William Caxton

CAXTON, WILLIAM (1422?–1491), first English printer, was born, he himself states, ‘in Kent in the Weeld’. The name was usually pronounced Cauxton, and often written Causton, and Kentish antiquaries connect Caxton’s family with the Caustons or Caxtons who held a manor of the same name near Hadlow in the Weald of Kent in the thirteenth century. Before the fifteenth century the manor had passed into other hands, but offshoots of the family appear to have been still settled in the neighbourhood and in Essex. A William de Causton was a prominent mercer in London in the fourteenth century (see his will dated 1354 in Athenæum for 25 Dec. 1880), and it has been suggested that he was Caxton’s grandfather on the ground that Caxton was afterwards apprenticed to his trade. The argument is of little value, however, because the manufacture of cloth was the leading Kentish industry in the fifteenth century, and well-to-do parents invariably endeavoured to apprentice their sons to London mercers. In 1474 one Oliver Causton was buried at the church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, and in 1478 one William Caxton. The great printer was settled in Westminster at the latter date, and the William Caxton then buried may have been his father; but nothing is known for certain. His parents, whatever their names and condition, gave Caxton some education. ‘I am bounden to pray,’ he writes in the prologue to his ‘Charles the Grete’ (1485), ‘for my fader and moder’s souls that in my youthe sent me to schoole, by which by the suffraunce of God I gete my living, I hope truly.’ On 24 June 1438, according to the extant accounts of the Mercers’ Company, Caxton was apprenticed to Robert Large, a mercer of high reputation in the city of London. Assuming that he was sixteen years old on becoming an apprentice—it is not likely that he would be older—Caxton would have been born in 1422. Caxton, writing about 1474 (prologue to the Recuyell), speaks of himself as an old man. M. J. P. A. Madden and others therefore insist that Caxton could not then have been less than sixty years old, and suggest the date 1411 as the year of his birth, but many considerations conflict with this inference. Caxton’s master, Large, was sheriff in 1430 and lord mayor in 1439–40; he lived in a great house in the Old Jewry, and showed the esteem in which he held Caxton, who was still in his indentures at the time of his death (24 April 1441), by bequeathing him twenty marks. Very soon after his master’s death the young apprentice left England for Bruges, where the English mercers had a large commercial connection, and he ‘contynued for the space of xxx. yere’ in the Low Countries. Caxton’s apprenticeship lasted till 1446, when he went into business for himself at Bruges. In 1450 he became surety in behalf of another English merchant for the payment of 110l.—a sign of some prosperity—and in 1453 he paid a brief visit to London to formally enter the livery of the Mercers’ Company, a proof, in spite of the absence of direct documentary evidence, that he had already become a freeman of the guild. On 16 April 1462 Edward IV granted the Merchant Adventurers—an association of English merchants at home and abroad—a new charter for the better government of the English merchants settled in the Low Countries, and permission was given them to appoint a governor at Bruges. The members of the society were chiefly mercers, and their headquarters were at the hall of the Mercers’ Company, London. Between 24 June 1462 and 24 June 1463 Caxton, according to entries in the Mercers’ archives, was fulfilling the duties of the new office of governor, and before 16 Aug. 1465 he had been definitely appointed to it. His functions were highly responsible. With a small jury of fellow-merchants he decided all disputes among English merchants in the Low Countries; he regulated and personally overlooked the importation and exportation of merchandise, and he corresponded with the English government on commercial matters. At Bruges the English merchants had their own ‘house,’ in which Caxton resided. On 24 Oct. 1464 Caxton, together with Sir Richard Whitehill, was commissioned to renew a trading treaty between England and the Low Countries which was about to lapse. But the negotiations proved unsuccessful; the treaty was not renewed, and Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, excluded all English-made cloth from his dominions, while the English government retaliated by prohibiting the importation of Flemish goods. The English merchants endeavoured to override these new laws by smuggling their merchandise into England, and the Earl of Warwick in 1466 ordered Caxton to enforce penalties against the offenders. Caxton appealed to the lord mayor of London and the Mercers’ Company, but those authorities were unable to relieve him of his anxieties. The death of Duke Philip (15 June 1467) and the accession of Charles the Bold placed matters on a better footing. On 9 July 1468 Edward IV’s sister, Margaret, married the new duke at Bruges, and in the following October Caxton, with two English envoys, was able to renew the old trading relations between the two countries.

Caxton appears to have found time for travelling and for literary pursuits in these busy years. He visited Utrecht in 1464, 1465, and 1467, and in March 1468–9 began to translate into English, as a preventive against idleness (he tells us), the popular mediæval romance, ‘Le Recueil des Histoires de Troye.’ Later in 1469 he was called on to arbitrate in a commercial dispute at Bruges between a Genoese and an English merchant, but temporary absence from Bruges prevented him from signing the final award (dated 12 May 1469). On 13 Aug. 1469 he received a gift of wine, honoris causa, apparently in his capacity of governor. But this is the last date at which he appears to have been fulfilling the duties of his commercial office.

