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

Mirk's Festial and Theodoric Rood

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

Mirk's Festial and Theodoric Rood

Article excerpt

Until the publication in 2007 of Part XI of the Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Library (BMC XI), (1) the second edition (1486) of John Mirk's sermon collection, the Festial, was conventionally ascribed to the short-lived Oxford press of Theodoric Rood. (2) In BMC XI, however, the lack of evidence for Rood as printer of the Festial led to the 1486 edition being ascribed to the "Printer of Mirk." This essay seeks to interrogate the arguments against "Rood" and for "Printer of Mirk" and to argue that the evidence is too slight to assert that Rood was not the printer of Mirk. The first part of the essay assesses the evidence presented in BMC XI in relation to the fifteenth-century Oxford presses, especially the thirteen editions still ascribed to Rood. The second part of the essay reviews the BMC XI arguments against Rood as printer of the Festial (summarized as type, paper, language, and time). In particular, the essay highlights the importance of considering the 1486 edition in relation to its distinctive text, an area (language) that BMC XI does not investigate. (3)

Caxton printed the collection of sermons known as the Festial on June 30, 1483 (STC 17957). (4) It was printed again three years later in an edition traditionally ascribed to Rood (STC 17958), and then again by Caxton, using Rood's edition, in 1491 (STC 17959). There is no mention of Rood in the 1486 edition, nor of Oxford--the colophon reads: "Here endith the boke that is callid festiuall. the yere of oure lord M cccc. lxxxvi. the day aftir seint Edward the kyng." This is the first of the numerous uncertainties about the Oxford presses. St. Edward the King might be King Edward the Confessor, who was celebrated on October 13; it might be King Edward the Martyr who was celebrated on March 18 and June 20. Since the more likely of the two is Edward the Confessor, for the purpose of this essay I take the date of the end of the printing process as October 14, I486. (5)

BMC XI succinctly explains why the nomenclature "Printer of Mirk" is used in preference to "Rood:"

   The Printer of Mirk's Liber Festivalis cannot be identified as
   Theodericus Rood. There is not only a gap of at least three
   years between Rood's last assumed printing of Latin works
   and the printing of this work in English, but the paper stocks
   are not connected with those used earlier on in Oxford. The
   type is a crude adaptation of two founts used by Rood. The
   book is therefore here ranged with Oxford printing, although
   its place of printing should be considered as uncertain. (6)

First, there is a three-year gap. Second (implicit in the second sentence), Rood printed in Latin--the Festial is in English. Third, the paper stocks are different from ones "used earlier." Fourth, the type is adapted from two used by Rood ("crude" seeming to imply that it was not done by Rood himself). So "Printer of Mirk" is a safe title--the reasons to link the 1486 edition with Rood and Oxford are not secure. On the other hand, we must bear in mind from the start that there are no reasons to link it with anyone else, or anywhere else.

Why did earlier scholars link this second edition of the Festial with Rood and Oxford? There were a number of publications in Oxford between 1478 and the Festial of 1486. Since there was no other printing in Oxford before or after these dates until John Scolar (1517-1528), it was natural to assume that all the works were by the same printer, and Rood was the only name cited in any of these works. Any problematization of the issue was confined to brief articles in bibliographical journals, and one cannot emphasize enough the indebtedness of scholars working with incunables to the editors of BMC XI (principally Lotte Hellinga, with important work by Paul Needham) for their painstaking and scholarly presentation of the facts. As explained above, their conclusion (principally that of Hellinga, working on printing types) is that there is not enough evidence to link Rood with the Festial. …

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