HIGDEN, Ranulph (d.1364). Polycronicon. Translated from Latin into English by John Trevisa (1326-1412). Edited and with continuation by William Caxton (c. 1420-1491). [Westminster:] William Caxton, [between 2 July and 20 November 1482].
Chancery 2° (260 x 195mm). Collation: a-b8 c4 1-288 \kc\K2 29-488 494 50 52-558 (a1 blank, a2r Caxton's preface, a4r table, c4v blank, 1/1 blank, 1/2r Trevisa's dialogue between a clerk and his lord, 1/4r Trevisa's letter to Thomas, Earl of Berkeley (d.1261), 1/5 blank, 1/6r prefaces to books 1-4, 2/2v blank, 2/3r text: books I-IV, \kc\K2 blank, 29/1 books V-VII, 49/3v Trevisa's colophon, 49/4r Caxton's preface to the continuation, 49/4v blank, 50/1r book VIII: Caxton's continuation, 55/7r Caxton's colophon, 55/7v-8 blank). 421 (of 450 leaves, without 5 blanks and with 16 leaves supplied in facsimile: a2-8, c1, 54/1, 55/1-7); 27 leaves supplied from at least 2 copies (c4, 1/2 47/2-7, 50/1, 52/6-8, 53/1-8, 54/2-8), extended at upper/fore-margin. Bastarda type 4:95. 40 lines and headline. Initial spaces with guide-letter. Contemporary rubrication on some supplied leaves: initials, paragraph-marks, and marginal year reckonings. (Discreet repairs to numerous leaves, occasionally affecting a few letters, b1 and c4 torn with loss replaced in facsimile, small stain on 41/1.) Late 19th-century brown morocco tooled in blind to an antique style, large diapered panel on sides filled with acorn and rosette tools, the spine similarly tooled, lettered in gilt in two compartments, gilt edges, by F. Bedford, green crushed morocco gilt solander box by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. Provenance: contemporary marginal notes (washed); Henry Hucks Gibbs, 1st Baron Aldenham (1819-1907, inscription dated St. Dunstan's, London, 1860 and Aldenham House bookplate, catalogue of the Aldenham Library (1888), p.29, described with 'sheets A and 55 in facsimile by Harris').
LORD ALDENHAM'S COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION.Higden's Polychronicon was the most influential universal history in Britain in the 14th and 15th centuries. A history of the world from Creation to 1360, it was translated by John Trevisa for Thomas, Earl of Berkeley, and attracted numerous continuators. Caxton himself modernised the translation and added a final book to bring the chronicle up to date, relying chiefly on Rolewinck's Fasciculus Temporum, the Brut chronicle, and the Chronicles of England, which he had printed in 1480. The Polychronicon also serves as a national history through its focus on the conquest of England and post-conquest British History. Wycliffe referred to it; Chaucer and Lydgate knew it; and the Lollards mined it to point out the errors of popes and of the Constantine Donation, at the same time that continuators were introducing anti-Lollardist sentiment into it (cf. A.S.G. Edwards, 'The Influence and Audience of the Polychronicon: Some Observations', Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (Literary and Historical Section), XVII, 1978-81, 113-119.
The Polychronicon is the second-longest text (after Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend) printed by Caxton, England's first printer. Having learned the art of printing on the Continent, Caxton set up the first press in England in 1476 in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. He specialised in printing works not available through the established trade in Latin books, beginning with the unrivalled classic of English literature, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The Polychronicon suited Caxton's printing programme as a chronicle, as a work by an Englishman, and as a work in the English language. Caxton's continutation is 'laced full of vivid and entertaining London incidents of purely local interest' (Painter, p.12), which would have had great local appeal. HC 8659; Blades 44; De Ricci, Census 49.18; Duff 172; STC 13438; Needham Cx 52; Pforzheimer 489; Goff H267.