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.