
the world, long may he live!’”

With three bounds, and before he could be prevented, the audacious boy
reached the table, seized one of the filled wine-cups, and emptied it
at a draught. He had just laid it down again, with a crash, when Master
Fust, red with anger, pushed him roughly aside, “Fellow,” he exclaimed,
in a voice husky with vexation, “what have you done?” “What you should
have done instead of me,” replied the little Frenchman, without being
disconcerted, and becoming more calm in proportion that his master grew
more excited. “How! you have the audacity to come here and jeer us in
the presence of our guests, and, above all, in the presence of my
brother, the most worthy Burgomaster? To the door, to the door, with
the little brawler! Go, go, to your Gutenberg, see if his great presses
are at work; go, run through the streets and highways with your hero.
To the door with him, I say!” The printer threw a few pieces of small
money to the Parisian, and with an angry gesture pointed to the door.
“Master Fust,” replied the other, while collecting the coins which were
scattered over the floor, “if I pick up this money, it is to take what
you owe me; but I cannot go to Master Gutenberg, and that you know as
well as I do. Since the day he was obliged to give up his establishment
to you, for a debt of a hundred, or a couple of hundred dollars, which
you lent him at a high interest, he has not been in a position to set
up any press worth speaking of. So it always is in this world. To the
one, head and intelligence, to the other money!”

These last words were scarcely uttered, when a blow from a fist fell
on the cheek of the little Frenchman. Master John Fust, incapable
of further self-control, had struck the blow; and, if Schoeffer and
the two other workmen had not interfered, a serious scene might have
ensued, to the cost of the audacious boy, and in presence of the
guests. In an instant the whole assembly was in an uproar; Christine
took refuge, trembling, in the arms of her husband; the guests swore,
threatened, jeered, murmured; the workmen in the meanwhile had all
the trouble in the world to restrain the little Frenchman, whose
clear silvery voice called out through the crowd, “Master Fust, you
have no right to strike me! you had not the right even when I was in
your service, you have it still less now. I insist on your giving me

“Turn out the brawler, turn him out,” said the Burgomaster, in a solemn
tone; but the workmen tried in vain to execute the order.

“I shall go of my own accord, and alone,” said the little Parisian,
grumbling, “as soon as these German fists have loosened their hold of
me, not before. Yes, I shall go straight to Master Gutenberg, and if
he has no work to give me at his presses, well, I would rather untie
for him the strings of his shoes, than remain any longer in a house
where one is forbidden to speak out one’s thoughts in liberty. You,
Fust, you, Schoeffer, what would you be without that Gutenberg, whom
you have robbed of his goods! O, cursed be the false, the inhospitable
threshold! And you who live under this roof, take care lest the
hymeneal torch lighted this day change not into a burning flambeau,
which shall swallow up, under its wings of flame, the ruins of your
ill-gotten wealth!”

During this allocution, uttered with all the earnestness of passion,
the two workmen had dragged the boy towards the door, resisting all
the way. One kick, and he rolled down the staircase, carrying with
him the Frankforter and the Strasburger. Schoeffer shut the door on
the disputants, reconducted Christine, with much care and solicitude,
to her arm-chair, tried to calm his father-in-law, and succeeded in
restoring, at least, an appearance of calm to the festival, and to the
guests, who had been first surprised, and then alarmed, at this scene.


  _What John Gutenberg, Master printer, said, and what he did,
  while Peter Schoeffer was taking to wife the demoiselle
  Christine; all which should interest the reader._

If you have not been spoiled, reader, by the sight of the fine rooms of
Messrs. Brockhaus and Hadnel, those _coryphées_ of the present day of
the art of typography, who draw off their books on Stanhope presses,
in frames of highly polished wood, fastened with bright iron screws,
perhaps you will not feel any repugnance to follow me into the low dark
abode to which I am about to introduce you. We enter. The night is mild
and beautiful, the moon’s silvery beams rest gently on the undulations
of the eternally flowing Rhine, a light breeze trembles through the
vine leaves, the deep shadows of the houses conceal here and there
the streets of old Maïence. But why should we occupy ourselves with
such matters? Did the old man with silver hair, with his head bending
over the table, and given up body and soul to his work, occupy himself
with them? Where were his workmen? They were out of doors enjoying
the beauty of the night, being rocked gently in small boats on the
river, or drinking in taverns, or standing at church doors saying soft
gallantries to their mistresses, and he the solitary, the indefatigable
workman, why did he take no rest? His inflamed eye-lids, his forehead
furrowed with wrinkles, his rounded back, showed how much he stood in
need of it.

A smoky lamp hung from the beam which divided the ceiling of the room
into two equal parts, and shed its feeble light on the table where
John Gutenberg was working. But beware, reader, of representing this
table to yourself as furnished with any of those perfect instruments
which are the improvements of modern days; with a case for the
letters, a _visorium_, a composing-stick, a galley, or a catch; it
was nothing more than a great oaken board, on which his letters were
placed in little woollen bags, ranged in alphabetical order; the form
in which they were to be disposed was in front of the artist, and at
his side, on a desk, roughly put together, reposed the heavy in-folio
which he used as a manuscript. Let the compositor of the present
day, who complains, often justly, of the illegible copy of the poet
or the philosopher, compare humbly his task with that of his great
predecessor! He was obliged first to select from his bags, to place
the letters with great delicacy, to turn back to the manuscript in
order to read it, and to recommence his labour incessantly until one
whole line, laboriously put together, had been ranged along a string;
if at this point his negligence, as a compositor, had permitted one
fault, he must needs unfasten the string, and recommence his work from
the beginning!

Miserable place as it was, there worked the first printer of the
world! A humble cradle which contained a giant! Poor, wretched house,
what a difference between it and those palaces which the disciples of
the great inventor have since built for themselves! The shutters of
Gutenberg’s room were hermetically closed, not one of the moon’s silver
rays could penetrate them; the smell of the printer’s ink, of the
oil, and the black smoke, made the close air of this poor apartment
still more oppressive; a painful stillness prevailed, disturbed only
by the metallic noise of the letters as they touched each other. But
I will not dwell any longer on this melancholy picture, in which you
might have seen the old man, whose stray white locks shaded his broad
forehead, whose feeble fingers could only slowly and with trembling
fulfil their task, whose knees tottered, and who whenever he turned
over the leaves of his manuscript was forced to wait a few seconds to
regain breath and strength. No, no, reader, think of Gutenberg rather
as you would doubtless like to see him, standing on his pedestal of
stone, in the centre of the square, in front of the Cathedral of
Maïence, one of the last achievements, but by no means one of the
happiest efforts, of the great Thorwaldsen.

John Gutenberg, in his humble workshop, turned round on hearing the
door behind him creak on its hinges. “You see, I knew it,” said one
of the new comers on entering, “there he is, still at work.” He to
whom these words were addressed shrugged his shoulders slightly, both
came forward, and the foremost, with his head respectfully uncovered,
approached Gutenberg, who gave his visitors a friendly greeting.
Addressing the second, “Will it please you, my dear Doctor,” he said,
“to look on for a few moments while I am at work? If so, take this
stool, and sit at your ease, as far at least as that is possible in my
humble abode. Beildech,” said he to the other, “did you take care to
fasten the latch as you came in?” “Yes, Master,” replied Beildech; “but
it must be close upon midnight, it is time for you to leave off work;
here you are still at your table; will you never learn to think of
yourself, and of those who love you?” At these words the old man, with
a gesture full of tenderness, took the hand of the speaker and pressed
it on his heart. Beildech was the only one who, through good fortune
and evil fortune, had invariably stood by Gutenberg, from the day when
the latter left the gates of his native town on horseback, to direct
his steps towards Strasburg; days of youth and of beauty.

The second person whom we introduced was named Dr. Humery. He was
Syndic of the free city of Maïence, and a wise man, if ever there was
one, and well versed in the knowledge of all that was right and just.
The chronicles say that even in a state of blindness he could have
distinguished black from white, and white from black--a science which
has completely escaped the numerous successors of the Syndic Humery!
He called himself the patron of Gutenberg in the year 1455, when a
sentence of the tribunal of Maïence, having forced the poor printer to
give up his workshop to John Fust his creditor, Gutenberg, his heart
overflowing with resentment against his native town, fled to Strasburg;
but finding that he succeeded no better there than elsewhere, he
soon returned to his own country. While Master John was seeking some
resting-place where he might pursue his art, it was the Syndic Humery
who advanced the seventy crowns which Gutenberg required to set up
his new presses, and who provided him with the quarters which we have
described. “On account of which,” said the convention, “the above named
Master John is held to continue his labours at the risk and the peril
of Humery.”

“Consider,” said the disinterested Syndic, “that you are no longer
young; I wish to save you from all further risk of getting into
trouble. Continue your work on my account, so that what you do, shall
be mine by an equitable payment, but, on the other hand, let it be
understood that I am likewise responsible for your losses; and above
all, Master Gutenberg, beware of your old tricks!”

Gutenberg said gratefully Yes and Amen to all that was proposed to him,
but his heart was broken. He neither asked nor wished for anything but
to be allowed to cultivate his art, that well-beloved art, to which
he had consecrated the earliest, the best days of his life. In the
absence of children, which had been denied to his old age, he desired
at least to play with his metallic characters, black to the outward
eye, but full of the attractive force of affection to the printer.
So it happened that Gutenberg took up his abode at the back of the
Syndic’s house, working with his press as far removed as possible from
the little windows, before which, as soon as it was dusk, he hastened
to fasten the shutters. Reader, if you ask me a reason for this
peculiarity, here is one which may account for it. From the windows
of the house of the Syndic Humery you might see a little old smoky
building, which, by a caprice of fortune, happened to be exactly the
birthplace and cradle of the ancient race of the Gutenberg (_zum guten
Berg_), a noble stock, of the existence of which the great typographer
had been obliged to inform strangers, in the place where he invented
the art of printing. Who can tell? Perhaps the eyes of the old man
could not reconcile themselves to the sight of the balcony, where he
had played as a child, from the table where he stood arranging his

In the present day the proprietors of the Casino have pitched their
tents in the yard of the building where Gutenberg lived, and, in
default of other proofs, an inscription says, on the part of the
natives of Maïence, that it was assuredly there that stood the house of
their _immortal countryman_.

