HIGDEN, Ranulf.


HIGDEN, Ranulf Policronicon

Westminster, by Wynkyn De Worde, 1495


Folio. ff. [ii, title and verso in facs.] CCCxxxvi, CCCxxxvi-CCCxlvi, [ii colophon in facs.] [xxxv]; a-y , z , A-S , T V-X , cc-gg6, hh5.. Lacking aa8-bb6, ie title, Proheme, and part of index, X8 colophon, and last blank hhd, text COMPLETE. Index at end with blanks replacing those missing. Title and device replaced in excellent C19th facsimile. Black letter in double column. Small woodcut initials, early marginal annotations in several hands, the word “Pope” struck out by hand throughout the text, engraved bookplate of Robert Barclay (1751-1830) of Bury Hill, on pastedown, bookplate of Ross Winans (1796-1877), above [American inventor and one of its earliest multi-millionaires], of the Fox Pointe collection below. Light age yellowing, last leaf of text remounted, penultimate with small hole in outer margin, restored, affecting a few letters, closed tear in V8 restored with no loss, lower blank margin of X1 restored, occasional marginal thumb mark, rare light stain or spot, occasional marginal soiling. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in early C19th diced russia, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, panels filled with repeated scrolled tools, or hatched roll, rebacked, spine remounted, raised bands, richly blind tooled in compartments, edges and inner dentelles blind hatched, a.e.r., a little rubbed, small expert restorations.

A wonderful fresh copy, textually complete, of the second edition of the Polycronicon, this “cornerstone of English prose” (Pforzheimer) translated by John Trevisa, and edited with a continuation by William Caxton. It is a reprint of William Caxton’s 1482 edition with the addition of woodcut music, the first musical notation printed in England, on leaf n5r. About half of the recorded copies of this beautifully printed work survive in fragments or are incomplete. Written by the Benedictine monk Ranulf Higden (d. 1364) the Polychronicon “offered to the educated and learned audience of fourteenth-century England a clear and original picture of world history based upon medieval tradition, but with a new interest in antiquity, and with the early history of Britain related as part of the whole” DNB. Higden’s work, divided into 7 books and extending to the year 1348, was written in Latin. The English translation is by John de Trevisa, who continued the coverage to 1357. The 8th book was added by William Caxton, whose name appears on R6r, when in 1482 he printed Trevisa’s translation with extensive revisions

“Few of Caxton’s books have excited more interest and research than the ‘Polycronicon.’ It appears to have had its origin with Roger, Monk of St. Werberg, in Chester, who about the beginning of the 14th Century, made an extensive compilation in Latin from several of the old Chronicles and Works on Natural History then in existence. Ralph Higden, of the same monastery, who died before 1360, amplified this compilation, entitling the work, ‘Polychronicon,’ and this, judging from the numerous copies still extant, had a very extended popularity. In 1387, Trevisa, Chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, translated the Latin of Higden into English prose. … Nearly a century later, Caxton revised the antiquated text of Trevisa, which, together with a continuation of the History to the year 1460, was finished on July 2nd, 1482, and printed soon after. Caxton entitled his continuation ‘Liber ultimus’ and it is most interesting as being the only original work of any magnitude from our Printer’s pen.” William Blades ‘The Life and Typography of William Caxton, England’s First Printer …, Volume 2.’

“It is clear that the English language production was very significant for Caxton. This was probably not because Caxton was more than usually devoted to his native language. There were good economic reasons for his choice. There was an international market for books in Latin, so if Caxton had printed Latin books, he would have been competing with some of the biggest publishers of his time. This would have been difficult to do successfully from England, on the margins of Europe. European printers also produced books in Latin specifically for English use. This demonstrates the strength of European book exports to England. Caxton left to others the production of texts to be used in universities or monasteries throughout Europe. Instead he concentrated on books in English, where there was little competition.When he printed Ranulph Higden’s Polycronicon, in John Trevisa’s translation of 1387, he updated the ‘rude and old englyssh, that is to wete certayn wordes, which in these dayes be neither vsyd ne understanden’” BL

“It was not until 1495 that the first music printed in England appeared; but it can hardly be considered a very important example. It consists of but eight notes in Higden’s Policronicon, printed by Wynkyn de Worde at Westminster. In this edition the music was made up from printers’ quads and rules. Caxton printed an edition of the same work in 1482; but he left a space for the music to be put in by hand, and in a later edition of Peter Treveris (Southwark, 1527) the music was printed from a wood block.” ‘Music Printing in Britain Through 1695.’ Wynkyn de Worde was an extraordinary and pioneering printer. He appears to have been the first to build a book stall in St. Paul’s Churchyard, which soon became a centre of the book trade in London, the first to use English-made paper, produced at John Tate’s mill in Hertfordshire, the first to print musical notation as well as the first to use an italic font in 1528 in Lucian’s Complures Dialogi.

A fresh and clean copy of this remarkable secular English-language incunable.

BMC XI 195. ISTC ih00268000. ESTC S106488. STC 13439. Goff H268. HC 8660. Duff 173. Madsen 1986. BSB-Ink H-261. GW 12469.
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