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the ascendant. The Church shrivelled into a self-seeking secular priesthood; practical religion was reduced to the accomplishment of ceremonies; and mankind, slothful and crouching, resigned their conscience and their conduct into the hands of the clergy, and they into the hands of the
The century, however, was not lost. It was an age of accumulation and preparation, as indeed it was in every country of Europe. The commoners maintained their liberties, without going beyond, and waited for a better day. The Reformation, like a forest conflagration, smouldered. America was added to the
map; and while thought was startled by the sudden rarity of a New World, with its fresh hopes and romantic realms, the Renaissance was restoring an old one, with its eternal promoters of freedom and beauty. In that twilight time was dawning the great Invention that should give to Letters and Science the precision and durability of the printed page. Nor was the press to be more fatal to the dominion of the priestly bigot than the bullet to the sway of the mailed knight. In the upheaval of the old feudal order, an arrogant nobility was sinking to a level more consistent with national unity. Separate centres of intrigue were breaking up, society was pulverizing afresh; poetry, like the ballad, was returning to the human interests of the present, and the night of mediævalism was drawing to a close amid the chaos which precedes the resurrection morn.
O Albion! still thy gratitude confess
Biography.-A native of Kent, born in 1412; apprenticed at an early day to a London silk dealer: after his master's death he lived - perhaps as consul or agent for the English merchants - in Holland and Flanders; while there, was appointed, by his sovereign, envoy to the court of Burgundy to negotiate a treaty of commerce; entered the service of an English princess as copy
ist; threw aside the tedious process of the pen for the newlydiscovered art, and became a printer, because —
*My pen is worn, my hand weary and not steadfast, minc eyes dimmed with overmuch looking on the white paper, and my courage not so prone and ready to labor as it hath been, and that age creepeth on me daily and feebleth all the body, and also because I have promised to divers gentlemen and to my friends to address to them as hastily as I might the said book.' Absent more than thirty years, he returned to England with the precious freight of the printing-press; and at an age when other men seek ease and retirement, plunged with characteristic energy into his new occupation, until his decease in 1492.
Writings. - Sixty-five works, edited or translated, are assigned to the pen and the press of Caxton: in French, two; in Latin, seven; the remainder in English. He published all the native poetry of any moment then in existence,- the poems of Chaucer, Lydgate, and Gower; two chronicles, revising both, and continuing one up to his own time; a version of the Eneid, or a tract of Cicero, as the stray first-fruits of classic antiquity; and, with an eye to business, manuals for ecclesiastics, sermons or Golden Legends,— Tales of Troy, or Morte d'Arthur, for the baron and the knight,- Æsop's Fables and Reynard the Fox, for the populace.
His Game of Chess, a translation from the French, 'fynysshid the last day of Marche, 1474,' is assumed to be the first book printed on English ground; and a second edition, the first illustrated with wood-cuts. As the aged Saxon expired dictating the last words of the Gospel of St. John,
"In the hour of death,
The last dear service of his parting breath,'so did the old printer carry forward his last labor, on a volume of sacred lore, to the setting sun of a life that bore its burden of four-score. He dipped, “half desperate,' into that vast and singular mythology which for fourteen centuries grew and shadowed over the religious mind of Christendom as its form of hero-worship, always simple, often childish, but always good, and therefore suited to the taste and information which it measured and to which it was addressed. In this manner was the unquiet world once charmed to rest, saintly emulation, and remembrance of God:
*Francis, servant and friend of Almighty God, was born in the city of Assyse, an was made a merchant unto the twenty-fifth year of his age, and wasted his time by living
vainly, whom our Lord corrected by the sconrge of sickness, and suddenly changed him into another man, so that he began to shine by the spirit of prophecy. On a time as this holy man was in prayer, the devil called him thrice by his own name. And when the holy man had answered him, he said: “None in this world is so great a sinner, but if he convert him, our Lord wonld pardon him; but who that sleeth himself with hard penance, shall never find mercy." And anon, this holy man knew by revelation the fallacy and deceit of the fiend, how he would have withdrawn him fro to do well. And when the devil saw that he might not prevail against him, he tempted him by grievous temptation of the flesh. And when this holy servant of God felt that, hc despoiled his clothes, and beat himself right hard with an hard cord, saying: “Thus, brother ass, it behoveth thee to remain and to be beaten." And when the temptation departed not, he went out and plunged himself in the snow, all naked, and made seven great balls of snow, and purposed to have taken them into his body, and said: “This greatest is thy wife; and these four, two ben thy daughters, and two thy sons; and the other twain, that one thy chambrere, and that other thy varlet or yeman; haste and clothe them; for they all die for cold. And if thy business that thou hast about them, grieve ye sore, then serve our Lord perfectly." And anon, the devil departed from him all confused; and St. Francis returned again unto his cell glorifying God. . . . He was ennobled in his life by many miracles: death, which is to all men horrible and hateful, he admonished them to praise it. And also he warned and admonished death to come to him, and said: “Death, my sister, welcome be you." And when he came at the last hour, he slept in our Lord; of whom a friar saw the soul, in manner of a star, like to the moon in quantity, and the sun in clearness
id the very
Style.--His diction, never the purest, could scarcely have been improved by absence. A man destitute of a literary education could hardly attain to any felicity or skill in an idiom to which he was almost a foreigner. Plain and verbose, his manner is that of one who with no brilliancy of talent, tries faithfully to make himself understood. It is full of Gallicisms, however, in vocabulary and phrase. We learn by the preface to his neid that there were “gentlemen who of late have blamed me, that in my translations I had over-curious terms which could not be understood by common people.' Critics, no doubt, were abundant, when as yet there was no generally recognized standard; and he himself had neither the judgment nor the force to harmonize the heterogeneous elements. It is curious to see in his own words the unsettled state of the language, the affectation of some and the pedantry of others. “Some honest and great clerks,' he tells us, “have been with me, and desired me to write the most curious terms I could find.' Others, again, 'desired me to use old and homely terms in my
translations." But I took an old book and read therein, and certainly the English was so rude and broad I could not well understand it.' “Fain would I please every man,' is his helpless but good-natured comment. Of the rapid flux of even common speech: “Our language now used varieth far from that which was used and spoken when I was
born.' Not only so, but the tongue of each shire had marked peculiarities:
* In my days happened that certain marchauntes were in a shippe in Tamyse for to haue sayled over the see into Zelande, and fra lacke of wynde thei taryed at Forland, and went to lande for to refreshe them. And one of theym, named Sheffelde, a mercer, came into an hows and axyed for mete, and specyally he axyed after eggys; and the good wyf answerde that she coude speko no Frenshe, and the marchaunt was angry, for he also conde speke no Frenshe, but wolde have had eggys, and she understood hym not. then, at laste, another sayd hat he would have eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understood hym wel. Loo, what sholde a man in theyse days now wryte, egges or eyren! Certaynly, it is hard to playsc every man, because of diversite and chaunge of langage.'
