No easy and quick circulation of knowledge was at all possible in an age where the books were handwritten. In the medieval world, books were handwritten and as such, they were few in numbers and could be used only by a very much limited number of fortunate persons. No spread of civilization or the advancement of knowledge or learning could at all be possible in such a situation. The invention of printing and the introduction of the printing press came here as a great aid to spread knowledge and carry it forward. That was much required in the release of medieval Europe from darkness to the enlightenment of the Renaissance.
John Gutenberg of Germany was the first person to operate successfully a printing machine towards the middle of the 15th century. He was successfully followed by William Caxton, an English man, who introduced a more improved type of printing press in 1476. That constitutes an important landmark in the advancement of knowledge and learning in England. It is the process of printing, initiated by him, that has contributed much to the multiplication of the number of readers and the stabilization of the position of different writers. Printing, in fact, is found instrumental to the expansion of literary activities and to the cultivation of literary standards and tastes.
The first printed book in English is Recuyell of the Histories of Troy. Caxton’s earliest productions in print include, among others, too, Lydgate’s Temple of Glass, Life of Our Lady, Chaucer’s The Parlement of Foules, The House of Fame, Troilus and Criseyde, Burgh’s Little Cato, and Trevisa’s Polychronicon.
Moreover, The Canterbury Tales (by Chaucer), Confessio Amantis (by Gower), Le Morte d Arthur (by Thomas Malory) and the translations, like The Golden Legend, The Eneydos, Aesop’s Fables, The Order of Chivalry, and so on, may be included in the catalog of his production.
Caxton’s contribution to the growth of knowledge and learning deserves high commendation. English literature definitely has been much enriched by his great venture. It was through him that a great link could be established between the literature of the past and that of the present, and that was a way to the literary development of a country like England. In fact, as the art of printing, introduced by Caxton, became widespread, books came to be printed in great numbers and circulated widely. That printing press, made popular by William Caxton, proved to be the carrier of civilization and that has remained firmly confirmed by the development of English literature after him.