The Hunchback of Notre Dame
2. This Will Kill That
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
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