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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: March 2008

2 - Manuscript transmission and circulation

from 1 - Modes and means of literary production, circulation and reception


By 1476 when William Caxton issued the first book from his press at Westminster, England had already experienced considerable exposure to imported print. Caxton himself had printed some Latin during his time at Bruges, as well as a pioneering English text, the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Already, we may surmise, printed copies had replaced manuscripts of the same work in progressive libraries. But on the whole, as would remain the case for many decades, most ‘publication’ of texts was still carried out through writing and voice. The pen of the scribe scratched on regardless of the first creakings of the wooden press. Increasing literacy, the outcome of a modernising business and administrative order, fuelled an expansion of both systems of production: it was not a matter of the new one expanding at the expense of the old. Instead, each came to meet particular needs. While the press dealt best with longer texts and those required in large numbers, shorter ones directed at specialised readerships remained the preserve of the pen. The loss in the late 1530s of the scriptoria in which monks had toiled as an act of communal devotion was compensated for by the Protestant recognition of writing as an exercise of personal virtue and by an expansion of both private and public record-keeping.

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