Transitions in information technology

I recently finished reading Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris (i.e. the Hunchback of Notre Dame). Among his many long asides and discussions setting the tone for the time (it is set in Paris of the late 1400's, well over 300 years before he wrote) I particularly noticed his remarks on the remarkable transition just beginning at the time. As he put it: "The invention of printing is the greatest event in history." The copy of his book that I read was, however, not printed on paper, but electronically downloaded from Project Gutenberg - donated to the world through a scan of the public domain 1880 version translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. If the invention of printing was clearly the greatest historical event by the 1830's when Hugo first wrote those words, the 20th century revolution in information technologies is at least the start of something far greater. It seemed to me that Hugo's musings on the transition from writing in stone and symbolic imagery to printing may help shed light on the transition we're now in the middle of - below is the entirety of Chapter II of Book 5 from the Project Gutenberg text.



Our lady readers will pardon us if we pause for a moment
to seek what could have been the thought concealed beneath
those enigmatic words of the archdeacon: "This will kill
that. The book will kill the edifice."

To our mind, this thought had two faces. In the first place,
it was a priestly thought. It was the affright of the priest in
the presence of a new agent, the printing press. It was the
terror and dazzled amazement of the men of the sanctuary, in
the presence of the luminous press of Gutenberg. It was
the pulpit and the manuscript taking the alarm at the printed
word: something similar to the stupor of a sparrow which
should behold the angel Legion unfold his six million wings.
It was the cry of the prophet who already hears emancipated
humanity roaring and swarming; who beholds in the future,
intelligence sapping faith, opinion dethroning belief, the world
shaking off Rome. It was the prognostication of the philosopher
who sees human thought, volatilized by the press, evaporating
from the theocratic recipient. It was the terror of
the soldier who examines the brazen battering ram, and says:--"The
tower will crumble." It signified that one power was about to
succeed another power. It meant, "The press will kill the church."

But underlying this thought, the first and most simple one,
no doubt, there was in our opinion another, newer one, a corollary
of the first, less easy to perceive and more easy to contest,
a view as philosophical and belonging no longer to the
priest alone but to the savant and the artist. It was a
presentiment that human thought, in changing its form, was
about to change its mode of expression; that the dominant
idea of each generation would no longer be written with the
same matter, and in the same manner; that the book of stone,
so solid and so durable, was about to make way for the book
of paper, more solid and still more durable. In this
connection the archdeacon's vague formula had a second sense.
It meant, "Printing will kill architecture."

In fact, from the origin of things down to the fifteenth century
of the Christian era, inclusive, architecture is the great
book of humanity, the principal expression of man in his
different stages of development, either as a force or as
an intelligence.

When the memory of the first races felt itself overloaded,
when the mass of reminiscences of the human race became
so heavy and so confused that speech naked and flying, ran
the risk of losing them on the way, men transcribed them on
the soil in a manner which was at once the most visible, most
durable, and most natural. They sealed each tradition beneath
a monument.

The first monuments were simple masses of rock, "which the
iron had not touched," as Moses says. Architecture began like
all writing. It was first an alphabet. Men planted a stone
upright, it was a letter, and each letter was a hieroglyph, and
upon each hieroglyph rested a group of ideas, like the capital
on the column. This is what the earliest races did everywhere,
at the same moment, on the surface of the entire world. We
find the "standing stones" of the Celts in Asian Siberia; in
the pampas of America.

Later on, they made words; they placed stone upon stone,
they coupled those syllables of granite, and attempted some
combinations. The Celtic dolmen and cromlech, the Etruscan
tumulus, the Hebrew galgal, are words. Some, especially the
tumulus, are proper names. Sometimes even, when men had
a great deal of stone, and a vast plain, they wrote a phrase.
The immense pile of Karnac is a complete sentence.

