Tag Archives: government

Pilgrims and printing

More fuel-efficient, better mileage

I paid special attention to the Pilgrims and Plymouth colony for a reason. Even though I can’t be certain that William Brewster’s press ever made it to North America, it’s still true that the first North American printing operation (1638) was in Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth.

The Pilgrims saw their adventure as providential. They believed God landed them in Plymouth and not Jamestown, Virginia on purpose.

In Jamestown, there was an English colony already established. Things like a colonial government and culture (very different from the stern impassioned Pilgrim culture) were up and humming along nicely. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims had to start from scratch. They needed a system of government. The compact they made with each other (and God) aboard the Mayflower was how they governed themselves on land. Their congregation was a ‘covenant’ congregation—a covenant is a contract with God. They answered to God first, before a king or anybody else. If you’re accountable to God, you understand that your rights come from Him. As a contrast, King James said that his subjects’ rights came from King James himself (because of his divine right to rule). The Pilgrims didn’t like that idea so much.

Stern impassioned Pilgrims, or at least their feet, show up in verse 317 or 318 of America The Beautiful:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
Ray Charles nails it (though he doesn’t get to that particular verse):

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Puritans & Pilgrims

Some English people wanted to reform Henry’s Church of England. They wanted to get back to the Church’s roots. They wanted to get closer to what Saint Peter founded and Saint Paul mapped out. They wanted a more pure stripped-down no-frills version of worship, so those guys were called ‘Puritans.’

Other English people threw up their hands and said ‘It can’t be fixed. Gotta start from scratch.’ They wanted what the Puritans wanted but decided to start over in a different country. Those guys were called ‘Pilgrims’ and they moved to Holland (the Netherlands)—a country tolerant of other people’s religions.

There’s a hair salon in the village of Scrooby famous for their signature ‘do. http://www.finedictionary.com/Pilgrim.html

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The Church of England

I know—you’re sick of hearing about it. My mailman complains because he has to deliver enormous bags of angry letters and postcards from you guys. But I need to talk about the Reformation some more.

In England, King Henry VIII was butting heads with the Pope because the Pope refused to bless Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. So with all this Reformation going on, Henry said ‘Dash it—why don’t I start up my own bally church?’* and created the Church of England. Of course he put himself in charge of it. Henry kicked the Catholic nuns & monks out of nunneries and monasteries and destroyed Latin bibles and holy relics.

“Here you are, lads. Hot off the press, what?”

This wasn’t any big improvement on the corrupt mediæval Church. Henry cleverly inserted himself in between the regular shmos and God, so power descended from heaven, to Henry, to you. It was still the same old top-down power that got distributed through earthly government. Henry VIII had the Bible translated into English.** The title page has a picture of Henry in the middle of the universe with G-d above filtering His might through him. This picture is telling you that Henry gets his authority to rule directly from G-d. It’s the divine right of kings.

* I asked P G Wodehouse to write Henry’s dialogue.
** From the Oops-I-Changed-My-Mind file: Henry’s Great Bible has big chunks of Tyndale’s translation in it. I mean, Woolsey has Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible, then Henry’s team uses the translation Tyndale was executed for?

Good article but it’s manner not manor:

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

We were just talking about pamphlets—click here for a picture from a 1617 pamphlet of Guy Fawkes’ head on a pike.:

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Jonathan Swift. One of the perks of being a pamphleteer was you got to wear big wigs.

Satire : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

Many pamphleteers commented on social conditions or criticized the government. Jonathan Swift used satire to make his points—‘Swiftian’ is still an adjective for a particularly dark sense of humor. In 1729 Swift published  A Modest Proposal to transform poor Irish children from a burden to society instead to being a benefit. His pamphlet caused a howling, righteous uproar (click on the link to read it)—just as it would today on Instagram or Twitter. Daniel Defoe’s satirical The Shortest Way with the Dissenters got him arrested for sedition.

Then, as now, the ruling class had no sense of humor and wouldn’t tolerate criticism. The British government censored and arrested pamphleteers for expressing politically incorrect opinions. The idea that writers should have the liberty to write about whatever they choose and have their work printed and distributed is called freedom of the press. This was a new concept. John Milton defended freedom of the press in a pamphlet that he had to publish anonymously. He was revealed as its true author only a couple of years ago.


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The pamphleteers

Daniel Defoe

If you were a young writer just starting out during Brit lit’s Augustan Age (late 1600s – early 1700s), pamphlets were the way to build an audience. Pamphlets can be as short as 4 pages. Lots of them don’t even have covers. They’re cheap and easy to produce—and plenty of people could read by then—so you could sell bunches of ‘em. They were the social media of those days. If you had something on your mind, a topic to rant about, you wrote an essay and printed it up as a pamphlet. You became a pamphleteer.

You may recognize the names of some pamphleteers—Daniel Defoe (he wrote Robinson Crusoe), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Tom Paine (his pamphlets were made into a collection titled Common Sense), John Milton (Paradise Lost).


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More Reformation—sorry

The printing press encouraged literacy, which almost all by itself brought on the Renaissance and shaped modern Western Civilization. Those pamphlets of Luther’s presented the argument that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed.

