State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 77 Autumn 2006


On the cover of the brochure for the State Library of Victoria exhibition, ‘Mirror of the World: books and ideas’, which opened in December 2005, the printer's device of William Caxton appears flanked by modern paperbacks.


Shane Carmody
Mirror of a World:
William Caxton at the State Library

William Caxton holds a special place in the history of printing. The first printer in English and the first man to own and operate a press in England, his name is linked to prizes, guilds and modern presses. Despite his prodigious output examples of his printing are very rare. The State Library of Victoria is fortunate to have fragments from eight of Caxton's works and one complete volume, the second edition of Myrrour of the World, printed in 1490. In an inspired moment the Manager Rare Printed Collections, Des Cowley, and the Senior Exhibitions Curator, Claire Williamson, chose the name of this work as the title for the Library's permanent exhibition of rare books, thus adding a layer to the metaphor chosen by Caxton in his translation of the old French l'image du monde.
At some point in the days leading up to the opening of the exhibition, ‘Mirror of the World – books and ideas’, I was asked how long it had taken the Library to prepare the gallery. My reply was seven years to curate the exhibition, one hundred and fifty years to collect the items. Collecting for all that time might suggest an orderly and systematic approach, rather like the books organised and classified on the shelves; yet over that time many different ideas, influences, personalities and opportunities have shaped what we now enjoy.
The story of the acquisition of the Library's specimen of William Caxton's Myrrour of the World illuminates this complexity. It happened at a key point in the history of public collecting in Victoria, soon after the great single institution as conceived by Redmond Barry was divided, and new identities were forged. Now with new Museums, an expanded and renewed National Gallery and a beautifully refurbished Library, it is easy to forget how these collections complement each other, and how in their common origin a rich foundation was laid from which to build.


On Saturday, 5 August 1871, a group of Melbourne's prominent citizens met in the Criterion Hotel ‘…to consider the propriety of commemorating the fourth centenary of the introduction into England by William Caxton of the art of printing.’ The inspiration for the commemoration came from G. P. Smith, who expressed a preference for a festival with ‘some ulterior object’ such as the foundation of a scholarship at the University or maybe, as suggested by theatre manager and politician George Coppin, the establishment of almshouses for ‘decayed members of the press.’ The committee adjourned to the following Saturday when they resolved to hold a festival with the aim of establishing a Caxton Fund for benevolent and educational purposes.1
The festival opened with a cricket match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground between Members of Parliament and Members of the Press. This ‘source of many troubled dreams and the cause of many sleepless nights…’ was resolved with ‘satisfactory results’ – Parliament won by 41 runs.2 A series of lectures followed – The Revd Charles Clarke on Oliver Goldsmith; Professor McCoy on Progressive Development; and culminated in a grand lecture by Mr Anthony Trollope to a crowd of 3,000 at the Melbourne Town Hall on ‘Modern Fiction as a Rational Amusement’. Sir Redmond Barry presided over the evening, with the Governor and his family as guests of honour. Trollope's lecture was a well-crafted piece of promotion. He noted that while, in the minds of some, ‘the novelist dealt with the false and the forward as well as with the good and the gracious…did not Scripture teaching do the same?’ And while ‘…all our amusements had a tendency to impose upon us, and to obtain for themselves an undue importance…we might hunt and dance too much and undoubtedly read too many novels – let those who had control of the lives of others, and those who have the control of their own see to this.’3
Sir Redmond Barry was clearly in control of the Public Library and his views on the value of modern fiction were well established. In an address in 1861 to the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, he recounted the growth in the patronage of the Library, commenting that the visitors were not‘…impelled hither by an idle curiosity, or …to while away hours for which there is no other employment than a species of weak and frivolous mental dissipation…’ but rather by works of substance which create ‘…a veneration for letters’. In a few famous paragraphs in the 1880 Catalogue the Trustees explained that the foremost aim was to collect the most approved editions of all standard works, especially where their cost would place them beyond the means of the general public. They specifically rejected an ‘undue proportion of novels’, works of fiction or the imagination and juvenile literature. In the same catalogue only four works of Anthony Trollope are recorded. Three are travelogues for North America, Australia and New Zealand and South Africa, and only one is a work of fiction, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil: A Tale of Australian Bush Life, presumably added because of its Australian connection.4
Modern works of fiction had no call on the public purse, and incunabula and manuscripts had no place on the shelves, being‘…mere literary curiosities…recommended by their rarity alone, or by their sumptuous bindings…’; but this did not prevent the Library accepting donations. The Catalogue for the Melbourne Public Library for 1861 records two incunabula: the Works of Ovid, printed by Matteo Capcasa in Venice in 1488; and Franciscus Accursius, Casus in terminus super novem libris Justinium codicis, printed in Strassburg by the printer of the Vitas Patrum around 1485. This latter work was a gift from Sir William àBeckett, the first Chief Justice of Victoria, and was followed in 1864 by a further donation from him of the first printing of The Works of Geffray Chaucer newly printed, with dyuers workes which were never in print before: as in the table more plainly dothe appere. Cum privilegio, printed by Thomas Godfray, London 1532. While not an incunable, being