As for the very humane Dr. Humery, when he had looked over Gutenberg’s
shoulder for about a minute, he said, with a jerk of his head, “It
seems to me, worthy Master John, that during the last week your work
has made very little progress.” Gutenberg made no answer, but a vivid
colour, which I can only compare to the brightness of the setting sun
on the glaciers, flushed the old man’s cheeks. Humery continued: “Under
pretext that you could not agree with them, you have discharged two
of your best workmen.” “That is true, gracious Doctor; they printed
according to the modern fashion, without drawing a string at each line;
in such a manner how was it possible to accomplish anything really
good?” “But,” replied Humery, “you must have seen that the Bible which
Fust has just edited is a magnificent piece of workmanship, and you
must confess yourself that it much surpasses your _Katholicon_, the
last and the only work which has issued from your press.”

At these words, Gutenberg, without answering, placed a marker in his
in-folio, shut it up, tied up his bags which contained his letters, and
put them away in the drawer of his table, with the frame containing the
unfinished page; he then washed his hands, and began pacing up and
down his room. “Now you have made him angry,” whispered Beildech to
the Syndic, “look to yourself to make your peace with him.” Upon which
the faithful servant went out slamming the door after him, the latch
falling noisily into the staple.

The Syndic took the arm of Gutenberg kindly. “Master, do not be vexed
with me if I now and then say a word which may doubtless appear
rather harsh to you, but which I speak from my heart. See how many
hours you spend in dreaming, in devising means to perfect your art,
and in the meanwhile hands more active than yours rob you of your
discoveries. Peter Schoeffer, for instance, has he not made a fortune
with his impressions? and he has secured a rich wife into the bargain.
Besides,” continued the Syndic, while the other maintained an
obstinate silence, walking all the time, with long strides, backwards
and forwards in his workshop, “besides, as you grow in years, your
temper becomes so whimsical and touchy that it is next to impossible
not to lose patience with you. Recollect all the law-suits, all the
quarrels, which have disturbed your younger days, and, as we are
speaking freely to one another, tell me what have you gained by keeping
your art secret, to such an excess even that you only work with bolted
doors, and you forbid your workmen to loiter in the streets, for fear
they should be tempted to divulge your secret? These are no longer
similar times to those when you came from Strasburg, and when you
printed your first _Donat_; it was then allowable to make a mystery
of your discovery, but now that Fust and Schoeffer have publicly
established a workshop at _the Great St. Humbert_, with workmen and
apprentices from all parts of the world, when such towns of Germany as
Strasburg, Bamberg, and Frankfort, and Holland are hastening to reap
what you have sown, one asks oneself of what use it is to keep your
art concealed, as if it were the philosopher’s stone. This mystery,
instead of serving your purposes, can only be of use to your enemies
and further their interests!” Here the wise Syndic Humery was silent,
awaiting the impression that so eloquent a discourse would certainly
produce on his interlocutor, who until now had never uttered a word.
Gutenberg had taken down his cloak from the peg where it hung, and,
having covered his head with his black velvet cap, he contented himself
with saying to the Syndic, while he looked fixedly at him, “There
exists an old proverb which says that many fools are capable of asking
more questions in a breath than a wise man can answer in a whole day.”
Thereupon Gutenberg, without adding another word, passed before the
Syndic, bowing coldly, and was going out at the door, when he turned
round, “Besides, Herr Syndic, I here repeat once more that I am not,
neither do I call myself Master Gutenberg; learned Doctor, I am Herr
Gutenberg, son and descendant of an ancient noble family, and that
you ought to know better than most people.” Upon which the old man
disappeared, leaving the Syndic Humery alone in the workshop.

Unhappy man! what bitterness must have filled thy heart, when enveloped
in thy cloak, both arms crossed over thy weary breast, thou camest
forth alone in the deserted streets of Maïence! Thou didst revolve in
thy mind, doubtless, the mortifications thou hadst experienced in thy
native town, thou didst think of those for whom thou hadst worked, and
who now trampled on thee! Thy star was on the decline.

That very morning John Gutenberg had seen a copy of the magnificent
Bible recently edited by Fust and Schoeffer, and, in spite of the
secret pride of the printer, he could not deny to himself that his
pupils had surpassed him. Gutenberg belonged to that class of men of
genius, or choice spirits, destined by Providence to conceive the
grandest ideas, to attain the most wonderful discoveries, but who
are crippled in the details of execution, and incapable of drawing
any material profit from their discoveries. Peter Schoeffer, on the
contrary, reared in Paris, and trained to the intrigues of life,
was, thanks to the facility of his conception, just the man to seize
the idea of another, and to turn it to his own profit. Fust, now his
father-in-law, was wonderfully useful to Schoeffer by his practical
skill in business, and so we shall be easily believed when we assert
that our two intruders had not much difficulty in excluding from their
partnership the poor old inventor. From henceforward the sole masters
of their trade, they conducted it in a manner infinitely lucrative to

Gutenberg found this out ere long. In the year of our Lord 1460,
seeing his _Katholicon_, finished, before him, he examined it, and as
he compared in his mind the meagre, ill-formed characters with the
beautiful type of the _Psalter_ of Fust and Schoeffer, his soul was
bowed down with an overwhelming sense of inferiority, and on that
account he omitted to put his name in great letters at the end of his
work, as the others had done. He contented himself with adding on
the last page the following modest postscript:--“_This book has been
printed with the assistance of the Most High, who by one stroke of
His hand opens the mouths of babes, and who often deigns to reveal to
the humble that which He hides from the wise._” Then he added--“_The
whole was executed in the good city of Maïence, which forms a part
of the glorious German nation, which it has pleased the goodness of
God to distinguish by the light of His spirit, and the gift of His
grace, above many other nations of the earth._” A pious and touching
record from a son to his adoptive mother! grander, and above all more
patriotic than that Roman pride which forbid that even after death the
mortal remains should be restored to an ungrateful country!

If the Syndic reproached Gutenberg with making an unnecessary mystery
of his labours, the effort being useless, herein lay the cause.
Gutenberg had always professed that he never would make a trade of his
art. “Have I then,” said he, “created a new corporation, among the many
others, only that I may see the ancient escutcheon of my ancestors
suspended side by side with the vulgarest ensigns at the doors of
taverns, and of abbeys? My art belongs to me as much as to the rest
of the world; let it remain the property of intelligence, and only be
practised by those who have been initiated in it. Let others, if they
will, place themselves on a rank with the tailor, who cuts my doublet,
and the shoemaker, who sews the leather of my shoes, what I require is
something above that--it is the constant improvement of my art, it is
an independent labour, for which neither my name nor my ancestors need

Poor dreamer! thou knewest not what a serious practical thing a new
discovery becomes to its author, and the more important it is, the
more it conceals in its bosom hopes and riches for the future, the
more quickly disappears, from the memory of men, the source from
which it was derived. For human activity there exists no monopoly,
no privileges; no sooner does a new idea break forth than it becomes
public property; what the one finds, the other cultivates, he profits
by it, he improves it, it is a streamlet of blood added to the general
circulation. The name and the person of the solitary originator,
whatever may be his efforts, will soon disappear; but all that has
been denied to the man while living, becomes a debt to posterity,
which is bound in gratitude to seek out and bring to light him who has
contributed in so large a measure to art and science by his inventive
genius. That is why, O Gutenberg, on that very spot where, perhaps, on
that night thou wert looking up to heaven in deep sadness, feeling that
thy star was on the wane, thy descendants see to-day thy bronze form
casting its shadow before thee! May every one now gaze on thee, love
and admire thee!


  _Who John Gutenberg found in his dwelling when he came back to
  it, and what conversation he there held with the little Parisian._

When John Gutenberg returned he found in his humble room, besides his
faithful Beildech, a young stranger awaiting him, who hastened, when
the old man entered, to rise and salute him respectfully. Surprised
at so late an hour of the night to see a stranger, Gutenberg asked
him the motive of his visit. “Master,” replied the young man, “I come
to do homage, through you, to the great art which you exercise.”
Then he added a familiar saying, “May God bless the workshop to-day,
to-morrow, and always! who cares for its size when it is so full of
honour?” Gutenberg inclined his head good humouredly. In his present
frame of mind so untimely a visit from an apprentice seemed somewhat
inopportune to the old man; he thought himself bound, however, to bow,
and to bestow a small _denier_ in acknowledgment of the compliment.
Typographers, then only very recently in existence, had nevertheless
formed themselves into a separate body; such was the will of the
master-workers in the middle ages. The card-makers, the engravers on
wood, the image venders, had done the same for some time past in the
Low Countries, in France, and in Germany, and it is only in this manner
that we can account for the rapidity with which not only workshops,
masters, and apprentices were established on the borders of the Rhine,
and in Alsace, but that whole corporations appeared in Italy, France,
Holland, and almost all over Europe.

Beildech having placed in the young man’s hand the proffered coin, the
latter bent his head in acknowledgment. “Forgive me, gracious Master,”
he said to the old man, “but at present I am not on a walking tour,
and if I come to you it is not so much to receive a gift as to ask for
work, and to put at your disposal a pair of vigorous arms and a very
light heart.”

The frank and familiar, but yet respectful manner, of the young
stranger awakened Gutenberg’s attention. “Thou belongest not to these
parts,” he said to him, “one can tell that by thy accent.” “No, Master,
the blood which runs in my veins is only half German, my mother is
French, and I was born in Paris. I was a card-maker until the noise
of the profession of which you are the creator attracted me first to
Strasburg, then to Maïence; until now I have worked for Master Fust,
but, as he has just turned me away, I come to you.”

This information, as may be supposed, was not calculated to conciliate
the favour of his new patron for the little Parisian. Gutenberg
answered, not without a certain bitterness, “Boy, if thou dost expect
to find a well-covered table with me, and a press as easy to manage as
those which thou hast quitted, thou mayest find thyself mistaken. I do
not feed my workmen, and as for work, I have at this moment but little
to dispose of.”

