Portrait de Nostradamus
Gravures Actualité



Some remarks to the printing of books
and to Peter Lemesurier's last two articles

by Wilhelm Zannoth

   After transcribing almost all the writings of Nostradamus and studying his works for over 20 years, I think I can give a comment about the “Hypothesis”, which P. Lemesurier has set up here. I can understand his argumentation against the “code-addict”, like he call's every one which does not agree with his interpretations, but we should stay with the facts and not take a hypothesis as a dogma, even if it comes from the very good authority Brind' Amour.

   The “Hypothesis” of P. Lemesurier, about “setting from dictation aloud” can not be proved in any way, because is was not used by this time in a printing - office. The only “dictation aloud”, which can be proved, was used at the hand - writing - offices (Scriptorium), where from one text have been made more copies at the same time. But this was allways a extra room, where 3 to 6 writers have been sitting and one person was dictating the text from a manuscript.

   By the time when Gutemberg did start his printing with movable letters, the setting from the manuscript was used in every office and not the dictation , as we can see on all the images from the first printers. If we take a close look at the history of  the printing, we can see, that all the “first printers” in France and Italy have been German people, which have been studying their job at first in the “Gutemberg - office” and then did start on other places their own offices.
So if we take a look at the first handpainted image, which we have from the “Gutemberg-office”, we have on the right side of the image the “Corrector” reading a “Test-print”, which contains 4 pages. The next person, in front of him, is the “Composer”, which is setting from a book (manuscript), laying in front of him, and the 3rd person on this side is the “Apprentice”, which is again searching the printed page for “errors”, like missing letters or other “printing-errors” !
Even 100 years later, at the time of Nostradamus, the paper still was the most expensive part of printing a book and it was for sure cheaper to reprint one page, then to reprint the whole book !

   The German printer Johannes Froben ( in 1500), which did print the books of Erasmus von Rotterdam (1469-1536), did say this very clearly : “Wer ein Buch voller Fehler besitzt, hat in Wahrheit kein Buch sondern einen Haufen Ärger.” (The person which has a book with many errors, has in truth not a book, but a great bunch of troubles !)

But now to Brind' Amour and the first reference of P. Lemesurier :

   In his first book “Nos. Astrophile, 1993”, he writes on page 14 :

   « Il faut comprendre aussi comment procédaient les imprimeurs de l’époque : un ouvrier lisait le texte à haute voix pendant qu’un autre assemblait les caractères sur leur support. L’élocution du premier, l’oreille du second et ses habitudes orthographiques achevait de transformer le texte ; et on ne trouve pas d’indices, dans cette littérature populaire, d’une correction des épreuves. ».

   Here he mixes his own opinion with the text of “Nina Catach”, as we can see in his second book “Les premieres Centuries ... 1996”, page XX - XXI, where he writes :

   « On sait qu'il n'y avait guère de revision des épreuves par les auteurs à cette époque (3). ».

   and then he quotes the text from “Nina Catach, L'orthographe francaise, (p. XXI) ” :

   « (3) Pour les épreuves, il était rare qu'elles soient, même après 1550, transmises à l'auteur. La pratique des placards semble bien postérieure à cette époque. Les révisions d'auteurs devaient avoir lieu très rapidement et les épreuves corrigées revenir aussitot en raison de l'organisation artisanale des ateliers. Les épreuves n'étaient revues par l'auteur que lorque celui-ci habitait tout près, ou meme venait, comme l'a fait J. Peletrier du Mans, s'installer, en vain d'ailleurs, chez son imprimeur. ».

   She does not say one word about “dictating”, only about proving the prints !

   Here is one “miss-understanding”, because the “not correcting”, was for “ La pratique des placards...”, which have been printed only on one page or sheet of paper. So if Brind. quotes on the same page the “Hozier... procuration from the 11.11.1553...”, then this shows, that Nos. did get a finished print of the “Prono. 1554” with many “corrections or missprints” (une copie corrompue et mutillée), which did change his own text, and then we also read : “Nostradamus charge donc son mandataire d'imprimer textuellement ladite pronostication d'après leurs accords...”, this means that “Bertot” did change or “corriger” the text and “Antoine de Royer”, should now print it “textuellement” = like it is written at the manuscript and “d'après leurs accords” = like Nostradamus did tell him !

