WILLIAM CAXTON, PRINTER
THERE never was anything that made a greater difference to the world than when books began to be printed,
instead of being written by the hand. This wonderful invention was not made all at once. First there was
printing from blocks, which is done by drawing or writing something on a piece of wood or metal, and taking an
impression from it. But real printing began when a letter, or sometimes two or three letters, were made in wood
or metal, put together in words, and then, having been covered with ink, were stamped on paper. These letters
made in metal, for wood was soon given up, are called type. Type that was movable, i.e. could be
put together and then taken to pieces, was the great secret of printing. When this was done, a real beginning
was made. It is not certain who first did this. But it is commonly believed to have been one Gutenberg, who set
up in business at Mentz in 1441, and in
 the following year printed two small books. In 1455 he printed a Bible which is called the Mazarin. The first
English printer was William Caxton, who was born about 1422. For many years he was engaged in trade—he had been
apprenticed to a mercer—and lived in Bruges, as governor of the English traders in that city. But he was always
fond of books, and when he was about forty-seven years of age he began to translate from the French a book
about the Trojan
 War. Not long after he entered the service of the Duchess of Burgundy (sister to our King Edward IV.), and on
September 19, 1471, he presented to her his translation, which he had by that time finished. She was much
pleased with the book. What a great lady liked was sure to be popular; so many people wanted to have copies
that Caxton's hand, as he tells us himself, grew tired with writing, and his eyes dimmed with overmuch looking
at the white paper. Then he began to think of printing.
CAXTON BEFORE EDWARD IV.
There was a printer in Bruges at this time of the name of Collard Mansion, who had his printing press in a room
over a church porch. Caxton learnt the art from him, and the book was printed, as was also another, about
chess, which was published in the following year. In 1476 Caxton left Bruges and returned to England (from
which he had been absent five-and-thirty years), bringing with him a "fount"
of Collard Mansion's type.
The place which he chose for carrying on his new business was the "Abbey" of Westminster. When
 we now speak of "Westminster Abbey," we mean the beautiful church founded by Edward the Confessor, as has been
told in the first volume of these Stories. But at the time of which I am now writing the word meant much more. There was then a great house for monks, who
were ruled by an Abbot, and all the buildings belonging to this were called the "Abbey." Among these were a
gaol for the safe keeping of prisoners, and an almonry, where alms were given to the poor. Some houses near the
Almonry were called by the same name, and in one of these, known as "Redhall House," Caxton set up his printing
The first book printed in this place was published in 1477.
For fourteen years he lived and worked in Westminster. He was an important person in the parish (St.
Margaret's, Westminster), for we find his name signed to the parish accounts, to show that he had looked
through them, and found that they were all right. And he worked hard, not only at printing books, but also at
writing them, or rather translating them either from the Latin or the French. The number that he printed and
published during these
 fourteen years was about eighty, and a quarter of these he translated himself. It has been reckoned that these
translations of his contain in all about four thousand five hundred pages, folio pages that is, and so four
times as big as the pages we commonly see. We must remember that he did with his own hands a great deal of the
actual work of printing. A master-printer now only sees that others do their work properly, but Caxton actually
"composed," i.e. put the letters together into words, and "struck off" copies from the type when it had been
He had many great and powerful friends. King Edward IV. gave him money, came, it is said, to see his
printing-office, and had two books printed under his patronage. The Duchess of Burgundy, whose servant he had
been at Bruges, also continued to be his friend. Perhaps, when he came to England in 1480 on a visit to her
brother the King, she may have gone to Westminster to see Caxton. He dedicated a book to King Richard III., and
another to Henry VII., and he presented the story of Æneas to Prince Arthur, King Henry's eldest son. This was
in 1490, when the Prince was four years old.
In 1490 Caxton seems to have lost his wife, for we find that a certain "Mawde Caxton" was buried in the
churchyard of St. Margaret's. If this lady was his wife, they had been married nine-and-twenty
 years. In this year Caxton began to print a book called Feats of Arms, but he stopped the work in order
to print another which has the title The Art to Die Well. This is just what he would have been likely to
do if some one very dear to him died about this time. He went on working up to the time of his death. This
seems to have taken place about the end of the year 1491.
One Wynken de Worde, who was his chief assistant, and succeeded him in his business, says of a book published
in 1492 with the title of Lives of the Fathers that lived in the Desert, that it had been "translated
out of French into English by William Caxton of Westminster, lately deceased, and finished on the last day of
his life." He was buried in the church-yard of St. Margaret. Six shillings and eightpence was paid for torches
and sixpence for ringing the bells. These are much higher fees than were commonly paid. He does not seem to
have left much besides his stock of books. Fifteen copies of one of them he left to the parish church. These
were sold at different prices, varying from 6s. 8d. to 5s. 8d. during the next ten years. These
prices would be equal to about £3 to £2 10s. of our money.