The English princess who had become Duchess of Burgundy in 1468 showed Caxton much attention from her first arrival in the Low Countries, and when her brother Edward IV took refuge in Flanders in October 1470 from the successful rebellion of the Earl of Warwick, there is little doubt that Caxton was brought into personal relations with him. Before March 1470–1 Caxton had wholly relinquished his commercial pursuits for the household service of the duchess. Doubtless this change was due to an increasing desire on his part for leisure in which to essay various literary enterprises. In 1471, while at Ghent, he busily employed himself in completing the translation of ‘Le Recueil,’ which he had neglected for two years, and on 19 Sept. 1471 the work was finished at Cologne. The book was in great demand, and, in order to multiply copies with the greater ease, Caxton (as he tells us in his ‘Prologe’) resolved to put himself to the pains of learning the newly discovered art of printing.

In all likelihood 1474 was the year in which ‘The Recuyell’ was printed. This, the first English book printed, gives no indication of time or place, and the date and the exact circumstances of its publication have been, in the absence of precise evidence, the subject of much controversy. At Bruges there lived a skilful caligrapher named Colard Mansion, who set up a press in that city for the first time about 1473. Mr. Blades states that Caxton probably supplied Mansion with money to carry out his enterprise, and placed himself under Mansion’s tuition at Bruges. That Caxton and Mansion were acquainted with one another is not disputed. But Caxton’s explicit mention of Cologne as the place in which he finished his translation in 1471, and the remark of Caxton’s successor, Wynkyn de Worde, that Caxton printed a Latin book, ‘Bartholomæus de Proprietatibus Rerum,’ at Cologne (W. de Worde, Proheme to his ed. of Bartholomæus, n.d.), powerfully support the conclusion that Caxton was associated with Cologne in his early printing operations. M. J. P. A. Madden suggests that Caxton and Mansion were fellow-students of the art of printing at Cologne some time between 1471 and 1474, and this is very probable. For the rest, the absence from the ‘Recuyell’ of many technical points met with in Cologne books of the time, and the presence there of most, though not all, the technical points found in the early books of Mansion’s press, point to the conclusion that Caxton, having learned printing at Cologne, returned to Bruges about 1474, and printed the ‘Recuyell’ at Mansion’s press there.

On 31 March 1474–5 Caxton states that he completed another translation—‘The Game and Playe of the Chesse’—from Jean de Vignay’s French version (1360) of J. de Cessolis’s ‘Ludus Scacchorum.’ This was the second English book printed. The same types were used as in the case of ‘The Recuyell,’ and although it also is without printer’s name, place, or date, it may be referred to Colard Mansion’s press at Bruges and dated 1475. ‘I did do set [it] in imprinte,’ writes Caxton when bringing out a later edition, and the expression probably means that he caused it to be printed, but did not actually print it with his own hands.

In 1476 Caxton left Bruges to practise his newly acquired art in his native country, and on 18 Nov. 1477 he printed at Westminster a book called ‘The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers.’ This work contains a colophon giving for the first time the name of printer, the place of publication, and date. The copy in the Rylands Library supplies the day of the month. The ‘Dictes’ is undoubtedly the first book printed in England. Its type, though dissimilar from that of the two former books in which Caxton had been concerned, is identical with that used in Mansion’s later books. It is therefore probable that Caxton brought to Westminster his printing apparatus from Bruges. The translation (from the French ‘Les dits moraux des philosophes’) was from the pen of Earl Rivers, but was revised at the earl’s request by Caxton, who added a prologue and a chapter ‘touchyng wymmen.’ The ‘History of Jason,’ an English translation of Raoul Lefevre’s ‘Les Fais … du … Chevalier Jason,’ which seems to have been first printed by Mansion about 1478, was another early publication of Caxton’s Westminster press. But the claim of precedence over the ‘Dictes,’ as the first book printed in England, which has been put forward in its behalf, rests on shadowy evidence.