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works of Geoffray Chaucer, London, T. Godfray, 1532. RARESF 821.17 D32. Rare Books Collection.

published after 1501, the gift was the first item in the Library linked to William Caxton. The blocks used to illustrate The Canterbury Tales in this edition were made for the second printed edition of the Tales, published by Caxton in 1484.5


In 1904 a new source of philanthropic support came with the Felton Bequest. Alfred Felton (1831–1904) was a Melbourne businessman who, in partnership with Fenton Grimwade, established a very successful chemical, fertilizer and manufacturing conglomerate. He never married and in his will he left the vast bulk of his estate to establish a charitable fund. Half the income of the Bequest was to support charities assisting the poor and half was for the purchase of works and art objects judged to have ‘…an educational value and to be calculated to raise and improve public taste.’ The Bequest was greeted as a transforming moment for the Gallery, but the fact that the Gallery was governed by the same Trustees as the Museums and the Library left open a door to a veritable pot of gold, and to many tense moments in the four decades that followed. Indeed, the first donation of books from the Bequest followed a dispute with the administrator of the estate, The Trustees Executors and

The Pilgrim meets the deadly sin of Avarice with its many grasping arms. Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of Manhood and the Pilgrimage of the Sowle, folio 63 quire 6. For a description of this work, see H. Maddocks, ‘“Me thowte as I slepte that I was a pilgrime”: Text and Illustration in Deguileville's “Pilgrimages” in the State Library of Victoria’, La Trobe Library Journal, vol. 13 nos. 51 & 52, Double Issue 1993, pp. 60–69.


Alfred Felton (left) with E.W. Grimwade, Christmas Day 1902, phtographer E. N. Grimwade, as printed in J. Poynter, Mr Felton's Bequests, Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 2003, p. 209