At last they made books. Traditions had brought forth
symbols, beneath which they disappeared like the trunk of a
tree beneath its foliage; all these symbols in which humanity
placed faith continued to grow, to multiply, to intersect, to
become more and more complicated; the first monuments
no longer sufficed to contain them, they were overflowing in
every part; these monuments hardly expressed now the primitive
tradition, simple like themselves, naked and prone upon
the earth. The symbol felt the need of expansion in the edifice.
Then architecture was developed in proportion with human
thought; it became a giant with a thousand heads and
a thousand arms, and fixed all this floating symbolism in an
eternal, visible, palpable form. While Daedalus, who is force,
measured; while Orpheus, who is intelligence, sang;--the pillar,
which is a letter; the arcade, which is a syllable; the pyramid,
which is a word,--all set in movement at once by a law of
geometry and by a law of poetry, grouped themselves, combined,
amalgamated, descended, ascended, placed themselves
side by side on the soil, ranged themselves in stories in the
sky, until they had written under the dictation of the general
idea of an epoch, those marvellous books which were also
marvellous edifices: the Pagoda of Eklinga, the Rhamseion of
Egypt, the Temple of Solomon.

The generating idea, the word, was not only at the foundation
of all these edifices, but also in the form. The temple
of Solomon, for example, was not alone the binding of the
holy book; it was the holy book itself. On each one of its
concentric walls, the priests could read the word translated and
manifested to the eye, and thus they followed its transformations
from sanctuary to sanctuary, until they seized it in its last
tabernacle, under its most concrete form, which still belonged to
architecture: the arch. Thus the word was enclosed in an
edifice, but its image was upon its envelope, like the human
form on the coffin of a mummy.

And not only the form of edifices, but the sites selected for
them, revealed the thought which they represented, according
as the symbol to be expressed was graceful or grave.
Greece crowned her mountains with a temple harmonious to
the eye; India disembowelled hers, to chisel therein those
monstrous subterranean pagodas, borne up by gigantic rows of
granite elephants.

Thus, during the first six thousand years of the world, from
the most immemorial pagoda of Hindustan, to the cathedral
of Cologne, architecture was the great handwriting of the
human race. And this is so true, that not only every religious
symbol, but every human thought, has its page and its monument
in that immense book.

All civilization begins in theocracy and ends in democracy.
This law of liberty following unity is written in architecture.
For, let us insist upon this point, masonry must not be thought
to be powerful only in erecting the temple and in expressing
the myth and sacerdotal symbolism; in inscribing in hieroglyphs
upon its pages of stone the mysterious tables of the
law. If it were thus,--as there comes in all human society a
moment when the sacred symbol is worn out and becomes
obliterated under freedom of thought, when man escapes from
the priest, when the excrescence of philosophies and systems
devour the face of religion,--architecture could not reproduce
this new state of human thought; its leaves, so crowded on the
face, would be empty on the back; its work would be mutilated;
its book would he incomplete. But no.

Let us take as an example the Middle Ages, where we see
more clearly because it is nearer to us. During its first
period, while theocracy is organizing Europe, while the Vatican
is rallying and reclassing about itself the elements of a
Rome made from the Rome which lies in ruins around the
Capitol, while Christianity is seeking all the stages of society
amid the rubbish of anterior civilization, and rebuilding with
its ruins a new hierarchic universe, the keystone to whose
vault is the priest--one first hears a dull echo from that
chaos, and then, little by little, one sees, arising from beneath
the breath of Christianity, from beneath the hand of the
barbarians, from the fragments of the dead Greek and Roman
architectures, that mysterious Romanesque architecture, sister
of the theocratic masonry of Egypt and of India, inalterable
emblem of pure catholicism, unchangeable hieroglyph of the
papal unity. All the thought of that day is written, in fact,
in this sombre, Romanesque style. One feels everywhere in
it authority, unity, the impenetrable, the absolute, Gregory
VII.; always the priest, never the man; everywhere caste,
never the people.

But the Crusades arrive. They are a great popular
movement, and every great popular movement, whatever may be
its cause and object, always sets free the spirit of liberty
from its final precipitate. New things spring into life every
day. Here opens the stormy period of the Jacqueries, Pragueries,
and Leagues. Authority wavers, unity is divided.
Feudalism demands to share with theocracy, while awaiting
the inevitable arrival of the people, who will assume the part
of the lion: ~Quia nominor leo~. Seignory pierces through
sacerdotalism; the commonality, through seignory. The face
of Europe is changed. Well! the face of architecture is
changed also. Like civilization, it has turned a page, and the
new spirit of the time finds her ready to write at its dictation.
It returns from the crusades with the pointed arch, like the
nations with liberty.