From 1477 to 1491 Caxton was busily employed in printing and translating. His later assistant, Robert Copland, in the prologue to his edition of ‘Kinge Apolyn of Thyre,’ speaks of Caxton ‘begynnynge with small storyes and pamfletes and so to other,’ but it would seem that Caxton was more ambitious from the first. Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales,’ a large folio, was one of his early ventures, and although he printed very many ‘Horæ,’ ‘Indulgentiæ,’ Sarum service books, and other ecclesiastical handbooks, together with many brief pamphlets of poems and ballads, he never seems to have confined himself to short tracts or to any one class of publications. Gibbon has complained that no classical author came from Caxton’s press, and has vehemently denounced his choice of books. But Lydgate and Gower, besides Chaucer, were repeatedly issued by him in large folio volumes, and the publication of Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘King Arthur’ (1485), of translations of Cicero’s ‘De Senectute,’ Cicero’s ‘De Amicitia’ (1481), and a Dutch version of ‘Reynard the Fox’ (1481), together with paraphrases of the ‘Æneid,’ proves some literary taste. In the epilogue to Chaucer’s ‘Book of Fame’ (No. 47 below) the printer criticises the poet in a highly appreciative spirit. His industry while in England almost baffles conception. He printed in fourteen years more than eighteen thousand pages, nearly all of folio size, and nearly eighty separate books, some of which passed through two editions, and a few through three. The names of three assistants are known, those of Wynkyn de Worde, Richard Pynson, and Robert Copland. It is quite possible that Machlinia and Treveris—also early English printers—were his workmen, but there is no evidence on the point. In any case his assistants hardly appear to have been numerous or skilled enough to have relieved Caxton of even much mechanical labour.

The amount of his work as a translator is even more remarkable. He states himself that he translated twenty-one books, mainly romances, from the French and one from the Dutch (‘Reynard the Fox’). His knowledge of French was very thorough, and the number of Latin books he undertook leaves little doubt that he was also acquainted with that language. As a voluminous translator Caxton did something to fix the literary language of the sixteenth century. He was never very literal; he interpolated some passages and paraphrased others. Not unnaturally his vocabulary borrows much from the French, but his style is idiomatic and rarely reminds the reader that the work before him is other than an original composition.

Caxton was a favourite at the courts of Edward IV and Richard III, and doubtless reflected his patrons’ predilections in his choice of books. On 15 June 1479 King Edward gave him 20l. ‘for certain causes and matters performed;’ whether Caxton’s services in Edward’s behalf at Bruges are referred to, or his magnificent enterprise at Westminster, is uncertain. Edward IV is known to have possessed at least one of Caxton’s books (No. 31 below), and Caxton describes several works as printed under Edward’s protection. Earl Rivers and the Earl of Worcester were not only intimate friends of Caxton, but translated books for his press, and Margaret, countess of Richmond, and Henry Bourchier, earl of Essex, showed him many attentions. To Richard III Caxton dedicated his ‘Order of Chivalry.’ Henry VII bade Caxton print the ‘Fayts of Arms,’ and the ‘Eneydos’ was dedicated to Arthur, prince of Wales. William, earl of Arundel, allowed him a buck every summer and a doe in winter. Sir John Fastolf eagerly purchased his books, and many rich mercers were his fastest friends.

In the parish of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where Caxton lived, he was from the first a man of mark. He audited the parochial accounts for each year from 1478 to 1484. In 1490 his friend William Pratt, a mercer of London, died, and requested him on his deathbed to print the ‘Book of Good Manners,’ and in 1491 Caxton’s own busy life came to a close. On his last day he was engaged in translating the ‘Vitæ Patrum,’ which his assistant Wynkyn de Worde printed in 1495. There is no entry of his death accessible, but the St. Margaret’s parish accounts for the period 1490–2 state that 6s. 8d. was paid for four torches ‘atte bureying of William Caxton,’ and 6d. ‘for the belle atte same bureying.’ His will has not been discovered, but the parish accounts record that fifteen copies of his ‘Golden Legend’ were ‘bequothen to the chirch … by William Caxston,’ and other entries describe the distribution of the books. The printer was buried in the church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, and in 1820 the Roxburghe Club erected there a tablet to his memory. In 1883 a stained-glass window was also set up in his honour by the London printers and publishers, and upon it is emblazoned an inscription by Lord Tennyson.

Caxton married probably about 1469. Maud Caxton, who was buried at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, in 1490, may have been his wife. It was in that year that Caxton undertook his ‘Arte and Craft how to die.’ One daughter, Elizabeth, married Gerard Croppe, a merchant tailor of London, and on 20 May 1496 obtained from the ecclesiastical courts at Westminster a deed of separation from her husband. In consideration of this arrangement Croppe received, out of a bequest of Caxton’s, ‘twenty legends’ valued at 13s. 4d. each (Academy, 4 April 1874).

An interesting discussion has been held as to the exact site of Caxton’s house and workshop in Westminster. In the colophons of seven books Caxton describes himself as printing or translating in Westminster Abbey; in other books he merely states that they were printed at Westminster. Some of Caxton’s biographers have stated that Caxton’s office was the scriptorium of the abbey, lent to him by the abbot (John Esteney). There is, however, no proof that Esteney showed Caxton any special favour. Caxton dedicated no book to him, and only mentions him once in the prologue of the ‘Eneydos’ (1490), where the printer states that the abbot had sent him some old documents of the abbey with a view to his translating them into modern English. Stow states, very inaccurately, that about 1471 Islip (who was not dean till 1500) erected ‘the first presse of booke-printing’ in that part of the abbey precincts at Westminster known as the Almonry, and that Caxton practised printing there. In an advertisement sheet issued by Caxton about 1479, announcing the sale of ‘ony pyes of two and three comemoracions of salisburi vse’ (i.e. books of ecclesiastical offices), the printer bids the customer ‘come to Westminster in to the almonesrye at the reed pale.’ Mr. Blades’s conclusion is that Caxton rented of the abbot’s chamberlain, in the ordinary way of business, a house which bore the sign of a red pale, in the enclosure ‘west-south-west of the western front of the abbey,’ well known as the Almonry, and so called from the presence of a number of almshouses there, built by Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Wynkyn de Worde, who occupied Caxton’s workshop for some years after his master’s death, dates many books from ‘Caxton’s hous,’ or ‘In domo Caxston,’ at Westminster and near the abbey, but gives no more precise particulars.

