(World Book Day was celebrated on March 4, an annual event led by UNESCO.)
For five centuries, printing was the main medium for the storage, multiplication, transmission and dissemination of knowledge. A good reason to look into the invention of the printing press.
Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press from movable type (an individually cast piece of type) is considered as a history-altering invention. Actually, the moveable type and paper first appeared in China, but the first mechanized printing originates from Europe. During the middle ages, the paper press was modelled after the ancient olive-and-wine press found in the Mediterranean area. This wooden press was used for more than 300 years until Gutenberg established his press. The construction of Gutenberg’s press was first mentioned in a lawsuit in Strasbourg in 1439.
William Caxton: England’s first printer and publisher
Caxton was a translator, merchant, publisher and England’s first printer who greatly influenced English literature. In 1438, Caxton became the apprentice to a rich wool merchant and Lord Mayor of London, Robert Large. After the death of R.Large, Caxton moved to the centre of the European wool trade: Bruges. He became and influential member of the English trade community in Holland and Flanders where he served as governor of the ‘English Nation of Merchant Adventurers’ from 1462 to 1470. In this position, he represented his fellow merchants and acted as a diplomat for the king. Later in life, he entered the service of Margaret, duchess of Burgundy, sister of the English king Edward IV. She encouraged him to translate “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye” from French to English and became his patron.
Cologne: the origin of English printing
During 1470 and 1472, William Caxton lived in Cologne in Germany and acquired the knowledge of printing. Caxton returned to Bruges in 1472 and set up the first press together with Colard Mansion, a Flemish calligrapher. The first printed book in the English language was his translation of “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye”.
The first English printing press
The first press was established at Westminster, London by Caxton in 1476. Within his lifetime, he printed more than 100 books. Many of which were translated by himself, using his knowledge of Dutch, Latin and French. Amongst his printed books were Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Gower’s Confession Amantis and Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur. These books still belong to literary canon and classic texts. Did you know that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was the first book written in the English Language? Chaucer is regarded as the authoritative founding father of English literature as he legitimised the literary use of medieval English when the dominant languages in England were still Latin and French. He was a great source of inspiration for Shakespeare and his works.
Watch the video to learn more about the printing press.
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Johannes Gutenberg | Printing Press, Inventions, Facts, Accomplishments, & Biography | Britannica. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Johannes-Gutenberg. [Accessed 05 March 2021].
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. printing | History, Techniques, & Facts | Britannica. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/printing-publishing. [Accessed 05 March 2021].
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. William Caxton | Biography & Facts | Britannica. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Caxton. [Accessed 05 March 2021].
Photo by Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash.
Written by Victoria Milhan, Schuman Communication Trainee Terminology Coordination Unit. She holds master’s degrees in English Language (linguistics) and Medieval English Literature, Newer English Literature and Celtic Studies. Victoria is enrolled as a PhD student at Bonn University in Germany.