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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

§ 4. The First Dated Book issued in England—The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers

On 18 November, 1477, was finished the printing of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers, the first dated book issued in England. The translator, Anthony Wodville, earl Rivers, while on a voyage to the shrine of St. James of Compostella, in 1473, was lent by the famous knight Lewis de Bretaylles a manuscript of Les ditz moraulx des philosophes by Guillaume de Tignoville. With this, the earl was so pleased that he borrowed the volume and, on his return to England, set about the translation. This, when finished, was handed to Caxton to “oversee.” He revised the book with the French version and added an amusing epilogue, pointing out that the earl, for some reason, had omitted the remarks of Socrates concerning women, which he, therefore, had added himself.

In the following February, Caxton printed another translation by earl Rivers, The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan, a small tract of four leaves. At the end is a short epilogue in verse, written by Caxton himself, giving some details as to the author, translator and date of printing. Another translation by earl Rivers appeared in 1479, entitled Cordyale, or the Four last things. This was rendered from the Quatre dernières choses, a French version of the De quattuor novissimis made by Jean Mielot, secretary to Philippe le Bon in 1453.

Two editions of The Chronicles of England were printed in 1480 and 1482. This was the history known asThe Chronicle of Brute, edited and augmented by Caxton himself. The Polychronicon of Higden was also issued in 1482, Caxton revising Trevisa’s English verion of 1387, and writing a continuation, bringing down the history to the year 1460, this continuation being the only piece of any size which we possess of Caxton’s original work.

In 1481, no less than three of his own translations were printed by Caxton, The Mirror of the World, Reynard the Fox and The History of Godfrey of Bologne. The origin of the first named is obscure; but the English translation was made from a French prose version by “Maistre Gossouin,” which, in its turn, was rendered from a French version in metre made, in 1245, from an unknown Latin original. Reynard the Fox was, apparently, translated from the Dutch version printed by General Leeu at Gouda in 1479.

About 1483, The Pilgrimage of the Soul and Lydgate’s Life of our Lady, were issued, and, also, a new edition of The Canterbury Tales. Caxton’s prologue to this book is extremely interesting, and shows in what great esteem he held Chaucer and his writings. He observes that, some six years previously he had printed an edition of The Canterbury Tales which had been well received. One of the purchasers, however, had pointed out that in many places the text was corrupt, and that pieces were included wwhich were not genuine, while some which were genuine were omitted. He had added that his father possessed a very correct manuscript which he much valued, and he offered, if Caxton would print a new edition, to obtain the loan of it. This Caxton undertook to do and issued the new edition, which, unlike the earlier one, contains a series of woodcuts illustrating the various characters. About the same time were also issued Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and House of Fame, and, in September, 1483, Gower’s Confessio Amantis.