Another difficulty is the meaning of the device which appears in twelve of Caxton’s books, all printed after 1487. The device is first met with at the end of a ‘Sarum Missal.’ This book, of which a unique copy belongs to Mr. W. J. Legh, was, unlike Caxton’s other books, printed for him at Paris by W. Maynayl. On the arrival of the sheets at Westminster Caxton added a leaf with his device upon it, and published the work at Westminster in 1487. The device consists of Caxton’s initials in capitals, with a strange interlacement of lines between the two letters, while near the W is a stroke resembling a small s, and near the C a stroke resembling a small c. The whole is enclosed in floral borders. The central lines have been assumed by the best critics to be a fantastic imprint of the figures ‘74,’ and a reference to the all-important fact that in 1474 Caxton printed the first English book. The circumstances attending the first employment of the device prove that Caxton regarded it as his peculiar trade-mark, and may support the conclusion that the design has no special meaning, and was merely intended to enable the public to identify easily Caxton’s wares. The small letters ‘s. c.’ have been explained by M. J. P. A. Madden as the initials of ‘Sancta Colonia,’ i.e. Cologne; and this interpretation plays an important part in his argument in favour of Cologne rather than Bruges as Caxton’s printing school. Although no other suggestion has been offered, this looks too fantastic to be probable. Wynkyn de Worde adopted Caxton’s device as his own after Caxton’s death; but he modified the cut, and often omitted the s and c, so that it is possible for an expert to detect the difference between Caxton’s trade-mark and that of his pupil and successor.

There is no authentic portrait of Caxton. In Lewis’s ‘Life’ and in Ames’s ‘Typographical Antiquities’ a supposed portrait appears, but its association with Caxton’s name is unwarranted. The print from which it is in both cases inaccurately copied belonged to John Bagford [q. v.], and is attributed to the well-known engraver, William Faithorne. Although Faithorne and Bagford pretended that it was an authentic representation of the great printer, Dr. Dibdin discovered that it was in reality a reproduction of the portrait of an Italian poet, Burchiello, which is prefixed to the 1554 edition (small octavo) of his poems. Faithorne is believed to have originated the fraud, and Bagford is regarded as the engraver’s dupe.

Caxton printed on paper made in most cases in the Low Countries, and very rarely used vellum. He employed from first to last movable types of the Gothic character, but his type is copied so closely from the caligraphy of his time that many of his books have been mistaken for manuscript. He often renewed his fount, and each fount that he employed differed in some respect from its predecessor. Caxton never mixed his founts in his books. The earliest fount, evidently imitated from contemporary French handwriting, was only used in Bruges. The second fount, used in England from 1477 to 1479, was also derived from Mansion’s office, and is known as ‘gros bâtarde;’ a new variety of this fount, employed in 1479–80, has thinner facings and fewer ornamental strokes. Caxton’s third distinct fount, in use from 1479 to 1483, chiefly for Latin books, is imitated from the church text of the scribes, and closely resembles the later ‘black letter.’ The fourth fount, in use from 1480 to 1485, is smaller than any of its forerunners, and resembles Caslon’s standard type; another variety of this fount appears in Gower’s ‘Confessio’ (1483) and ‘The Knight of the Tower’ (1483). The fifth fount, in use from 1487 to 1491, has large Lombardic capitals, and otherwise resembles the third fount. The sixth and last fount, in use from 1489 to 1491, is not unlike the first fount. Caxton’s books have no title-pages, but prologues and colophons are not uncommon. Some of the books, especially poetry and Latin works, have no punctuation at all; in others the full point or colon is used exclusively; in one (‘Paris and Vienne’) only the long comma (|). The sign or a coloured capital often indicates the beginning of a new sentence. The semicolon was unknown to Caxton, and commas are only represented by short (short comma) or long lines (|). The pages were never numbered, but bore at the bottom a signature, a j, a i j, and so on. The binding usually consisted of a stiff piece of parchment with the edges turned in, and often filled out with waste proof sheets. Caxton first introduced woodcuts into the third edition of the ‘Parvus et Magnus Catho’ about 1481, and woodcut initials appear first in the ‘Fables of Æsop,’ 1484. The same woodcut is often used in different books, and to illustrate different subject-matter. It is evident that Caxton employed several artists. Sure signs of a genuine Caxton are the absence (1) of title-pages, (2) of Roman or italic type, (3) of ordinary commas, (4) of catchwords at the foot of the page. The British Museum has no less than eighty-three Caxtons, but of these twenty-five are duplicates. Lord Spencer has fifty-seven separate works at Althorp. The Cambridge University Library has forty-two separate works, many of them unique, the Bodleian thirty-four, and the Duke of Devonshire twenty-five. Thirty-eight of the 102 works or editions known to have been printed by Caxton are extant only in fragments.

