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Richard Smyth's Treatise of the first invention of the art of printing, c. 1670

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posted on 09.05.2022, 10:00 by Roderick Cave

An annotated edition of the hitherto unpublished and little-known treatise "Of the first invention of the Art of printing" written about 1670 by Richard Smyth, 1590-1675, Book-collector and Secondary of the Poultry Compter. The edition has been based on collation of the three extant manuscripts of the treatise: British Museum Sloane Ms. 772, Cambridge University Library Ms. Dd.11.91, and the manuscript in the Printing Library of the St Bride Institute, London. Comparison of these with other manuscripts known to be written in Smyth's own hand revealed that all three extant manuscripts of the treatise were scribal copies. Textual analysis revealed that BK Sloane Ms.772 was the best, that the Cambridge manuscript was copied from it, and that the St. Bride manuscript was derived independently from Smyth's original. The text of BM Sloane 772 has been taken as the basis for this edition, with variant readings from the other mss. where significant.

Smyth's treatise is the earliest extensive work on printing written in English. It was compiled on the basis of four other works: M.Z.Boxhom' s De typographiae artis inventione, Leiden 1640, Bernard v.Mallinckrodt's De ortu ac progressu artis typographycae, Cologne 1639, Jacques Mentel's De vera typographiae origine paraenesis, Paris 1650, and Richard Atkyns' Original and growth of printing, London 1664. Smyth added to their various accounts when his own knowledge enabled him to do so; his section on printing in England was derived from the evidence presented by the books in his own library.

In the introductory section, the state of the writing of typographic history in the 17th century, and Smyth's use of it, is discussed, and his contribution to the subject assessed. The introductory section also gives brief accounts of Smyth's life; the formation, contents and dispersal of his large and important library; and of his writings on other subjects.



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Loughborough University

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© Roderick Cave

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A Master Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Master of Arts of Loughborough University.




A. Duncan

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