CATO, Dionysius (234-149 B.C., attributed to). Disticha de moribus, in English and Latin. Translated from the French by William Caxton. With an anonymous paraphrase and commentary. [Westminster: William Caxton, (first quarter of) 1484].
Chancery 2° (271 x 178mm). Collation: \Kp\k6 a-k8 i10 (\Kp\k1 blank, \Kp\k2r Caxton's prologue and dedication to the City of London, \Kp\k3r prose contents, \Kp\k3v table of contents, \Kp\k6 blank, a1 blank, a2r text, i9r colophon dating completion of the translation 23 December 1483, i9v-i10 blank). 76 leaves (of 80, without 4 blanks). 37-38 lines. Type: 2*:135B (Latin text), 4*:95(100)B (English text), printed guide-letters. 2- to 3-line initials, some capital strokes and a few paragraph marks in red. (Repaired tears into text in 3 leaves, that on i9 affecting a few letters, repaired marginal tears in 3 leaves, lower blank margin replaced on i8-9, small corner section of h6,8 renewed, first leaf lightly soiled, a few small stains.) Brown morocco panelled in gilt and blind, gilt edges, by Clarke and Bedford (stamped on front flyleaf).
FIRST EDITION of Caxton's own translation of Cato's Distichs. Caxton had printed 3 previous editions of an English verse translation by Benedict Burgh of the Distichs, but for the present edition, known as Cato IV, Caxton translated the work himself from a Latin original with a French prose version and commentary. He dedicated it to the City of London, because, as he states in a frank preface, its sons are ill-raised, and it is 'the beste boke for to be taught to yonge children in schole'. In promoting the benefit of his book, Caxton cites the great Renaissance humanist Poggio who owned a 'noble and well-stuffed library'. When asked which of his books he valued most, Poggio replied that he considered 'Cato glosed for the best book of his library'.
COPIES OF CATO IV (INDEED, ALL CAXTON CATO EDITIONS) ARE RARE ON THE MARKET. De Ricci records 28 copies or substantial fragments of Cato IV (all but 12 listed as 'owner untraced'), but none has sold at auction since 1920 (imperfect).
The edition is dated in part by the appearance in the preliminary quire (one of the last to be printed) of a paragraph mark, a type form ordered for use in his Aesop, which was completed on 26 March 1484. HC 4754; GW 6361; Duff 79; Goff C-313; De Ricci Caxton 16:27 ('Perf. and fine'; STC 4853; Needham Printer & Pardoner, Cx 68; Painter, pp.137-38; Flodr, Cato 114.