Agency Co. Ltd. When the administrator eventually conceded that its art valuers could select for the collection items owned by Felton, 132 volumes, some eighteenth but mostly nineteenth century and by and large on the subject of art or artists, were placed in the Library.6
From its own means, the Library made its first purchase of a medieval manuscript in 1902. The move away from Barry's policy seems to have been as much due to the availability of such items on the local market as it was to a changing sense of the purpose of the Library. The first book purchased under the terms of the Felton Bequest was spectacular. The Wharncliffe Hours, purchased in 1920, remains one of the greatest treasures of the State Collection, and was quickly followed in 1922 with the purchase of a fine late thirteenth-century Offices of the Virgin, incorrectly called at the time The Cobham Hours. In the same year the Sticht Collection of examples of typography from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries was acquired by the Bequest. Also purchased from the Sticht estate were a handful of medieval manuscripts and complete printed volumes, including the Library's copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (printed by Aldus Mantius in Venice in 1499) and one of the two copies held of the first edition of the King James Bible. In his masterly volume, Mr Felton's Bequests, John Poynter comments that ‘…it took years to winnow the wheat from the substantial quantity of chaff in the collection much of which remained in the Library…’;
and while this reflects a view from the Gallery as a collector of wheat, the chaff excited (and continues to excite) an interest in the history of printing. Nine leaves from seven of Caxton's books were included in the Sticht collection.7
The next acquisition by the Bequest was of a complete incunable. The Library's specimen of the Schatzbehalter printed in Nuremberg in 1491 at the presses of Anton Koberger was purchased for £390. It contains 96 full-page (crudely) hand-coloured woodblocks designed by Michael Wolgemuth and joined several examples of this master printer in the collection, including the Latin version of the Liber Chronicarum or Nuremberg Chronicle, which was presented to the Library by J. J. Falconer in 1868. With this addition the Library was starting to develop real depth in its collection of early books. In 1929 the Bequest bought another collection of sample leaves of woodcuts from fifteenth century books, but from then until 1933 (with the notable exception of Piranesi's Vedute di Roma, 1770) purchases tended to be of more expensive contemporary or near-contemporary books on art.
1933 was a year of highs and, in hindsight, one low. The Bequest purchased three manuscripts: a twelfth-century Epistles of St Paul; the Vigils of the Dead (properly viewed as a fragment from a larger book of hours) produced around 1420 in Besançon; and also the late fifteenth-century Book of Hours for the Use of York made in Bruges. The Trustees recommended the purchase of a First Folio of Shakespeare for £15,000, but after seeking legal advice the committee rejected this as a work of undoubted genius, but not a work of art. This decision needs to be viewed in context. The price for the Shakespeare was substantial; and in the following year the Trustees approved the purchase of the Rembrandt, Two old men disputing, for £17,000 – a work clearly within the terms of the Bequest. Poynter comments that the decision on the Shakespeare made it easier for the Committee to reject requests from the Library to fund the purchase of Art journals, although purchases of expensive facsimiles and contemporary art books continued to be made, and in 1934 a printed Book of Hours from the press of Geofroy Tory in Paris (1531) was acquired for £850.8
The Bequests Committee had relied on the help of a series of London Advisers, and with the death of Bernard Hall in 1935 it needed to make a new appointment. Complex negotiations ensued, and finally on the advice of Sir Keith Murdoch (a Trustee since 1933) and Mr Norton Grimwade (a member of the Committee appointed under the terms of the Bequest) the Committee chose Sir Sydney Cockerell. Aged 69, brilliant and with all the self-assurance of an already distinguished career, Cockerell was an interesting appointment. Murdoch found him ‘vain, aggressive and somewhat quarrelsome’ but with Grimwade judged him the best of all the men available for the role in Britain. Cockerell's formal education was interrupted at an early age by the need to take over the family coal business from which he escaped into Art through the patronage of Octavia Hill, John Ruskin and William Morris. He was employed as the Secretary to the Kelmscott Press, and catalogued

Sydney Carlyle Cockerell (c. 1930), photographer Dorothy Hawksley, as printed in W. Blunt, Cockerell, Friend of Ruskin and William Morris and Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge London, Hamish Hamilton, 1964, facing page 321.