Many fragments of Caxton’s work have been found in the bindings of old books in old libraries. Mr. Blades records a remarkable discovery of the fragments of thirteen books printed by Caxton in the binding of a copy of Caxton’s Chaucer’s ‘Boethius,’ found in 1858 in the library of St. Albans grammar school. Mr. Henry Bradshaw was on many occasions equally fortunate, and to his bibliographical genius the Cambridge University Library owes the possession of its many unique Caxtons and unique Caxton fragments.

In 1877 the four hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first English-printed book in England was celebrated by a festival service in St. Paul’s Cathedral (19 June), and by an exhibition of Caxton’s books and early printing appliances (June to September) at South Kensington (Bullen, Cat. of Loan Collection, London, 1877).

The following is a list of the books printed by Caxton. Asterisks imply that a copy of the work is in the British Museum; notes of interrogation after the dates and places of publication denote that no mention is made of them in the book, and that they have been ascertained approximately by internal evidence; the numbers enclosed in brackets at the close of each entry stand for the approximate number of copies of the work now known to be extant; a dagger (†) shows that Caxton mentions in the book that he was its printer: 1.* ‘The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy,’ fol. Bruges? (Mansion & Caxton), 1474? [6]. 2. ‘The Game and Play of the Chess Moralized,’ translated by Caxton from Jean de Vignay’s French version of J. de Cessolis’s ‘Ludus Scacchorum,’ folio, 1st edition,* Bruges? 1474–5 [10]; 2nd edition,* with sixteen woodcuts,† Westminster? 1481? [13]. The second edition was reproduced in facsimile by Vincent Figgins in 1860. 3. ‘The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers,’ folio, 1st edition,*† Westminster, 18 Nov. 1477 [13], translated by Earl Rivers and revised by Caxton; 2nd edition,*† Westminster, 1480? [4]; 3rd edition,* Westminster, 1490? [6]. The first edition was reproduced from Mr. Christie Miller’s perfect copy by Mr. W. Blades in 1857. 4.* ‘The History of Jason,’ translated by Caxton, Westminster? 1477? [7]. 5. ‘Horæ [ad usum Sarum],’ 1st edition, 4to, Westminster? 1478? unique fragment in Bodleian; 2nd edition,* 4to, unique fragment, 1483?; 3rd edition,* 8vo, 1488, unique fragment; 4th edition,* 8vo, 1490? unique fragment. 6.* ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,’ folio, 1st edition, Westminster? 1478? [9]; 2nd edition, Westminster? 1484? with woodcuts [8]. A few leaves were facsimiled for private distribution by Mr. W. Blades (Beedham, Caxton Reproductions, p. 16). 7. ‘The Moral Proverbs of Christyne de Pise,’ translated by Earl Rivers, folio,† Westminster, February 1478 [3]. Reproduced for private distribution by Mr. Blades in 1859. 8. ‘Propositio Johannis Russell,’ 4to [a speech delivered by John Russell, bishop of Lincoln, when investing the Duke of Burgundy with the order of the Garter in February 1469–70], Westminster? 1478? [2]. 9. Lydgate’s ‘Stans Puer ad Mensam,’ translated from Sulpitius’s ‘Carmen Juvenile de moribus puerorum,’ with ‘Moral distichs’ and ‘Salve Regina,’ 4to [unique copy in Cambridge University Library], Westminster? 1477? 10. ‘Parvus Catho: Magnus Catho,’ a translation of Cato’s distiches by Benedict Burgh [q. v.], undertaken in behalf of William Bourchier, son of Earl of Essex, 1st edition, 4to, Westminster? ante 1479? [unique in Cambridge University Library]; 2nd edition, 4to, Westminster? ante 1479? [unique at Chatsworth]; 3rd edition, folio, with two woodcuts, Westminster? 1481? [3]. 11. Lydgate’s ‘The Horse, the Sheep, and the Goose,’ and other verses, 1st edition, 4to, Westminster? 1479? [unique copy in Cambridge University Library]; 2nd edition, 4to, Westminster? 1479? [unique in York Cathedral Library; fragment in Cambridge University Library]. The second edition was reprinted for the Roxburghe Club. 12. ‘Infancia Salvatoris,’ an adaptation of ‘Evangelium Infantiæ’ (cf. Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, i.), 4to, Westminster? 1478? [unique in Göttingen University Library]. 13. ‘The Temple of Glass,’ a poem attributed to Lydgate, 4to, Westminster? 1478? [unique in Cambridge University Library]. 