bably by Robert II. The language in which Barbour wrote does not differ much from the English of Chaucer, the chief dis. tinction consisting in the broader vowel-sounds of the Scottish poem. Barbour is thought to have died in 1395.

ANDREW WYNTOUN.—This priest, supposed to have been born about 1350, was Prior of St. Serf's at Lochleven, a house under the rule of the great Priory of St. Andrews. In ruder strains than Barbour, he wrote about 1420 an Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, extending from the creation to 1408. This work, part of which was the composition of another poet, is, when we make allowance for the fabulous legends interwoven with it, a clear, trustworthy historical record. It is divided into nine books, and written in eight-syllabled rhymes.

THOMAS OCCLEVE.—This writer of verses, for poet we scarcely call him, is thought to have lived and written about the beginning of the fifteenth century. We learn from his works that he was a lawyer; that he held a government situation under the Privy Seal; and that he led a wild, extravagant life. His chief poem is founded on a Latin work, De Regimine Principum, written by Egidius, an Italian monk of the thirteenth century. On the whole, Occleve's verse must be judged rather by its quantity than its quality. His admission into the ranks of our English writers of note is owing to the circumstance of his writing in a barren age, when every versifier was a man of mark.

John LYDGATE.—Lydgate, the monk of Bury, flourished in the reigns of Henry V. and Henry VI. Educated at Oxford, he added to his college training a wider view of life by travelling in France and Italy. On his return home he opened a school for the instruction of the young in verse-making and polite composition. His ready pen, kept unceasingly busy, supplied verses of every style and sentiment, producing ballads and hymns with equal ease. He wrote for masks and mummings, coronations and saints' days, for king, citizen, and monk; and no doubt found the fruit of his work multiplying in the solid shape of gold and silver coin. The chief works of Lydgate, whose forte lay in flowing and diffuse description, were the History of Thebes, the Fall of



Princes, and the History of the Siege of Troythe last named being borrowed from Colonna's prose.

BLIND HARRY.—A poor man, so named, wandered about Scotland during the third quarter of the fifteenth century, reciting poems for bread. This was the author of The Wallace, a companion work to Barbour's “ Bruce,” but rougher in the grain and less trustworthy, owing to its being chiefly woven from the popular legends afloat concerning the tall hero of Elderslie.

“ The Wallace” contains about twelve thousand lines.

PROSE WRITERS. JOHN DE TREVISA.—A Latin work, the Polychronicon of Higden, a monk of Chester, was translated into English prose about 1387 by Trevisa, who was vicar of Berkeley in Gloucestershire. Many other translations were executed by the same pen.

SIR JOHN FORTESCUE.-Born, it is supposed, in Devonshire, this eminent lawyer became in 1442 the Chief-Justice of the King's Bench. Remaining faithful to the Red Rose through every change, he followed Queen Margaret into France, where he lived in exile for some time. Out of evil came good. We owe to this banishment one of the finest of our early English lawbooks, De Laudibus Legum Angliae, written in the form of a conversation between himself and his young pupil Prince Edward. Much more interesting, however, to us is an English work from his pen entitled, Of the Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy, in which he compares the French and the English in regard to liberty, much to the disadvantage of the former people.








Caxton's house.
His face.
Birth and boyhood.
On the Continent.
Invention of printing.
Trade in books.
Envoy at Bruges.

Serves the Duchess.
First literary work.
At Cologne.
History of Troy.
The Almonry.
Old printers at work.

The Game of Chesse.
Caxton's death.
Wynkyn de Worde.
Richard Pynson.
A contrast.

In one of the most squalid recesses of Westminster there stood, until 1845, a crazy building of wood and plaster, three stories high. Its pointed roof and wooden balcony were seldom free from poor fluttering rags of clothing, hung out to dry by the wretched tenants. The very sunlight grew sickly when it fell into the poverty-stricken street, where slipshod women, unshaven lounging men, and pale stunted children slunk hopelessly about. Foulness, gloom, and wretchedness were the prominent features of the place around the frail timbers of the house in which the first English printer is said to have lived and wrought. It was almost a mercy when a new street was driven through the poor old house and its tottering neighbours. Not far from this, in the Almonry or Eleemosynary of the Abbey, where the monks of Westminster used to distribute alms to the poor, that London merchant, whose name has grown to be a household word, set up, most probably in 1474, the first printing-press whose types were inked on Englislı ground.



