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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

§ 15. Wynkyn de Worde

Wynkyn de Worde, who succeeded to Caxton’s press and material, published very little during the first few years, being contented with a few reprints. In 1495, he issued a translation of the Vitae Sanctorum Patrum of Jerome. This translation was the work of Caxton and was only finished, as de Worde writes in the colophon, on the last day of his life. It was rendered from the French edition printed at Lyons in 1486; but, as might have been expected, it attained little popularity and was never reprinted.

About this time, de Worde published an English version of “Bartholomaeus de Proprietatibus Rerum, made by John Trevisa.” The printer, or some one under his direction, has added an epilogue which contains some curious details as to the beginning of Caxton’s career as a printer, and also the information that the book was the first to be printed on Englishmade paper. The year 1496 saw the issue of new editions of Dives and Pauper and The Book of St. Albans, the latter being enlarged with a third part containing the treatise of Fishing with an angle, a book which would seem to be the work of a practical fisherman, is much more modern in feeling than many books of the same class issued at a later date and differs much in style from the other treatises. The fourth edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed in 1498, again clearly shows de Worde’s carelessness as a printer and the absence of editorial work on his books. A large portion of The Monk’s Tale is omitted; and, though the printer, when he discovered this, inserted an extra printed leaf, still, much is missing. Though not skilful as a printer, de Worde was not idle: before the close of the fifteenth century, he had issued at least one hundred and ten books. A large number were reprints and many others of no literary interest, such as grammars, service-books and law-books; but, among the remainder, are some worthy of notice. The Contemplacyon of sinners, written by a monk, William Touris, and an illustrated edition of Mandeville’s Travels were issued in 1499. Among the undated books are several romances, Beves of Hamtoun, Guy of Warwick and Robin Hood; the works of John Alcock, bishop of Ely; some curious religious works such as The Doctrinal of Death, The Miracles of Our Lady, The Rote or mirror of Consolation, The Twelve profits of tribulation. There is also one work of Skelton, The Bowge of Court, a satire on the court manners of the time, and a book which, from the number of editions, appears to have been popular, The History of the Three Kings of Cologne, a translation of the Historia trium regum of John of Hildesheim. We have no evidence that de Worde did anything in the way of editing or translating; but he had in his employ assistants who were able to translate from the French. Chief among these was Robert Copland, who was responsible for the translation of the Kalendar of Shepherds, The mirror of the Church, Helyas Knight of the Swan and Kynge Appolyn of Thyre, while he frequently added short prologues and epilogues in verse to the books he printed for de Worde. Copland printed also several books on his own account, two, at least, being of his own composition. These are The Hye Way to the Spyttell Hous and Iyl of Brainford’s Testament. The former, though it cannot lay claim to any merit, is curious on account of its matter. It purports to be a dialogue between Copland and the porter of an almshouse, in the course of which they criticise all the applicants for charity as they pass, and discuss the various frauds and deceits practised by thieves and beggars, and, incidentally, the vices and follies which have brought them to ruin. The second piece is very inferior to the first, and coarse even for the period.

Another translator, an apprentice to Wynkyn de Worde, was Henry Watson, and his first work was a prose translation from the French of The Ship of Fools. This work must have been done directly for the press, since it is said in the prologue to have been undertaken at the request of Margaret, countess of Richmond, the king’s grandmother. This must hve been after 21 April, 1509, and the finished book was published on 6 July. His other translations was The Church of Evil Men and Women and Valentine and Orson. The first is from a French version of a work by St. Augustine. Another translation by Watson from the French was The History of Olyver of Castylle and the fayre Helayne, issued in 1518. In the prologue, the translator speaks of the cheapness of books owing to the invention of printing. Andrew Chertsey, of whom nothing is known, also translated a considerable number of books for de Worde. His earliest translation eas The Ordinary of Christian men, which, like all his other books, was taken from the French. Among them may be mentioned The Lucydarye, The Flower of commandments of God, The Treatise of the Passion of Christ, The Craft to live well and to die well, a complete translation of a book from which Caxton had already translated extracts under the title of The Art of good living and good dying.

