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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

§ 16. Minor Printers

The productions of the minor printers of the period show little originality, though, here and there, we come across books which had not already been issued by deWorde or Pynson. Julian Notary, who printed between 1496 and 1520, issued, out of some forty books, only five not previously printed. The earliest of these, The Gospel of Nicodemus, printed in 1507, evidently suited the popular taste and was very frequently reprinted. Besides this there are two small poetical tracts, The mery geste of a Sergeaunt and Frere, by Sir Thomas More, and A mery gest howe Johan Splynter made his testament. This last tells how John Splynter, rent-gatherer at Delft and Schiedam, having neglected his private concerns for the sake of his professional business, was treated with contempt by the nuns who employed him, but who, hoping to obtain as a legacy the chest which he pretended was full of money, kept him in comfort for his life. Pepwell, between 1518 and 1523, printed eight books; The Castle of Pleasure, by W. Neville, The City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan, The Dietary of ghostly health, are all, probably, reprints from editions printed by Wynkyn de Worde. Another book contains several religious pieces printed together, some of which had not been issued before. Among them are the treatise named Benjamin, written by Richard of St. Victor, The life of St. Katherine of Senis, The book of Margery Kempe, ancresse of Lynn, The treatise of the Song of angels by Walter Hylton and others.

Richard Faques, out of a total of about twenty books, printed three or four of interest. Two are ballads relating to the battle of Flodden. Another is a curious and hitherto unnoticed work, entitled The booke of the pylgrymage of man. The preface runs: “Translated from Le Pelerinage de l’homme of late drawen into prose by dane William Hendred, Priour of Leomynstre, and now newly at the specyal commandement of the same father reverent I have compyled the tenure of the same in metre, comprehended in XXVI chapitours.” The book is written in highly alliterative seven-lined stanzas, but there is no clue to the name of the compiler. The date of the printing of the book may be put down to about the year 1515; but no authorities mention prior William Hendred, so the exact date of his translation cannot be determined.

Among John Rastell’s productions, for the most part legal or religious, are a few of a totally different nature. In 1526, he issued The merry jests of the widow Edith, written by Walter Smith. This is the story in verse of the many tricks played by Edith, the daughter of John Haukin and widow of Thomas Ellis, on various persons, innkeepers, tradesmen and the servants of Sir Thomas More and the bishop of Rochester. She was still alive when the book was written; and the author, Walter Smith, was, very probably, a stationer of that name in London and a neighbour of Rastell. The poem itself is coarse and of no merit, but interesting on account of its references to contemporary persons. The other book of the same year is The Hundred merry Tales, of which the unique copy is at Gottingen. Rastell was in the habit of giving performances of plays at his own house; and to this we may attribute his printing several interludes and plays by Medwall, skelton and Heywood.

One other book by this printer is worthy of notice, The Pastime of People. This is a short chronicle, carried up to the year 1530 and, apparently, compiled by Rastell himself, which contains some curious statements on recent events. It contains also full-page portraits of the kings of England.

The only other among all the minor printers of the period to show any originality in his choice of publications was John Skot. He issued, about 1535, a curious religious imitation of the celebrated ballad of The Nut Brown Maid, entitled The newe Notbrowne mayd upon the passyon of Cryste, and also printed two editions of Every-man, a morality of exceptional literary merit, closely connected with the Dutch Elckerlijk, written by Petrus Dorlandus towards the close of the fifteenth century.

Another cause militating against the production of much good work by these minor early printers was the smallness of their resources. They had practically no capital, and, without good type and illustrations, could not venture upon the production of a large work. A fount of type discarded by some other printer, and a small collection of miscellaneous and worn wood-blocks, were their sole stock. They could thus only work on small books, and had, moreover, to choose those which, by previous publication, had proved to be popular.

Reference has been made before to the attempt, very soon after Caxton’s death, to procure English books abroad for sale in this country. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, this attempt was renewed with greater success.