The young man looked with a blank expression round the room. “Master
Gutenberg,” said he, “you will do wrong to send me away thus
discomfited, without an engagement. I know you have just dismissed two
workmen who refused to submit to your orders, and that you want help
in your workshop, weak as the help may be that I can offer you. Try
me; I am the child of honest parents, my name is Claude Musny at your
service, and I am the son of Gisquette Musny.”

Here Gutenberg’s attention seemed for a moment particularly arrested,
less, perhaps, by the name of the son than by that of his mother;
one might even have perceived a slight emotion passing over the face
of the old man as he examined more closely the features of the young
Frenchman. “Thou sayest thy mother’s name is Gisquette? Gisquette,
what a lovely name!” repeated the old man, as if to himself; then,
after a moment’s silence, he added, “Claude, I am very sorry, but the
thing is impossible, I cannot employ thee.” “In that case adieu, Master
Gutenberg, and may you prosper always, and for ever, according to
the wish of the most devoted of your disciples!” At these words the
little Frenchman seized the hand of the old man and kissed it with much
fervour, before Gutenberg had time to withdraw it.

Beildech, who during this interview had been preparing his master’s
humble couch for the night, hazarded timidly a remonstrance as he took
the cloak from Gutenberg’s shoulders. “Master Gutenberg, you ought not
to have dismissed the young man in that manner; he appeared to me a
good little fellow, and had he unloosed his tongue to you as he did to
me, I am sure you would not have sent him away, for let me tell you it
is owing to you that the poor lad is now without bread.” “Eh! why did
you not say so sooner?” “Dare one ever speak to you in the presence of
a stranger?” replied the attendant to his excited master; upon which
he related in a few words the story of the dismissal from Fust, as he
had just heard it from the little Frenchman himself. Gutenberg was
no sooner acquainted with the chain of circumstances than he rushed
to the window with the little panes framed in lead, opened it, and
began calling after the young stranger. He had not proceeded far, and
his cheeks were red with emotion as in a moment’s time he re-appeared
before the old man. Gutenberg passed his thin hand complacently through
the fair locks surrounding the happy young face. “Thou art a naughty
boy,” he said, “and more than that, thou art a simpleton for not having
told me all that thou hast suffered on my account from those tradesmen!”

“Master, you were a stranger to me, and besides, what I did was less
in honour of you than of your noble art, of which you are the sole
inventor. Was it necessary to come here and boast, in order to win
your good will? Be sure I should never have related what I did to that
_famulus_ there if it had not been to beguile over weariness, and to
kill the time, while we were both waiting your return.”

The _naïve_ candour of the young Parisian completely conquered the
heart of Gutenberg, and although midnight had long since struck, he
told Beildech to bring a jug of wine; he sat down and desired his new
apprentice to do the same. “For to-night you must, at any rate, remain
here, all the taverns are now closed, and we will manage as well as we
can. Beildech, make up a bed for the lad as you think best, but, above
all, let us have quickly something to drink! That idle talk of the
Syndic has stirred my bile, and if we drink later than usual we shall
only sleep the better for it, and to-morrow being a holiday we need not
be at the press at peep of day.”

So the master and apprentice sat side by side, clinking their goblets,
and drinking to the health and prosperity of the art of printing. Old
Beildech was obliged also to take his share, for said Gutenberg, “He,
too, deserves well of me, and of the great art of typography. Was it
not he who saved my presses in the wicked quarrel which I had with
Dritzehn, and his heirs, when they all tried to trample on me, and
would have forced my secret from me for a bit of bread? Believe me,
my son, I have endured much, and heaved many a sigh, ere I reached my
present position. Ah! when the little Herr Gutenberg came into the
world, they did not sing the song they ought to have sung around his
cradle, that would have been that he would wander from town to town,
with a pack upon his back, practising his poor trade.”

At this forlorn picture, Claude could not help laughing. “Master,”
said he to Gutenberg, “if the curiosity of a young man will not appear
indiscreet, I should like to hear you relate how the first idea of
your invention occurred to you?” At this question from the lad a grave
and sad expression crossed the old man’s face; he laid his hand on
his broad forehead, furrowed with wrinkles, and looking down into the
depths of his goblet, he answered, “My friend, in this world whatever
is best and noblest always comes alone, and of itself, without our
being able to say from whence or how--so it was with the art which I
pursue. The method of printing with boards as you do for cards, and
as others do for books, ceased to satisfy me. The step from engraved
boards to moveable types was comparatively easy. The ancients, with
their wisdom, had already long since pointed out the way, but no
attention had been paid to them. It was on looking one day at my
signet ring, that I was led to think of using moveable types. I had
amused myself with impressing on the soft wax the little pilgrim with
his cockle-shells, which has always been the armorial bearing of the
Gutenbergs of Maïence, and it was on seeing my coat-of-arms reproduced
that it occurred to me one might cut letters in wood, or in stone,
and afterwards print them. Claude, thou seest how far I still was
from the goal, and yet even then light was breaking in upon me for
the advancement of my own art, and of other branches connected with
it. If thou knowest Strasburg, I lived at that time in the Faubourg
St. Arbogaste; I will not tell thee the time and the trouble it took
to achieve the manufacture of wooden blocks, how many attempts I
made before I succeeded, and how many losses I sustained! One of the
greatest difficulties, when I had formed my characters, was to print
them. A press is apparently a very simple thing, without complication,
and yet there is an abyss of separation between a press and the brush
which was used in former days, that great pad of rag and of horse-hair,
with which one could only print one side of a page at a time, and even
that with great difficulty. It was one of my greatest vexations that I
could not find a fit instrument to hold my little wooden letters. I
could not manage to get the impression straight and even, and strong
enough to produce the engraving without seeing my letters constantly
break, and fall out of place. One day, as I was seated alone in my
workshop, a world of ideas passed through my mind, without my being
able to realize any one of them; I became prostrate with the sense of
my own weakness, and a feeling of despair, at seeing myself incapable
of success, took such possession of me that I suddenly rushed out of
doors, like a madman. I required to breathe the pure air of heaven, and
I wished to try if in the midst of quiet fields, and gentle scenes,
I might, for a few moments, forget my grief. It happened to be just
that beautiful autumn season when the hills and the gardens around
Strasburg, far and near, swarm with vintagers, young men and women
gathering the grapes. My son! man is corrupt from his earliest years,
and his heart is full of wickedness. My soul was bursting with the
blackest, vilest envy. At the sight of these poor, happy work-people, I
said to myself, each has his own place under the sun, each knows what
he has to do, and I--I alone, am condemned to be a useless, unemployed
wanderer! At this very moment, as if the Almighty wished to punish me
in his own way, for my blind rebellion, a load of grapes was thrown
just before me, under the screw of the wine-press; the machine began
working immediately for the vine-dresser. Ah! it was as if scales had
suddenly fallen from my eyes. I ran, I flew to my workshop; I worked
the whole night, in concert with my faithful Lawrence Beildech, and in
the morning, when Aurora appeared on the horizon, lighting up my poor
dwelling with her rays, I had before me a printing press, rough and
shapeless it is true, but the discovery was made! Claude, thou mayest
believe me when I say that I could also have behaved like that great
mathematician, of whom I have read somewhere, who, jumping out of his
bath where he had solved a problem, ran naked through the streets of
his native city, exclaiming, ‘I have found it! I have found it!’ Some
day, perhaps, thou mayest thyself experience these ecstasies, when,
after having long wandered in darkness, suddenly light breaks in upon
thee, a delirium seizes one, the sinner falls down on his knees to
thank God, from whom proceeds all light, that God to whom we, the
ungrateful children of earth, do not fear, in our ignorant pride, to
aspire to an equality!”

Here Gutenberg clasping both hands round his mug, raised it to his
lips, and drank a long draught. Claude had listened with _naïve_
emotion to the relation of the old man, and when he had finishing
speaking, Claude replied, in a tone of prophetic inspiration, “Master,
you have discovered and accomplished a divine work, what are all arts
in comparison of yours, with its incessant fecundity? No, no, do not
take what I say as a piece of insipid flattery, but I can only liken
your invention to an old fable which I saw represented in my joyous
city of Paris, I think they called it a Mystery; there was a hero who
if I recollect right was named Prometheus; he wished to steal fire
from heaven, to bring down a spark of it to our cold gloomy earth. You
have done as he did; may then your name, and your art, live for ever!”

Here the young man stood up and drank. Gutenberg meanwhile had with a
pensive air been shaking his head and his grey locks, his eyes fixed
before him. “Claude,” said he, “thou speakest according to thy years,
and thy imagination. Life has no shadows for thee, thy dreams have not
yet been destroyed. It is different with me. Claude, believe what I
say, I see the time coming when these little mobile letters, which I
have discovered, will become living realities; like so many serpents,
they will climb the walls of our Cathedrals, even up to the clock
towers, and they will be as gnawing worms to the old thrones of our
Emperors. Yes, these moveable letters contain also a Satanic element,
which thou dost not perceive. I have created, I have invented them, but
they cannot be otherwise than destructive. I have lighted a torch, but
let the wind and the storm arise, and shake their wings, and I warn
them that the flame will suddenly become a devouring fire, consuming
everything around it.”

Claude did not quite understand the sense in which the old prophet
uttered his denunciation. His survey only skimmed over the surface of
events, without seeking to penetrate beyond, and he was incapable of
foreseeing the inevitable consequences, the fearful re-actions which
must ensue from so wonderful a discovery. Full of love for his old
master, he repeated incessantly his congratulations to the old man
for the imperishable monument he had raised to his own name. This
even Gutenberg would not admit. He said, “My art is not like any other
art; a painter sketches his figures on the canvas, and he perfects the
creation of his thought; the same with the poet, the engraver, the
architect, and the musician; we, on the contrary, with our presses,
are only the servants of others; printing is only an instrument for
thinkers. Of what importance are the fingers which regulate the letters
in a book? Of what importance is the hand which works the press, which
arranges the pages and the leaves, which gives a visible form to the
action of the mind? Will the reader ask who has printed the book? He
will only care to know the name of him who has conceived it, written
it, which name will shine in large letters on the first page, while we
the typographers will only appear at the end in a modest paragraph,
hardly perceptible, dragged as it were in tow by the author on his
journey to immortality.”

