William Caxton

William Caxton

thumb|Facsimile of page 1 of "Godefrey of Boloyne", printed by Caxton, London, 1481.----">The Prologue, at top of page, begins: "Here begynneth the boke Intituled Eracles, and also Godefrey of Boloyne,the whiche speketh of the Conquest of the holy lande of Jherusalem." The blank space on this page was for the insertion by hand of an illuminated initial T. William Caxton (c. 1415~1422 – c. March 1492) was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. He was the first English person to work as a printer and the first person to introduce a printing press into England. He was also the first English retailer of books (his London contemporaries were all Dutch, German or French).


Caxton's date of birth is unknown, but records place it in the range 1415 to 1424. He was born in Kent and went to London in the period 1437-1438, when he was between the ages of 14 and 17, to serve as an apprentice to Robert Large, a wealthy London mercer, or dealer in cloth, who served as Master of the Mercer's Company, and Lord Mayor of London in 1439.

In 1446, he went to Bruges, where he was successful in business and became governor of the Merchant Adventurers. His trade brought him into contact with Burgundy and it was thus that he became a member of the household of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, the sister of the English King. This led to more continental travel, including travel to Cologne, in the course of which he observed the new printing industry, and was significantly influenced by German printing. He wasted no time in setting up a printing press in Bruges in collaboration with a Fleming, Colard Mansion, on which the first book to be printed in English was produced in 1473: "Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye", [STC 2nd ed item 4920] a translation by Caxton himself. Bringing the knowledge back to his native land, he set up a press at Westminster in 1476 and the first book known to have been issued there was an edition of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" (Blake, 2004-7). Another early title was "Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres" ("Sayings of the Philosophers"), first printed on November 18, 1477, written by Earl Rivers, the king's brother-in-law. Caxton's translation of the "Golden Legend", published in 1483, and "The Book of the Knight in the Tower", published 1484, contain perhaps the earliest verses of the Bible to be printed in English.

Caxton produced chivalric romances, classical-authored works and English and Roman histories. These books strongly appealed to English upper classes around the end of the fifteenth century. Caxton was supported by, but not dependent on, nobility and gentry.

The most important works printed by Caxton were "Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers", "Le Morte d'Arthur" and Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". He produced two editions of the latter.

Caxton's precise date of death is uncertain, but estimates from the records of his burial in St Margaret's, Westminster, show that he died in about March 1492.

Caxton was not without his detractors. There was widespread unease amongst the merchant class of the time, who felt that if the printed page were to become widely available to the population, then it might filter through to the poor. The poor, it was believed, might then "become aware and enlightened of their circumstances"Fact|date=May 2008 and, ultimately, dissatisfied and aggrieved. This, it was felt, might lead to unrest and civil disturbance.Fact|date=May 2008

In challenging the wisdom of his critics, Caxton announced: "If tis wrong I do, then tis a fine and noble wrong".Fact|date=May 2008

Caxton and the English language

Caxton printed four-fifths of his works in English. He translated a large amount of works into English. He translated and edited a large amount of the work himself.

However, the English language was changing rapidly in Caxton's time and the works he was given to print were in a variety of styles and dialects. Caxton was a technician rather than a writer and he often faced dilemmas concerning language standardisation in the books he printed. (He wrote about this subject in the preface to his "Eneydos". [ [http://www.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/english.html Caxton's Chaucer - Caxton's English ] ] ) His successor Wynkyn de Worde faced similar problems.

Caxton is credited with standardising the English language (that is, homogenising regional dialects) through printing. This was said to have led to the expansion of English vocabulary, the development of inflection and syntax and the ever-widening gap between the spoken and the written word.

However, Richard Pynson, who started printing in London in 1491 or 1492 and who favoured Chancery Standard, was a more accomplished stylist and consequently pushed the English language further toward standardisation.

It is asserted that the spelling "ghost" with the silent letter "h" was adopted by Caxton due to the influence of Dutch spelling habits.



*N. F. Blake, "Caxton, William (1415~24–1492)", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4963, accessed 1 July 2006]
* [http://charlemagne.celtic-twilight.com/caxton_ch/index.htm The English Charlemagne Romances] , Parts III and IV, The Lyf of the Noble and Crysten Prynce Charles the Grete, Translated from the French By William Caxton And Printed By Him 1485.
* [http://www.bartleby.com/212/1303.html The Introduction of Printing into England and the Early Work of the Press: The First Book printed in English] (1907), from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol II
* [http://www.bartleby.com/212/1307.html Caxton's Views on the English Language.]
* [http://www.cts.dmu.ac.uk/Caxtons Caxton's Canterbury Tales: The British Library Copies] Images and full transcripts of the whole of Caxton's two editions of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; a fuller version of this is published on CD-ROM by [http://www.sd-editions.com Scholarly Digital Editions]
* [http://www.classicistranieri.com/english/1/0/6/7/10672/10672-h/10672-h.htm Game and Playe of the Chesse] A Verbatim Reprint of the First Edition, 1474

Further reading

*Lienhard, John H. (2006): "How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-530599-X pp.165-168

*Painter, George D. (1976): "William Caxton - Biography". Chatto & Windus.

External links

* [http://www.mirroroftheworld.com.au/inspiration/printed/caxton/online.php Images from Myrrour of the Worlde] from the State Library of Victoria
* [http://www.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/merchant.html Caxton's apprenticeship to Robert Large]

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  • William Caxton — (* um 1422 in der Grafschaft Kent; † 1491 in Westminster) war der erste englische Buchdrucker und gleichzeitig auch als Verleger und Übersetzer tätig. Er gilt als bedeutender Bildner und Reformer der englischen Sprache, da er in seinen Drucken… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • William Caxton — Caxton montrant un premier tirage de son imprimerie au roi Édouard IV et sa famille, à l Aumônerie de Westminster William Caxton (v. 1422 dans le comté de Kent v. 1491), prototypographe anglais …   Wikipédia en Français

  • William Caxton — William Caxton …   Wikipedia Español

  • William Caxton — noun English printer who in 1474 printed the first book in English (1422 1491) • Syn: ↑Caxton • Instance Hypernyms: ↑printer, ↑pressman * * * William Caxton [William Caxton …   Useful english dictionary

  • William Caxton — ➡ Caxton * * * …   Universalium

  • William Caxton — n. (1422 1491) English printer and translator, first English printer, printed the first book in England in 1474 …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Caxton — William Caxton (* um 1422 in der Grafschaft Kent; † 1491 in Westminster) war der erste englische Buchdrucker und gleichzeitig auch als Verleger und Übersetzer tätig. Er gilt als bedeutender Bildner und Reformator der englischen Sprache, da er in… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • William Blades — (December 5, 1824 April 27, 1890), English printer and bibliographer, was born at Clapham, London.In 1840 he was apprenticed to his father s printing business in London, being subsequently taken into partnership. The firm was afterwards known as… …   Wikipedia

  • Caxton (disambiguation) — Caxton may refer to:* William Caxton, English printer * Caxton Associates, investment firm * Caxton, Cambridgeshire, English village * Caxton and CTP Publishers and Printers Limited * Caxton college, Spanish school * Caxton Street, Brisbane *… …   Wikipedia

  • Caxton College — is a private school located 16 km north of Valencia, Spain, in a small town called Puçol. It is named after William Caxton. Caxton College has two buildings currently in use, one holding a sports hall, a few classrooms, a computer suite,… …   Wikipedia

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