Then, while Rome is undergoing gradual dismemberment,
Romanesque architecture dies. The hieroglyph deserts the
cathedral, and betakes itself to blazoning the donjon keep,
in order to lend prestige to feudalism. The cathedral itself,
that edifice formerly so dogmatic, invaded henceforth by the
bourgeoisie, by the community, by liberty, escapes the priest and
falls into the power of the artist. The artist builds it after
his own fashion. Farewell to mystery, myth, law. Fancy
and caprice, welcome. Provided the priest has his basilica
and his altar, he has nothing to say. The four walls belong
to the artist. The architectural book belongs no longer to the
priest, to religion, to Rome; it is the property of poetry, of
imagination, of the people. Hence the rapid and innumerable
transformations of that architecture which owns but three
centuries, so striking after the stagnant immobility
of the Romanesque architecture, which owns six or seven.
Nevertheless, art marches on with giant strides. Popular genius
amid originality accomplish the task which the bishops formerly
fulfilled. Each race writes its line upon the book, as it
passes; it erases the ancient Romanesque hieroglyphs on the
frontispieces of cathedrals, and at the most one only sees
dogma cropping out here and there, beneath the new symbol
which it has deposited. The popular drapery hardly permits
the religious skeleton to be suspected. One cannot even form
an idea of the liberties which the architects then take, even
toward the Church. There are capitals knitted of nuns and
monks, shamelessly coupled, as on the hall of chimney pieces
in the Palais de Justice, in Paris. There is Noah's adventure
carved to the last detail, as under the great portal of Bourges.
There is a bacchanalian monk, with ass's ears and glass in
hand, laughing in the face of a whole community, as on the
lavatory of the Abbey of Bocherville. There exists at that
epoch, for thought written in stone, a privilege exactly
comparable to our present liberty of the press. It is
the liberty of architecture.

This liberty goes very far. Sometimes a portal, a façade,
an entire church, presents a symbolical sense absolutely foreign
to worship, or even hostile to the Church. In the thirteenth
century, Guillaume de Paris, and Nicholas Flamel, in the
fifteenth, wrote such seditious pages. Saint-Jacques de la
Boucherie was a whole church of the opposition.

Thought was then free only in this manner; hence it never
wrote itself out completely except on the books called edifices.
Thought, under the form of edifice, could have beheld itself
burned in the public square by the hands of the executioner,
in its manuscript form, if it had been sufficiently imprudent
to risk itself thus; thought, as the door of a church, would
have been a spectator of the punishment of thought as
a book. Having thus only this resource, masonry, in order to
make its way to the light, flung itself upon it from all quarters.
Hence the immense quantity of cathedrals which have
covered Europe--a number so prodigious that one can hardly
believe it even after having verified it. All the material
forces, all the intellectual forces of society converged towards
the same point: architecture. In this manner, under the pretext
of building churches to God, art was developed in its
magnificent proportions.

Then whoever was born a poet became an architect.
Genius, scattered in the masses, repressed in every quarter

under feudalism as under a ~testudo~ of brazen bucklers, finding
no issue except in the direction of architecture,--gushed
forth through that art, and its Iliads assumed the form of
cathedrals. All other arts obeyed, and placed themselves under
the discipline of architecture. They were the workmen of the
great work. The architect, the poet, the master, summed up
in his person the sculpture which carved his façades, painting
which illuminated his windows, music which set his bells to
pealing, and breathed into his organs. There was nothing
down to poor poetry,--properly speaking, that which
persisted in vegetating in manuscripts,--which was not forced,
in order to make something of itself, to come and frame itself
in the edifice in the shape of a hymn or of prose; the same
part, after all, which the tragedies of AEschylus had played
in the sacerdotal festivals of Greece; Genesis, in the temple
of Solomon.

