Its different styles—Origin of Western alphabets—Various forms of letters—Capitals, uncials, etc.—Texts used in Western Europe—Forms of ancient writings—The roll, or volume—The codex—Tablets—Diptychs, etc.—The square book—How different sizes of books were produced.

Seeing that illumination grew originally out of the decoration of the initial letters, our next point to notice is the penmanship. The alphabet which we now use is that formerly used by the Romans, who borrowed it from the Greeks, who in turn obtained it (or their modification of it) from the Phœnicians, who, lastly it is said, constructed it from that of the Egyptians. Of course, in these repeated transfers the letters themselves, as well as the order of them, underwent considerable alterations. With these we have here no concern. Our alphabet, i.e. the Roman and its variations, is quite sufficient for our story. In order to show as clearly as may be the varieties of lettering and the progress of penmanship from classical times to the revival of the old Roman, letters in the fifteenth century, we offer the following synopsis, which classifies and indicates the development of the different hands used by writers and illuminators of MSS. It is constructed on the information given in Wailly's large work on Palæography, and in Dr. de Grey Birch's book on the Utrecht Psalter. The former work affords excellent facsimiles, which, together with those given in the plates published by the Palæographical Society, will give the student the clearest possible ideas respecting these ancient handwritings.

Omitting the cursive or correspondence hand, the letters used by the Romans were of four kinds—capitals (usually made angular to be cut in stone), rustic, uncials, and minuscules.

The rounded capitals were intended to be used in penwork. Uncials differ from capitals only in the letters A, D, E, G, M, Q, T, V, for the sake of ease in writing. It is said that this class of letters was first called uncials from being made an inch (uncia) high, but this is mere tradition; the word is first used on Jerome's preface to the Book of Job. No uncials have ever been found measuring more than five-eighths of an inch in height.

For the assistance of such students as may wish for examples we must refer to certain MSS. and reproductions in which the foregoing hands are exemplified.