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NOTES:-The "St. Christopher of 1423," 265-Fairford
REPLIES:- Biography of the Chevalier d'Eon, 278-The
zine" - White Hats Bishop Percy - Jacobite Songs: "Lord Derwentwater's Good Night Randle Minshull -Madame de Pompadour - Ancient and Modern Superstitions-Local Terminations, &c., 283.
Notes on Books, &c.
indeed are seriously felt to this hour. By it reason has been enchained and mystified, the whole machinery of natural progress and improvement has become thrown into complete chaos and disorder, and-unless the error be at once recognised-it threatens to bequeath to posterity a legacy of folly, which ought to be forthwith dissipated and scattered to the winds.
From one cause or another the date of the "St. Christopher of 1423" was permitted to reign undisputed until 1819, when Köning boldly declared the date to be false, and contended it should be 1473-(millesimo cccc LXx tertio)-and that the "L" had been erased. In that opinion he was supported by Sotzman, who founded his argument on the ground that "no other engraving of so ancient a date was known, and that those which had theretofore been found were posterior to 1450."
A third objector also presented himself in the person of Mr. Pinkerton, who designated the true date to be "millesimo cccc° xx terno" (1460).
Fully concurring in the views of those authorities, that the date "1423" could not possibly indicate the period when the woodcut was executed, I nevertheless was unable to agree either with Köning or Pinkerton as to the particular manner in which the supposed alteration in the date had been effected; and believing that the so-called "facsimiles" might be treated as approximatively faithful representations of the original woodcut, I came to the conclusion that the readiest and most probable manner in which the presumed fraud in the date had been contrived was by converting the "c" of the "xc" into an "x," thereby, with a stroke of the pen, adding seventy years to its date; and I accordingly, in July 1864, at a meeting of the Archæological Institute, announced the opinion I had formed.
THE "ST. CHRISTOPHER OF 1423."
In the history of art and literature it would be absolutely impossible to select any single object comprising within itself so many elements of interest and importance, of mischief and self-imposed deception, as the "St. Christopher of 1423." From its discovery in 1769 to the present time it has maintained its proud supremacy, and, with very few exceptions, been acknowledged through- I now assume that (like myself and most other out Europe as "the most ancient woodcut known writers upon the "St. Christopher") neither with a date." Every suggestion which im- Köning nor Pinkerton had even seen the original plied a doubt to the contrary has been scouted when they declared the date to have been tamas treason; and the bare enunciation of a disbe-pered with, or we should all have been spared our lief in its date has sufficed to secure the censure of art critics and the leaders in literature, as well as to brand the objector as a wild visionary, whose object was to contravene an accepted decision, and to destroy a valuable guide in the "history of wood-engraving," the authority of which had been sanctioned by the judgment of the most learned.
As is well known, the "St. Christopher of 1423" has been styled "the date whence the annals of engraving have fixed their first landmark"; and equally certain is it, that a more treacherous guide could not have been created. From that very adoption a greater amount of misapprehension and injury have emanated than can possibly be imagined, the effects of which
By the courtesy and kindness of Mr. Cavendish Boyle, I was on the 28th Aug. last, afforded an opportunity of leisurely and carefully examining the far-famed woodcut in Lord Spencer's celebrated library at Althorp; and the result I arrived at was, that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the date "1423" on the engraving has never been falsified in any manner, and consequently that all theories founded on such an idea fall to the ground, and may be henceforth dismissed as utterly untenable.
It is also proper I should add that I found the original woodcut so superior in every respect to any representation of it I had ever met with, as to impress me with a far higher degree of respect
and admiration for the talent of the artist who engraved it than I had previously imagined to have been possible.
This candid declaration on my part may possibly be considered as an important gain to the believers in the date; but should that be so, the notion will be but short-lived, inasmuch as one other consequence of my inspection was to thoroughly satisfy me that the date "1423" does not, and never was intended, to represent the period at which the woodcut was engraved; and that any supposition to the contrary is erroneous, dangerous, and self-deceptive to the last degree.