Thus, down to the time of Gutenberg, architecture is the
principal writing, the universal writing. In that granite
book, begun by the Orient, continued by Greek and Roman
antiquity, the Middle Ages wrote the last page. Moreover,
this phenomenon of an architecture of the people following
an architecture of caste, which we have just been observing
in the Middle Ages, is reproduced with every analogous
movement in the human intelligence at the other great
epochs of history. Thus, in order to enunciate here only
summarily, a law which it would require volumes to develop:
in the high Orient, the cradle of primitive times, after
Hindoo architecture came Phoenician architecture, that opulent
mother of Arabian architecture; in antiquity, after Egyptian
architecture, of which Etruscan style and cyclopean monuments
are but one variety, came Greek architecture (of which the
Roman style is only a continuation), surcharged with the
Carthaginian dome; in modern times, after Romanesque
architecture came Gothic architecture. And by separating there
three series into their component parts, we shall find in the
three eldest sisters, Hindoo architecture, Egyptian architecture,
Romanesque architecture, the same symbol; that is to
say, theocracy, caste, unity, dogma, myth, God: and for
the three younger sisters, Phoenician architecture, Greek
architecture, Gothic architecture, whatever, nevertheless,
may be the diversity of form inherent in their nature, the same
signification also; that is to say, liberty, the people, man.

In the Hindu, Egyptian, or Romanesque architecture, one
feels the priest, nothing but the priest, whether he calls
himself Brahmin, Magian, or Pope. It is not the same in the
architectures of the people. They are richer and less sacred.
In the Phoenician, one feels the merchant; in the Greek, the
republican; in the Gothic, the citizen.

The general characteristics of all theocratic architecture are
immutability, horror of progress, the preservation of traditional
lines, the consecration of the primitive types, the constant
bending of all the forms of men and of nature to the
incomprehensible caprices of the symbol. These are dark
books, which the initiated alone understand how to decipher.
Moreover, every form, every deformity even, has there a
sense which renders it inviolable. Do not ask of Hindoo,
Egyptian, Romanesque masonry to reform their design, or
to improve their statuary. Every attempt at perfecting is
an impiety to them. In these architectures it seems as
though the rigidity of the dogma had spread over the
stone like a sort of second petrifaction. The general
characteristics of popular masonry, on the contrary, are progress,
originality, opulence, perpetual movement. They are already
sufficiently detached from religion to think of their beauty,
to take care of it, to correct without relaxation their parure
of statues or arabesques. They are of the age. They have
something human, which they mingle incessantly with the
divine symbol under which they still produce. Hence, edifices
comprehensible to every soul, to every intelligence, to
every imagination, symbolical still, but as easy to understand
as nature. Between theocratic architecture and this there is
the difference that lies between a sacred language and a
vulgar language, between hieroglyphics and art, between
Solomon and Phidias.

If the reader will sum up what we have hitherto briefly,
very briefly, indicated, neglecting a thousand proofs and also
a thousand objections of detail, be will be led to this: that
architecture was, down to the fifteenth century, the chief
register of humanity; that in that interval not a thought which
is in any degree complicated made its appearance in the
world, which has not been worked into an edifice; that every
popular idea, and every religious law, has had its monumental
records; that the human race has, in short, had no important
thought which it has not written in stone. And why?
Because every thought, either philosophical or religious, is
interested in perpetuating itself; because the idea which has
moved one generation wishes to move others also, and leave
a trace. Now, what a precarious immortality is that of the
manuscript! How much more solid, durable, unyielding, is a
book of stone! In order to destroy the written word, a torch
and a Turk are sufficient. To demolish the constructed word,
a social revolution, a terrestrial revolution are required.
The barbarians passed over the Coliseum; the deluge, perhaps,
passed over the Pyramids.

In the fifteenth century everything changes.

Human thought discovers a mode of perpetuating itself,
not only more durable and more resisting than architecture,
but still more simple and easy. Architecture is dethroned.
Gutenberg's letters of lead are about to supersede Orpheus's
letters of stone.

*The book is about to kill the edifice*.

The invention of printing is the greatest event in history.
It is the mother of revolution. It is the mode of expression
of humanity which is totally renewed; it is human thought
stripping off one form and donning another; it is the complete
and definitive change of skin of that symbolical serpent which
since the days of Adam has represented intelligence.

