University of Illinois Press, cloth $65 (US) ISBN: 9780252033469; paper $35 (US) ISBN: 9780252075537
THE GROLIER CLUB continues its long tradition of excellent exhibitions and catalogues with ‘English in Print: from Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton’. The exhibition, held in New York May 12–July 26, 2008, was curated by Fred C Robinson, Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University and Valerie Hotchkiss, Head of The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The profusely illustrated catalogue provides descriptions of more than a hundred early English books selected from the holdings of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Elizabethan Club of Yale University.
The lengthy introduction covers a range of issues relating to English printing and printers, such as the quality of the work of English printers; the popular publications, such as primers, grammars and dictionaries; the role of translation in the development of the early English book; government censorship; and the physical process of transferring plays ‘from stage to page’ at a time when English drama began to flower. Trends in printing and publishing are placed in relevant historical contexts. The authors conclude the ‘earliest years were . . . an era of great cultural as well as commercial accomplishment for English printers and printing.’
The catalogue entries are divided into six sections: ‘Early English Printing’, ‘A World of Words’, ‘For the Regulating of Printing’, ‘The Place of Translation in Early English Printing’, ‘From the Stage to the Page’ and ‘Making English Books’. The selection of items follows the chronological coverage of Pollard and Redgrave‘s Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640), being bookended chronologically by Caxton and Milton. The item descriptions place each book and manuscript in its subject and historical contexts and include relevant information such as former owners, bindings, printers’ biography and marginal notes.
Among the highlights of the exhibition are English incunabula printed by Caxton and his contemporaries; the earliest recorded schoolbook in English; first editions of several English Bibles; first editions of Jonson, Chapman and Milton; early English newsbooks; Shakespeare folios; numerous quartos of Elizabethan and Stuart plays, including the only surviving perfect copy of the 1604 quarto of Hamlet; examples of early printed music and maps; and examples of English bookbinding.
English in Print combines accessible scholarship with bibliographical rigour and constitutes excellent value in both price and content.