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Hoare, translated into English, and illustratcd with views, annotations, and a life of the au. thor.
The Polychronicon was continued by Caxton, from 1357 to 1460, the first year of Edward IV. being a period of one hundred and three years. For this undertaking he assigns the following reasons:
“For as much as syth the accomplishment of this said book, made by the said Ranulph, ended the year of our Lord 1357, many things have fallen which ben requisite to be added to this work, becaúse men's wits in their time ben oblivious and lightly forget many things digne 1 to be put in memory, and also there cannot be found in these days, but few that write in their registers such things as daily happen and fall; therefore, I'William Caxton, a simple person, have endeavoured me to write first over all the said book of Polychronicon, and somewhat have changed the rude and old English, that is to wit, certain words which in these days be neither used, ne understood. And, furthermore,
have put in emprint, to the end that it may be had, and the matters therein comprised, to be known, for the book in general touching shortly many notable matters; and also am avised to make another book after this said work, which shall be set here after the same, and shall have his chapters and his table apart; for I dare not presume to set my book ne join it to his, for divers causes. One is, for as much as I have not, ne can get no books of auctority treating of such Cronykes, except a little book named Fasciculus Temporum, and another called Aureus de Universo, in which books I find right little matter syth the said time.' And another cause is, for as much as my rude simpleness and ignorant making, ought not to be compared, set, ne joined to his book. Then I shall, by the grace of God, set my work after, apart, for to accomplish the years syth that he finished his book, unto the year of our Lord, 1460, and the first year of the reign of king Edward IV. which amount to 103 years."
This complaint of Caxton, of the want of proper sources of information obviously arose from the scarcity of books before the inventa
tion of printing. Besides, the fifteenth cene tury was peculiarly barren of good writers, particularly of history. “Yet, even in that age, there were authors in manuscript (though Caxton was not so fortunate as to get access to them, nor even knew of their existence,) from whom might have been derived far more ample documents. Such are Froissard; R. Avesbury; Tit. Livius; T. de la More; J. Rosse ; H. Knyghton; J. Walsingham; J. Wetheram; J. Otterborne; &c. &c. By the invention of printing, these authors are become more extensively known than at the time of their writing.
What Caxton says of Trevisa's Translation is remarkable. In the course of a hundred and wenty years, the time which had elapsed between that translation and its being printed by him, it appears that the language had undergone such alterations, that many words used by Trevisa had ceased to be employed, and even to be understood. This great change was especially promoted by the renowned poets Chaucer and Gower, to whom the early improvement of our language is chiefly to be attributed.
Caxton, however, did not escape censure for
changing what he deemed the obsolete language: for says he:
“ Some gentlemen blamed me, saying, that in my translations, I have over-curious terms, which could not be understand of common people, and desired me to use old and homely terms in my translations. As I fain would satisfy every man, so to do, I took an old book and read therein; but certainly the English was so rude and broad, that I could not well understand it. Also, the Lord Abbot of Westminster did do shew to me late certain evi dences written in old English, for to reduce it into our English then used; but it was written in such wise, that it was more like to Dutch than English; so that I could not reduce, ne bring it to be understonden. And certainly, our language now used, varyeth far from that which was spoken, when I was born; forwe Englishmen ben born under the domination of the moon, which is never' stedfast, but ever wavering; waxing one season, and waneth and decreaseth another season. And common English that is spoken in one shire, varyeth from another."
As a confirmation of this last assertion, he tells the following story: .
“In my days (says he) happened, that cerVOL. I.
lain merchants were in a ship in Tamyse", for to have sailed over the sea into Zealand ; and for lack of wind, they tarried at Foreland, and went to land for to refresh them. And one of them, named Sheffelde, a mercer, came into an house, and axed for meat, and specially he axed for eggs. And the good wife answered that she could speak no French. And the merchant was angry, for he could speak no French, but would have had eggs, and she understood him not. And then, at last, another said that he would have eyren. Then, the good wife said, that she understood him well.”
On this Caxton exclaims :
“ Lo! what should a man in these days now write eggs or eyren, certainly it is hard to please every, man, because of diversity and change of language: for in these days, every man that is in any reputation in his country, will utter his communication and matters, in such manners and terms, that few men shall understand them.”
Again he informs us, “That some honest and great clerks had been with him, and desired him to write the most curious terms that he could find. And thus (says he) between plain,