In its printed form, thought is more imperishable than
ever; it is volatile, irresistible, indestructible. It is mingled
with the air. In the days of architecture it made a mountain
of itself, and took powerful possession of a century and
a place. Now it converts itself into a flock of birds, scatters
itself to the four winds, and occupies all points of air and
space at once.

We repeat, who does not perceive that in this form it is
far more indelible? It was solid, it has become alive.
It passes from duration in time to immortality. One can
demolish a mass; bow can one extirpate ubiquity? If a flood
comes, the mountains will have long disappeared beneath the
waves, while the birds will still be flying about; and if a
single ark floats on the surface of the cataclysm, they will
alight upon it, will float with it, will be present with it at
the ebbing of the waters; and the new world which emerges
from this chaos will behold, on its awakening, the thought of
the world which has been submerged soaring above it, winged
and living.

And when one observes that this mode of expression is not
only the most conservative, but also the most simple, the
most convenient, the most practicable for all; when one
reflects that it does not drag after it bulky baggage, and
does not set in motion a heavy apparatus; when one compares
thought forced, in order to transform itself into an edifice,
to put in motion four or five other arts and tons of gold, a
whole mountain of stones, a whole forest of timber-work, a
whole nation of workmen; when one compares it to the thought
which becomes a book, and for which a little paper, a little
ink, and a pen suffice,--how can one be surprised that human
intelligence should have quitted architecture for printing?
Cut the primitive bed of a river abruptly with a canal
hollowed out below its level, and the river will desert
its bed.

Behold how, beginning with the discovery of printing,
architecture withers away little by little, becomes lifeless
and bare. How one feels the water sinking, the sap departing,
the thought of the times and of the people withdrawing from
it! The chill is almost imperceptible in the fifteenth
century; the press is, as yet, too weak, and, at the most,
draws from powerful architecture a superabundance of life. But
practically beginning with the sixteenth century, the malady of
architecture is visible; it is no longer the expression of society;
it becomes classic art in a miserable manner; from being
Gallic, European, indigenous, it becomes Greek and Roman;
from being true and modern, it becomes pseudo-classic. It is
this decadence which is called the Renaissance. A magnificent
decadence, however, for the ancient Gothic genius, that
sun which sets behind the gigantic press of Mayence, still
penetrates for a while longer with its rays that whole hybrid
pile of Latin arcades and Corinthian columns.

It is that setting sun which we mistake for the dawn.

Nevertheless, from the moment when architecture is no
longer anything but an art like any other; as soon as it is no
longer the total art, the sovereign art, the tyrant art,--it
has no longer the power to retain the other arts. So they
emancipate themselves, break the yoke of the architect, and take
themselves off, each one in its own direction. Each one of
them gains by this divorce. Isolation aggrandizes everything.
Sculpture becomes statuary, the image trade becomes painting,
the canon becomes music. One would pronounce it an empire
dismembered at the death of its Alexander, and whose provinces
become kingdoms.

Hence Raphael, Michael Angelo, Jean Goujon, Palestrina,
those splendors of the dazzling sixteenth century.

Thought emancipates itself in all directions at the same time
as the arts. The arch-heretics of the Middle Ages had already
made large incisions into Catholicism. The sixteenth century
breaks religious unity. Before the invention of printing,
reform would have been merely a schism; printing converted
it into a revolution. Take away the press; heresy is enervated.
Whether it be Providence or Fate, Gutenburg is the precursor
of Luther.

Nevertheless, when the sun of the Middle Ages is completely
set, when the Gothic genius is forever extinct upon
the horizon, architecture grows dim, loses its color, becomes
more and more effaced. The printed book, the gnawing worm
of the edifice, sucks and devours it. It becomes bare, denuded
of its foliage, and grows visibly emaciated. It is petty, it
is poor, it is nothing. It no longer expresses anything, not
even the memory of the art of another time. Reduced to itself,
abandoned by the other arts, because human thought is abandoning
it, it summons bunglers in place of artists. Glass replaces
the painted windows. The stone-cutter succeeds the sculptor.
Farewell all sap, all originality, all life, all intelligence.
It drags along, a lamentable workshop mendicant, from copy to
copy. Michael Angelo, who, no doubt, felt even in the sixteenth
century that it was dying, had a last idea, an idea of
despair. That Titan of art piled the Pantheon on the
Parthenon, and made Saint-Peter's at Rome. A great work,
which deserved to remain unique, the last originality of
architecture, the signature of a giant artist at the bottom of
the colossal register of stone which was closed forever. With
Michael Angelo dead, what does this miserable architecture,
which survived itself in the state of a spectre, do? It takes
Saint-Peter in Rome, copies it and parodies it. It is a mania.
It is a pity. Each century has its Saint-Peter's of Rome; in
the seventeenth century, the Val-de-Grâce; in the eighteenth,
Sainte-Geneviève. Each country has its Saint-Peter's of
Rome. London has one; Petersburg has another; Paris has
two or three. The insignificant testament, the last dotage of
a decrepit grand art falling back into infancy before it dies.