Morris's collection of manuscripts and incunabula, which proved an extraordinary education and the inspiration for his own collecting in this area. His main achievement was to serve for 29 years as the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, which in his words he found a pigsty and left a palace. It is not surprising that part of his legacy from his brief, war-interrupted tenure as Felton Adviser was an influential report on the design and layout of the National Gallery and his critical intervention in the acquisition of some important medieval books.9
The first mention of the Myrrour of the World as a potential purchase by the Bequest appears in the minutes of Conferences held between the Felton Bequest Committee and the Felton Purchase Committee (appointed by the Trustees) for 25 September 1936. The book was on offer from W. H. Robinson for £810, together with an illuminated manuscript Psalter for £390. The conference deferred a decision on the Caxton, on the issue of the price, and decided to request that the manuscript be brought to Melbourne on approval. In November the same conference received the recommendation from Sir Keith Murdoch and Mr Norton Grimwade regarding the appointment of Sir Sydney Cockerell, and decided to consult with him by cable regarding the purchase of the Caxton should his appointment
proceed. By December Sir Sydney was at the meeting of the conference by invitation and placed his own recommendation on the table, having brought with him an early and very rare fifteenth-century English manuscript, The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man and the Pilgrimage of the Soul, on consignment from W. H. Robinson. The price was £600 and the conference approved the purchase, presumably in part not wishing to embarrass their illustrious new adviser. At their meeting on 15 January 1937 the conference approved the purchase of the Caxton and the Psalter, subject to negotiations on price to be led by Sir Sydney, and at the end of the month in a masterful understatement in the passive voice the minutes record:
Sir Sydney Cockerell reported that after fuller consideration he was prepared to advise that the price of Caxton's “Mirror of the World” (£810) and the 13th century illuminated Manuscript Psalter (£390) was reasonable and that no further negotiations were necessary.
With such a ringing endorsement, both acquisitions were approved.10
The Bequest had also purchased a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible in 1936, and had in a few short months spent £1,860 on medieval books and fragments. It is perhaps not surprising that in response to Sir Sydney's request for authority to choose for purchase another medieval manuscript the conference, ‘in view of his special knowledge’, agreed on the condition that ‘…artistic value was to be a paramount consideration in recommending manuscripts for purchase under the terms of the Felton Bequest.’ Few would argue that the purchase that followed in March 1937 of the Livy from the library of Antoine the Bastard of Burgundy failed in this respect, even at the impressive price of £3,000.11
At the same conference which approved the purchase of the Caxton, the minutes record:
Consideration was given to the question of issuing a brochure on similar lines to the publication “Alfred Felton and his Art Benefactions” indicating the manuscripts, book rarities and Art books added to the Public Library under the terms of the Felton Bequest. A report by Mr A. B. Foxcroft assistant Librarian was circulated and it was decided that a booklet should be prepared and that the price and number of issue should be considered at the next conference.
Foxcroft had already produced a Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books and Fragments in 1936 – too early to include the Caxton or the leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, but recording nonetheless 594 original examples of early printing, including 54 complete or near-complete volumes. Ernest Pitt, the Chief Librarian, noted that the ‘compilation of this work has been done by Mr Foxcroft in private time in the evenings after the completion of his official duties’ (a practice continued for those of us who write for this Journal!), so the opportunity to produce an official record with colour illustrations was hard-won recognition of Foxcroft's scholarship and standing.12
The brochure appeared in 1938 with a colour reproduction of the crucifixion from the Wharncliffe Hours as its frontispiece. Foxcroft gives an account of each of the major manuscripts and printed works, remarking that:
No collection of books illustrating the history of the art of printing is complete without an example of Caxton's work, and if that example be such as to be brought within the scope of the Felton Bequest by its illustrations, as in our copy of his “Mirror of the World”, then that collection is doubly fortunate.
The brochure was a celebration of the achievements by the Bequest and ended with a note of optimism:
And, after all, this is only a beginning, for the majority of these books have been acquired in the last few years. What treasures, therefore, the people of Victoria of a few generations hence will have! For this noble gift of Alfred Felton's is not for a day, but, humanly speaking, for ever; so much has been done already, but how much more will be done in the future.13
The optimism was ill-founded. Rather than celebrate the beginning of a great Felton collection of rare books, the brochure marked the end of an adventure. The last purchase by the Bequest of any significance for the history of the book to be placed in the Library was a collection of sixteenth-century woodblocks in 1938. The intervention of the war slowed buying to a trickle, and the plans for a post-war future for the Library, Museums and National Gallery had profound consequences.
On the first page of the brochure Foxcroft had noted that the original terms of the Felton Bequest were to benefit ‘…the Trustees for the time being of the Melbourne National Art Gallery…’, and that this had been amended by codicil to be construed as the Trustees of the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria. The passing of the Act To make provision with respect to the Public Library the National Gallery and the National Museums of Victoria on 11 December 1944, established four separate trusts – one each for the Library, the Gallery, and the Museums, and one for the buildings that they shared. This much reflected a consensus that the one great institution as conceived by Redmond Barry and others had grown too unwieldy and complex, and that the future of each component lay in a more independent structure. The Act went further, making the National Gallery the sole beneficiary of a number of bequests, including that of Alfred Felton. That became the matter of contention.14
The Trustees Executors and Agency Co. Ltd. wrote to Sir Keith Murdoch on 25 May 1945 in his new role as President of the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, noting that while the new Act made the beneficiary clear, it had abolished the Trustees empowered to recommend or approve purchases or nominate a member to the Felton Bequests Committee. The company advised that they were applying to the Court to have the question determined as plaintiff, joining the Trustees of the National Gallery and the Attorney General of Victoria as defendants. The Gallery quickly appointed W. K. Fullagar KC to watch over their interests and the Library and Museums sought an opinion from R. G. Menzies KC. Menzies argued that a simple substitution of the National Gallery Trustees for the original body would give a ‘strained and artificial interpretation’ and opined that the moneys could be lawfully expended for the Museum and the Library as long as the purchases met the criteria of having an artistic and educational value calculated to raise public taste. In Menzies' opinion
One can readily see that many books might well come under this description and that in the Museum itself works might be purchased and set up which possessed a similar character. I am not, in this connection, forgetting the use of such devices as the diorama in modern museums.15
The matter went before Mr Justice Lowe in Chambers on 17 July. Lowe found in favour of the Gallery, but neither the Museum nor the Library were prepared to let the matter rest. In September Sir Thomas Nettlefold, President of the Library Trustees, and Russell Grimwade, President of the Museum Trustees, armed with unanimous resolutions from both Boards, wrote to the Premier requesting an amendment to the Act to ensure ‘…that the benefits which these institutions have received in the past will be restored to them.’ The joint protest could not be ignored and copies of the various documents were requested and sent to the Crown Solicitor, including an opinion from Fullagar reflecting on Mr Justice Lowe's decision. Fullagar argued that the codicil in Felton's will was simply a device to authorise an appropriate body to receive the gift, and that his clear intention was to benefit the Gallery.16
In February 1946 the Crown Solicitor, Frank G. Menzies, gave his answer – a fine example of the bureaucratic art of ambiguity and upward delegation. Noting that the framers of the Act had clearly held the same opinion as Fullagar, he wrote that
…it would serve little purpose for me to express at this stage a view one way or the other. Whether in the view of conflict of opinion of leading Counsel the Government should carry the matter further by seeking further opinion or should let the matter remain where it is, is a question of policy.
Faced with this and finding no support for a change in policy, the Library and Museum had no option other than to accept defeat gracefully.17
A fragile record of the impact of the Felton Bequest survives in the Library files, and was recently rediscovered during the move of part of the collection to the Ballarat store. Undated and inscribed in red-pencil ‘Copy Librarian’ with a file number (46/279) suggesting the year 1946, it is a carbon copy of a list entitled Felton Bequest Donations to the Public Library. Between 1904 and 1941, 76 donations were made, including the original 132 volumes from Felton's library. While many of the donations were of expensive contemporary or near-contemporary books about art or facsimiles of rare works, 13 were books or collections of leaves and fragments dated before 1800; including the Sticht collection, five were medieval manuscripts and two were complete incunables – the Schatzbehalter and Myrrour of the World. The list gives the value of the donations to the Library as £6,948/13/- and notes that the three books ‘retained by the National Gallery’, the Wharncliffe Hours, the Offices of the Virgin and the Livy, had a combined value of £9,325.18


