Table of Contents
Main Sections
I. Function of Books
II. Book Production
      1. Parchment
      2. Papyrus 
      3. Paper 
      4. Ruling
      5. Pen 
      6. Ink 
      7. Gilding 
      8. Pigments 
      9. Bookbinding
III. Book Structure
IV. Typology of Books
V. Book Illumination
Back to the previous subchapter                II. Materials and Techniques of Manuscript    Production  Credits
4. Ruling
Lines were ruled on the pages of medieval manuscripts as a guide for the script. School children today have lines ruled for their handwriting, and exercise-books and ledgers are printed with ruled lines. It is, however, considered now to be not really good manners to write formal letters on ruled paper, as if there were something a bit shameful in needing guidelines for handwriting. It was quite the reverse in the Middle Ages. The smarter the book, the more elaborately it was ruled. Unruled manuscripts (and they exist) are the cheap and ugly home-made transcripts. Splendidly illuminated manuscripts have grids of guide lines. When printing was introduced and early customers expected their books to resemble traditional manuscripts, the usual trick was to rule in guide lines around every line of printed text because writing presumably looked naked without it. There are examples of this at least into the seventeenth century. Ruled guide lines were an expected feature of a medieval book. The lines drawn on a page of a medieval manuscript will depend very much on the text to be written. Either the scribe ruled his own, or he selected ruled leaves in accordance with the scale and page layout of his text.

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There is a ninth-century instruction for laying out pages mathematically. Suppose the page to be five units high and four wide, it says. The height of the written-space should be four such units. The inner and lower margins should be three times as wide as the outer margin and as the gutter between the columns (if it is a two column book) and a third wider than the width of the upper margin. The lines should be spaced, the ninth-century directive concludes, according to the size of the writing. It is quite difficult to measure out a page according to these rules. It can be hard to confirm whether extant manuscripts followed a formula of proportion, because their three outer margins are likely to have been trimmed a number of times in rebinding over the centuries. If nothing else, however, medieval book designers probably realised that in a handsome manuscript the height of the written-space equalled the width of the page.

Until the twelfth century, most manuscripts were ruled in hardpoint, that is, with blind lines scored with a stylus or back of the knife. Scribes ruled hard and sometimes cut through the parchment by mistake. Around the beginning of the twelfth century we first find guide lines ruled in what looks like pencil: it could be graphite but is more likely to be metallic lead or even silver. In thirteenth or fourteenth-century there are probably plummet  markers for just such purposes as ruling manuscripts. From the thirteenth century onwards, concurrently with plummet (sometimes even in one manuscript), lines can be ruled in pen and ink. We find brown, red, green or purple ink used, and sometimes combinations of colours giving a festive appearance. Very often the lines marking off the block of text continue right to the edge of the page, and sometimes they are double or treble. The horizontal lines for the script sometimes extend to the edges too, or perhaps the first and last will, or the first, third, antepenultimate, and last. It is interesting to look at a manuscript and notice how it has been ruled, but it is not easy to draw any particular generalisations about what one sees.

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Ruling page by page before even beginning to write was slow and tedious. Various devices were used to speed the process. The most universal was to measure out the first page of the gathering, or the first and last page together ) the gatheringwas laid open, and to follow the lines with a rule to the extreme edge of the page and there to prick very hard right through the whole stack of leaves. Then all that was needed was to open the pages and join up the prickings and the ruling pattern would be duplicated exactly from page to page. Sometimes these holes were apparently pricked with the very tip of a knife because they are the shape of tiny triangular wedges. Usually they must have been pushed with a carpenter's awl, a metal spike on a wooden handle. Prickings are not always visible as they are frequently trimmed off in binding. If they occur in the inner margins as well as the outer margins, the leaves must have been ruled while the gatherings were folded into pages. Occasionally one notices (especially if alerted to look out for it) that every eight or ten lines or so one hole will be crooked or unduly widely spaced. If this is consistent in several gatherings, it is a good clue that the prickings had been made with some kind of wheel, like a tiny garden roller with spikes, and that one spike had somehow become knocked out of alignment and thus the defect recurred at regular intervals as the wheel went round. There is sometimes evidence too in the later Middle Ages that the multiple lines for the text were ruled with several pens  tied together, like the rostrum or rake used for making musical staves. If for any reason these pens were knocked or quivered slightly as they were drawn across the page, the quaver is reflected at exactly the same point in several lines simultaneously. This is another clue worth looking out for in a page of manuscript.

A final artificial device, used only in the fifteenth century (as far as can be traced) and mostly in north-eastern Italy, is the ruling frame. This is a familiar feature of Oriental and Hebrew book production. Holes are drilled in a wooden board and wires are ingeniously threaded through, emerging in a criss-cross pattern exactly like that of the framework to be transferred onto the page. Then all that is needed is to place the blank sheet over the board and rub it with the fist, and the lines will be impressed identically onto the sheet. Once more, as with other ruling devices, it is not necessarily easy to tell when confronting a manuscript if a ruling board has been used. But imagine how the wires must bisect each other on the board when they cross at right angles. One must be threaded under the other or pushed right through the wood and out again on the other side of the wire it crosses. One can see this in the manuscript, as no line actually crosses another; the lines stop fractionally short and pick up again a millimetre on the other side of the crossing. When a line is ruled with a stylus, it simply ploughs straight across, one way and the other. In the early Middle Ages, scribes doubtlessly prepared many of the stages of the parchment  themselves. The cottage-industry of the monastic community left little scope for teams of professional collaborators. Even the parchment was doubtless a by-product of the monastery's kitchens, and paper was unknown. But certainly by the fourteenth century it seems to have been possible to purchase gatheringsof parchment ready prepared for writing. Ruling continues under miniatures, and there is ruling on blank flyleaves. For many scribes, the task of writing a manuscript must have begun with neat stacks of paper or parchment gatherings, ready folded and ruled.

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