The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Books of the English 1500 to 1800 Part 3

From a typographical point of view the outstanding name is John Day whose career extended from 1546 to 1584. Under the patronage of Archbishop Parker, that great encourager of art and letters, Day had several new founts of type cut, and his work lifted English printing to a higher level. The first book printed in Anglo-Saxon characters (Aelfric's Paschal Homily) came from his press, as did also the English version of Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563). It is probable that for a time Foxe himself worked in some editorial capacity in Day's printing house, as he had previously done at Basel in the office of Oporinus, who published the first (Latin) edition of his famous book in 1559.

The most influential man in the Company about this time was Christopher Barker, who as queen's printer was much occupied with the printing of Bibles and official work. He was succeeded in 1599 by his son Robert, whose name is associated with the publication of the Royal Version (the' Authorised Version') of the Bible in 1611. Another important stationer was William Ponsonby, the leading literary publisher of Elizabethan times. In 1590 he brought out Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and in the same year the first three books of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Edward Blount, who succeeded to Ponsonby's reputation as a publisher of belles lettres, issued, in 1603, Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essays, and published several of Marlowe's works. He was also one of the four partners in the publication of the First Folio Shakespeare (1623). John Norton was in a big way of business, and his name is borne by some of the most important books of the first decade of the seventeenth century. George Bishop, another prominent man, was partner in Holinshed's Ohronicles and Hakluyt's Voyages; and John Bill was bookseller to King James and Sir Thomas Bodley.

But none of these names are to be found in the imprints of one of the most interesting sections of Elizabethan literature: those much-sought-after little thin quartos in which the plays of Shakespeare and his fellow-dramatists made their first appearance in print. These, hardly worthy the notice of big publishers and opulent monopolists, were left to the more obscure men, who have little else to distinguish them among the eight hundred and more Londoners who, between 1540 and 1640, engaged in the printing and selling of books. Among those who were concerned with the Shakespeare quartos were John Busby, Andrew Wise, Edward White, a dealer in ballads, James Roberts, the almanac patentee, and John Danter, an unscrupulous pirate.