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CURIOSITIES

OF

Literature.

ORIGIN OF THE MATERIALS OF

WRITING

From the “ Literary History of France,” by the learned Benedictines, I have collected the chief materials of the present article. It is curious to observe the various substitutes for paper before its discovery.

When men had not yet discovered the art of recording events by writing, they planted trees, erected rude altars, or heaps of stone, as remembrances of past events. Hercules probably could not write when he fixed his famous pillars.

The most ancient mode of writing was on bricks, tiles, and oyster-shells, and on tables of

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stone ; afterwards on plates of various materials, on ivory, on barks of trees, on leaves of trees*.

Engraving memorable events on hard substances, it has been prettily observed, was giving, as it were, speech to rocks and metals. In the book of Job mention is made of writing on stone, on rocks, and on sheets of lead. It was on tables of stone that Moses received the law written by the finger of God himself. Hesiod's works were written on leaden tables : lead was used for writing, and rolled up like a cylinder, as Pliny states. Montfaucon notices a very ancient book of eight

* Specimens of most of these modes of writing may be seen in the British Museum. No. 3478, in the Sloanian library, is a Nabob's letter, on a piece of bark about two yards long, and richly ornamented with gold. No. 3207, is a book of Mexican hieroglyphics painted on bark. In the same collection are various species, many from the Malabar coast and the East. The latter writings are chiefly on leaves. There are several copies of Bibles written on palm leaves, still preserved in various collections in Europe. The ancients, doubtless, wrote on any leaves they found adapted for the purpose. Hence the leaf of a book, alluding to that of a tree, seems to be derived. At the British Museum we have recently received Babylonian tiles, or broken pots, which the people used, and made their contracts of business on. A custom mentioned in the scriptures.

leaden leaves, which on the back had rings fastened by a small leaden rod to keep them together. They afterwards engraved on bronze: the laws of the Cretans were on bronze tables, the Romans etched their public records on brass. The speech of Claudius, engraved on plates of bronze, is yet preserved in the town hall of Lyons, in France. Several bronze tables, with Etruscan characters, have been dug up in Tuscany. The Treaties between the Romans, Spartans, and the Jews were written on brass; and estates, for better security, were made over on this enduring metal. In many cabinets may be found the discharges of soldiers, written on copper-plates. This custom has been discovered in India: a bill of feoffment on copper has been dug up near Bengal, dated a century before the birth of Christ.

Among these early inventions many were singularly rude, and miserable substitutes for a better material. In the shepherd state they wrote their songs, with thorns and awls on straps of leather, which they wound round their crooks. The Icelanders appear to have scratched their runes, a kind of hieroglyphics on walls; and Olof, according to one of the Sagas, built a large house, on the bulks and spars of which he had engraved the history of his own and more ancient times; while another northern hero appears to have had no

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thing better than his own chair and bed to perpetuate his own heroic acts on. At the town hall, in Hanover, are kept twelve wooden boards, overlaid with bees wax, on which are written the names of owners of houses, but not the names of streets. These wooden manuscripts must have existed before 1423, when Hanover was first divided into streets. Such manuscripts may be found in public collections. This exhibits a very curious, and the rudest state of society. The same event occurred among the ancient Arabs, who, according to the history of Mahomet, seem to have taken the shoulder-bones of sheep, on which they carved remarkable events with a knife, and after tying them with a string they hung these chronicles up in their cabinets.

The laws of the twelve tables which the Romans chiefly copied from the Grecian code were, after they had been approved by the people, engraven on brass; they were melted by lightning, which struck the capitol and consumed other laws; a loss highly regretted by Augustus. This manner of writing we still retain, for the inscriptions, epitaphs, and other memorials designed to reach posterity.

These early inventions led to the discovery of tables of wood; and as cedar has an anti-septic quality from its bitterness, they chose this wood

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