Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Caxton

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Caxton

Article excerpt

Life became business-always the noise

of workers setting type, always the suck

of inky sponges, forms loaded into

the carriage then crushed down to the press stone,

the stacks of paper wetted, kept all night

under a heavy weight so they would flip;

beaters, pullers, workers who would shout

to one another. In Cologne he learned

the terms: frisket, platan, carriage, the rounce,

tympan; viscosities for ink, the weight

for paper; how each book came in a run,

(two-hundred-fifty copies usually).

How different, he would think, from ancient daysthe

monkish silence of scriptoria,

only the scratch of pens on vellum scrolls

to break the silences, the escritoire,

the patient copying. Now dirt and grit,

machines, and noise were the order, and he knew

the world had changed, old orders passed away.

Recuyell of the Historyes ofTroye,

(the first book printed by an Englishman),

then books on chess and table manners came;

philosophy, The Mirror of the World,

romances, Chaucers Canterbury Tales,

Le Morte d'Arthur. As the language changed

his printing press solidified its form,

orthography arresting, fixing words

even as speech transformed them. In the end,

the text hardly resembled how the word

came out of peoples' mouths.

It was a thing

he wondered at. A woman told a tale

Caxton repeated in one of his books:

A mariner came to an English inn

and ordered breakfast, saying he'd have egges.

The waitress told him she could not speak French

and he was piqued and said neither could he

but he wanted his egges. …

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