Thus endeth the legende, named in latyn Lege[n]da aurea that is to saye in englysshe the golden legende.

London, Printed by Wynkyn de Worde, 27 Aug. 1527.


Folio. ff. liiii; CCC.lxxxiiii. [A-F⁸ G⁶ a-z⁸ [et]⁸ [con]⁸ [us]⁸ 2a-2y⁸.]. Black letter,  double column. Beautiful full page woodcut on A1 verso and 79 woodcuts in text,  various sizes (some repeated) a few highlighted with a contemporary light purple wash, including the figures of the Virgin and the Pope in the full page cut, Wynkyn de Wordes’ fine woodcut printer’s device (McKerrow 49) within woodcut border incorporating Caxton’s initials (McKerrow 50) on verso of last, small white on black initials, autograph and purchase inscription of Thomas Antrobus, 24 August 1598 at head of A2 recto, autograph of William Maskell on fly, his bookplate on pastedown, red morocco label gilt of Henry Huth and his son Alfred Henry Huth below, bookplates of William Simonds Higgs and H. Bradley Martin’ below. Light age yellowing, dark waterstain to outer edge of five leaves, A2 and following few leaves thumb-marked in lower outer corner, verso of last a little dusty, small hole in blank lower margin of A1, and in d3, between columns, just touching one letter, the life of Saint Thomas of Canterbury sparsely crossed out in ink at early date, rare minor marginal spot or thumb mark. A very good copy, still crisp and generally clean in early nineteenth-century diced russia, covers bordered with a gilt rule, edges and inner dentelles with floral gilt roll, marbled endpapers, yellow edges, skilfully rebacked, raised bands, gilt ruled and gilt lettered, tan morocco slip case gilt, by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, for J. W. Robinson Co., with the monogram MEG gilt on upper cover,

A rare and precious early English edition of the Golden Legend, translated by England’s first printer, William Caxton, including his translations of into English of parts of the Bible, some of the earliest to appear in print; it is the last edition of this important and most popular translation. This beautifully printed and illustrated edition, by Caxton’s former assistant, Wynkyn de Worde, is profusely illustrated, including several woodcuts that were used in Caxton’s incunable editions. This copy is, remarkably, complete and in good condition; most surviving copies were mutilated of their ‘Popish’ sections, or read to death in the succeeding centuries. This version of the Golden legend was the first English translation to appear in print, and is remarkable for containing Caxton’s own additional collection of Bible translations of several books of the Old Testament; two complete books, and several partial books, from the Vulgate, despite the fact that it was strictly prohibited; Tyndale was executed for the translation of the Bible he made in 1525. These translations are the first English passages of the Bible to appear in print. He also added 59 Irish and English saints’ lives derived from manuscript sources. Caxton completed his translation of The Golden Legend in late 1482, and printed it in 1483-84; it was one of his greatest achievements, his most ambitious undertaking as translator, editor, and printer.

Caxton as an homme de lettres has been eclipsed by his fame as a printer but as a translator he was instrumental in fixing the literary language of England at the beginning of the 16C. In this work Caxton was an impressionist. Eschewing literalism he provided fluent, readable, idiomatic texts which rarely remind the reader they are not in fact original English compositions. Worde inherited Caxton’s woodblocks and other materials and used them in his early editions of the Golden Legend with many additions of his own. This edition is Wordes’ sixth and last and is abundantly illustrated in a similar fashion to his editions of 1507 and 1521 (of which no complete copies have survived). “His skill in the art of printing is much to be admired.; for although he was the immediate successor of Caxton, yet he improved the art to a very great degree.” “(Herbert).

Compiled by Jacopo di Viraggio, Archbishop of Genoa (1230-1298), Dominican professor of Scripture and Theology, Jacopo was one of the most celebrated preachers of the day. His ability to appeal to the popular imagination is demonstrated remarkably in his ‘Lives of the Saints’ (as he entitled it), the now common title ‘Legeda Aurea’ derives from contemporary opinion that the work was worth its weight in gold. The body of the work is divided into five sections, following the ecclesiastical year, thus designed to be read in conjunction with the calendar of saints and feast days. It became one of the most successful works of devotion ever, inspiring ordinary people to venerate the saints and follow their examples. Composed in a simple and direct early Tudor vernacular, it was not intended as a work of scholarship or of historical biography but as encouragement to piety in the ordinary unlearned; it is the prime example of its kind, in a robust and colourful English standing somewhere between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Wharton described the Legend as “an inexhaustible repository of religious fable”.

No English editions of the golden legend were published after the reformation and very many of the copies that survive are incomplete. An extremely rare survival remarkably complete and in good condition.

STC 24880. ESTC S111988. Lowndes VII 2795. Ames II 108. Not in Pforzheimer.


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