As we write the name of CAXTON, a grave and beardless face, with an expression somewhat akin to sadness, rises from the past, looking calmly out from the descending lappets of the hood, which was the fashionable head-dress of his day. All honour to the memory of the Father of the English Press !

Born about 1412 in some lonely farm-house, a few of which were thinly scattered over the Weald or wooded part of Kent, William Caxton grew to boyhood among the simple peasants of that wild district. Probably about 1428 he assumed the flat round cap, narrow falling bands, and long coat of coarse clotlı, which then formed the dress of the city apprentice; and was soon, no doubt, promoted to the honour of carrying lantern and cudgel at night before the worshipful Master Robert Large, the rich mercer to whom he was bound. A mercer then did not confine his trade to silk : he dealt also in wool and woollen cloth ; and, no doubt, in the parcels from the Continent there often came, for sale among the rich English, a few copies of rare and costly manuscripts. From such the apprentice probably obtained his first knowledge of books in their old written shape.

Upon the death of his master, Caxton went abroad, and continued to reside chiefly in Holland and Flanders for fully thirty years. What his exact position was cannot be determined ; but it is supposed that he acted as travelling agent or factor for the Company of London Mercers. While he was thus employed, the great invention of printing began to attract the notice of the world. Laurence Coster, in the woods of Haarlem, had shaped his letters of beech-bark, and had looked with delight upon the impression left by the sap upon the parchment in which he had wrapped them. Gutenberg of Mentz, catching a sight of old Coster's types, had shut himself up in the ruined monastery by Strasbourg, to make the inks, the balls, the cases, and the press. Faust and Schoeffer had joined with Gutenberg, and had betrayed him when they knew his secret. Faust, by offering for sale as many Bibles as were asked for, at one-eighth of the usual price, had excited the wonder of the Paris world, and had evoked a cry that he was in league with the Enemy of man. And those strange

[blocks in formation]


pages, written in the blood of the salesman, as the shuddering gazers whispered to one another, pointing with trembling finger to the letters of brilliant red, had spread their fascinations, too, across the English Channel. A sharp business man like Caxton would not waste much time in sending these novelties to the English market. So printed books began to find their way to England among the silks and perfumes, which crossed the sea from Flanders.

A shrewd and clever man this mercer must have been in matters relating to his trade, for we find him in 1464 nominated one of the envoys to the Court of Burgundy, to negotiate a treaty of commerce between the King of England and Duke Philip. It must not be forgotten that the duchy of Burgundy then included nearly all of modern Belgium. And when, four years later, Philip's son, lately made Duke Charles by his father's death, married Margaret Plantagenet, the sister of the English king, William Caxton, who was already a resident in 1468 Bruges, where the rich and luxurious Court of Burgundy had its seat, entered the service of this English princess, who had changed her country and her name. He had probably already laid down the ell-wand, and had ceased to be seen among the mercers' stalls; but in what capacity he served the duchess we cannot say.

His own words tell us that he received from her a yearly fee, for which he rendered honest service. It was when his active mercer's life was over that he took up the pen, and began to work with types and ink-balls.

Our printer's entrance on literary work happened thus : Some months before the gorgeous ceremonies with which Duke Charles brought his English bride to her home in Bruges, Caxton, feeling himself to have no great occupation, sat down in some quiet turret chamber to translate a French book into English. This work was Recueil des Histoires de Troye, written by Duke Philip's chaplain, Raoul le Fevre. When five or six quires were written, he grew dissatisfied with his English and doubtful of his French; and so the unfinished translation lay aside for two years, tossed among his old invoices and scattered papers. One day“ my Lady

« ElőzőTovább »