The Master rose and moved towards the window; outside a gentle breeze
whispered to the river, to the town, and to the surrounding country,
in the stillness of the night. Gutenberg looked up with emotion to
the brilliant starlight of the heavens. “Lord,” murmured he, in a low
voice, “thou knowest the aim which I have sought, and the nature of my
work, may it all end in Thee; let my poor life, my name, be forgotten,
if such be thy will; let them be lost in the vastness of thy Infinity!”
He spoke, and disappeared in the recess of the room, where he was in
the habit of seeking repose for the night. Claude watched him with
surprise; but Lawrence Beildech, who had not listened to his beloved
Master without being moved to tears, said softly to the young man, “He
is often so--he has the heart of a child--may the Almighty have him in
His holy keeping!”


  _How two Crosiers being engaged in a quarrel, the poor people
  of Maïence were the sufferers, and Master John Gutenberg in

Perhaps, Reader, you may have happened to witness a threatening storm
enclosing the hills around with its gloomy wings, while the valley
below sleeps carelessly in the last rays of a lingering sun. The
labourers are standing outside their doors contemplating their harvest
with satisfied looks, the blue smoke curls as it rises lightly from
the chimneys; all is calm and stillness, when in one hour, only one
short hour.... Spare me, Reader, the representation of such a picture.

Never in the worst times of religious warfare had the city of Maïence
such a day to endure as that of the 23rd of October, 1462. In the
calendar it is named Simon and Jude; and one asks oneself if the people
of Maïence should mark it with a black cross in sign of mourning,
as a day really worthy of its patron Judas, or with a red cross in
commemoration of the blood which flowed in their city, and the flames
which bursting out on all sides consumed their houses. The prince
Adolfe of Nassau, in order to compel the Archbishop Diether to let go
his hold, conceived the somewhat novel expedient, (especially so, when
we reflect that it emanated from the brain of a spiritual shepherd,)
of smoking his competitor out, as bees are smoked in order to oblige
them to vacate their hives. It might have been about four hours after
midnight when a hundred of the boldest and most enterprising of the
followers of Adolfe of Nassau scaled the wall of the city at its
highest point; for, exactly on account of its height, and, above all,
of its position on the edge of the river, which bathed its feet, it
was thought peculiarly safe, and the sentinels, which were posted
elsewhere, were considered unnecessary at that spot.

To leap into the city, to put to the edge of the sword the soldiers who
kept the gates, to set fire to the nearest houses, whose inhabitants
they massacred, was for the invaders the work of a moment. When day
began to dawn the flames of these incendiary fires lighted up the
streets, the alarm bells rang, the houses resounded with cries and
lamentations, as well as with the noise of arms; a memorable spectacle
of anguish which lasted from the first rays of the morning until the
evening sun retired to rest, bathed as it were in blood, behind the
waters of the Rhine. The people defended themselves in a manner worthy
of free citizens; but, when they beheld 400 of their most valiant
colleagues lying dead in the streets, when they saw, above all, women,
young girls, and children, throwing themselves with clasped hands in
the midst of the combatants, praying for mercy from the soldiers of
Prince Adolfe, who were occupied in setting fire to the houses which
they had first pillaged, then the poor Maïençois threw away their arms
in despair, and, as so many sheep overtaken by a storm, they allowed
themselves to be conducted, without resistance, to the Grand Square of
the archiepiscopal city. There it was announced to them, on the part of
their new prince, that from that moment they were at liberty to depart,
themselves, and all who belonged to them, wherever they pleased, but
that they must leave the town without delay by any one of its numerous

I wish, Reader, you could peruse, as I have done, the ancient
Chronicles of the city of Maïence. You would therein perceive how
the old chroniclers vie with one another in lamenting unanimously
over this bloody page of the history of their city. You would read
the heartrending description of the misery of so many unfortunate
creatures, who, mortally wounded and stricken, saw themselves banished
from their hearths without the means of existence, leaving behind them
desolation and despair. How noble and just, on the other hand, is the
anger of these same chroniclers when they speak of certain cunning
citizens, who, having made a secret alliance with the Prince of Nassau,
now that there was nothing more to fear, openly paraded their assurance
in the midst of the general mourning. You might also read how one of
these honest historians in his simplicity expresses indignation against
the Archbishop Diether, who, aroused from his morning slumber by the
alarm bell, immediately clothes himself in disguise to prevent the
people from recognizing him! Forgetting, in his haste, his ring, his
cross, and his crosier, he slides down by a cord from one of the castle
windows, and jumping into a small boat, the worthy Pastor, not deigning
to cast one look behind him on his poor city in flames, follows
the course of the stream without delay. But what then! O, simple
chronicler, does that astonish thee, as if the circumstance were in any
way extraordinary, or had any right to surprise thee!

Amid this multitude escaping for its life our chief business is to look
around us, and inquire, in the universal misery, what has become of our
old acquaintances.

At the Great St. Humbert the partizans of the Prince of Nassau, we
must confess, terribly abused the right of might; they threw the
presses out of the windows, when they fell on the pavements and were
broken; in the Rue des Savetiers it literally rained alphabets, the
plunderers broke open all the chests and boxes, without finding
anything to satisfy their avidity. Of what avail was it that Master
Fust swore, with clasped hands, that he possessed nothing, that he had
given up everything; when he threatened to complain to his brother,
the Burgomaster, the richest goldsmith of the city, and one who stood
well in the books of the Archbishop Adolfe, the soldiers answered by
bursts of laughter; and on finding neither gold nor silver to carry
off, their unlettered hands seized the most valuable impressions, which
they found piled up under the framework of the roof. “This is not good
to eat,” said a long-bearded soldier of the Palatinate, “it would be
too indigestible, but after all it may serve as litter for the horses;”
and, so saying, he threw six large in-folios into his great sack, where
they disappeared as in a gulph.

The scene was even still more distressing at the house of Peter
Schoeffer, who, at the same time that he tried to inspire his new
helpmate with a little courage, entered into a violent dispute with one
of his fierce visitors. Dame Christine had retired to the furthest
end of her apartments, where on her knees, before her _prie-Dieu_, she
implored the Virgin mother of God. Schoeffer was running first into
the court-yard, trying to arrest the progress of the pillage, and then
returning to his wife bringing scraps of information, which, alas!
were anything but re-assuring. At this fearful moment an impudent
dragoon forced his way suddenly into the apartment of Dame Christine,
and looked around with savage and avaricious eyes to see what he could
seize upon. The poor woman offered trembling all she possessed in
necklaces and jewels. “Not enough,” said the robber, in a brutal tone,
and with both hands he began diving into the chests. At the bottom of
one of them the Psalter of 1457 suddenly attracted the eyes of the
soldier; less, Reader, as you will readily believe, on account of its
beautiful type, than for its silver clasps, which excited the avarice
of the Vandal. With a smile on his lips he drew out the volume. Dame
Christine, who valued the Psalter, not only as her book of devotion,
but, also, as the wedding gift of her husband, tried to dispute the
possession of it with the invader. At the cries of his wife Schoeffer
rushed into the room, snatched the book from the hands of the soldier,
who defended himself, and in trying to strike Schoeffer with the heel
of his heavy boot, he wounded him with his spur. Schoeffer struggled,
and seizing the _prie-Dieu_ hurled it with such force in the face
of his enemy that he was covered with blood, and began swearing and
howling most piteously. His fellow-soldiers ran to his assistance; they
drove Schoeffer and Christine out of their house, a merciless hand
collected the cinders and live charcoal, which were in the hearth
of the common sitting-room, and in a few moments the flames bursting
forth from every issue enveloped the entire building with their fiery
tongues, as if the malediction of the little Parisian against the house
of the printer was to be accomplished without loss of time.

The family of Fust, assembled in the court of the Great St. Humbert,
was sending up its cries to Heaven, and uttering useless imprecations
against the plunderers, who, after having pillaged and burned the
house, left the smoking ruins, to tempt fortune by proceeding further
in the work of destruction. It will not be difficult to understand
that the efforts of the workmen, who knew not to which Saint to
vow themselves, whether they ought to try and extinguish the fire,
or rather attempt to save what the flames had spared, should have
remained without much result. Neither did the neighbours, in the midst
of the general confusion, feel much disposed to come to the aid of a
man who by his haughtiness in prosperity had estranged them from him.
Fust, not knowing what he was about, tore his hair and threw it into
the flames, which were consuming his property; the Burgomaster, his
brother, too much occupied with the general distress, or, which is
more probable, completely absorbed in the care of his own concerns,
found no time to think of his own flesh and blood. In every part of
this wretched city, enemies, plunderers, and massacrers, were alone to
be seen; the gates were closed, and the entrances to private houses
carefully barricaded from the inside. Fust, incapable of giving any
orders, stood motionless watching the flames, while Christine, in
despair, hid her face in her husband’s bosom. The workmen wandered
here and there, with hands clasped, and high above their heads the fire
crackled and sparkled, the beams were swallowed up in the blaze, and in
the air paper ashes flew about, tossed in malicious play by the fresh
breeze of the morning.

To describe the impression produced by this scene would be almost
impossible. It was solitude and silence, annihilation and despair
in the midst of turmoil and clamour. At this moment a new personage
appeared on the scene. “May God and His mercy be with you all, poor
unfortunate creatures!” said the new comer, in a tone of compassion at
once deep and sincere. If we add that instead of thanks the speaker
was only answered by cold recognitions, and met by eyes from whence
flashed hatred and defiance, every one will guess that it was John
Gutenberg, who, with his knapsack on his back, his pilgrim’s staff in
his hand, and his doublet tucked up for a journey, had just entered the
court-yard of the Great St. Humbert.