14. ‘The Chorle and the Bird,’ a poem attributed to Lydgate, 1st edition, 4to, Westminster? 1478? [unique in Cambridge University Library; fragment in British Museum]; 2nd edition, 4to, Westminster? 1479? [unique in York Cathedral Library]. The second edition was reprinted for the Roxburghe Club. 15. ‘Temple of Brass, or Parliament of Fowls;’ Ballads; ‘Chaucer’s Envoy to Scogan,’ 4to, Westminster? 1478? [fragments in Cambridge University Library and British Museum]. 16. ‘The Book of Courtesy,’ 1st edition, 4to, Westminster? 1479? [unique in Cambridge University Library]; 2nd edition, Westminster, 1491? [fragment in Bodleian]. The first edition was reprinted by Dr. F. J. Furnivall for the Early English Text Society in 1868. 17. Queen Anelida and False Arcyte: ‘Chaucer’s Complaint to his Purse,’ 4to, Westminster? 1479? [unique in Cambridge University Library]. 18.* Boethius’s ‘De Consolatione Philosophiæ,’ translated by Chaucer, folio, †, Westminster? 1479? [16]. 19.* ‘Cordyale, or the Four Last Things,’ a translation from the French ascribed to Earl Rivers, folio, †, Westminster? 24 March 1479 [9]. 20. ‘A Latin Treatise on Rhetoric, by Laurentius Gulielmus de Traversanis of Savona,’ folio, Westminster? 1479? [2]. 21.* ‘Latin Letters of Indulgence issued with Sixtus IV’s authority in 1480 for assistance at the Siege of Rhodes’ (parchment), folio, Westminster? 31 March 1480 [2]. 22. ‘The Mirrour of the World,’ translated by Caxton, through the French, from Vincent de Beauvais’s ‘Speculum Naturale,’ at the request of Hugh Brice, for presentation to Lord Hastings, 1st edition,* folio, with woodcuts, Westminster? 1481 [16]; 2nd edition, folio, 1490? [13]. 23. ‘The History of Reynard the Fox,’ translated from the Dutch by Caxton at Westminster in 1481, 1st edition,* folio, Westminster? 1481? [4]; 2nd edition, folio, Westminster? 1489? [unique in Magdalene College, Cambridge]. 24.* ‘Tully of Old Age and Friendship: The Declamation of Noblesse,’ †, folio, Westminster? 1481 [22]. The translation, through the French, of Cicero’s ‘De Senectute,’ undertaken at the desire of Sir John Fastolf, is attributed by Leland to Tiptoft, earl of Worcester, and by Anstis to Wynkyn de Worde. There seems, however, no doubt that the work was undertaken by William of Worcester [q. v.] 25. Caxton’s ‘Advertisement’ (long 8vo), Westminster, 1478? [Althorp and Bodleian]. 26. ‘Directorium seu Pica Sarum,’ version i.,* 4to, 1478? [unique fragment]; version ii. (‘Directorium Sacerdotum’), with woodcut, 1st edition,* †, Westminster, 1487? [unique]; 2nd edition, †, Westminster, 1489? [unique in Bodleian]. 27.* ‘Psalterium,’ in Latin, 4to, Westminster? 1480? [unique]. 28. ‘The Chronicles of England,’ called ‘Caxton’s Chronicle,’ though it is merely an imprint of the popular ‘Chronicle of Brut,’ 1st edition, folio, †, Westminster, 10 June 1480 [13]; 2nd edition,* folio, †, Westminster, 8 Oct. 1482 [6]. 29.* ‘Description of Britain,’ a translation by Caxton of a chapter of Higden’s ‘Polycronicon,’ folio, †, Westminster? 18 Aug. 1480 [12]. 30. ‘Curia Sapientiæ, or the Court of Sapience,’ an English poem by Lydgate, fol. Westminster? 1481 [2; fragments in Bodleian and Brit. Mus.] 31.* ‘The History of Godfrey of Boulogne,’ translated by Caxton from the French, fol. †, Westminster, 20 Nov. 1481 [12]. Mr. Holford has a copy inscribed ‘This was king Edw. ye fourth Booke.’ 32.* ‘Letters of Indulgences for assistance against the Turks,’ in Latin, 1st edition, Westminster? 1481, in parchment [unique fragment]; 2nd edition, 1481 [unique in Bedford Library; fragment at Cambridge University Library]. 33.* ‘Polycronicon,’ a revised version by Caxton of Trevisa’s English translation of Higden’s Chronicle, fol. †, Westminster, 1482 [30]. 34. ‘Pilgrimage of the Soul,’ a translation from the French, ascribed to Lydgate, †, Westminster, 6 June 1483 [5]. 35. ‘Vocabulary in French and English,’ a book for travellers, fol. Westminster? 1483? [4]. 36.* ‘The Festial (Liber Festialis),’ an English translation by John Mirkus, fol. *, 1st edition, †, Westminster, 30 June 1483 [4]; * 2nd edition, with a few additions, †, 1491 [6]. 37. ‘Four Sermons,’ in English,* 1st edition fol. †, Westminster, 1483? [9]; * 2nd edition, 1491? [5]. A copy of this work at St. Andrews is carefully described in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 7th ser. ii. 264. It has been reprinted by the Roxburghe Club. 38.