Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

William Peto, O.F.M. Obs., and the 1556 Edition of the Folowinge of Chryste: Background and Context

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

William Peto, O.F.M. Obs., and the 1556 Edition of the Folowinge of Chryste: Background and Context

Article excerpt

I. Background and Context

In 1529, Sir Thomas Mores A dyaloge ... touching the pestylent sect of Luther and Tyndale was printed by John Rastell (STC 18084), and in 1531 the exiled reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale responded with An answere vnto sir Thomas Mores dialoge, printed in Antwerp by Simon Cock (STC 24437). The first part of More's The confutacyon of Tyndales answere appeared in 1532, printed by William Rastell (STC 18079). (1) In the preface to The confutacyon, More states that sincere Christians, especially "people vnlerned," should avoid heretical books being put forth by individuals such as Martin Luther and William Tyndale, and should

   occupye them selfe besyde theyr other busynesse
   in prayour, good medytacyon and redynge of suche
   englysshe bookes as moste may norysshe and encrease
   deuocyon. Of whyche kynde is Bonauenture of
   the lyfe of Cryste, Gerson of the folowynge of
   Cryste, and the deuoute contemplatyue booke of
   Scala perfectionis wyth suche other lyke. (emphasis
   added) (2)

The books recommended by More were Nicholas Love's translation of pseudo-Bonaventure's Meditationes Vitae Christi as The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ; (3) Thomas a Kempis's Imitatio Christi, here attributed to Jean Gerson; and Walter Hilton's The Scale of Perfection. (4) In the case of the Imitatio Christi, as Roger Lovatt points out, More was "almost certainly" referring "to the third English translation of the work which was published c. 1531" by the London printer Robert Wyer (STC 23961). (5)

Even though the first three books of the Imitatio had already been translated into English from Latin by William Atkinson (d. 1509), and the fourth from French by Lady Margaret Beaufort (d. 1509) specifically for print, the author of the introduction to the ca. 1531 text justified a new translation on the grounds that the earlier one--albeit "ryght well and deuoutly translatyd into Englysshe"--was not altogether accurate in the first three books, and the fourth was derived from French. (6) (There was an earlier English translation of the first three books undertaken in the mid-fifteenth century which survives in four manuscripts, but it appears to have had a very limited circulation and did not find its way into print until 1997). (7)

Wyer's edition encompassed all four books of the Imitatio, although the fourth, "whiche treatyth most specyally of the sacrament of the aulter" (Bk. 4, sig. A.ir), was set in different type deriving from the Southwark house of Peter Treveris. Soon afterwards, Wyer brought out an edition of the fourth book only, making use of his own type (STC 23962). (8) Thomas Godfray s edition of all four books appeared around 1531/32 (STC 23963). Godfray improved on some of Wyer's readings, and Edward J. Klein "speculates" that these improvements may have been introduced by the author, whom he identifies as Richard Whitford, Bridgettine priest-brother, translator, and prolific author of devotional treatises. (9) Godfray also added other texts: after The folowyng of Chryste comes a translation of St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Epistola de perfectione uitae as the Golden Epistle (STC 1915), and four of the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden. (10)

Godfray explained that he had appended the Golden Epistle to The folowyng "to the encrease of the deuotion of them that can rede Englyshe and understande nat the latyn tonge"--that is, precisely the audience to whom More directed his remarks. (11) He also observed that the Golden Epistle "is in some bokes imprinted in the later ende of the boke called in latyn Imitatio Christi that is to say in Englisshe the folowyng of Christ." (12) The introduction to Wyer's edition opens with precisely the same phrase--"Hereafter folowyth a boke callyd in latyn Imitacio Cristi, that is to say in englysshe the folowynge of Cryst"--and one would assume that Godfray was making an allusion to this edition, except for the fact that it does not contain a copy of the Golden Epistle or the selection from the Revelations. …

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