It was indeed he, and Fust, glad to find some one on whom to vent
his anger, hurled these words at him, accompanied by looks as fiery
as the flames which were consuming his house. “Man--what brings you
here? Are you come to feast your eyes on the sight of our misery, or,
perhaps, to beg your bread from beggars?” The person so offensively
addressed, contented himself with shaking his head gently, and without
even looking at Schoeffer, who at the sight of Gutenberg had turned
away, taking Dame Christine with him. “I imagined,” said the old man,
“that at such a time of universal suffering you would, doubtless, have
forgotten our little former quarrels, and if I come it is to learn your
fate, anxious to hold out a hand of succour, if such is in my power. I
have already lost all recollection that we parted in anger, and hope
that I may still have the means of showing my interest in a house in
which I worked for so many years with you and your son-in-law.” Fust,
for all answer, replied, “You see there is nothing left to be done
here, or to be carried away, we are all ruined like yourself.”

“Master,” replied Gutenberg, “let there be an end of all petty
jealousy. I am not in a better condition than you are; the partisans of
Nassau have done what they listed at the Syndic’s house; my presses are
broken, my alphabets scattered, nothing is left but the bare house and

Schoeffer had in the meanwhile re-entered, and, taking part in the
conversation, said with bitterness to his former patron, “Well, most
worthy sir, you, it appears to me, have only cause for increased
tranquillity; is it not well known that you possess no actual right in
your presses, and that you only continue your profession at the risk
and peril of the Syndic?” At this unfeeling speech one might have seen
a vivid colour mount up in the face of the old man. “It is true, it is
as you say,” replied he; “but who ought to know better than yourself
the cause of my misfortunes? I do not mourn over the little I may have
lost, my only regret is to see my work interrupted; time and bodily
strength are wearing away, two things of which an old man may well be
covetous, that is my sorrow, for who knows when, or where, the Master
may find a place in which to set up once more his compositor’s table?”

“Do you still think then,” said Fust, in a depressed tone, “that it
will ever be possible to re-establish a printing-house? Yours and mine
were the two first, believe me, they will be the two last. Every one
will avoid in future the revival of a profession on which the curse
of heaven so evidently rests. You and I to be so completely ruined!
O cursed be the hour when you first crossed my threshold, when by
enticing words you persuaded me to join in the work of Satan! May it
pass away for ever, and vanish like the smoke issuing from my house,
and come to nothing, like this calcined plank on which rested the first
printing press!”

A loud crash served as an accompaniment to this terrible wish. The
yard, and the street in which it stood were buried under the fragments,
the dust, the cinders, and the burning timber. One workman disappeared
under the avalanche, the others ran away with loud cries. Schoeffer
carried his weeping wife far from this scene of desolation; the old
Fust and Gutenberg remained alone in the midst of the ruin. The former
with both hands over his eyes had fallen almost to the ground on his
trembling knees. Gutenberg, on the contrary, as if renewed with the
vigour of youth, stood erect, and laying his hand on the shoulder of
his antagonist, he addressed the following words to him, in a tone of
inspired prophecy. “O you of little faith, who think because the temple
is in flames that the Divinity must also burn! That which happens now
happens justly, for your labour has been far less for the sake of your
art, and its progress, than for your own personal interest. I tell
you, Master Fust, this art, of which you despair, shall be eternal as
the word which created it is great in the sight of men; and it is as
little likely to perish in the flames of your dwelling, as the heavens
are likely to perish which you see stretched out so far above you, in
their blue stillness and beauty! Behold, Master Fust, your workshop is
empty, your workmen are dispersed--reflect on what I say! Fate, sitting
above your head bowed down with grief, scatters the ashes of your books
to the four winds of heaven; well, by the very fact of the suspension
of our work, and banishment from our hearths and homes, our art will
extend itself to the farthest corners of the world. Let then all burn
that can burn, O Fust! The art of printing is a Phœnix which will
rise from its ashes and cover the whole world with its wings!”


  _The Lord Archbishop Adolfe of Nassau having bethought him of
  John Gutenberg, the printer, causes a search to be made for him
  by one of his horsemen, who finds him in a fisherman’s hut._

In the district of the Rheingau, on the right-hand side of the great
river, some miles below Maïence, is a little town to which, in the
present day, is given two different names, according to fancy; it is
sometimes called Eltvil or Elfeld. When those smoking Leviathans, the
steamboats, pass roaring before the modest houses of Eltvil, the sound
of the silvery bell has scarcely echoed in the air, when a little
boat, carrying a white and red flag, is unmoored and cuts swiftly
through the water. It arrives alongside, the passengers mount the large
vessel, but the tourists, strutting up and down the deck, scarcely
condescend to cast even a vacant look on their new fellow-travellers.
And why should they? Of what importance to the fair daughter of Albion,
reclining on one of the benches, is the graceful Rheingau peasant,
who, with her basket on her arm, and her knitting in her hand, mounts
silently the side of the boat, and after addressing her parting adieus
to her friends, male and female, whom she leaves on the bank, goes
quietly and takes her seat on a rustic wooden stool.

It is at Eltvil that we shall take up again the thread of our story,
which was so abruptly broken by the incendiary of Maïence. Three years
have passed since that event, three cruel years to the poor inhabitants
of the Rhine country. Gutenberg has resumed, as before, his pilgrim’s
staff. Claude Musny walks in front in charge of the light baggage of
the little caravan, and this joyous child of a light-hearted nation,
thanks to his gaiety, which neither privations nor contrarieties can
reach, has it often in his power to bring back moments of forgetfulness
and serenity to the old man. Lawrence Beildech, inseparable from his
master, walks by his side, sometimes supporting Gutenberg’s faltering
steps, and when necessary coming to the assistance of his failing

What a caravan, and what a journey; and what thoughts must have passed
through the mind of the chief actor and guide when he reflected,
especially on that first occasion of his flight in this very same
direction--a flight then resembling that of an eagle soaring from its
nest! Beildech carefully avoided every word which might recal those
days to his Master; but one evening when our travellers had halted on
a hill overlooking the Rhine, Gutenberg broke the general silence by
saying, with much sadness, “Dost thou recollect, my good Beildech,
how in the year --20 we travelled this road together? I proudly on
horseback, a boasting young aristocrat, just like all the rest,
thinking myself quite equal to the Furstenberg, the Volksberg, the
Gelthuss, the Humbert, canst thou not see me now with my fine floating
feather fastened to my velvet cap, and my slashed doublet covered with
an abundance of ribbon? Ah, Lawrence, how handsome it was! and how
merrily we passed by on the road heavily mounted cavaliers sent by the
abbots and the citizens, so desirous were we to be the first to salute
the Emperor Rupert; and, afterwards, when we were far away, how the
people of Maïence came and attacked our houses....”

“Ah! those were good old times,” said Beildech, sighing and shaking his

“Yes, thou art right; they were happy times,” replied Gutenberg. “Alas!
when will our weary pilgrimage and our sorrows come to an end?” At
these words, which fell with some bitterness from his lips, the noble
old man fixed his gaze on the glorious setting sun, whose brilliant
rays surrounded his thinly covered head, and his pale sorrow-stricken
face. One might have said that they wished to form a luminous martyr’s
crown around him.

Gutenberg did not speak without reason of his trials, for during three
successive years the little caravan had wandered along the Rhine, now
descending, now re-mounting it, and our three travellers had arrived
in this manner as far as Strasburg, where Gutenberg wished to remain,
hoping in that city to meet with old friends. He knocked on all sides,
but found only closed hearts or fastened doors. No one cared about
typography; the sacking of Maïence had dispersed crowds of fugitive
workmen to all parts of the Rhine country, and printers were in such
especial abundance, that there seemed no opening anywhere for the
old man. To place himself under the orders of another was what the
Master could not make up his mind to do. Gutenberg wished for his own
workshop, and to work at his own hours, even though his purse should
remain scantily furnished.

At the end of three years the peregrinations of the caravan came
to an abrupt termination; a termination which it certainly did not
seek or desire. Gutenberg fell suddenly dangerously ill. It was with
difficulty that his companions procured him shelter and a lodging with
a boatman, who possessed, on the left bank of the Rhine, opposite the
rich and powerful convent of Erbach, a hut where he earned a scanty
livelihood, partly by fishing, partly by the profits he made in
carrying over pilgrims in his little boat to the monastery. It was here
that Gutenberg was obliged to remain, overcome by sickness. The place
suited him inasmuch as it was removed from the haunts of men, which
the old man, soured by grief and depressed by misfortune, endeavoured,
every day more and more, to avoid; the hut, which was buried in the
vine-branches, overlooked the Rhine, whose waters almost bathed its

It is thus that, in the year of Our Lord Jesus 1465, John Gutenberg,
the inventor of the art of printing, was laid up under this wretched
roof, a prey to sickness, forgotten and forsaken by mankind. The most
trying season of the year had found him still travelling; fatigue,
illness, grief, disappointment of every kind, had overpowered the old
man, and it was on this account that his two companions watched with
so much anxiety and anguish by the side of their master’s pallet. They
shared between them the care of the sufferer, and while Claude Musny
went about here and there offering his services to the vine-dressers,
and the monks of the convent, Beildech remained in attendance on his
master. Occasionally, at rare intervals, a monk of Erbach, expert
in the art of healing, crossed the water, at the earnest entreaty of
Claude, to visit the infirm old man, whose ordinary physician was a
shepherd of the neighbourhood, who, by means of potions and prayers,
vainly endeavoured to restore vitality to an existence already worn out.

On one of the last evenings of the autumn of this same year, Beildech
and the young Frenchman sat by Gutenberg’s couch watching his restless
and feverish sleep. Outside, the night was dark and gloomy; the waters
of the Rhine, swollen by the rain, beat against the walls of the hut,
and a sharp wind which blew down in squalls from the hills shook the
framework of the miserable dwelling. The sick man had been suffering
all day; he complained of a burning heat in his head, especially in
his eyes, and Beildech had observed with uneasiness his uncertain and
hesitating hold of the porringer when put into his hand. Claude sat
silent at the foot of the bed, and every time that Gutenberg moved or
moaned the shepherd began muttering unintelligible prayers. Beildech
stood at the window listening to the noise of the river and the wailing
of the wind.

