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

§ 31. Oxford University Press

The revival of printing at Oxford, two years later, met with no such stormy reception, though the university possessed no printing patent similar to that of Cambridge. Its immunity from interference may have owed something to the protection of the earl of Leicester, chancellor of the university, under whose auspices the press was established. Anyhow, Joseph Barnes, the printer appointed by the university, at once carried the attack into the London camp, and, in the very year (1585) in which he began work, reprinted one of their “most vendible copies.” John Wight, the bookseller to whom the book (Parsons’s Christian Exercise) had been entered in the Stationers’ register, on hearing of the piracy, sent his son to Oxford, who there bought the impression and paid Barnes ready money for it, Barnes making faithful promise that he would never reprint the book. But, notwithstanding this promise and Wight’s “curteous dealinge” with him, Barnes, being thus furnished with money, forthwith prints two other impressions of the work; and, when the London printers in retaliation reprint Thomas Bilson’s Christian subjection and unchristian rebellion, which Barnes had just published, they are stopped by the privy council, their printing tools seized, and one of their number thrown into prison. The Oxford press was officially recognised in 1586, by a Star chamber ordinance allowing one press and one apprentice.

In 1586, Barnes brought out Chrysostom’s Homilies printed in Greek type, and, in 1595, his first Welsh book Perl mewn adfyd, a translation from Otto Wermueller. Before his resignation in 1617, Barnes had issued from his press a rendering into English verse of six poems of Theocritus (1588), Richard of Bury’s Philobiblon (1599),—“the first English edition of the first book on the love of books,”—two editions of John Davies’s Microcosmos, captain John Smith’s Map and description of Virginia (1612), and works by Nicholas Breton, Thomas Churchyard and Richard Hooker. Barnes was succeeded by John Lichfield, who printed till 1635; the issue of the first four editions (1621–32) of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy lends distinction to his press. Archbishop Laud, when he became chancellor of the university in 1630, bestowed much care in forwarding the interests of printing at Oxford, and one of his earliest actions in this direction was to procure from king Charles I a charter which conferred upon the university privileges equal to those possessed by Cambridge.

In 1610–13, an edition of Chrysostom’s works in Greek, in eight volumes folio, was printed at Sir Henry Savile’s press at Eton college by John Norton, the king’s printer in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Five other books are known to have issued from the Eton press before its cessation in 1615. The celebrated Greek type, the “silver letter” as it was called, was afterwards presented by Sir Henry Savile to the university of Oxford.

The rigorous enforcement of the policy of regulating printing in the interests of church and state naturally drove the opponents of the establishment, the papists on the one side and the puritans on the other, to resort to secret printing, and several illicit presses were at work during the latter part of the sixteenth century. At the secret press of Thomas Cartwright, the puritan opponent of Whitgift, was printed in 1572 An Admonition to the Parliament; and several other allied tracts followed before the press was run down and seized at Hempstead. In 1580–1, a Jesuit press, with which Robert Parsons and Edmund Campion were connected, was at work first at Greenstreet House, East Ham, and afterwards, at Stonor Park. But the chief of these secret and fugitive sources of contraband literature was that known as the Marprelate press, of which an account has been given in a previous volume of the present work.