William Caxton (c. 1422-91) set up England’s first printing press at Westminster in 1476. His preface to the Morte Darthur, published in 1485, provides a rationale for publication of the work, offers commentary on its worth, and suggests the proper spirit in which the book is to be read. E.G. Duff, writing in the early twentieth century, said that this preface ‘is, perhaps, the best and most interesting piece of writing the printer ever composed, and still remains one of the best criticisms of Malory’s romance’ (Cambridge History of English Literature, II, 358).
The text is that of the Simmons edition, Everyman’s Library, I (London: J.M. Dent, 1906), 1-4.
After that I had accomplished and finished divers histories, as well of contemplation as of other historical and worldly acts of great conquerors and princes, and also certain books of ensamples and doctrine, many noble and divers gentlemen of this realm of England came and demanded me, many and ofttimes, wherefore that I have not do made and imprinted the noble history of the Sangreal, and of the most renowned Christian king, first and chief of the three best Christian and worthy, King Arthur, which ought most to be remembered among us English men tofore all other Christian kings. For it is notoriously known through the universal world that there be nine worthy and the best that ever were. That is to wit three paynims, three Jews, and three Christian men. As for the paynims they were tofore the Incarnation of Christ, which were named, the first Hector of Troy, of whom the history is come both in ballad and in prose; the second Alexander the Great; and the third Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome, of whom the histories be well-known and had. And as for the three Jews which also were tofore the Incarnation of our Lord, of whom the first was Duke Joshua which brought the children of Israel into the land of behest; the second David, King of Jerusalem; and the third Judas