Rank.—That he was a man of some eminence is shown by his royal connections in service. To the historian of the human mind, he appears as an indifferent translator, and a printer without erudition. That he should have been acquainted with French and German was inevitable from his continental residence. That he was unacquainted with classic Latin is evident from a reference to Skelton, whom he mentions as 'one that had read Virgil, Ovid, Tully, and all the other noble poets and orators to me unknown. With the industry to keep pace with his age, he had not the genius to create a national taste by his novel and mighty instrument of thought. At a loss what author to select, his choice might seem to have been frequently accidental. With simple-hearted enthusiasm, he says of his version of Virgil:
• Having no work in hand, I sitting in my study wherc as lay many divers pamphlets and books, happened that to my hand came a little book in French, which late was translated out of Latin by some noble clerk of France-which book is named “Eney. dos," and made in Latin by the noble poet and great clerk Vergyl-in which book I had great pleasure by reason of the faire and honest termes and wordes in French which I never saw to-fore-like, none so pleasant nor so well ordered, which book as me seemed should be much requisite for noble men to see, as well for the eloquence as the histo. ries; and when I had advised me to this said book I deliberated and concluded to trans. late it into English, and forthwith took a pen and ink and wrote a leaf or twain.'
His simplicity far exceeded his learning. He solemnly vouched for the verity of Jason and the Golden Fleece, The Life of Hercules, and all the Merveilles of Virgil's Necromancy?! For a moment, 'the noble history of King Arthur' puzzled him, because
Dyuers men holde opynyon, that there was no suche Arthur, and that alle suche bookes as been maad of hym, ben but fayned and fables, by cause that somme cronycles make of him no mencyon ne remembre hym noo thynge ne of his knyghtes.' But his sudden scruples were relieved when assured
“That in hym that shold say or thynke that there was neuer suche a ca Arthur, myght wel be aretted grete folye and blyndeness. Fyrst ye may see his
sepulture in the monasterye of Glastyngburge. . . At Wynchester the rounde table, in other places Launcelottes swerde and many other thynges.'
Character.–Our central impression of him is that of an honest business man, resolved to get a living from his trade. His éred pole' at the disused Scriptorium, where monks once distributed alms to the poor, modestly invited all who desired, to come and buy his wares or give orders for printing. Ran his advertisement:
If it please any man, spiritual or temporal, to buy any pyes of two or three commemorations of Salisbury all emprynted after the form of the present letter, which be well and truly correct, let him come to Westminster into the Almonry at the red pole and he shall have them good chepe.' Styling himself 'simple William Caxton,' he united great modesty of character to indefatigable industry. Over four thousand printed pages are of his own rendering. He speaks as a devout man, careful of happiness as of fabrics, who, while he constructs a book, studies the art of constructing human blessedness. His introduction to Morte d'Arthur concludes:
And for to passe the tyme this book shal be plesaunte to rede in, but for to giue fayth and bylene that al is trewe that is conteyned herin, ye be at your lyberte, but al is wryton for our doctryne, and for to beware that we falle not to vyce ne synne, but to excercyre and folowe vertu, by whyche we may come and atteyne to good fame and renomme in thys lyf, and after this shorte and transytorye lyf to come into euerlastyng blysse iu heuen, thc whyche he graunt vs that reygneth in heuen the blessyd Trynyte. Amen." It is not the exceptional things in life which are the noblest,not the high lift nor the sudden spring of rare and exceptional persons, but the faithful every-day march of men.
Influence - The press unfolded its vast resources tardily. In all Europe, between 1470 and 1500, ten thousand books were printed, and of them a majority in Italy; only a hundred and forty-one in England. In the next fifty years, but seven works had been printed in Scotland, and among them not a single classic. A triumph, if we consider that formerly a hundred Bibles could not be procured under an expense of twenty years' labor; but an inglorious advancement, if we consider the stupendous results since attained. Very slowly was this new appliance for the dissemination of knowledge to change the condition of society, but thenceforth we can never speak of that condition without regard to the printing-press. No refined consideration, no expansive views of his art, seem to have inspired our primeval