The acquisition of the Myrrour of the World by the Felton Bequest was greeted with great interest in the press. Its significance was seen as adding to the best collection in the Southern Hemisphere and giving the Library even more to help celebrate the looming fifth centenary of the introduction of printing. For the Age the purchase of The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man
together with the Caxton had greatest value in ‘…showing the style of manuscript from which the illustrations of early English printed books were derived.’ These interpretations reflected a view of the Caxton as both a literary curiosity and a work of art, and made no reference to the text itself.19
Myrrour of the World is sometimes described as an early form of an encyclopaedia, although it has elements of a cosmology or an epistemological essay. It is a document that reveals much about how the medieval thinkers conceived the relationship between God, the world and human knowledge. The work is divided into three parts. The first deals with the power of God and the seven liberal arts – grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music – from which all knowledge is derived. The second part describes the geography of the known world, and the third part describes day and night, the occurrence of eclipses, the purpose of money, the role of philosophy and the relationship between the earth, the moon and the stars. The work ends with a description of paradise, the goal of human endeavour and knowledge. Caxton translated his text from a French manuscript version of the twelfth-century text as produced by Honorius Augustodunensis. Honorius makes reference to ancient thinkers, including Plato, Ovid, Virgil and Homer, as well as Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Bede and Isidore of Seville. The manuscript used in the translation survives in the British Library, providing evidence of the faithfulness of the translation as well as the diplomatic changes made by Caxton to the text, including the removal of a reference to Kentish men having tails. The illustrations in the manuscript are also the models for the woodcuts in the text.20
The survival of the manuscript version is a perfect example of how Caxton bridged the medieval and early modern worlds. Caxton was first and foremost a trader – a member of the Guild of Mercers – and for many years he served as the Governor of the Merchant Adventurers (English traders in wool and cloth) in the Burgundian port of Bruges. The Court of the Duke of Burgundy was a final great medieval flourish, and the luxury goods traded between Burgundy and England included elaborate manuscripts. An excellent example of this trade is the Hours for the Use of York in the Library's collection. Much scholarly speculation has passed over the years as to what led Caxton to move from trading to printing, although it is most likely that he lost his post as Governor some time after the upheaval caused by the exile of Edward IV to Bruges during the second War of the Roses. Printing was thus a second career, and in choosing to print in English and from 1476 in England he was simply making commercial decisions. His choice of texts included 20 translations and many of the canonical works of the English language – The Canterbury Tales and the Chronicles of England being two examples. While the method was modern, the content was well tested and uncontroversial – Caxton knew his market and his prologues demonstrate a deference and understanding of courtly precedence. The sheer cost of the enterprise, especially paper, left little room for the risk of challenging the reading public with new ideas.21

