Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and Their Books, 1473-1557

By Alexandra Gillespie | Go to book overview

5
The Press, the Medieval Author,
and the English Reformations,
1534 to 1557

John Foxe was an enthusiastic early historian of the reformation printing press. '[T]hrough the lyght of printing', he writes in his 1570 Actes and monuments,

as by the singulare organe of the holy Ghost, the doctrine of the Gospell soundeth
to all nations & countreys vnder heauen: and what God readeth to one man,
is dispersed to many, and what is knowne in one nation, is opened to all.1

The books that all men open at once, see with the same eyes, include, according to Foxe, 'Chaucers workes', which 'be all printed in one volume, and therefore knowen to all men'. These men find that the writer '(no doubt) saw in Religion as much almost, as euen we do now, and vttereth in his workes no lesse' (DDd4r). The 'lyght' of printing is thus cast upon that which is already illuminated; 'we' see with Chaucer's eyes; and there ceases to be a distinction between past and present, between disparate texts and the author's 'workes', between the wide reach of the press and the protestant remaking of the world.

Foxe's well-known account of the printing press matches that of his close associate John Bale. It is the proper role of the learned protestant to gather the writings of authors, writes Bale, for 'posteryte maye wele curse thys wycked facte of our age, thys vnreasonable spole of Englandes moste noble antiquities, vnless they be stayed … by the art of pryntyng'.2 The press and the writer are both instruments through which loss may be arrested, time stopped, God-given truth uttered and universally 'knowne'. In Foxe and Bale's writing, that which is 'opened

1STC 11223, Dd4r. See King, 'The Light of Printing'.

2 In 1549 in the The laboryous journey & serchefor Englandes antiquitees, STC
15445, B2r.

-187-

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