BLTC Press Titles

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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

The Bhagavad Gita


History of the transmission of ancient books to modern times

by Isaac Taylor


Thejirst line of proof relates to the history of certain copies of a work, which are now in existence.

The second—traces the history of a work as it may be collected from the series of references made to it by succeeding writers.

The third—is drawn from the known history of the language in which the work is extant.



The antiquity and integrity of a work are, it is obvious, liable to no dispute so far as the existence of any one copy of it can be traced back with certainty to the time of its first publication. If, for example, a manuscript of a work in the author's hand writing were still extant, and if the fact of its being such could be proved, our argument would be concluded, and all other evidence must be deemed superfluous. There are however few such unquestionable autographs to be found even of modern works, and none of any ancient one. Yet the circumstances attending the preservation and transmission of manuscripts are, in some instances, as we shall see, such as to prove the antiquity and genuineness of a work with little less certainty than as if the very first copy of it were in existence.

But before we enter into the particulars of this proof it should be mentioned, in conformity with the plan of the argument, which requires us to follow the order of time retrogressively, that it is unnecessary to trace the history of manuscripts later than the early part of the fifteenth century, when most of the classic authors passed through the press. For the invention of printing has served as well to ascertain, bevond doubt, the existence of books at certain dates, as to secure the text from interpolation and corruption. A printed book is not susceptible of subsequent interpolation or alteration by the pen: it bears also a date, and the issuing of different editions of the same

work from distant places, would render any falsification of date in one of them, or any material corruption of the text by an editor, an absurd and nugatory attempt. There are for example, now extant, printed copies of the history of the Peloponnesian war, dated "Venice, 1502;" other copies of an edition of the same work dated " Florence, 1506 ;" others, dated " Basil, 1540;" and others, printed within a few years of the same time at Paris and Vienna. On being compared with each other, these editions are found to agree in the main; and yet to disagree in many small variations of orthography, syntax, or expression; so as to prove that they were separately derived from different manuscripts, and not successively from each other. These printed editions, therefore, sufficiently prove the existence of the work in the fifteenth century; and also that the text of the modern editions has not been materially impaired or corrupted during the last four hundred years.

Let it be imagined, that there are no other means of ascertaining the antiquity and genuineness of the classic authors than such as may be collected from the history of existing manuscripts: and our object then will be to discover to what age they may clearly be traced; and to deduce from the facts of the case some inference relative to the length of time during which those works have probably been under the process of transcription.

The date of ancient manuscripts may be ascertained by such means as the following.

1. Some manuscripts are known to have been preserved in the libraries where they are now found for several centuries:—for not only have they been mentioned in the catalogues of the depositories to which they belong, but accurately described by eminent scholars of succeeding ages; so that no doubt can remain of their identity. Or if they have changed hands, the particulars of the successive transfers are authentically recorded.

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