The hut when Gutenberg awoke was in profound darkness. In a faint voice
he asked for a light. Beildech went out and lighted a resinous torch,
which he placed in an iron ring in the wall, fastened there for the
purpose, and close to Gutenberg’s bed. The latter hearing the door
creak on its hinges lifted himself up. “A light--light!” said he; then
again, after a short pause, he added in an impatient tone, “Is there
then no one here who will condescend to grant the favour of a light to
an old man, to while away the tedious hours of darkness?”

Beildech, trembling from head to foot, drew the young Frenchman quickly
to the other side of the bed. “Beloved Master,” he said, “be so good as
to turn and to open your eyes, the torch is in its usual place.”

“I tell thee thou liest,” said Gutenberg angrily, “is not everything
here as dark as in a tomb? Claude, my son, answer me--where art thou?”

He whom he called was close to his master’s head, he shuddered as he
bent down towards him. “Here I am,” he said, in a low voice, taking
hold affectionately of his master’s hand; but the latter pushed him
away, and stretching out his arm towards the torch he laid hold of it,
and brought it close to his eyes. He could no longer see it!

With a cry of despair, and burying in his hands those eyes from which
the light was for ever shut out, Gutenberg threw himself back on his
pallet. “I understand you,” he said to his two companions, who were
sobbing aloud, “but I cannot see you. I smell the odour of the resin,
but its flame no longer penetrates the darkness which envelopes me. O
miserable man that I am! Alas, I am afflicted like Tobias, but Tobias
without a son!”

After the first burst of despair, silence once more reigned in the
hut. The shepherd, who, in this respect, much resembled the doctors of
our own days, when he was at a loss what more to do, slunk noiselessly
away. The young Frenchman, quite overcome with grief, was on his knees
by the side of the bed, while Beildech, the torch in his hand, held
it close to the eyes of the old man, as if he sought by this means to
restore the light which was quenched for ever.

Such was the picture presented by the interior of the hut, when the
sound of an approaching horse came suddenly to relieve the solitude of
our poor sufferers. Beildech was just opening the window to listen,
when the fisherman ushered in a horseman wet to the skin, and covered
with mud. “Here,” said the boatman, “behold him of whom you are in

The horseman bent his tall figure as he entered the low door of the
dwelling. “He whom I seek,” said he to Beildech, who advanced gloomily,
“is called John Gutenberg, and he is from Maïence.”

The old man, hearing his name pronounced by a stranger, sat up to
listen, and motioned to his attendant to be silent. His pride revolted
at the idea of being discovered in such an abode; turning towards the
door from whence the voice proceeded, he said rather roughly to the
horseman, “And who told you to come and seek that noble gentleman here
in this wretched hut? Pass on, my friend, and leave honest people to
rest in peace.”

“That is a pity,” said the cavalier, casting a doubtful look at the
sick man, “yes, it is a great pity that such good news should meet with
so rude a reception. He to whom my message is addressed will doubtless
receive me with more politeness.”

“Are you quite sure of that?”

“I think so at least,” said he, drawing from under his doublet a roll
of parchment. “Here is what I bring from our worthy Lord Archbishop--a
letter which could not fail to rejoice the old gentleman if I could
only put it into his hands. I have been for weeks on his track, and
only yesterday the reverend fathers of Erbach sent me here.”

At these words Lawrence and Claude, in whose face a sanguine curiosity
was clearly legible, approached the cavalier. “If you could make up
your mind,” said Lawrence, pointing silently to his master, “to leave
your message with us, I will answer for it, on my head, that it could
not fall into better hands, for the retreat of the noble John Gutenberg
is perfectly well known to us.” “Well then,” replied the horseman, who
was not slow to understand, “I agree to that readily,” and he placed
the scroll in the old man’s hands. “For my part I am glad to be at last
released from my troublesome commission, and if the boatman will take
me across the river to-night, I can at any rate reach Eltvil, where my
most gracious master, the Archbishop Adolfe, whom God preserve, has
fixed his residence.”

The spurs of the horseman were still resounding on the threshold
when Claude seized the scroll out of Gutenberg’s hands, and hastily
approaching the resinous torch, he took a rapid survey of the missive
from which hung, in a case, the great seal of wax of the Archbishop.

“Master,” cried he, falling on his knees, with a joyous exclamation,
“it is when our distress is at its height that our Lord is nearest to
us!” And his tears, which were no longer of sorrow but of joy, and his
kisses, covered the old man’s hands.

“Peace, peace, young scatter-brain!” said Gutenberg, who could,
however, with difficulty control his own emotion. “What can this
missive contain capable of thus exciting our little Frenchman?”

“Deliverance for you, O my Master!” repeated Claude, in a tone of
jubilee, and he gave the parchment back to Gutenberg, whose trembling
fingers wandered over the ribbon and the seal. Claude had forgotten
that the old man was no longer able to read it; Beildech was obliged
to recall the fact to him. Claude then retook the scroll, and began
deciphering with some difficulty, and many interruptions from the sobs
of Lawrence, this document, a precious relic, which we here re-produce
in the simple language of those times.

“_We Adolphe the elected Lord and installed Archbishop_ of Maïence,
do recognize by this present, that we have accepted, as useful and
agreeable to our person, the services rendered to us by our dear
and faithful John Gutenberg, that is why, excited to this act by
the especial grace of God, we have chosen and elected him for our
servant, worthy of forming one of our court. Not permitting ourselves,
nor wishing for the term of his life, to deny him our good offices;
hoping that for our service he may recover himself, we grant him each
year, when we clothe our community, vestments after the fashion of our
gentlemen; and shall cause to be given to him the dress of our court,
and every year twenty bushels of wheat, and two tuns of wine, for the
use of his household; and for that the said Gutenberg shall have no
temptation to sell or to give these away, the aforesaid bushels of
wheat and tuns of wine shall have free entrance, and exemption from
duty, in this our city of Maïence, for as many years as the said
Gutenberg shall live, and so long as he shall remain our servant. In
testimony whereof we despatch him this present.”

The scroll of parchment fell from the hands of the reader, and it was a
touching sight to see the old Lawrence pressing the right hand of his
beloved master, while, with uplifted face towards heaven, he murmured,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!”

As for Gutenberg, pale and motionless on his pallet, a few stray tears
wandered down his cheeks on to his grizzled beard, but not a muscle of
his face, or a movement of his body, denoted that life still existed
within him; but when his two faithful companions tried each to lay hold
of one of his hands, he put them gently aside, sobs escaped him, and he
said, shaking his head, “It is too late, these eyes can no longer see
anything, they can only weep!”

We who have come into the world four centuries later, and who,
according to a pompous inscription, _aere per totam Europam collato_,
which signifies, by means of subscriptions raised throughout all
Europe, let monuments be erected upon monuments, at Maïence, at
Strasburg, at Gernsheim, at Haarlem, and Heaven knows where else, in
honour of the art and its inventor, why do we not rather enclose in
the pedestal of the statue a fragment of the parchment bearing the
old document? And thou, fair Reader, whose only thought is rapture at
the intellect diffused throughout the album of Gutenberg, and you,
successors and disciples of the great Master, who build palaces for
your printing-works, and lastly, you spectators who think that 10,000
crowns spent upon a festival ought not to weigh too heavily in the
budget of a town, recollect him who was the originator, and is still
the hero; he owed it to the bounty of a generous prince that he
received annually twenty bushels of wheat and two tuns of wine!

But here let us be silent, for, Reader, you doubtless recollect a
certain old proverb which says, “_Vieille chanson vieille histoire!_”


  _Death of John Gutenberg. Reader, pray for the repose of his
  soul: his poor remains sleep in an unknown tomb._

History, in transmitting to us the decree of Adolfe of Nassau, has
provided us with a proof of the liberality of this Prince of the
Church, but she remains silent when we inquire by what services
Gutenberg could have drawn upon himself such favours. Some authors
pretend that the old man, being a secret partisan of Nassau, had
assisted in the surprise of his native town; the solitude in which
Gutenberg lived, and his distaste for all political affairs, do not
allow us, for a moment, to entertain such a supposition. For our part
we would rather conclude that the Archbishop, after having taken
violent possession of the capital, bethought him of this one of its
children. Accident had doubtless brought back to the memory of the
prince the poor houseless inventor of an art which at that time was
making much noise. Why should we seek an explanation for that which
unaccounted for appears to me far nobler and more humane?

The Archbishop held his court at Eltvil. That town must have been more
thickly inhabited, and of more importance then than it is at present.
The great castle of Eltvil had not yet been the victim of the flames
of France, and the Archbishop Adolfe, not placing as yet entire
confidence in the hearts and fidelity of the sheep of his flock, had
hesitated to establish his residence in Maïence itself. It was then
towards Eltvil that John Gutenberg directed his steps, supported by
his faithful Claude, and accompanied by Lawrence Beildech. He was no
longer a wandering Belisarius; but he was not the less a poor blind
old man, whom the liberality of his prince had sought out too late,
and whose existence could not be re-animated by the tardy favours of a
court. Reader, spare me the recital of that scene where the sightless
old man entered the archiepiscopal residence to render his thanks in
person to his powerful patron. At the sight of that tall figure, so
cruelly bent with age and infirmities, the prelates, full to repletion
and florid with health, asked each other in low tones, “Is that then
the man who teaches the art of printing?” We do not consider that
these words convey any very lively or deep sympathy with the great
discoverer of so immense a work on the part of the wearers of stoles
and of armour. After so many trials and misfortunes, Heaven only
granted a few short years to the old man, wherein to enjoy his modest
competency. He appeared--forgive me, Reader, for the comparison, I
allow it is somewhat stale--like the setting sun bursting through a
veil of clouds before him, in order to disappear, a moment afterwards,
in solitary grandeur and majesty behind the distant hills. Gutenberg
could no longer see this fine sun rising and setting on the Rheingau,
but now and then, nevertheless, he wandered, guided by his two faithful
companions, to the banks of the great river, and sat down to listen
to its gentle undulation as it flowed. Few words now escaped his
lips; those lips, alas! which had been so steeped in bitterness that
they could scarcely taste the honey of his latter days, and under the
impression of great sorrow remained incessantly sealed.