You guys are rolling your eyes now—”C’mon, Manders! Give the Reformation a rest already!” Okay, okay. There IS a reason I bring it up again: for thousands of years, the power-structure of every kingdom and empire was top-down, central-government, one-guy-runs-the-show—that is, all decisions are made by one king or emperor. In the Holy Roman Empire, the pope ran everything to do with the Church. All the Church’s power was in the Vatican, in Rome. The pope appointed priests to every last little church.

This model is ‘top-down.’ The power comes from above and works its way down.

The Reformation brought a big change: the new Protestant churches elected their own pastors. The power to choose a pastor resides in each individual member of a Protestant church. If you belong to a Protestant church, you have a say in who gets to be preacher. This was a big, new idea. It happened because a great number of people knew how to read and did read Luther’s pamphlets.

A path was being cleared for—eventually—a nation whose ordinary-shmo-citizens would elect its political leaders.


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The old-style square-cap Latin was written in all capital letters, as if the ‘caps lock’ button were on the whole time. It reads like you’re being yelled at (maybe that was the idea).

In Alcuin’s day, monks wrote on parchment. Parchment isn’t cheap and all-caps takes up a lot of space. The monks learned to conserve space by making the first letter of a sentence a big capital letter and writing the rest of the sentence in small letters. The small letters were only an inch high—an ‘uncia’ in Latin—so this style of writing is called ‘uncial’ (OON se al).*

Uncials. Look how round they are compared to the Latin square-caps.

The small letters are called miniscules. The monks formed them with pens, so they became more round in contrast to the chiseled-in-stone letters of the old days. The miniscules grew tails, like ‘d’ or ‘p’ which extended up or down. They look different from capital letters.

The big capital letters are called maguscules MAH-juss-kyoolz). In time the maguscules became large versions of the miniscules.

This is the style Alcuin updated to Carolingian and promoted across the Holy Roman Empire. Latin translations of Arabic texts would be written in the Carolingian style. Alcuin dreamed up an additional feature: punctuation. Thanks to Alcuin you can tell when sentences end and new ones begin because they’re marked with a period. You can tell if the writer is asking a question, because there’s a question mark at the end. I’m personally grateful for the M-dash—which I probably overuse.

*…or maybe the monks shouldn’t be taken too literally. ‘Uncial’ may have been their jokey way of saying the letters are small.

I wanted to get a take on uncials from a calligrapher. Here’s that wonderful lady who makes her own ink. She says it’s St Jerome’s fault they’re called uncials. She shows you how to write them:
You weirdos who’ve been loyally following this blog will no doubt remember this post:

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We’re going to need more books

Charlemagne wanted to promote a culture of learning throughout France and then the Holy Roman Empire. He didn’t have tv or the internet to spread this learning around, so Charlemagne would need to use books. Many of those old books from classical times (during the Greek & Roman Empires) were hard or impossible to find.

° Bad news: Charlemagne was made aware that many original manuscripts of ancient writers and philosophers had been lost or destroyed—like when the library at Alexandria got torched. Probably Alcuin and the other teachers told him.
° Good news: Charlemagne was made aware that copies of these ancient manuscripts existed in the Near- and MidEast, translated into Arabic. Probably Alcuin again.
° Plan of action: Charlemagne and Alcuin began an empire-wide program of finding the Arabic copies and translating them into Latin.

As I mentioned a few posts back, written Latin had taken on a different character in every different kingdom—it didn’t look like the square-cap Latin chiselled into a column that Julius Caesar would have recognized. Copying and translating these Arabic manuscripts would be a golden opportunity to standardize writing—get everybody in the empire writing the same way. Here’s the thing: instead of making all the monks go back to square-cap Latin, Alcuin had a different idea. He noticed that a lot of those regional writing quirks made Latin easier to read.


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The mighty Alcuin

Alcuin with his students

Charlemagne was king of France at 20-something years old. He was remarkable simply for being able to make big, important decisions—a good general and executive. Charlemagne was also eager to learn new things.

Charlemagne’s dad and grand-dad had set up a school at the royal palace. It was meant to teach young princelings how to behave at court, how eventually to become a king. Charlemagne wanted to learn more than that. He wanted to know literature, art, math, science, music and to understand Christianity more deeply…so he gathered up scholars to teach him and his sons.

One scholar was Alcuin of York, in Northumbria, in the British Isles. The school at York was doing booming business—its students learned the liberal arts as well as Christian Ed, which was the new kind of curriculum Charlemagne was after. Alcuin had been an honor roll student and was encouraged by his mentor, the Venerable Bede, to stick around the York school to teach. Alcuin was headmaster by the time Charlemagne dragooned him to teach at his palace school. Alcuin not only taught at Charlemagne’s school, he ran it. He introduced the same curriculum that had been so successful at the York school. Alcuin used the classical framework of the trivium and quadrivium—“The trivium consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, while the quadrivium consists of arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry.” Alcuin taught the basics first: the rules of speaking & writing; how to think in an organized way; then how to persuade through speaking & writing. After that his students were ready for the more complicated subjects in the quadrivium.

I quoted from this article: https://www.hillsdale.edu/hillsdale-blog/academics/understanding-trivium-quadrivium/

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