Myrrour of the World, London, William Caxton, 1490. RARES 093 C902C. Rare Books Collection.

Caxton's printing appears crude, and when compared with the contemporary products of European presses such as the Schatzbehalter the woodcuts and the type in Myrrour of the World are obviously less sophisticated. This may help explain why so few examples of complete Caxtons survive – they just weren't that pretty. Eighteenth-century collectors also played their part, breaking up volumes to create ‘complete’ works, cleaning pages of notes or inscriptions and replacing contemporary covers with elaborate gold embossed bindings. This makes the Library's specimen of great interest. A second edition (1490) and one of only 13 to survive, it has not been cleaned or repaired, and the binding, though eighteenth-century, is simple and has been made without significant trimming of the leaves. It lacks eight leaves (signature k) which appears to have been an error at the press itself. From the Library of Lord de Tabeley, it was hailed as the last Caxton available for purchase when acquired, although a copy of the (slightly) more common first edition was sold at Christies for £529,500 in July 1998.22

‘The Flagellation of Christ’ from Schatzbehalter, oder Schrein der wahren Reichtumer des Heils und ewiger Seligkeit [Treasure Chest or Shrine of True Riches for Salvation and Eternal Blessedness], written by the Franciscan Friar Stephan Fridolin and printed by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg with woodcuts by Michael Wolgemuth, 8 November 1491. RARES 093 C913K. Rare Books Collection.

William Caxton, deferential courtier, trader, translator, printer and publisher, was also an unconscious revolutionary. Printing for the first time in English he helped to create a common language that now dominates human discourse. Holding a mirror to a world that was fast being replaced by the new humanism of the Renaissance, he captured in modern form a time when western knowledge was contained in one system of thought. His illustration for Logic shows a teacher reading to his pupils from a book on a lectern; Caxton helped to make the book a more personal object, setting in train a way for private learning and new ideas. With the opening of the permanent exhibition on books and ideas named from this book, Myrrour of the World is now literary curiosity, work of art and a powerful metaphor in an age when print is fast being replaced and the world is increasingly mirrored in cyberspace.

Woodcut initial from Myrrour of the World, London, William Caxton, 1490. RARES 093 C902C. Rare Books Collection.

William Caxton's printer's device from Myrrour of the World, London, William Caxton, 1490. RARES 093 C902C. Rare Books Collection.



Descriptive list of examples of printing by William Caxton at the State Library of Victoria

