the preface to the Eneydos he told a story of some merchants going down
the Thames. There was no wind so they landed on the Kent side of the
river to buy food. ‘And specyally he axyed after eggys. And the good wyf
answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry
for he also coude speke no frenshe but wold haue hadde egges and she
vnderstode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue
eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstood hym wel’ [And he
asked specifically for eggs, and the good woman said that she spoke no
French, and the merchant got angry for he could not speak French either,
but he wanted eggs and she could not understand him. And then at last
another person said that he wanted ‘eyren’. Then the good woman said
that she understood him well].
As a translator of books which
were to be printed Caxton had to ensure that the language which he used
was acceptable to quite a wide group of potential readers and buyers.
‘Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte egges or eyren?
Certaynly it is harde to playse euery man by cause of dyuersite and
chaunge of langage’ [Now, what should one write nowadays, eggs or eyren?
It is certain that it is difficult to please everybody because of the
diversity and the change of our language]. As far as the social position
of his language was concerned Caxton’s solution was to strike what he
perceived as a balance but he aimed his language not at rude men but at
‘a clerke and a noble gentylman’: ‘Therfor in a meane bytwene bothe I
haue reduced and translated this sayd booke in to our englysshe not ouer
rude ne curyous but in such termes as shall be vnderstanden by goddys
grace’ [therefore, as a compromise, I have translated this book into an
English which is neither too coarse nor too refined, but using phrases
which are understandable, God willing].
Gothic — or black-letter script — was a principal model for printer’s types when printing was first invented. This impressive collection features 100 complete and royalty-free alphabets of Old English and Gothic typefaces: Blackstone, Dolbey, Germania, Caxton Initials, Munich Fraktur, and 95 more — with many lowercases, numerals, and punctuation marks.
Medieval doubts that King Arthur was a historical person and the texts used to support either position were notably similar to those in more recent times Excerpt:
Caxton replies to Edward IV “that dyvers men holde oppynyon that there was no suche Arthur, and that alle suche books as been maad of hym ben but fayned and fables” (p.815). But why would these diverse people doubt that there was a King Arthur? For one of the many reasons that people doubt him today: “bycause that somme cronycles make of hym no mencyon ne remember hym noothynge, ne of his knyghtes” (pp.815-816). That is, many people were aware enough of their own chronicle history to know that Arthur is conspicuously missing at times from these texts. In fact, according to Caxton, Arthur seems to be relatively unpopular in general at this moment in English history, as he says, “it is a mervayl why [Arthur] is nomore renomed in his owne contreye, sauf onelye it acoordeth to the word of God, whyche sayth that no man is accept for a prophete in his owne contreye” (p.816). Caxton cagily phrases his argument so that he’s distant from the men who think the Arthurian tales are feigned – a safer position especially since a member of the court he’s addressing thinks doubting Arthur is “grete folye and blyndenesse” (p.816) – and yet his declaration that Arthur cannot be found in some chronicles is a firm one. If we believe that these diverse men are actually diverse men (and not Caxton using the old red herring “a friend of mine”), it suggests a reading public who is not only interested in English history, but interested in accurate history that doesn’t include fictional kings.