It was thus that the year 1466 passed away to our three friends, who
still remained faithful to their retreat; the season of Spring had
begun to revive the earth with its first warm breath. Gutenberg, then
seventy years of age, was standing one morning at the window of the hut
while his young companion trained the vine-branches which covered the
wall of the humble abode like tapestry. Scraps of songs and ballads
followed each other merrily from the lips of the lively Parisian.
Gutenberg, probably, understood them but little; Claude’s clear voice,
however, pleased him.

At this juncture the young man heard himself called violently by his
master. He hastily put down his pruning-knife, and ran to the door of
the hut, where he found Gutenberg, who, by the help of his stick, was
trying to come to him. “Thy song,” said he, in a trembling voice, “thy
last song, repeat it to me.” Claude looked at his master with surprise,
and began to sing afresh--

  _“Soir et matin, filles, n’allez follettes
   “Quierre és gazons derraines violettes.”_

Gutenberg hardly gave the singer time to pronounce these few words when
he drew him violently towards him, and pressed him to his heart. “Young
man,” said he, “from whom hast thou learnt that song?” “My mother
taught it to me,” replied Claude, “in my childhood, while I played with
small quoits on the Place de Grève.” Here the old man remained for a
moment in deep thought; presently he said, “Seest thou, Claude, thou
art an honest lad, and by thy fidelity thou hast merited my confidence.
This song touched my heart, because it brought back to me the last
word, the last sound of the voice of one whom I loved, dearly loved;
since then how many years have passed away! I shall never hear that
voice again, alas! never as in days gone by!”

Gutenberg, overcome by his emotion, was silent, and it was as well,
perhaps, that he did not see the agitation in which his words had
thrown the young man. “Now, Claude,” said he, after a pause, “go,
return to thy vine, but thou must sing that song to me once every
evening, dost thou hear? Give me thy hand, child.” Claude held it out.
“Thou tremblest; tell me, what ails thee?” asked Gutenberg, in a tone
of mistrust, not uncommon to the blind. “Nothing, Master.” “But I will
know the reason of thy agitation; thy hand burns.” “Well, because you
tell me that you have confidence in me, and at the same time you hide
from me the cause of your grief!”

Claude had uttered these last words with anguish, almost in the tone
of a suppliant who hastens to seize the favourable moment. Gutenberg
turned away, and after a somewhat prolonged silence, he said, in a low
voice, to the young Frenchman--“Claude, a countrywoman of thine once
sang that song to me in bidding me adieu--a good girl, who had a noble
heart--her name was the same as thy mother’s; thou sayest thy mother’s
name is Gisquette.” The old man hid his face in his hands, while
Claude, falling at Gutenberg’s feet, embraced his knees, murmuring,
“My father, my father! Do you not guess? She who sang that song was my

A cry escaped from Gutenberg; his stick fell from his hand; the
sightless eyes seemed to seek the face of the young man at his knees.
“It is false,” he said; “have pity on me--O tell me not an untruth!”

“By the quenched light of those eyes, which I love, by the heart of
Gisquette, I speak the truth. I am thy son, and she was my mother!”
Claude uttered these words with all the vivacity of a Frenchman.
Gutenberg answered not, his bosom heaved painfully--one could see the
struggle between mistrust and the wish to believe. “But why----” asked
he. “Father,” replied Claude, who perceived at once what was passing
in Gutenberg’s mind, “dost thou not yet understand the nature of my
mission, why I presented myself to thee, why I followed thee, how it
is that I have ended by loving thee as I do, even to adoration? And
dost thou not guess how I was bound by my mother, by a solemn oath,
never to utter a single word that could recall her to thy memory, until
thou thyself hadst in some manner named her?--‘Be, if it must be so,
his most humble attendant, for he is thy father; and if thou findest
Gutenberg in prosperity, which I pray Heaven he may be, and he has
forgotten the days at Aix-la-Chapelle, oh, do not invoke the shade of
poor Gisquette to place it between him and happiness! But if he is in
trouble he will of himself think of me; then fall at his feet, kiss the
ground he treads on, and say to him, Be comforted, it is _she_ who
sends thy son to thee!’”

“Enough, enough, by the Holy Saviour, enough!” cried Gutenberg,
straining in his arms the young man who still knelt before him. “Yes,
it is she herself! I recognize her in those words, my son! my child!”

A thunderbolt would not have separated those two men clasped together.
The old man, although unable to look upon the son who had been given
to him, uttered no complaint; his lips, his hands, his arms, were as
so many eyes to him. “Before I knew,” said Gutenberg, “the treasure
I possessed in thee, I recollect tracing in the frank and amiable
expression of thy face something of my Gisquette.”

When they had recovered themselves a little from their first emotion,
Gutenberg became sufficiently calm to speak to Claude of his mother.
He could not see the eyes of the young man raised to heaven, but, in
the outburst of grief with which he threw himself into his father’s
arms--“I understand,” he said; “she awaits me there--above!”

Lawrence Beildech, on his return from the fields, found the old man and
Claude still sitting happily side by side. “Lawrence,” cried Gutenberg,
whose step he had recognized, “Lawrence, I have found a son!”

Beildech received this information with much surprise, and Claude,
less to justify his allegations than to furnish a tangible proof to
the old servant, drew from his trunk a little polished metal mirror,
ornamented on one side with a figure sculptured on the border. “Tell
the master, Beildech, what figure it is you see behind this mirror.” “A
Holy Virgin, her heart pierced with three swords, carrying in her arms
the infant Jesus, crucified.” “And is there not engraved underneath,”
said Gutenberg, eagerly, “_Ecce mulier filium tuum?_ O give, give me
that mirror, it was my gift to Gisquette the first time I saw her, in
the square of the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle,” and Gutenberg, seizing
this relic of happier days, pressed it to his lips.

The very hour when he placed this mirror in a beloved hand, the whole
of that period of his life came before Gutenberg at this moment; it
was a ray of sunshine lighting up for an instant the snow of the
glacier. A little later the old man related to his newly found son as
follows:--“It was in the year 1440, at the time when all Christian
Europe made a pilgrimage to the ancient and celebrated city of
Aix-la-Chapelle, a holy visit as it was called which was paid every
seven years to the wonderful relics of the cathedral, that I lived at
Strasburg in the Rue St. Arbogaste, my mind fully occupied with my art,
but not having yet succeeded in accomplishing anything worth speaking
of. At that time thou knowest, Lawrence, I lived somewhat poorly. For
a long while I had received no help from Maïence, and the heritage of
my forefathers was all exhausted in the various experiments which I
had made, and which I had hoped would turn to good account and place
me in a position to carry out my one idea. I was just in the meridian
of life, and it became necessary that I should follow a more lucrative
trade. I began polishing mirrors and stones; I engraved images and
ornaments on wood; and I associated myself with those Strasburgers who
afterwards treated me so ill, André Dritzehn, Heilmann, and others.

“A year or so might have elapsed since we commenced business together;
they furnished the funds, I supplied the implements, and taught the
trade to my partners to the best of my power. We promised ourselves a
rich harvest from our pilgrimage to Aix-la-Chapelle, where people were
arriving from all parts of the world.

“The French braggart with his page behind him smartly equipped, the
proud Spaniard, the beautiful veiled Venetian women, and others from
all parts of Italy. We naturally hoped to make much profit by our
merchandize. Another reason contributed to detach me from Strasburg. I
had been for some time betrothed to a young Alsatian named _Enel of the
iron gate_. I thought seriously of carrying her with me to my native
town, enamoured as I was of her black eyes and fine elastic figure;
Providence and the parents of Enel decided otherwise. I like to suppose
that she was innocent of the transaction, for she was an honest girl,
who loved me with all her heart, only, said malicious tongues, she
was somewhat frivolous in character, and more attached to the things
of this world than was quite consistent in a Christian, especially in
a German. Enel’s parents had nothing to say against my mode of life,
except that they could have wished my energies to be bestowed upon
some profession more worthy in their eyes, and they could not console
themselves when they saw me incessantly tied to my beloved workshop,
bending over my books, and only thinking of my experiments. The father
considered my tastes very vulgar, and said that, unless I altered for
the better, he, for his part, should not have much pleasure in giving
his daughter to an idle fellow, a dreamer like me. He was a rich man,
well-born, and much respected in Strasburg. It may easily be supposed
that from that day I never crossed his threshold. I had attained my
fortieth year in all honour and respectability, and I had no wish to
exchange my profession for that of a clerk, scratching for ever, like
a cat, with a pen in my hand. No, no, let others who like it undertake
that sort of trade!

“I felt some regret in renouncing the young girl, although time very
soon taught me that in fact she had never possessed a deep hold on my
affections; so this journey to Aix-la-Chapelle during the pilgrimage
seemed to me to happen very _à propos_. In the month of June,
Dritzehn, Heilmann, Voigt, Niffe, and I, started, accompanied with
two strong beasts of burden laden with our stones, our mirrors, and
our images of the saints. We were full of joyful anticipation and had
only one fear, that our horses were not in sufficient condition to
carry back the large stock of money which we calculated upon making at
Aix-la-Chapelle; we declined taking the route by water as we hoped to
exhibit a good deal of our merchandize along the road.

“Do not ask me to describe the crowd, the floating masses which we
found extending even beyond the walls of the holy city. My memory
cannot recall the scenes, which my eyes, now closed to the light,
witnessed in those days. Every street, every square, was crammed with
pilgrims, natives of the country or foreigners, nobles, and plebeians,
the healthy and the infirm. At night they encamped before the gates, in
little wooden huts, or under canvas ornamented with branches of pine,
from which gleamed thousands of lighted tapers. Early in the morning,
as soon as the saintly processions began to move, you should have
seen them pressing towards the doors of the Cathedral, to touch with
quivering lips the revered shrine, or to offer to the Virgin Mother of
God, the one a taper, the other a chalice, others only their tears,
and their silent prayers. When the bells had ceased ringing the shops
and the booths opened on all sides, then Jews and Christians vied with
each other in their cries. Quacks, ballad singers, foot-soldiers, might
be seen elbowing silken doublets, Cardinals’ hats, and the cloaks of
princes; the sick plunged their aching limbs into the hot springs;
those who thought themselves cured offered a silver heart, or a leg
of wax to the Virgin; fops walked in the crowd with their mistresses,
soldiers played with dice on their drums, monks, carrying the crucifix
and the banner, accompanied funeral processions, and here and there
might be seen an occasional mask. My head becomes bewildered even in
thinking of those things, and I seem to have again in my ears the
incessant uproar of that immense crowd. I was then in the full vigour
of my manhood, nothing discomposed me; on the contrary, I was ever
seeking fresh excitement. In the same manner in which a fish swims in
sparkling running water, so I rushed into the middle of this human
stream, looking into everything, shouting with those who shouted, and
those who obliged me to take my rapier in my hand were soon convinced
that the descendant of the nobles of Maïence was not making his first
essay in arms.