   After “Brind. Nos. Astro.” page 31, did Nos. write his Alma. and Prog. between Janvier and Octobre, because they had to be printed in Novembre and then sold at the “Faires”.
The question is now : why did he write the first ones (1554 - 1561) in the “springtime” and the later ones in the “fall” ?
At the early ones, it did take so much time (half year) to get the “correct print” from the printer and the “test-prints” had to be delivered to Nos. and back to the printer. By the time he had the “right” printer, he could write the manuscript later and send it to the printer, which did know, that he had to print the text without “correcting” the “odd” words, which have been written by Nos. in the manuscript.
The only manuscript we have from Nos., is the “Orus Apollo” and if we search in this one for “odd words”, or a “special kind of writing”, then we can find them and no one can say this are “printing-errors” !

    Brind' Amour in his “Nos. Astrophile ..” also writes on page 218, C I,54, rem. 24 (Deux) :

   « Il s'agit la d'une erreur fréquente, occasionnée par le fait que les typographes se faissaient lire les textes qu'ils composaient, plutot qu'ils ne les lisaient eux-memes. ».

   so it looks to me, that he was by himself, not so sure about the “only dictating” of the text !

The next reference which P. Lemesurier count's on is “Jacques Grévin, publié en 1567” :

   Jacques Halbronn did find the text and it is from the BNF copy pX 394 Dialogue IX, L'Ecriture et l'imprimerie, page 242 ;

   « Le compositeur attache la coppie sur laquelle il veut besongner à un visorion qui est un bois de long qui soutient la dite coppie & de peur qu'il se replie, il y met le mordant qui est un autre bois fendu passant au travers. Cela fait, il prend son compositoir qui est un autre bois sur lequel il compasse ses lignes & à mesure qu'il le fait il les met dedans une galère où il parfait les pages. ».

   This text does not tell us something different that in the text above. The composer did set his letters after the manuscript in front of him and not by dictation !

Now let us come to the beginning of the discussion :

   After I have identified the image as a copper-engraving of “Jan van der Straet, (1523-1605)”, did P. Lemesurier post the following message in the forum :

   « Please see Wilhelm's most recent post, with its URL : The text he reproduces is from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts website, and merely reflects what each commentator in turn has said ever since the erroneous notions involved were first proposed (that's very normal in historical research: one person gets it wrong, and then everybody else just takes it as read, without ever looking at the evidence closely for themselves). ».

   On the last part (that's very normal in historical research : ... ), I think P. Lemesurier is talking about himself !

   The original text from the Museum is :

   « Here, in plate 4 of the Nova Reperta, we see the steps involved in the printing of early books. On the left side of the image are three compositors who, using the page of text pinned to the wall above them as a guide, assemble the pieces of type stored in their wooden cases (each compartment contains a different character) into lines of text on the small composing stick held in one hand. These lines will then be locked into a framework called a chase; the completed body of text, comprising all the pages that are to be printed together onto one sheet of paper, is known as a forme. If the text were to include woodcut initials, tailpieces, or even large illustrations, the blocks could be fitted into the chase alongside the metal type. ».

   Because there was no “dictating” in this text and it did not fit into the “Lemesurier -Hypothesis”, it must be wrong !

