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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

§ 17. Antoine Verard and John of Doesborch

Antoine Verard, the famous French publisher, attempted, about 1503, to issue books for the English market. In that year, he issued The Kalendar of Shepherds and The Art of good living and dying. The former became a very popular book, and at least sixteen editions were issued in the sixteenth century. It is a translation of the Calendrier des Bergers, of which there are many early French editions, and is an extraordinary collection of miscellaneous matter, “a universal magazine of every article of salutary and useful knowledge.” The language of this first edition is even more curious than its contents; for the translator was, manifestly, a young Scotchman with a very imperfect knowledge of French. It has been suggested that this version was intended for sale in Scotland; but this is hardly probable, since the language would have been as unintelligible to the Scottish as it was to the English reader. In 1506, Pynson issued a new edition revised from the “corrupte englysshe” of the earlier; and, in 1508, Wynkyn de Worde published a new translation made by Robert Copland, who definitely speaks of the language of the first as Scottish; and this final translation was frequently reprinted.

The Art of good living and dying, a translation from L’Art de bien vivre et de bien mourir, was also translated by the same hand; and of it, again, a new translation made by Andrew Chertsey was issued by Wynkyn de Worde in 1505. The third of Verard’s books, but, probably, the earliest published, is the first edition of Alexander Barclay’s translation of Gringore’s Chasteau de labour, which may have been printed under Barclay’s own supervision when he was staying in Paris. It is known only from fragments, but was fortunately reprinted, once by Pynson and twice by Wynkyn de Worde.

Another very remarkable foreign-printed book, clearly translated by a foreigner, is The Passion of Christ. The strangeness of the language is evident from the first sentence: “Her begynnythe ye passion of dar seygneur Jesu chryste front ye resuscytaction of lazarus and to thende translatet owt of frenche yn to englysche the yer of dar lorde. M.v.cviii.” The book, said to have been translated at the command of Henry VII, was evidently printed in Paris, probably by Verard, and is illustrated with a number of fine wood-cuts copied from a series by Urs Graf published at Strassburg. The name of the translator is not known; but many of the words point to a native of the Low Countries.

Soon after the beginning of the sixteenth century, an Antwerp bookseller and stationer, John of Doesborch, began to print books in English for sale in this country. These range in date from about 1505 to about 1525 and are good evidence of what a speculative printer considered most likely to appeal to popular taste. The earliest is a religious tract on the subject of the last judgment, entitled The Fifteen Tokens, a translation by the printer from some Dutch version of a part of L’s Art de bien mourir. There are four small grammars of a kind in common use, but the majority are story-books. These are The Gest of Robyn Hode, Euryalus and Lucrece, The Lyfe of Virgilius, Frederick of Jennen, Mary of Nemmegen, Tyll Howleglas and The Parson of Kalenborowe. With the exception of the first two, all are translations from the Dutch. Douce, without apparently any reason, suggested Richard Arnold, the compiler of Arnold’s Chronicle, as the translator; but the work was more probably done by lawrence Andrewe, who was then living in Antwerp and was afterwards a printer in London. The remaining English books issued by Doesborch are very miscellaneous. There are two editions of the Valuation of gold and silver; a work on the pestilence; two tracts relating to expeditions against the Turks;another on the wonderful shape and nature of beasts and fishes; and, lastly, what is generally considered the first English book on america, Of the new lands found by the messengers of the King of Portugal named Emanuel. Only a single leaf of the book, describing a voyage made in 1496, relates to America; the rest is compiled from various sources such as the Tractatus de decem nationibus christianorum, appended to the Itinerarius of Johannes de Hese, and a Dutch book, also printed by Doesborch, Van Pape Jans landendes.