The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 22. English Printing

English printing during the period under review cannot be said to be conspicuous for typographical excellence. The general conditions of the trade probably militated against any high standard being attained or even aimed at. Most of the prominent printers were those who possessed valuable monopolies, and, thus safeguarded from competition, there was little inducement to them to incur the expense of having new founts cut, or to bestow the pains required to ensure good workmanship. The less fortunate printers possessed neither the means, nor, perhaps, save in a few cases, the capacity, for turning out good work, and many of their productions are slovely and illiterate to a degree surpassed only in the succeeding era, when the endeavour to make men bring forth good works completely obscured their ability to produce good work.

In the first part of this period, when some of the earlier traditions were retained, the artistic feeling shown in the arrangement of the page and the setting of the type gives to many of the books, in spite of the frequently worn condition of the type and cuts, a repose and dignity, which disappeared under the incursion of roman type, and which even recent efforts have not succeeded in recovering. Even down to 1580, or, perhaps, later, there is often a certain delicacy of perception and tasteful handling which gives the book an organic character and conveys a feeling of craftsmanship—qualities which are quite lacking in the later books in which effect is too often sought by the use of adventitious ornament or the display of an incongruous variety of types. It is a little difficult to draw a line between the good and the indifferent printers, but among the better craftsmen may be named Thomas Berthelet, printer to king Henry VIII, also noted as a bookbinder; Richard Grafton; Reyner Wolfe; John Day, whose pre-eminence has already been referred to; Richard Jugge, the printer of the Bishops’ Bible; Henry Denham, who produced some tasteful work between 1564 and 1589; Thomas Vautrollier, the Huguenot printer, and his successor Richard Field; Thomas East, the printer of music books; William Stansby, who produced a very large number of books in workmanlike fashion; John Norton, who worked the Eton press; the two Barkers; and Felix Kingston.