Even history’s most notable authors sometimes wrote badly

by | Nov 21, 2022 | The Early Modern Age, Linguistics & Philology

William Caxton shows first specimen to Edward IV

Caxton [black robe] Showing the First Specimen of His Printing to King Edward IV at the Almonry, by Daniel Maclise (1851)

William Caxton translated and produced the first book printed in English (Recuyell [Collection] of the Historyes of Troye), in 1473 or 1474. He also set up England’s first printing press, in 1476, and he became the kingdom’s first retailer of printed books. Caxton translated much literature into English, including Bible verses and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. He stands tall among the greatest figures of English literature.

Yet, William Caxton wrote this:

And afterward when I remembered myself of my simpleness and unperfectness that I had in both languages, that is, to wit, in French and in English, for in France was I never, and was born and learned mine English in Kent in the Weald where, I doubt not, is spoken as broad and rude English as in any place of England, and have continued, by the space of thirty years, for the most part in the countries of Brabant, Flanders, Holland, and Zeeland; and thus when all these things came tofore me after that I had made and written a five or six quires, I fell in despair of this work and purposed no more to have continued therein, and those quires laid apart, and in two years after laboured no more in this work.

~ Caxton, prologue to Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. (1473/4).

The mind boggles. Oh well, no one’s perfect.

© 2022 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.


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