London: By Wynkyn de Worde, 27 August, 1527.
Folio: 29 x 20 cm. liiii, ccclxxxiii leaves. Collation: A-F⁸, G⁶, a-z⁸, [et]⁸, [con]⁸, [rum]⁸, aa-yy⁸. Complete.
NINTH ENGLISH EDITION (1st 1483). Title and imprint from colophon.
An excellent, complete copy bound in late 18th c. russia, gilt, hinges neatly repaired, corners bumped. Illustrated with a full page woodcut on leaf A1 showing an assembly of saints and martyrs, and 85 woodcuts in the text. Wynkyn de Worde’s woodcut printer’s device (incorporating Caxton’s initials) on verso of final leaf. Text printed in Black Letter, in 2 cols of 46 lines. Title and imprint from colophon. Provenance: George Henry Arnold of Ashby Lodge (1791-1844), bookplate on front paste-down.
The text is in very fine condition with minor blemishes as follows: scattered light spotting, discreet marginal repairs on leaves Q6, Q8, and Oo4. Tiny single wormhole in the opening leaves, short worm-trail and small wormholes in blank margins of closing gatherings. Other tiny wormholes in the text of the last few gatherings. A few minor marginal repairs. Full-page woodcut, first text leaf, and verso of final leaf lightly soiled, nearly-invisible repair to blank upper margin of first leaf.
William Caxton’s English rendering of one of the most popular and influential books of the Middle Ages: Jacopo da Voragine's 13th c. collection of lives and legends of the saints, the “Legenda Aurea”(ca. 1267).
Caxton tells us that for his English version, first printed in 1483, he drew on Jean de Vignay’s (ca. 1282–ca. 1340) French translation, Voragine’s Latin original, and the medieval English version known as the “Gilte Legende”. Caxton also added new text authored by himself. These included a series of Old Testament lives, beginning with Adam and Eve, and a life of St. Rocke, to which he appended the note, “translated out of Latin into English by me, William Caxton.” Caxton’s English versions of the biblical stories are of great importance. They are, in essence, the first English translations of sections of The Bible to appear in print.
“The most comprehensive of all versions of the ‘Legenda’, Caxton’s ‘Golden Legend’ augments by about one-third the original Latin… The most obvious difference between the Latin text and Caxton's edition is the greater comprehensiveness of the English work. Although four of the one hundred and eighty-two chapters now regarded as constituting Voragine's work are omitted in Caxton's version, he more than supplies for this deficiency by adding ten chapters on feasts represented in the post-Voragine accretions to the ‘Legenda’ and fifty-nine legends not found in the Latin. Of the one hundred and seventy-eight chapters of Voragine represented in Caxton's version, seventeen are quite divergent.”(Jeremy, “Caxton’s Golden Legend”, Speculum 1946)
“He also restructured the work. Caxton collected the stories of Christ’s life together, separating the feasts of the ‘sanctorale’ [feasts of saints] from the the ‘temporale’[the other major days of the liturgical year], although certain fixed feasts that often belonged to the ‘temporale’—including Stephen, John the Evangelist, Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket, and Candelmas—remained within the ‘sanctorale’ portion; he included new saints and new feasts, notably Corpus Christi; and he added a collection of Old Testament lives to be read on particular days of the year, beginning on Septuagesima, with Adam, and concluding on the last Sunday in October, with Judith.”(Ring, “Annotating the Golden Legend in Early Modern England”, Ren. Qtrly, Vol. 72, No. 3)
The Printer: Wynkyn de Worde
The book is a fine example of printing by Wynkyn de Worde, (d. 1534) William Caxton’s protégé and eventually successor. De Worde worked for Caxton at Cologne, Bruges, and Westminster from 1471 until Caxton’s death in 1492, at which point he took over Caxton’s business. De Worde thrived as a printer and publisher, moving from Westminster to London (where he operated two presses) and established a dynamic marketing network.
“Caxton's death early in 1492 changed Wynkyn's life. Caxton's will is not extant and although Caxton had a daughter, Wynkyn took over the business. The sacrist's rolls for Westminster Abbey indicate that from 1491/2 Wynkyn rented the shop by the chapter house, formerly rented by Caxton, at 10s. a year. He paid this rent until 1499. Besides the premises formerly occupied by Caxton, Wynkyn rented rooms just outside the abbey from 1495/6 until 1499/1500. He began, after Caxton's death, by using Caxton's device, founts, and woodcuts… In 1500/01 Wynkyn left Westminster for London, where he settled at the sign of the Sun in Fleet Street in St Bride's parish. By 1509 he also had a shop at St Paul's Churchyard at the sign of Our Lady of Pity [where this 1527 edition of the ‘Golden Legend’.]”(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
De Worde first printed an edition of Caxton’s “Golden Legend” in 1493, omitting the stories from the Bible. From 1498 onward, De Worde published complete editions of the text.
ESTC S111988; STC (2nd ed.) 24880; For a discussion of the woodcut, see Edward Hondett, English woodcuts, 1480-1535 (1973) no. 237.