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76

THE DEATH OF CAXTON.

A.D.

well to him in his publishing and bookselling transactions. We have still a hand-bill in his largest type, calling on all who wanted cheap books to come and buy at the Almonry. We find him, when undertaking the publication of the Golden Legend — a large, double-columned work of nearly five hundred pages, profusely illustrated with wood-cuts—securing the promise of Lord Arundel to take a reasonable number of copies, and, moreover, to reward the printer with a yearly gift of venison-a buck in summer, and a doe in winter.

So, for some seventeen years, Caxton laboured on at his English printing. The man who, at fifty-nine, had gone to Cologne to learn a new trade when his life's work seemed nearly done, still inked the types and worked the lever of the press, when the weight of nearly fourscore years hung upon his frame. But there came a day when the door of the printing-office was

shut, and the clank of the press was unheard within. 1491 William Caxton was dead. The rude school-boy of the

Kentish Weald--the blithe apprentice of Cheapside—the

keen mercer, well known in every Flemish stall—the trusted retainer of the house of Burgundy—the grey-haired learner at Cologne—the old printer of Westminster—had played out his many parts, and had entered into his rest. Another sorrowful time came for his faithful little band of printers, when, with the glare of torches and the deep tolling of a bell, they laid their hoary chief in the grave at St. Margaret's Church, not far from the scene of his daily toils and triumphs.

WYNKYN DE WORDE, a foreigner who had long assisted Caxton at his press, kept up the good work, and probably at first in the old place. There is something touching in the devotion to his dead master which he displays, in uniting the monogram of Caxton with the blazing suns and clustering grapes that adorn his own trade-device. Four hundred and eight works are assigned to Wynkyn's press.

Another of Caxton's assistants—one RICHARD PYNSON, a native of Normandy-set up after a time in business for himself, and throve so well, that he received the somewhat valuable appoint

THE ARCHED ROOM IN WESTMINSTER.

77

ment of King's Printer, being first on the long list of those who have borne the title Two hundred and twelve works are said to have been printed by Pynson.

These were the men who printed our earliest English books. Their types have been multiplied by millions, and their presses by hundreds. A little silver coin can now buy the book for which Caxton charged a piece of gold. The British cottage is indeed a poor one which cannot show some volumes as well printed and as finely bound as his finest works. Rejoicing, as we do, in the countless blessings which the Press has given to Britain, let us not forget that arched room in old Westminster, where our earliest printer bent his silvered head over the first proof-sheets of the “Game of Chesse."

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THOMAS MORE, who takes rank as the leading writer during this second era of our literature, was born in Milk Street, London, in 1480. Having learned some Latin in Threadneedle Street from Nicholas Hart, he became in his fifteenth year a page in the household of Cardinal Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here his sharp and ready wit attracted so much notice that the archbishop prophesied great things for him; and a dean of St Paul's, one of the most noted scholars of the day, used to say that there was but one wit in England, and that was young Thomas More.

Devoted to the law by his good father, who was a justice in the King's Bench, More went to Oxford at seventeen ; and here, in spite of the frowns of old Sir John, who dreaded lest the seductions of Homer and Plato might cast the grave sages of the law too much into the shade, he studied Greek under Grocyn. And not only did he study it con amore, but he wrote to the University a powerful letter in defence of this new branch of learning, inveighing strongly against the Trojans, as the opponents of Greek had begun to call themselves. The leading Anti-Grecians were the senior clergy, who were too old or too lazy to sit down to the Greek alphabet and grammar; and who, besides, feared that if Greek and Hebrew were studied, the authority of the Latin Vulgate might be shaken. At Oxford, More won the friendship of the eminent Erasmus; and though the Dutchman was thirty and the English boy only seventeen, the attachment was mutual,

THE PLEASANT HOME AT CHELSEA.

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and so strong, that it was only severed by death. Here, too, he wrote many English poems of considerable merit. These snowdrops of our literature, flowerets of a day hovering between winter and spring, might pass unnoticed among

the
gay

blooms of a summer garden, but rising in pale beauty from the frozen ground, they are loved and welcomed as the harbingers of brighter days.

A few notes of his rapid rise must suffice here. Appointed reader, that is, lecturer, at Furnival's Inn,* he soon became a popular lawyer; and we find him expounding not only the English law, but the works of St. Augustine. This mixture of theology and law was common in those days, when churchmen alone were chancellors. Running down occasionally into Essex from his chambers near the Charter House, for a breath of country air, he fell in love with a lady named Jane Colt, whom he soon married. Under Henry VII. he became Under-Sheriff of London; and when miser Henry's spendthrift son wore the crown, he still rose in favour and in fortune. Employed on many continental missions, he became a Privy Councillor, Treasurer of the Exchequer, and in 1523 Speaker of the Commons. While filling the Speaker's chair he incurred the anger of Wolsey, who strove to injure him with the king. But the magnificent cardinal's own feet were then on quaking, slippery ground, and when in 1529 he fell with a great ruin, More stepped on to the chancellor's bench.

We have pleasant domestic pictures of the home at Chelsea, embosomed among flowers and apple-trees, where the great lawyer lived in tranquil happiness with his wife and children. Thither often on a summer afternoon, after his day at court was done, he used to carry his friend Erasmus in his eight-oared barge. Gravely sweet was the talk at the six o'clock supper, and during the twilight stroll by the river. The king, too, often came out to dine with the Mores, sometimes uninvited, when the good but fussy lady of the house (not Jane Colt, but a second wife, Alice, seven years older than her husband) was in a desperate state until she had got her best scarlet gown put trimly on, to do honour to his

* The law-schools, such as Furnival's Inn and Lincoln's Inn, were so called because they were once used as the inns or town-houses of noblemen. Compare the French use of "hotel"

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RESIGNATION OF THE CHANCELLOR.

highness. So familiar were the king and his chancellor, that, as they walked in the garden, the royal arm often lay round More's neck. Yet, a few years later, that neck bled on the block by a royal order.

For more than two years More held the office of chancellor, discharging its high duties with singular purity. While it has been said of his predecessor, Wolsey, that no suitor need apply to him whose fingers were not tipped with gold, we read of More refusing heavy bribes, and sitting in an open hall to hear in person the petitions of the poor. The rock on which Wolsey had gone down lay ahead of More, who saw it with an anxious but undaunted heart. His mind was quite made up to steer an honest, straightforward course. The king, who was bent upon marrying Anne Boleyn, pressed the chancellor urgently for an opinion on the case, expecting, no doubt, that a man who owed his commanding position to royal favour would not dare to thwart the royal will. But Henry was mistaken in his man. Rather than give an opinion which must have been against the king, More laid down the seals

of his high office. A reverse of fortune so great seemed 1532 to cast no shadow upon his joyous spirit. Quietly reducA.D. ing his style of living, he brightened his humble home

with the same gentle, gleaming wit, which had given lustre to his splendid days. Poor Mistress Alice, who had loved the grandeur of being a chancellor's lady, did not take so kindly to the change. But worse was yet to come. To thwart Henry the Eighth was a capital offence. More must yield or die. An attempt, soon abandoned however, was made to involve him in the doom of the girl called “ The Holy Maid of Kent.” Summoned to Lambeth in April 1534, he left for the last time his well-loved Chelsea home. Turning, as he hurried to his boat, he caught the last glimpse of its dear flower-beds through the wicket, beyond which he would not suffer his family to pass. His refusal to take an oath, which acknowledged the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn to be lawful, so enraged Henry that he was cast into the Tower, where he lay for a year.

His letters to his daughter Margaret, written from that prison with a coal, are touching memorials of a great and loving heart.

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