If, in place of the characteristic monuments which we have
just described, we examine the general aspect of art from the
sixteenth to the eighteenth century, we notice the same
phenomena of decay and phthisis. Beginning with François II.,
the architectural form of the edifice effaces itself more and
more, and allows the geometrical form, like the bony structure
of an emaciated invalid, to become prominent. The fine
lines of art give way to the cold and inexorable lines of
geometry. An edifice is no longer an edifice; it is a
polyhedron. Meanwhile, architecture is tormented in her
struggles to conceal this nudity. Look at the Greek pediment
inscribed upon the Roman pediment, and vice versa. It is still
the Pantheon on the Parthenon: Saint-Peter's of Rome. Here
are the brick houses of Henri IV., with their stone corners;
the Place Royale, the Place Dauphine. Here are the churches
of Louis XIII., heavy, squat, thickset, crowded together,
loaded with a dome like a hump. Here is the Mazarin
architecture, the wretched Italian pasticcio of the Four Nations.
Here are the palaces of Louis XIV., long barracks for courtiers,
stiff, cold, tiresome. Here, finally, is Louis XV., with
chiccory leaves and vermicelli, and all the warts, and all the
fungi, which disfigure that decrepit, toothless, and coquettish
old architecture. From François II. to Louis XV., the evil
has increased in geometrical progression. Art has no longer
anything but skin upon its bones. It is miserably perishing.

Meanwhile what becomes of printing? All the life which
is leaving architecture comes to it. In proportion as
architecture ebbs, printing swells and grows. That capital
of forces which human thought had been expending in edifices,
it henceforth expends in books. Thus, from the sixteenth
century onward, the press, raised to the level of decaying
architecture, contends with it and kills it. In the seventeenth
century it is already sufficiently the sovereign, sufficiently
triumphant, sufficiently established in its victory, to
give to the world the feast of a great literary century. In
the eighteenth, having reposed for a long time at the Court
of Louis XIV., it seizes again the old sword of Luther, puts it
into the hand of Voltaire, and rushes impetuously to the
attack of that ancient Europe, whose architectural expression
it has already killed. At the moment when the eighteenth
century comes to an end, it has destroyed everything.
In the nineteenth, it begins to reconstruct.

Now, we ask, which of the three arts has really represented
human thought for the last three centuries? which translates
it? which expresses not only its literary and scholastic
vagaries, but its vast, profound, universal movement? which
constantly superposes itself, without a break, without a gap,
upon the human race, which walks a monster with a thousand
legs?--Architecture or printing?

It is printing. Let the reader make no mistake; architecture
is dead; irretrievably slain by the printed book,--slain
because it endures for a shorter time,--slain because it costs
more. Every cathedral represents millions. Let the reader
now imagine what an investment of funds it would require to
rewrite the architectural book; to cause thousands of edifices
to swarm once more upon the soil; to return to those epochs
when the throng of monuments was such, according to the
statement of an eye witness, "that one would have said that
the world in shaking itself, had cast off its old garments in
order to cover itself with a white vesture of churches." ~Erat
enim ut si mundus, ipse excutiendo semet, rejecta vetustate,
candida ecclesiarum vestem indueret~. (GLABER RADOLPHUS.)