* ‘Servitium de Visitatione B. Mariæ Virginis,’ Latin, 4to, Westminster, 1482? [unique]. 39.* ‘Sex perelegantissimæ Epistolæ per Petrum Carmelianum emendatæ,’ dating from 11 Dec. 1482 to February 1483, 4to, †, Westminster, 1483? [unique copy in Hecht-Heinean Library, Halberstadt]. 40.* Gower’s ‘Confessio Amantis,’ large fol. †, Westminster, 2 Sept. 1483; the year is given as ‘a thousand cccc lxxxxiij,’ a typographical error for lxxxiij [17]. 41.* ‘The Knight of the Tower’s book of teaching for his daughters,’ translated from the French by Caxton from ‘Le Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry,’ fol. †, Westminster, 31 Jan. 1484 [6]. 42.* ‘Caton,’ an elaborate commentary on Cato’s distiches, translated by Caxton from the French in 1483, fol. Westminster? 1484? [12]. 43.* ‘The Golden Legend,’ paraphrased (20 Nov. 1483) by Caxton from Jacobus a Voragine’s ‘Aurea Legenda’ or lives of saints, with the help of English and French translations, large fol. *, with woodcuts; 1st edition †, Westminster, 1484? [30]; 2nd edition 1487? [fragments only in British Museum, Bodleian, Cambridge University Library, and Chatsworth Library]; 3rd edition, though with colophon, ‘1494 [printed] By me, Wyllyam Caxton,’ obviously printed by Wynkyn de Worde. 44. ‘Death-bed Prayers,’ fol. broadside, 1484? [unique, Rylands Libr.]. 45. ‘The Fables of Æsop,’ translated by Caxton from the French, fol. †, Westminster, 26 March 1484, with woodcuts [unique perfect copy at Windsor, imperfect copies at British Museum and Oxford]. 46.* ‘The Order of Chivalry,’ translated by Caxton and dedicated to Richard III, 4to, Westminster? 1484? [4]. 47.* ‘The Book of Fame made by Gefferey Chaucer,’ with an epilogue, giving the printer’s opinion of Chaucer as a great poet, fol. †, Westminster? 1484? [4]. 48.* ‘The Curial,’ translated by Caxton from the French of Alain Chartier, fol. Westminster? 1484? [2]. 49.* Chaucer’s ‘Troylus and Creside,’ fol. Westminster? 1484? [4]. 50.* Lydgate’s ‘Life of our Lady,’ †, Westminster, 1484? [9]. 51.* ‘The Life of Saint Winifred,’ translated by Caxton, fol. Westminster? 1485? [3]. 52. ‘The Noble Histories of King Arthur and of certain of his Knights,’ by Sir Thomas Malory, fol. †, Westminster, 31 July 1485 [unique perfect copy formerly in Earl Jersey’s library at Osterley Park, sold in 1885 to Robert Hoe, of New York; Rylands Libr. has an imperfect copy, and a fragment is in British Museum]. This book has been very frequently reprinted, and is still popular as the source of all the numerous English poetic versions of the Arthurian romance. 53.* ‘The Life of Charles the Great,’ translated by Caxton, fol. †, Westminster? 1 Dec. 1485 [unique in British Museum]. Reprinted by the Early English Text Society in 1881–2. 54.* ‘The Knight Paris and the Fair Vienne,’ translated from the French romance by Caxton, fol. †, Westminster, 19 Dec. 1485 [unique in British Museum]. Reprinted for the Roxburghe Club in 1868. 55. ‘The Book of Good Manners,’ translated by Caxton at the desire of his friend Pratt, fol. †, Westminster? 11 May 1487 [3]. 56.* ‘Speculum Vitæ Christi,’ translated by an anonymous hand from St. Bonaventura’s Latin life of Christ, edit. A, fol. †, Westminster? 1487 [8]. One copy in British Museum is on vellum. Edit. B, fol. †, Westminster? 1488? [5]. 57.* ‘The Royal Book, or Book for a King,’ translated from the French by Caxton (13 Sept. 1484), fol. with small vignette woodcuts; Westminster? 1488? [8]. 58. ‘The Image of Pity,’ 4to, broadside, with woodcuts of crucifixion, 1489? 59. ‘The Doctrinal of Sapience,’ translated from the French by Caxton, 7 Henry Bradshaw’s ‘Notice of a Fragment of the Fifteen Oes … by William Caxton … in the Library of the Baptist College, Bristol,’ London, 1877. Reproduced in photolithography in 1869. 71. *‘Art and Craft to know how well to die,’ translated from French by Caxton, 15 June 1490, fol. Westminster? 1491? [3]. A similar work, of which a unique copy is in the Bodleian, was issued by Caxton about the same time, ‘Ars Moriendi: the Craft for to die for the Health of Man’s Soul,’ apparently translated from the Latin by Caxton. The original has not been identified.

