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Outlines of English and American Literature
William Caxton
by Long, William J.

William Caxton (d. 1491) is famous for having brought the printing press to England, but he has other claims to literary renown. He was editor as well as printer; he translated more than a score of the books which came from his press; and, finally, it was he who did more than any other man to fix a standard of English speech.

In Caxton's day several dialects were in use, and, as we infer from one of his prefaces, he was doubtful which was most suitable for literature or most likely to become the common speech of England. His doubt was dissolved by the time he had printed the Canterbury Tales and the Morte d'Arthur. Many other works followed in the same "King's English"; his successor at the printing press, Wynkyn de Worde, continued in the same line; and when, less than sixty years after the first English book was printed, Tyndale's translation of the New Testament had found its way to every shire in England, there was no longer room for doubt that the East-Midland dialect had become the standard of the English nation. We have been speaking and writing that dialect ever since.


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