“I did not understand much about commerce, so at least said my
comrades; at night when we shared our profits it often appeared to me
that they had taken a tithe out of mine. I mentioned my suspicions,
for in fact it was necessary that I should get something out of the
purse, to enable me to live, and I had plenty of time to meditate on my
prospects, and to give myself up to work.

“I had been three days at Aix-la-Chapelle. As I stood one morning at
the booth where André Dritzehn exposed his mirrors”--(here, Reader,
as he stretched out his hands to touch Claude’s head, you might have
seen a faint colour reddening the cheeks of the old man,)--“among the
curious who surrounded us, admiring our mirrors polished like steel,
was a young girl, who, being suddenly pushed back rudely by the crowd,
had only time to cast one rapid glance at our treasures. Her eyes
pleased me so much that I said, ‘Try to come forward, little one.’
She did not seem to know that I was addressing her. I repeated my
invitation; she did not yet understand me; I tried to take her hand;
she drew it quickly away. ‘I am not a German,’ said she, blushing, ‘I
am French, from the Faubourg St. Antoine, Paris; if you happen ever to
have been there.’ I was obliged to confess, laughing, that I had not.
Although I did not understand much of the language spoken by the young
girl, I gathered sufficient to be able to answer her. ‘Pretty child,’
I said, ‘wilt thou not buy one of our mirrors?’ ‘Alas! no, sir.’ ‘Thou
art in the wrong there, when one has a pretty face like thine, one
ought to possess such a piece of furniture.’ Talking in this manner, I
placed my hand under her chin, and obliged her to lift up her exquisite
face, which till now had been held downwards. She looked at me with
her large eyes half supplicating, half reproachfully, then she tried
to disengage herself. I held her fast, and placing one of our best
mirrors before her, that very one now in your hand--‘Well,’ I said,
‘look then at yourself, little unbeliever.’ A cry of surprise escaped
her finely-cut mouth when she saw her blushing face reflected in the
polished metal; never before probably had the view been so complete;
her beauty seemed to strike her for the first time. I pressed her to
buy the mirror, she hesitated; one saw how much she wished to possess
it; but all at once she put it quickly down on the bench, ‘I will
not,’ she said, and suddenly disappeared in the crowd. I followed her.
Our stall was in the square of the Cathedral; I rejoined the fugitive
close to the church. ‘Why wilt thou not have it?’ ‘Sir--’ ‘Speak to me
without fear.’ ‘Because I have no money to pay for your mirror. Look!
here is a denier, the only one left; it is destined for the purchase of
two ivory hands, which my mother presents to the Virgin full of grace,
as a thank-offering for her cure.’

“The filial love of the young girl, which spoke even more eloquently in
her eyes than in her words, touched me deeply. I questioned her about
her mother, her country, and her name. She told me with simplicity
that her name was Gisquette, and that she came from the Faubourg St.
Antoine, in the great city of Paris, where I should certainly not have
gone in search of this little pure unspotted flower. She added that
a vow taken by her mother had brought them to Aix-la-Chapelle, with
her brother James, in order to present an offering to the Virgin, in
acknowledgment of her old mother’s wonderful cure.

“‘How dost thou expect to reach home?’ I then asked her; ‘how wilt thou
make the long journey, thou who art only a poor girl without means, for
in that denier which thou hast shown me consists thy whole fortune?’
‘Sir,’ replied she, with the careless gaiety of her nation, ‘I shall
go back as I came. Brother James is very clever; he can relate stories
on the road, he will sing tales of the Trouvères, and I shall accompany
him on my lute. In this manner we enter the convents, and the houses
of hospitality, of which, thank God and his saints, there is no want.
Brother James,’ said she, with a sister’s pride, ‘has already sung
here in Aix-la-Chapelle before great lords and princes, at home he is
well known in all the neighbourhood. Once when a grand mystery was
performed in the large Hall he acted the part of Mercury, and had on
his shoulders two large wings of gauze, which I made for him myself.
I assure you he looked very handsome, and recited his fine verses

“Need I tell you, O my dear companions, how immediately my heart felt
attracted towards this young girl? I led her back to our booth, and
giving her the mirror which a moment before she had so coveted.--‘Take
it, my child,’ I said, ‘and keep it in remembrance of this hour, as
well as of the friend thou hast gained by thy filial piety.’ For some
time she refused to accept it, and as André, who kept the stall that
day, began reproaching me for giving away our goods, instead of selling
them, she returned me the mirror, saying, ‘Thank you, my kind sir! it
shall never be said that you were brought into trouble by the vanity of
a poor girl.’

“If the avaricious speech and sentiment of Heilmann had sent the colour
to my cheeks, this sad refusal on the part of Gisquette put the climax
to my irritation. Unloosing my purse angrily from my waistband, I
threw down on the bench the value of the mirror, which I laid hold of
with one hand, while with the other I forced my way through the crowd
with the young girl, and drew her to some distance from the place.

“Claude, we spent seven days together, Gisquette and I, in
Aix-la-Chapelle, seven whole days, days of happiness, which will never
be effaced from my memory. I followed Gisquette like her shadow; she,
poor child, out of her pure simple heart vowed to me, unworthy as I
was, her first love. At the end of that time we parted ... never to
meet again ... and to-day....”

John Gutenberg was silent. Again he pressed to his heart the son of
Gisquette, that son whom he had just found. Claude had but little to
add to complete his father’s story. He told him of the sorrowful
life led by Gisquette, of her unbroken faith to him, and how on her
death-bed it had been her consolation to bequeath Claude as a last
pledge of affection to her absent friend.

When the young man had ceased speaking, there was a solemn silence in
the hut. The faithful Beildech feasted his looks on them both. The old
man, his eyes struck with blindness, his hair falling in white curls,
his long venerable beard resting on that bosom, oppressed by the memory
of the past, and agitated by the emotion of the present.... Ah! whoever
had seen Gutenberg at this moment could not have failed to liken him to
Œdipus in the arms of Antigone; he was bent, infirm, and weakened by
age; it was, nevertheless, the head of a king and the heart of a father.

“I tell you in truth,” it was thus that Gutenberg spoke, with
trembling lips, “yes, I tell you truly, death, which is now
approaching, will be for me a haven full of blessedness. Love is
guiding me here below, it will also receive me on the other side; it
is of the best works that it is written, they shall not forsake the
just, but shall follow them. The arts and sciences which we pursue
without relaxation, the fame and glory which shall carry our names to
posterity, are but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals in comparison
with the words of love, pure, divine, and human love. Yes, I think
that my life will not have been entirely useless to others, that
the seed which I have sown will bear fruit and become a tree, under
whose branches the generations to come may find rest and shelter. My
endeavour has been to give freedom to thought, to give wings to words;
the one and the other, thanks to my discovery, will one day overrun
the metamorphosed earth; full of independence and of liberty they will
immortalize my name. But, nevertheless, I should have gone down to the
tomb without consolation, and without peace, if I had possessed only
the light of reason to enlighten my darkened way.* A son has been
given to me, and I shall no more wander through desert paths solitary
and alone. Man will ever remain man. His heart cannot feed eternally on
glory and on hope. Love will always be the best part of his being, and
that is why I would have given the labour of my whole life in exchange
for thee, Claude, who art even more to me than my invention; thou art
my son, the messenger sent by Gisquette, who speaks to me from eternal

  * I will not, says the author of the Death of Gutenberg, let
    the authority for the blindness of my hero rest on fiction
    alone. My readers will permit me to cite the testimony of
    a man who was contemporary with Gutenberg, Wimphelin of
    Schlestadt, who at the age of fifteen came to Strasburg, in
    the year 1465. He says distinctly, in speaking of Gutenberg,
    in his catalogue of the Bishops of Strasburg written in 1508:
    “ductu cujusdam Johannis Gensfleisch, ex senio cæci.”

Gutenberg died neglected and in destitution. His death excited no
interest among his careless and ungrateful contemporaries. It is only
on the faith of a dusty old parchment, which does not even make direct
mention of the inventor of printing, that we learn that John Gutenberg
must have been gathered to his fathers about the 24th of February,
1468. In what place? That remains uncertain, and even to this day we
should be ignorant on that point had not an inscription written in his
honour by Adam Gelthuss, a relation of the printer, fallen accidentally
into our hands. It is in Latin, and says that the bones of Gutenberg
repose in the Church of St. François at Maïence.

So much for history. As for us, it is with a sensation of pain, and a
blush on our forehead, that we close this page of our book, in which
we have narrated the acts and discourses worthy of admiration, and the
death of him who discovered the most remarkable, the most wonderful of
all the arts, that which is destined to re-model the world.

Poetry in composing a picture, of which the plot has been gathered
thread by thread from the dark abyss of archives, has taken upon
herself to throw a ray of light on the last days of the great inventor,
to cast on his tomb a palm-branch of peace and of hope. Was that
not her right? And has she any occasion to justify herself? In
our opinion the noblest duty of intelligence, as well as its most
glorious appanage, is to enlighten, to reconcile, to restore to light,
especially when life has only left behind it a few vague shadows, and
an unknown tomb!

Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation and the “long s” have been modernised; spelling has been
retained as it appears in the original publication.

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 - His Acts and Most Remarkable Discourses and his Death" ***

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