Here now is my Interpretation of the picture on the Museums-page :

   For a better image please follow this link :

   On the left side of the image we see two Composers, each of them with one page of  the Manuscript in front of them on the usual Scriptholder (Tenakel).
They are picking the letters out of the different cases and setting the text line per line; after each line they move the Linemarker on the Scriptholder.
This Scriptholder was still used by the time when machines have been used for setting the letters.
The original pages of the manuscript are laying on the small table at the left hand of  the two Composers.
The small stack is already set and the bigger stack they still have to get finished.
Behind the two Composers - on the floor - we see two Leather - balls, which where used to make the first Test - print for the Corrector.
The two Composers are watched from another person, which is talking with the one Composer and showing him may a mistake.
This man takes the finished pages from the Composers and makes the Test - print of each page.
Then he puts the single pages together to a Printing - form, which contains 2, 4, or 8 pages.
This depends on the letter- and also on the sheet -size which was used for the manuscript.
The next person is the Corrector, which had to read the Test - pages and mark the “printing-errors”.
He is telling the 3rd Composer in front of  him, what he has to change.
Behind this two persons we see on the table the stacks of the ready Forms of  the pages for the first Printer.
In the background of  the image we see a person, which is on the way to bring new wetted paper into the office.
The wet paper had to be used, that the printing - color did not spread out and to get a sharp contrast of the letters.
The first Printer is putting the black paint with his Leather - balls on the Printing - form of the first side of a sheet.
Then he puts this form into his press, lays a wet paper on top of it and prints the first side of the sheet.
After pressing the sheet, he hangs it on the first (left) line, from which the second Printer takes it and prints with the next (second page-) form the second side of the sheet.
This second Printer is talking with the Owner of the office, which is standing next to him.
For the reason, that both lines are shown full with sheets, the Printer allways has to take one sheet down and give it to the apprentice, which is piling the finished prints.
If the apprentice finds a “bad” page with a black spot or a missing line, then he was permitted to tear the page apart and he had to put it on the side for a reprint.
If all the pages have been printed, the hole stack goes to the Bookbinder.

Let me see now if I can answer Peters questions :

1. How could the decidedly diminutive apprentice have got up to the ‘clothes-line’ on the right to collect the finished and dried pages to collate in the first place (no means of getting up there is shown, unlike the ladder leading against the left-hand wall) ?
The second printer has to take one sheet down, to hang the next one on the line and he is handling the sheet to the apprentice.

2. Why is he looking at the compositor's back, rather than at what he is allegedly doing ?
May there was a fly sitting on his back !
I guess piling pages (after 100 of them) you can do even with closed eyes.
But dictating without looking at the text is impossible !

3. Why is he evidently calling out to the compositor (note his open mouth) ?
May he is singing a song !
For sure he is not the only one with a open mouth on this image.

4. Why do the alleged ‘printed pages’ in front of him (four per sheet, apparently) contain only 5 or 6 lines apiece (unlike any known book from the time, apart from those with large woodcuts)
Maybe on this shown sheet there are only two pages with 10 - 12 lines on each page !
The riped page on the table also shows only two pages.

5. Why does each of those pages have irregular margins (again unlike any known book from the time apart from centered poetry)
A copper - engraving is not a foto - camera !

6. What are the apparently torn-in-half sheets on the end of the table in the foreground doing ?
This one riped page has been sorted out by the apprentice for a “missprint”.

7. What is the extra large sheet that he is holding in his hands ?
Again, a copper - engraving is not a foto-camera !

8. Where is the all-important author’s manuscript, if not lying in front of the apprentice ?
It is on the left side of the picture, on the small table, beside the two Composers !
How is the apprentice reading from the “double-pages” in front of him, without putting his finger on the line he is actually reading ?

We have two Composers and one man talking with them !
We have one Corrector talking to the 3rd Composer in front of him !
We have the Owner of the office talking with the second Printer !
We have the apprentice, which is “dictating” the text - without looking at it - for the 3 Composers and they don't have to look at him, because he is yelling so loud, that they can hear and understand every word he says !

   In a large “printing-office”, like the one shown on this picture, there have been to much different noises, that it was for the composer, impossible to listen and understand the text which another person was reading aloud or dictating !

   In the time between 1450 and 1600, the paper was the most expensive article used at the printing !
So all printers had a corrector for not wasting any sheet of paper !
For the reason that almost all of the first printing-offices in other towns, have been founded by German printers, they all did work like Gutemberg, because they did learn it from him !

   That's just my opinion about the printing of the Nostradamus - manuscript's and it's not a “Dogma” !

Wilhelm Zannoth,
July 2006
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