Most of the following examples are from the Sticht Collection purchased by the Felton Bequest in 1922. Robert Carl Sticht (1856–1922) was a mining engineer and metallurgist who worked at the Mt Lyell copper Mine in Tasmania from 1895 to 1922, for most of that time as General Manager. He was an avid collector of books, art objects and examples of printing. At the time of his death his family was forced to sell the collection as he had left little else in his estate.
Item 4 is from the compilation, West-European incunabula: 60 original leaves from the presses of the Netherlands, France, Iberia and Great Britain described by Konrad Haebler, translated from the German by Andre? Barbey, Munich, Weiss and Company, 1928. The Library acquired this compilation in December 1928 for £37/-/-.
Comments on the items are drawn from A. B. Foxcroft, A Catalogue of the English Books and Fragments from 1477 to 1535 in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne: Fraser and Jenkinson Pty Ltd., 1933, pp. 1–6; and from the same author's A Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books and Fragments in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Brown Prior and Company, 1936, pp. 131–132.
Infancia Salvatoris (c.1477)
One leaf. The only other copy of this work is a complete volume in the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (1478) first edition,
One leaf. [Wife of Bath's Prologue]
Marcus Tullius Cicero (Tully), Of Old Age; Of Friendship (12 August 1481).
One leaf. [Page 112 out of 120, signature e8]
Ranulph Higden, Policronicon (not before 2 July 1482).
One leaf. [Page 183]
Jacobus de Cessolus, Game and playe of the chesse (1483) second edition.
One leaf. [Page 7: Woodcut of the King enthroned. For a reproduction see K. Fraser, ‘Art and Chess: The Passions of a Library Donor’ in The La Trobe Journal, no. 74, Spring 2004, pp. 24–35, p. 24.]
John Gower, Confessio Amantis (2 September 1483).
Three leaves. [Two imperfect, pages 177, 197 and 208.]
Disticha Catonis or Cato, The book called Caton (as translated by William Caxton) (not before 23 December 1483),
One leaf. [Sgnature c5.]
Blanchardin and Eglantine (c. 1489).
One leaf. [Signature H8. Of this work only one incomplete copy survives, in the John Rylands Library in the University of Manchester, and one further leaf in the British Library.]
The Mirrour of the World (as translated by William Caxton) Second edition (1490).
Complete, except for eight leaves (signature k). [12 other copies survive.]


A note on the spelling.
I have used throughout this essay the spelling used by William Caxton – myrrour of the world – except when quoting directly from other sources. O. H. Prior in his authoritative text on the book transliterates the spelling as mirrour of the world which has tended to become the ‘ye olde englishe’ spelling but is in fact a twentieth-century construct. A wandering ‘e’ sometimes attaches itself to ‘world’. Prior is not the source of this affectation. It is possibly due to a later printing of the work by Laurence Andrewe, London, 1527, where the ‘e’ appears. This publication follows the general form adopted by Caxton although the text is not identical. In preparing this article I have consulted the State Library specimen and the specimens of the first and second editions held by the British Library and a specimen of the Andrewe's edition from the British Library at Early English Books On Line, to which I have access as part of the Network for Early European Research. I would like to record my thanks to them for this support. I would also like to thank Mr Patrick McCaughey, Professor Christopher de Hamel, and Professor Margaret Manion for their helpful suggestions and comments in the course of my research and writing, and to no less than three reviewers for their gentle and sage advice to this tourist in the world of medieval books.


The Argus, 7 August 1871, p. 5. See also William Caxton: A Contribution in Commemoration of the Festival held in Melbourne 1871 to celebrate the Fourth Centenary of the First Printing in the English Language, Melbourne, John Ferres, 1871. Charles Gavan Duffy, then Chief Secretary, authorised the printing of this pamphlet at the Government Press.
The Caxton Fund still exists and is managed by the State Trustees. The purpose of the fund is ‘…to assist in relieving distress experienced by bona fide journalists, pressmen or person engaged in literary pursuit. The distress may be caused by illness, indigence, physical incapacity or other such cause deemed by the advisory committee to constitute personal distress. Eligible persons must also previously or currently reside in Victoria.’ The fact that it exists is a minor miracle. Ken Stewart in ‘The Support of Literature in Colonial Australia’, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 4, October 1980, pp. 476–487, gives a brief account of the shambolic management of the fund. Marcus Clarke (who held a position at the Library akin to that of the author) made a generous donation of two guineas to the fund, which subsequently failed to support him in his decline and did nothing for his widow and orphans.


The Argus, 30 October 1871 p. 6; William Caxton: A Contribution in Commemoration, p. 4


The Argus, 20 December 1871, p. 6.


The Catalogue of the Public Library of Victoria 1880, p. xviii, pp. xxx–xxxi, p. 1598.
For an excellent account of the development of this policy, see Brian Hubber ‘“Of the Numerous Opportunities”: the Origins of the Collection of Medieval Manuscripts at the State Library of Victoria’, La Trobe Library Journal, vol. 13, nos. 51 & 52, pp. 3–11.


