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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XIII. The Introduction of Printing into England and the Early Work of the Press

§ 13. Richard Pynson

When William de Machlinia ceased printing, probably about the year 1488, his place was taken by Richard Pynson, a Norman, who had been educated at the university of Paris. His first object was to print law-books, and here his knowledge of French would be of great use; but he also issued works of general interest. Before November, 1492, when his first dated book was issued, he had printed a Latin grammar, an edition of The Canterbury Tales and a version of The Goste of Guy.

The Canterbury Tales is an exact reprint of Caxton’s second edition, and was probably issued before Caxton’s death in 1491. The short preface, a most confused and involved piece of writing, shows that Pynson was not thoroughly acquainted with the English Language, and it is rare to find him making use of it.

The Goste of Guy must have been a most interesting book; but, unhappily, all that remains of it are two small fragments of a leaf, containing altogether twelve lines. On comparison with manuscripts of the poem, it is clear that the printed version was very much abbreviated and bore about the same relation to them as the early printed editions of such books as Sir Beves of Hamtoun or Guy of Warwick bear to their earlier manuscripts. The manuscripts of The Goste of Guy, both in prose and verse, are, appraently, derived from a northern English prose original. The version in verse is placed by Schleich in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. The Pynson fragment is quite independent of any of the known English versions, and is valuable as evidence of a lasting interest in the subject. A short Latin version was printed towards the close of the fifteenth century at Cologne; and this may be more nearly connected with the version printed by Pynson. In June, 1493, Pynson issued the first edition of Dives and Pauper, by Henry Parker, a Carmelite monk of Doncaster, who died in 1470. The work, which is an explanation of the ten commandments, points out the duties of the rich towards the poor, and finishes with a treatise on holy poverty.

In the following year, Pynson issued an illustrated edition of Lydgate’s Falls of Princes,. translated from Boccaccio; and, in 1495, an edition of the Hecyra of Terence, the first printed of a set of the plays issued between 1495 and 1497. It is probable that these were printed for William Horman for use at Eton; and other books, such as Dialogus linguae et ventris and one or two grammars bearing Horman’s initials, were issued about the same time.

Pynson seems to have had little enterprise in printing English books; and, besides those already mentioned, he only issued six in the fifteenth century which were not mere reprints. He must be credited with the first edition of Mandeville’s Travels, and of The History of Guy Earl of Warwick. The remaining four are small poetical pieces of a few leaves each. The earliest, The Life of St. Margaret, is only known from a fragment. The next is The Epitaph of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford. The poem ends “Quod Smerte maister de ses ouzeaus”; but it is generally ascribed to Skelton. The duke died in 1495, and the book was printed very shortly afterwards. The Foundation of the Chapel of Walsingham gives an account in verse of the miracle which led to the building of the shrine in 1061, and may have been printed for sale to the pilgrims who travelled there. The remaining piece is The Life of St. Petryonylla.

The sixteenth century shows slight advance. In 1503, Pynson published a translation of Imitatio Christi, by William Atkynson, to which was added a spurious fourth book, translated from the French by Margaret, countess of Richmond and Derby. Nothing further of interest was issued until 1509, when Barclay’s translation of The Ship of Fools appeared. Barclay seems to have been a favourite author with Pynson, who printed many of his works. In 1511, appeared The Pilgrimage of Sir Richard Guilforde, a most interesting account of a journey to the holy land, written by his chaplain. A good deal of the book is compiled from earlier guide-books; but there are several pieces of picturesque writing, especially the account of the death and burial of Sir Richard at Jerusalem.

In 1516, Fabyan’s Chronicles were printed, the first of the series of modern chronicles. The work was compiled by Robert Fabyan, sheriff of London, who died in 1512. It is a compilation from previous writers of the history of England from the days of Brutus, but the earlier parts are very superficial. The later parts are only valuable where they touch on matters which came under his own personal observation; but much matter relating to London is given in detail.

In the same year was issued the Kalendar of the new legend of England, a work treating of the lives of British saints.