William Caxton, 1422-1491

Portrait

Biographical note

Printer and translator, born in the Weald of Kent, was apprenticed to a London mercer. On his master’s death in 1441 he went to Bruges, and lived there and in various other places in the Low Countries for over 30 years, engaged apparently as head of an association of English merchants trading in foreign parts, and in negotiating commercial treaties between England and the Dukes of Burgundy.

His first literary labour was a translation of a French romance, which he entitled The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, and which he finished in 1471.

About this time he learned the art of printing, and, after being in the service of Margaret Duchess of Burgundy, an English princess, returned to his native country and set up at Westminster in 1476 his printing press, the first in England. His Recuyell and The Game and Playe of Chesse had already been printed — the first books in English — on the Continent. Here was produced the first book printed in England, The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers (1477). Caxton obtained Royal favour, printed from 80 to 100 separate works — many of them translations of his own — and died almost with pen in hand in 1491. His style is clear and idiomatic.

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