By some unaccountable fallacy of reasoning, every commentator on the "St. Christopher" has completely overlooked the "Hamlet in the play" -the simple explanatory key which discloses the true state of the case-viz. the fact that the wood-edly cut in question is divided into two separate portions the saint" and "the legend" and that they are so thoroughly distinct, the one from the other, as to admit of their being readily separated at any moment without injury or prejudice to either, each being complete in itself. When the "German" artist was commissioned to engrave "the saint," he was supplied with "the Latin legend," and he simply copied it-the date being that on the legend without the slightest connection existing between it and the period at which the woodcut was produced. By this " common-sense solution" the fallacy of Baron Heinecken and his disciples is annihilated at one fell swoop, truth is recognised after a continuous suppression of nearly one hundred years, and the natural progress of art relieved from the bondage by which it has been so long and improperly trammelled.
Regard for your valuable space alone restrains me from stating several other grounds, equally antagonistic to the notion of "1423" being the true date of the engraving; but, on the principle that 66 one reason is as good as a thousand," if it be a sound one, I am perfectly content to rely on that which I have styled the 66 solution" of the mystery, in support of my denunciation of that error which ventures to claim "1423" as correctly defining the year in which the "St. Christopher" was produced.
I cannot, however, refrain from mentioning that other substantive objections exist which I believe must satisfy every unprejudiced mind that the block from which the engraving was printed could not have been cut at the early date hitherto assigned to it.
tween 1480 and 1500, which paper bears the well-
Lastly: whilst the style of the "St. Christopher" is precisely that which might have been reasonably expected circa 1493, there was no woodcut whatever in existence in or prior to 1423, nor for more than sixty years afterwards, comparable to it in the remotest degree, either in originality of treatment, vigour of execution, or practical knowledge of wood engraving, the celebrated initial in the Mayence Bible alone excepted.
Thus, the "St. Christopher of 1423" was produced by means of a "printing press" and with "printing ink," neither of which had ever been heard of in 1423; and further, it is printed on paper identical with that ordinarily used by Martin Schön as well as by Albrecht Dürer be
As is generally known, Baron Heinecken-who has been as immoderately flattered on the one hand, as unfairly abused on the other unexpectfound the wood-engraving of "St. Christopher" in 1769 at the monastery at Buxheim in Upper Suabia, and he at once welcomed it as an inestimable prize which conclusively proved the advanced state of excellence wood-engraving had attained in 1423. That date did all the mischief. It blunted the Baron's reason, it blinded his perception, and in the outburst of his enthusiasm, he pinned his faith to it; and being at that period the "Jupiter omnipotens" among connoisseurs of old engravings, his dictum was freely accepted, and from that moment the fiat went forth that the date of "1423" was to be relied on as clearly marking the period when the woodcut was produced. It was accordingly so accepted, and still is. The immediate consequence of this declaration by Heinecken was to throw all preconceived notions of the "Block Books" into that unutterable confusion in which the subject has ever since been involved. Thus the feeble logic on which the mischief was founded was,-"The 'St. Christopher of 1423' is far in advance of the Block Books-ergo, the Block Books must necessarily have been produced at a much earlier date"! The wildest conjectures were accordingly indulged in freely, and men's ingenuity and reasoning faculties strained to the utmost tension to support that mistaken notion. Some fixed the "Block Books" at the latter end of the fourteenth century, others at the commencement of the fifteenth; any period, indeed, was deemed suitable which kept at a respectful distance anterior to 1423. That theory was taken up and adopted by successive writers on the subject, and repeated by them so often and so earnestly as at length to be implicitly believed in as true and incontrovertible as "Holy Writ"
Among other mischievous consequences which have resulted from Heinecken's dictum, one was to excite an appetite for similar marvels. Accordingly, as is always the case, a goodly supply of
rare old woodcuts" soon made their appearance in the market, and among them, mirabile dicta,
another St. Christopher of 1423, which was announced with a royal flourish of trumpets as having been acquired by the " 'Bibliothèque Royale de Paris."
Ŏn that startling announcement being made, Dr. Dibdin was forthwith despatched to Paris with the real "Simon Pure" of Heinecken, when it appeared, 1st, that the impressions were taken from different blocks! 2nd, that the Paris copy had been produced by Von Murr, and soiled in colour by means of coffee!!
