The Printer's Tale

An Unknown Chaucerian Pilgrim

Cappella Archive has been fortunate in securing what would appear to be a surviving galley proof of a page of the Kelmscott Chaucer, published by William Morris in 1896. This facsimile shows the text of an hitherto unpublished incomplete work by Chaucer entitled The Printeres Tale.

Chaucer set out from the Tabard Inn in Southwark in the spring of 1387 to travel to Canterbury in the company of twenty-eight other pilgrims. Each was supposed to tell two stories; one on the way out; the other on the return journey. In the event, twenty-three told one story, Chaucer himself told two, and any others are either lost or were not written.

However, additional story-telling pilgrims like the Canons Yeoman, joined the group as they went on their journey, and the Printere would appear to have been one of these; rushing up without even changing his overalls.

Printing by movable type is normally credited to Fust and Guttenberg of Mainz in 1455, and was developed in England by Caxton, who set up his press in Westminster Palace Yard in 1476. However, this extract suggests that some form of unauthorized printing existed a century earlier. Given the subject matter of the printer in question, it was almost certainly produced by woodcut rather than by movable type.

Two surviving blocks for a pack of cards are reproduced which may suggest the reasons for the 'dayly throng' with which the printer's wife had to contend, as well as the urgency of the printer's pilgrimage.

William Morris spent four years producing the Kelmscott Chaucer and there were considerable production difficulties with the Burne-Jones illustrations and this fact, coupled with its incompleteness, probably led to The Printeres Tale being put aside. The Printer's 'roving eye' suggests that any story of his may well have been a fabliau; a racy tale in the the same vein as those of the Miller and the Merchant.

Copyright 1998 David Byram-Wigfield. All Rights reserved.

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