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of 1491, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret's, Westminster. On his death his materials passed into the hands of Wynkyn de Worde, his assistant, who continued to print from Caxton's fount in the same house at Westminster. In 1500, however, Wynkyn de Worde moved to the Sun, in Fleet Street, and died in 1534, having produced in all about 600 books.
Caxton was denounced by Gibbon for his omission of classical works from his list of publications. But, in the first place, Caxton was necessarily swayed by commercial considerations; while, in the second place, he had the instinctive desire of a printer to appeal to a popular rather than an academic circle. As a voluminous translator he did much to fix the literary language of England. He evidently knew French very thoroughly, though he was never very literal. He interpolated some passages and paraphrased others. As a typographer his work was homely he seems to have had no idea of vieing with the artistic and luxurious workmanship of Mainz or Venice.1 Homeliness, too, is the characteristic of the useful English prose which he employed in his numerous translations. He introduced a good many French and some Dutch words. Yet the general effect of his press-work was to arrest the decay of old Teutonic words, and to give stability to our spelling. It is largely owing to the fact that Caxton learnt printing abroad and first employed a font of French type that the old English p disappeared. Foreigners had no matrix for such a piece of type; consequently th usually replaces it, though the letter y is
1 In the first place, the MSS. that served as his models were inferior. No English type-founder of any note arose before John Day, who began printing about 1550, and the first type-founder who could really compete with the great foreign houses of France and Flanders was William Caslon (1692-1766).
sometimes used for this purpose; hence the old form of "ye" for "the."
The guiding principle among the early printers was to make their printed books look as much like the best class of manuscript work, to which students were accustomed, as possible. They commenced their printed texts in just the same way as the manuscript writers had done. No title-page or imprint setting forth the writer's name, the date and place of execution of the work, and other details was provided; but the first page was headed merely with "Hic Incipit" and the name of the treatise. Wynkyn de Worde was the first English printer systematically to adopt the use of title-pages after the death of Caxton in
Similarly, in the body of their work, by the adoption of a fount of type which resembled, as nearly as possible, the secretary hand of the period, it seems to have been the idea of the early printers to deprecate contrast and invite comparison with the best work of their predecessors, the scrivenirs.1 In this they have often been so successful that early printed pages have been mistaken for and even
1 By some of its practitioners the new art was modestly described as "Ars artificialiter scribendi." The modern or Roman style of type (flourishing at Venice under Jenson as early as 1470) was not commonly introduced into England until late in Henry VIII.'s reign. Even then the black-letter held its own in Bibles, proclamations, Acts of Parliament, ballads, and reprints of Old English authors such as Chaucer. When a prisoner was allowed benefit of clergy, a psalter was handed to him in the Gothic character, and he was asked to read a verse, called the "neck verse." He mumbled something, and the clerk said the regular formula, "Legit ut clericus." It is now used only for ornamental purposes. The old practice of using u and v interchangeably, v at the beginning and u in the middle of a word, persisted until the seventeenth century, and the old form of s in the body of a word (ƒ) until late in the eighteenth century.
sold under the description of manuscripts. The enemies of the printers were not backward in denouncing them as cheats, and their productions as contrefaçons, or spurious imitations.
It was only quite gradually that the introduction of title-pages, of wood-blocks for capitals, of printed signatures, of a printed as opposed to a script character, and of regular spacing gave to printed books the distinctive character which they have now maintained for four centuries, and to the printer the unchallenged control of the lines of communication between the retina and the brain of man.
"Of Chaucer, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk so stumblingly after him."
-SIB PHILIP SIDNEY.
"In the first place, as he is the father of English poetry, so I hold him in the same degree of veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil. He is a perpetual fountain of good sense."-DRYDEN.
Outline of Chaucer's life-His personal appearance and portraits-Three chronological periods of his work-Troilus and Criseyde-The Legend of Good Women-Chaucer's debt to French and Italian sources-The Canterbury Tales-The scheme of the poem-The qualities of Chaucer's poetryHistory of the Chaucerian MSS. and text-Attempts to modernise the text.
Of the few masters of the old literature whose work Caxton sought to perpetuate by means of his new art, by far the most pre-eminent was Chaucer. From his fellowcraftsmen, Gower, Occleve, and Lydgate, Chaucer had received the fullest meed of praise. The French poet Eustace Deschamps had likened him in his lifetime to Socrates, Seneca, and Ovid. The brilliant group of Scots poets, Henryson, Dunbar, Douglas, and Lyndsay, had not very much in common one with the other, but they shared the same fervent admiration for Chaucer. Their poetic ancestor, James I., spoke of him in just the same way, as "his master." Caxton himself yielded to no man in his enthusiasm. "He excelleth in mine opinion," he wrote, “all other writers in our English; for he writeth
no void words, but all his matter is full of high and quick sentence."
Of the poets who preceded Chaucer, there is only one whose poetry can claim to be in any degree readable at the present day, or to be even intelligible to those whose mother-tongue is English as it is now understood. This poet, of course, is Langland.' But there is really no comparing his Piers Plowman with The Canterbury Tales. One could as soon compare a sermon with a song. Chaucer is, in fact, to Langland as the sun is to the moon, and to the great corpus of dialect, Old English or Anglo-Saxon, poetry of the remoter past, as the moon is to the Milky Way.
Geoffrey Chaucer, son of John Chaucer, a vintner, was born in Thames Street, London, possibly about 1336though there are authorities who go so far as to say probably about 1340. In 1356 he was a page in the household of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III., being specially attached to the service of the Duchess. In 1359 he accompanied Edward III. and his army upon that English King's last invasion of France, and was captured by the French near Rheims; but he was ransomed early in 1360, the King contributing £16 to the purpose. In 1367 he was one of the Yeomen of the King's Chamber, described as Edward's "Dilectus Valettus," and in receipt of a salary of 20 marks. By this time the poet was married, for in 1366 the name Philippa Chaucer appears as that of one of the Ladies of the Queen's Bedchamber. Like the Queen, she was probably a native of Hainault. In 1374 a pension of £10 was granted to Geoffrey and Philippa for good service. Chaucer was sent abroad several times upon diplomatic errands
1 See Chap. III. of our Second Book.
2 The family had been vintners and cordwainers (calcearii) for several descents, and were probably of French origin.