So much for the lengths to which literary and artistic frauds are carried, where the hope of payment exists to reward the evil-doer. Such, however, was the demand for "St. Christophers of 1423," that a third exemplaire was afterwards said to have been discovered in the collection of "Mons. le Baron de Blittersdorf" at Frankfort, which, in its turn, however, was pronounced to be false.
The other rarities to which I have alluded, and which came to light shortly after Heinecken's discovery, were, a St. Sebastian" with the date 1437, a "St. Etienne " 1437, a "Calvary " 1443; and lastly, the most impudent of all, the engraving of "1418," now in the Royal Library of Brussels; none of which, however, successfully withstood the test of investigation, and have all since been denounced as utterly unworthy of reliance.
In my humble endeavours to oppose and uproot the fallacy connected with the "St. Christopher of 1423," I do not ask much. All I invoke is, the intelligence of 1868 as opposed to the fanaticism of 1769; and in so doing, I do not believe my appeal to be either unreasonable or ill-founded.
Since Heinecken wrote, immense strides have been made in arriving at a better knowledge of "literature and art." Education has ripened man's intellect, and, among other consequences, has endowed him with a power of thinking for himself, in lieu of being blindly bound by the reasoning of others. In my efforts to arrive at a proper conclusion, I have attempted nothing more than to fairly express my belief in such a manner as to reduce the question I have raised to the simplest conceivable issue; and by evaporating all the "quasi-mystery" which has hitherto been permitted to envelop the "history of early printing and wood-engraving," enable those who take an interest in the subject to readily comprehend it in all its bearings, and thereby enable them to satisfy themselves on which side "truth and reason are to be found.
Upon the basis I have herein before stated, I altogether deny the oft-repeated allegation that the date "millesimo cccc xx tertio," which is to be found at the right of the legend underneath the "St. Christopher," designates, or was ever intended to denote the year in which the "saint"
was engraved; and I venture to insist that it should not any longer be entitled to be considered as "marking the date from which the practice of wood-engraving, as applied to pictorial representation, is to be calculated."
To this unqualified repudiation of the date of the "St. Christopher of 1423" I invite the attention of such writers on the subject of early printing and engraving as Mr. Noel Humphreys, Mr. Digby Wyatt, and Mr. Berjeau, feeling assured that if any talent can possibly restore "HumptyDumpty" to his former position on the wall, they are the authorities best qualified to do so.
I will conclude by observing that, so soon as the question of the "St. Christopher" has been disposed of, I shall be prepared to prove my other two propositions, viz. that printing preceded engraving, and that no copy of the Biblia Pauperum existed prior to 1485. HENRY F. HOLT. 6, King's Road, Clapham Park.
Almost all books with or without woodcuts before 1476 or 80, from the German and Low Country presses, were printed without dates, and usually also without places or names of printers, and so it would have been unusual and extraordinary if these block books had formed an exception. Thus the Mazarine Bible, 1450-55, has no date. 2. Biblia Latina (Argentina, H. Eggestein, 1468) sine loco, anno, aut typogr. 3. Ditto of the same from same press, 1469 or 70. 4. Ditto of the same (Argentina, typis Mantellianis, 1469). 5. Ditto of same (Ulric Zell of Cologne, 1470). 6. Ditto of same (Basiliæ, Bertholdi Rodt et Bernardi Richel). 7. Ditto of same (Colon. typis Nic. Goltz, 1472). 8. Biblia Sacra (Basiliæ, typis Bern. Richel) has date, but no place or printer. 9. The Paris Bible of Ulr. Gering. Mart. Crantz et Mich. Friburger (1476) has no date. 10. Biblia cum Glossa Ord. &c. (Venet. circa 1480), no name, printer, or date. 11. The Fontibus ex Græcis Bible, 1481, no place or printer: and so on. little time spent in any large library of early books, especially of these countries, would reveal scores of such instances. I only wonder how MR. HOLT can attempt to found any argument upon the absence of dates and persons' names, when we know that not only in printing, but in painting, architecture, sculpture, precious and other metal-work, in the west of Europe, it was so unusual to sign the works with either. J. C. J.
The expression "incomparable excellence," applied by your valued correspondent SIR THOMAS WINNINGTON to the windows of Fairford church (antè, p. 222), incites me to offer you a few passing observations.