Page images


for themselves, and were no longer contented, as had been the case for so many years, to rely entirely on what their priests told them. The mariner's compass New invenmade navigation safe and feasible.

The use of gunpowder in warfare made individual bravery of less importance than the intellect of the commanding officers, and thus war began to be a kind of science. The arts of engraving and printing were invented, and the more general manufacture and use of paper made possible the speedy development of arts that have exercised a great influence on the progress of nations.

In England the spirit of the Renaissance entered early into Humphry, Duke of Gloucester (d. 1447), Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester (d. 1470), and Woodville, Early Earl Rivers (d. 1483). They all delighted Renaissance “to study in books of antiquity”. Duke in England. Humphry brought scholars from Italy to expound the classics to him, collected books and left by will a hundred and thirty-five volumes to the University of Oxford. Aretino, a conspicuous figure at the court of Cosmo dei Medici, dedicated to Duke Humphry his The univertranslation of Aristotle's Politics. The public sities and the schools and the universities began to take schools. their modern shape. Education was beginning to be demanded by all; it was no longer to be confined to those who intended taking holy orders. Bishop Wykeham founded Winchester School and New College, Oxford, in 1379; Chicheley, Archbishop of Canterbury, founded All Souls College, Oxford, in 1438; Henry VI. founded Eton in 1441, and King's College, Cambridge, in 1443. St. Andrews, the most ancient of the Scottish universities, was founded a few years after the commencement of the fifteenth century, and the University of Glasgow was established within the century. St. Paul's School, where Milton was later to be a pupil, and the first school in which Greek was publicly taught in England, was founded by Colet in 1512.

All through the sixteenth century the same zeal was displayed in founding schools and colleges both in England and Scotland. Englishmen commenced the practice, which on moral grounds Ascham deplored, of visiting Italy for the purpose of studying the classics, and some of them, on their return, taught others, or brought back teachers with them. Both Linacre and Grocyn, two great scholars of the Renaissance, on their return from Italy, taught Greek at Oxford. Linacre, it must not be forgotten, founded the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1518. How the revival of classical learning affected the early sixteenth-century poets will be seen later in dealing with their works.

IV. The Invention of Printing.

Block books.

An even vaster influence was exercised on literature by the invention of printing.

The art of taking impressions from wood-blocks for playing-cards was practised towards the end of the four

teenth century, chiefly in the Low Countries.

Sometimes the same process would be employed for pictures of Saints, with accompanying letterpress, the whole occasionally extending to several pages. They are known as block-books, and many interesting specimens are exhibited in the British Museum at London. The invention of movable types of metal is claimed for a Dutchman, Laurence Coster, and for Gutenberg, a native of Mayence in Germany. The latter printed at Mayence, about 1455, a Latin Bible known as the

‘Mazarin Bible', because the only known copy printed was found in the library of Cardinal Mazarin.

Other printers arose in Germany who made great improvements on Gutenberg's method, and the invention spread through Europe. German printers set up presses at Rome in 1467, at Paris and Venice in 1469.

The first English printer was William Caxton. Born in Kent about 1422, and well educated, he came to London

and began life as an apprentice to a mercer. Caxton, the first English

He went abroad, and proved so excellent a printer. man of business that in 1426, he was appointed governor of the English merchants at Bruges, in






Flanders. In his leisure time he turned to literature, and in 1469 began to translate into English Le Recueil des Histoires de Troye. When it was completed there was such demand for it that Caxton through the constant copying found his eyes "dimmed with overmuch looking on the white paper”, and his hand “weary and not steadfast”.

Therefore he set to work to learn the new art of printing just introduced into Bruges by Colard Mansion, and so expert did he soon become, that he printed his book as the Recuyell of the Histories of printed by Troy, in 1474. It was the first book printed in the English language.

Caxton's next venture was the Game and Play of Chess, a moral treatise, translated also by himself from the French, and printed probably at Bruges in 1475.

In the following year Caxton returned to London, and set up his press at Westminster. The first book printed in England was the Dictes and Sayings of The printingPhilosophers, and it bears date November 18, press, set ip 1477. It was again a translation from the minster. French, but this time not by Caxton, but by his friend and patron Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers.

Henceforward until his death Caxton went steadily on, translating and printing. Combining taste with a practical knowledge of business, Caxton printed books that were good literature, but that were at the same time likely to find favour with the general reader. He printed the poems of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate; many books of devotion; the popular history of Reynard the Fox; Lives of the Saints; Malory's Morte d'Arthur, and several popular romances. His industry was unceasing. In considering prose style in English literature, that of Caxton's translations was a decided step in the history of its progress. He sought a style, as he tells us himself, that should be “neither over-cautious nor over-rude”, and thus aimed at clearness combined with beauty of expression, the essential qualities of fine prose. Caxton died in 1491, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. His work was carried on by Wynkyn de Worde and by Pynson. It should be remembered that the type employed by these old printers represented the Gothic or old German letters, and thus those old books are generally termed 'black-letter ’.

1 It is interesting to note that at Antwerp may still be seen the house and business premises of a well-known printer, Christopher Plantin (1514-1584), arranged and kept exactly as they were in the sixteenth century.

Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, printed Malory's

and published by Caxton in 1485, is a book “Morte d'Ar. whose influence on our literature has been

far-reaching and important. Very little is known of its author. In the preface Caxton states that he intended


to imprint a book of the noble histories of the said King Arthur and of certain of his knights, after a copy unto me delivered, which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of a certain book of French, and reduce it into English.

He further recommends the book as one of entertainment, though not perhaps of historical accuracy: and for to pass the time this book shall be pleasant to read in, but for to give faith and believe that all is true that is contained herein, ye be at your liberty.

In a simple and clear yet animated style that set an example to future writers of English prose, Malory told once more the ever-attractive Arthurian legends. He wrote of Arthur, and of Merlin the great enchanter, of Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, of Tristram and Iseult. In the search for the Holy Grail, chivalry is combined with Christianity. The legends come mainly from the French romances, of which the sources are various. It is to Malory's Arthur that our modern poets, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Swinburne, William Morris, have turned

Such as are still employed in Germany in the printing of German books.

for the material of some of their most famous poems, and before them Spenser and Milton and Wordsworth had found in it a source of inspiration.

As an example of Malory's style, we may take his account of Arthur's death, which should be compared with that of Layamon.

Then Sir Bedivere took the king upon his back and so went with him to that water side, even fast by the bank hoved a little barge with many fair ladies in it, and among them all was a queen, and they all had black hoods, and they all wept and shrieked when they saw King Arthur.

Now put me into the barge,' said the king, and so he did softly. And there received him three queens with great mourning, and so they set him down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head, and then that queen said, 'Ah, dear brother! why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas! this wound on your head hath caught overmuch cold.' And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all those ladies go from him. Then Sir Bedivere cried, “Ah! my lord Arthur, what shall become of me now ye go from me, and leave me here alone among mine enemies?' 'Comfort thyself,' said the king, ‘and do as well as thou mayst; for in me is no trust for to trust in. For I will into the vale of Avilion, to heal me of my grievous wound. And if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul;' but ever the queens and ladies wept and shrieked that it was pity to hear.

teenth cen.

We are now on the threshold of the great period of our literature. The ars we have been writing of were a time of preparation; the revival of learning, Importance the discovery of the new world, the invention of the fifof printing were the instruments that were tury. to be used to such great purpose by later generations. Printing made the spread of literature possible among all classes of society. The printing-press has been, and still is, the greatest instrument of education the world possesses: it is the one means by which the productions of a great mind can be diffused, and so become the property of all.

In this way it is that all great writers

1 See page 35.

« PreviousContinue »