A book is so soon made, costs so little, and can go so far!
How can it surprise us that all human thought flows in this
channel? This does not mean that architecture will not
still have a fine monument, an isolated masterpiece, here and
there. We may still have from time to time, under the reign
of printing, a column made I suppose, by a whole army from
melted cannon, as we had under the reign of architecture,
Iliads and Romanceros, Mahabâhrata, and Nibelungen Lieds,
made by a whole people, with rhapsodies piled up and melted
together. The great accident of an architect of genius may
happen in the twentieth century, like that of Dante in the
thirteenth. But architecture will no longer be the social art,
the collective art, the dominating art. The grand poem, the
grand edifice, the grand work of humanity will no longer be
built: it will be printed.

And henceforth, if architecture should arise again accidentally,
it will no longer be mistress. It will be subservient
to the law of literature, which formerly received the
law from it. The respective positions of the two arts will be
inverted. It is certain that in architectural epochs, the poems,
rare it is true, resemble the monuments. In India, Vyasa is
branching, strange, impenetrable as a pagoda. In Egyptian
Orient, poetry has like the edifices, grandeur and tranquillity
of line; in antique Greece, beauty, serenity, calm; in
Christian Europe, the Catholic majesty, the popular naivete,
the rich and luxuriant vegetation of an epoch of renewal.
The Bible resembles the Pyramids; the Iliad, the Parthenon;
Homer, Phidias. Dante in the thirteenth century is the last
Romanesque church; Shakespeare in the sixteenth, the last
Gothic cathedral.

Thus, to sum up what we have hitherto said, in a fashion
which is necessarily incomplete and mutilated, the human
race has two books, two registers, two testaments: masonry
and printing; the Bible of stone and the Bible of paper. No
doubt, when one contemplates these two Bibles, laid so broadly
open in the centuries, it is permissible to regret the visible
majesty of the writing of granite, those gigantic alphabets
formulated in colonnades, in pylons, in obelisks, those sorts
of human mountains which cover the world and the past, from
the pyramid to the bell tower, from Cheops to Strasburg.
The past must be reread upon these pages of marble. This
book, written by architecture, must be admired and perused
incessantly; but the grandeur of the edifice which printing
erects in its turn must not be denied.

That edifice is colossal. Some compiler of statistics has
calculated, that if all the volumes which have issued from the
press since Gutenberg's day were to be piled one upon another,
they would fill the space between the earth and the moon;
but it is not that sort of grandeur of which we wished to
speak. Nevertheless, when one tries to collect in one's mind
a comprehensive image of the total products of printing down
to our own days, does not that total appear to us like an
immense construction, resting upon the entire world, at which
humanity toils without relaxation, and whose monstrous crest
is lost in the profound mists of the future? It is the anthill
of intelligence. It is the hive whither come all imaginations,
those golden bees, with their honey.

The edifice has a thousand stories. Here and there one
beholds on its staircases the gloomy caverns of science which
pierce its interior. Everywhere upon its surface, art causes
its arabesques, rosettes, and laces to thrive luxuriantly before
the eyes. There, every individual work, however capricious
and isolated it may seem, has its place and its projection.
Harmony results from the whole. From the cathedral of
Shakespeare to the mosque of Byron, a thousand tiny bell
towers are piled pell-mell above this metropolis of universal
thought. At its base are written some ancient titles of
humanity which architecture had not registered. To the left
of the entrance has been fixed the ancient bas-relief, in white
marble, of Homer; to the right, the polyglot Bible rears its
seven heads. The hydra of the Romancero and some other
hybrid forms, the Vedas and the Nibelungen bristle further on.

Nevertheless, the prodigious edifice still remains incomplete.
The press, that giant machine, which incessantly pumps all
the intellectual sap of society, belches forth without pause
fresh materials for its work. The whole human race is on the
scaffoldings. Each mind is a mason. The humblest fills his
hole, or places his stone. Retif dè le Bretonne brings his hod
of plaster. Every day a new course rises. Independently of
the original and individual contribution of each writer, there
are collective contingents. The eighteenth century gives the
_Encyclopedia_, the revolution gives the _Moniteur_. Assuredly,
it is a construction which increases and piles up in endless
spirals; there also are confusion of tongues, incessant
activity, indefatigable labor, eager competition of all
humanity, refuge promised to intelligence, a new Flood against
an overflow of barbarians. It is the second tower of Babel
of the human race.