The few French works printed by Colard Mansion before Caxton left Bruges are not included in this list, although Mr. Blades has enumerated them among Caxton’s books. There is no proof that Caxton was personally concerned in their publication.

Immediately after Caxton’s death Wynkyn de Worde, his assistant, began to print from Caxton’s fount and in Caxton’s house; and it is difficult to determine, with any certainty, the printer of several books which appeared about 1491, the year of Caxton’s death. The following books, often attributed to Caxton, are more probably the work of Wynkyn de Worde, viz.: ‘The Chastising of God’s Children,’ fol. 1491? (with title-page); ‘A Treatise of Love,’ fol. 1493?; ‘The Life of St. Katherine, and Revelation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary,’ fol. 1493; and ‘The Siege of Rhodes,’ fol. (cf. Caius, John, fl. 1480)). Wynkyn de Worde states that Caxton printed, at Cologne, a book entitled ‘Bartolomæus de Proprietatibus Rerum,’ of which Wynkyn issued a later edition. No such work is known. In the prologue to ‘The Four Sons of Aymon’ Caxton says that he had translated, at the request of John, earl of Oxford, ‘The Life and Miracles of Robert, earl of Oxford,’ but of this nothing is extant. In the Pepysian Collection (2124) at Magdalene College, Cambridge, is a manuscript (unprinted) translation by Caxton of six books of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ dated from Westminster, 22 April 1480.

The price of Caxton’s books mainly depends on their condition and on the number of copies known to be extant. The highest price paid for a Caxton is 1,950l. This sum was given by Mr. Bernard Quaritch, in behalf of a Chicago merchant, at Sotheby’s sale-rooms, on 6 May 1885, for the unique copy of Malory’s ‘King Arthur,’ in the Osterley Park Library. At the same time and place 1,820l. was paid for Caxton’s ‘Recuyell,’ the first book in the printing of which he was concerned.

[The earliest life of Caxton is that by the Rev. John Lewis of Margate, published in 1737, and later writers, up to 1861, depended almost entirely on Lewis’s work. Neither Oldys, in the Biographia Britannica, 1748, nor Ames, in his Typogr. Antiq. 1749, nor Herbert, in his edition of Ames, 1785, nor T. F. Dibdin, in his revision of Ames, with the aid of new notes by Herbert and Gough, added to Lewis’s facts, although bibliographical details are treated more elaborately by Dibdin than by any of his predecessors. In 1861 Mr. William Blades superseded all existing lives of Caxton by the first volume of his new life of the printer, which was followed in 1863 by a second volume, treating almost exclusively of Caxton’s typography. Abbreviated editions of this book appeared in a single volume in 1877 and 1882, and it is undoubtedly the standard authority. Full reprints are given of original documents, and numerous plates give the reader the opportunity of studying Caxton’s varied types. Mr. Blades has also issued a useful little pamphlet, ‘How to tell a Caxton,’ London, 1870, and a short Catalogue of Books printed by Caxton, London, 1865. Mr. Blades’s Prefaces to his several reproductions of Caxton’s books, mentioned in the list in the text, are also of great service. M. J. P. A. Madden has criticised adversely many of Mr. Blades’s conclusions in his Lettres d’un Bibliographe, 4th ser. Paris, 1875, pp. 12–38. Mr. Blades’s researches have been largely used in this article, and the writer has also to thank Mr. Bernard Quaritch for kindly supplying him with information respecting recent Caxton sales. See also Wyman and Bigmore’s Bibliography of Printing; Beedham’s Caxton Reproductions, Iowa, 1879; T. F. Dibdin’s Ædes Althorpianæ; Cat. of the British Museum, Cambridge University, Bodleian, Chatsworth, Rylands, and Huth Libraries. In the early part of the eighteenth century an attempt was made to deprive Caxton of the honour of introducing printing into England, and to confer the distinction on Corsellis, a German printer alleged to have settled at Oxford in 1464. For the history of the controversy, and the baselessness of the contention, see art. Richard Atkyns, 1615–1677, supra, and Conyers Middleton’s Dissertation concerning the Origin of Printing in England, 1735.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
Caxton, William by Sidney Lee ‎

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