A good idea of the ordinary demand for books may be obtained by examining the publications of Wynkyn de Worde in the year 1509. This was the busisest year of his career, for, no doubt, the funerals of Henry VII and the countess of Richmond, and the coronation of Henry VIII, would bring large crowds to London. Altogether, he issued twenty-five books and these, again, can be arranged in an almost exact order. Up to 21 April, he had published five, a York Manuale, an edition of the Manipulus Curatorum and edition of The Gospel of Nicodemus, The Parliament of Devils and Richard Cœur de Lion. Between 21 April and 12 July, the busiest time, he issued eleven; four grammatical books, two editions each of Fisher’s Sermon on the seven penitencial psalms and Funeral sermon on Henry VII, the prose version of The Ship of Fools and two works by Stephen Hawes, The Passetyme of Pleasure and The Conversation of Swearers. During the rest of the year he printed seven—two service-books, a grammar, Hawes’s Joyful meditation … of the coronation of … Henry VIII, Fisher’s Mourning Remembrance, and two anonymous books, The Fifteen Joys of Marriage and The Seven Sheddings of the blood of Jesu Christ. Two more books belong to this year which cannot be placed in any group, a service-book, and The rule of the living of the bretherne and systars.

The publications of this year are the most miscellaneous of any, and, very soon, the taste began to change. New romances continued to be published for some years: King Apolyn of Tyre and The Birth of Merlin in 1510, The History of King Ponthus in 1511, The History of Helias, Knight of the Swan in 1512 and Oliver of Castile (probably a reprint of a lost earlier edition) in 1518. Yet a gradual but marked change was taking place. Educational books and books on religious subjects became more and more in demand. The influence of scholars like Erasmus and the general revival of letters in the one case, and the growth of the reformation and the influence of the “new learning” in the other, were beginning to produce effects. In Wynkyn de Worde’s second busiest year, 1532, out of eighteen books, six were scholastic, eleven religious and the remaining one a romance, The History of Guystarde and Sygysmonde, translated from the Latin by William Walter.

William Walter, “servant” to Sir Henry Marney, chancellor of Lancaster from 1509 to 1523, translated at least three books. Guystarde and Sygysmonde is a version in seven-lined stanzas taken, probably, from the Latin version of Boccaccio’s story made by Leonardo Aretino. This, like so many of de Worde’s books, was edited by Robert Copland, who added some verses of his own. Though the earliest edition known is dated 1532, there must, most probably, have been an earlier one. Another of Walter’s books, The Spectacle of Lovers, though spoken of as “newly compiled,” is, apparently, a translation; while the last, The History of Titus and Gesippus is, also, translated out of Latin.

In 1521, de Worde printed a book of carols, of which only a fragment is known. It contains the well-known carol on the bringing in of the boar’s head beginning“The boar’s head in hand bring I,” still sung on Christmas day in Queen’s College, Oxford, and another carol on hunting.

After this year, we find hardly any new English books printed; the revival of letters was beginning to make itself felt, and half the produce of the press consisted of educational books. So much had the demand for this class of book increased that de Worde sometimes printed three or four editions of one grammar in the course of a year.

Among some two hundred undated books issued from this press there are many of great interest; but, unfortunately, many are known only from fragments, and very many more from single copies in private libraries, and, therefore, difficult of access. As examples of such books may be mentioned the metrical romance of Capystranus, The Complaint of the too soon married, The Complaint of the too late married, The Complaynte of the Heart, Feylde’s Controversy between a lover and a jay, The Fifteen joys of marriage, The Jest of the Miller of Abingdon, The pain and sorrow of evil marriage and many other small metrical pieces, all of which are in private hands.

The total number of books at present known to have been issued by Wynkyn de Worde in the sixteenth century is about six hundred and forty. Of these, more than two hundred were merely small school-books, about one hundred and fifty service books and religious treatises and the same number of poems and romances; the remainder consisting of chronicles, law-books, accounts of passing events and other miscellaneous books.