Author: Alena Fidlerová Date of publishing: 15.2.2014
The article analyses popular prayer books preserved in regional museums of Bohemia and described in the Inventory of the 17th and 18th Century Manuscripts from the Museum Collections in Bohemia I–II (they comprise in total 3298 manuscripts from 94 museums). After a short introduction dealing with the principal characteristics of these manuscripts (viewed partly as an instance of entrepreneurial manuscript publication), their potential scribes and the way these books were read and used as magical objects, it classifies them according to the date of origin, the language used and the gender and social status of their scribes and owners. It shows among others that although most of these books (in absolute numbers) probably originate from the rural environment, their scribes and owners were usually not mere peasants, but artisans or local intellectual elites (mostly teachers). Moreover, if we compare the results obtained to the distribution of the Early Modern population between villages and towns, the production of these manuscripts per person seem to be roughly the same in both these environments. But there are gender differences: in contrast to the scribes of the prayer books who were almost without exception men, almost half of their first owners were women. Regarding the date of origin, our data show different results for Czech and for German language manuscripts: while the beginning of great popularity of these books among Czech speaking population falls into the 1760s with another major increase of their production in the 1790s, the increase of the production of German manuscript prayer books starts already in the 1730s and proceeds steadily during the whole 18th century. Finally, the article considers the role of manuscript books within the written communication of the period and advocates their autonomy as a distinct medium, entering diverse relations with other media, predominantly printed books, but functioning according to its own rules and not merely derivative.