JUST AS IN OUR DAY a fervid minority denounces the digitization of literary experience, fifteenth-century literati responded to their own depredations. In 1492, Johannes Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim, wrote De Laude Scriptorum, “In Praise of Scribes,” a polemic addressed to Gerlach, Abbot of Deutz. Trithemius’s intention was to uphold scribal preeminence while denouncing the temptations of the emerging press: “The printed book is made of paper and, like paper, will quickly disappear. But the scribe working with parchment ensures lasting remembrance for himself and for his text.” Trithemius asserted that movable type was no substitute for solitary transcription, as the discipline of copying was a much better guarantor of religious sensibility than the mundane acts of printing and reading. As evidence he offers the account of a Benedictine copyist, famed for his pious perspicuity, who had died, was buried by his brethren, then subsequently (though inexplicably) exhumed. According to Trithemius, the copyist’s corpus had decomposed but for three fingers of his composing hand: his right thumb, forefinger, and middle finger—relics, like manuscripture itself, of literary diligence.
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