Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
William Caxton’s Cicero at the Fisher Library

William Caxton’s Cicero at the Fisher Library


William Caxton course is the first
printer in the English language and he he began life as a merchant on the
continent, but eventually expanded into bookselling as the invention of the
printing press about 1460 he begins selling books
somewhere in the 1470s but his part is you know part of other merchant trade.
He eventually sets up shop in Bruges and there he does have a printing press and
he prints books in French and Latin and in English while he’s still established
in Bruges. In the mid 1470s, he packs up and moves to Westminster, and he does
that because he wants be near where the parliament is, and he knows that this is
going to be a good place to be able to have a print trade and it takes off and
it works really really well. Eventually he prints a hundred and eight
books which is which is quite phenomenal for the period of time in which he was-in
which he was working and of those 108 books 80% of them were
printed in English. So he’s in a sense he’s the Gutenberg of the English
culture this is printed in 1481 it was printed at Westminster and it’s actually
three books in one volume so you have two books by Cicero, one on old age and
another on friendship and then the third book is by an Italian humanist by the
name of Buonacorso, and he wrote this book in Italian on the nobility on
what true nobility is. And so what Caxton does is Caxton takes these three texts-
he doesn’t translate any of the three of them, they are translated by other people,
and he puts them together in one volume- what he does is he provides
introductions and epilogues to each of them but these one of the reasons why
this particular volume is so important and it was issued with the three
together it’s not ours is not compiled of three different ones it was issued
this way one of the reasons it’s so important is because this is the very
first time that we have a translation of any classical author in this case Cicero
into the English language, it’s also the very first time we have any
translation of a humanist author into English, so there are a number first
about this about this book. 1481 it’s printed, today there are only 13 copies
in the world that are in existence that are complete there’s about 26
floating around that are in various states but 13 that are complete. The
Fisher’s copy is the last of those. There are no others now in in private hands
and why it’s important from the Canadian point of view is that this is now the
oldest English-language book to be found in Canada and of course printed by the
first English printer, and being printed in England. Well there are a number of
things you’re gonna get from it I mean first of all can be studied just for his
content people in the classics department who are going to want to
looked at the way in which Cicero was first being translated in the at the
very beginning of the 15th century and and what kind of idioms are being used to be
able to translate Latin Latin concepts. So the classics Department will be
interested in from that point of view. For those who are interested in book
history, the type that Caxton uses in this is referred to as type 2 asterisk,
and why that’s important is because this is the first type that is actually made
in England. He brings type 2 with him from Bruges when he moves back to
Westminster but obviously he has to have more type and so this this is the then
the earliest type that is actually being made in England. So he actually uses two
types of type he has type two asterisk but he also has type three,
which is what it uses for quotations so you have two of the earliest instances
of type that are being used in English language, so from a book
history point of view is going to be interesting to look at. From the paper
point of view, it’s going to be interesting to see because of course
paper is going to be a particularly difficult issue in England, there aren’t
paper mills and so being able to examine it to determine where the paper is
coming from, most likely somewhere on the continent, most likely the Low
Countries, all those sorts of things. From the point of view of provenance of
course there’s a lot to be learned in terms especially of the first
ownership of this man Thomas Shupton and I know that there are some faculty
members already who are very much looking forward to get their hands on it
to be able to see not only the markings that are in it but if those markings
come from them from the period of Shupton himself.
The hand certainly looks like it’s a either a late 15th early 16th century
hand, and of course just to be able to look at the annotations to and see there’s
one rather strange doodle in the book which it would be very interesting to
see what people make out of this this was never in the hands of children
as far as we can tell unless Sir Robert Koch had kids that you know played
around with it but there’s a very interesting doodle in there that I think
is going to be worth looking at. From the point of view of philosophy of course
it’s it’s again the earliest translation of a philosophical work because these
two texts by Cicero are philosophical in nature,
so there are a whole variety of ways in which this book can be used. What I
always find interesting is that I have this idea of the way in which the book
will be used, and inevitably our readers and researchers find all
sorts of ways that I would never have thought of to consider the meaning behind or within this book.

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