Quotation from the 1880 Catalogue; see also The Catalogue for the Melbourne Public Library for 1861, and A. B. Foxcroft, Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books and Fragments in the Public Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Brown Prior and Co., 1936, pp. 12 and 82.


The authoritative work on Felton is of course J. Poynter, Mr Felton's Bequests, Melbourne, The Miegunyah Press, 2003. The catalogue of the sale of Felton's possessions has not survived, so it is difficult to establish what riches were missed in this selection. Poynter (p. 598) recounts that Felton's copy of Night Thoughts, with plates hand coloured by William Blake, was passed over by the valuers and bought (much later) by the National Gallery with Felton Bequest funds for £30,000 in 1989.


For an account of the bookseller responsible for the first sale of manuscripts to the Library, see W. Kirsop, ‘The brief but brilliant career of Frederick Bennett, Antiquarian Bookseller’, La Trobe Library Journal, vol. 14, no.45, Autumn 1995, pp. 10–17. Poynter, quotation from p. 333. See also Manuscripts and Books of Art acquired under the terms of the Felton Bequest, Melbourne, Fraser and Jenkinson, 1938; and A. B. Foxcroft, pp. 131–132. For details on the Wharncliffe Hours and the Offices of the Virgin, see M. Manion and V. Vines, Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian Collections, Melbourne, Thames and Hudson, 1984, reference to the naming of the Offices on p. 176a.


Poynter, p 398; Manuscripts and Books of Art…, especially the list of purchases.


Poynter, chapter 23, quotation from Murdoch on p. 419. See also entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 12, pp. 365–367, Oxford University Press, 2004. The Library has an incunable from William Morris's collection: Thomas a Kempis, De Vita et beneficijs saluatorie Ihesu Christi deuotissime meditationes cum gratiaru[m] actione, Basel, Johann Amerbach and Johann Petri de Langendorff, not after 1489.


Records of the Felton Bequest, PA 96/83. Minutes of Conferences between Felton Bequests Committee and Felton Purchase Committee 1933–1935: see entries for 25/9/1936; 23/11/1936; 18/12/1936; 15/1/1937,29/1/1937.


Minutes of Conferences…26/2/1937.


Minutes of Conferences…29/1/1937; Foxcroft, Catalogue of Fifteenth Century Books, quotation from Pitt, p. ix.


Manuscripts and Books of Art: the publication is not paginated, the authorship is not given, though it is likely that Foxcroft wrote the text.


An Act to make provision with respect to the Public Library the National Gallery and the National Museums of Victoria 9 Geo. VI, No. 5053, 11 December 1944. For a brief account of the role of Sir Keith Murdoch as the last President of the Trustees of the combined institution, see John Barnes, ‘Library Profile: Keith Murdoch’, The La Trobe Journal, no. 68, Spring 2001, pp. 63–68


For a brief account of this controversy, see Poynter, pp. 455–456. The source for original documents dealing with this matter was found by the author in a box entitled Under Secretary General Matters which includes a file Will of Alfred Felton and Public Library, & c., ACT NO. 5053. All correspondence cited is from this file.
Letter from Trustees Executors and Agency Co. Ltd. to Sir Keith Murdoch 25 May 1945 Opinion from R. G. Menzies, KC, ‘In the matter of the will and codicils of Alfred Felton deceased’ 23 June 1945.


Judgement of Lowe J. in the Supreme Court of Victoria, 1945 no. 285, July 17 1945. Letter from Sir Thomas Nettlefold and Russell Grimwade to the Premier, 26 September 1945. Opinion from W. K. Fullagar. KC, ‘Re the will of Alfred Felton – Opinion’, August 3 1945.


Letter from Mr Frank G. Menzies, Crown Solicitor, to the Under Secretary, 22 February 1946. There is evidence in the file that the Library and Museum attempted to continue the fight with Dr Irving Benson taking up the cause for the Library as Deputy President. Sir Thomas Nettlefold was failing in health and retired from the Savage Club in that year as he could no longer climb the two flights of stairs from the Social Room to the Dining Room. See J. Johnson, Laughter and the Love of Friends – A Centenary History of the Melbourne Savage Club 1894–1994 and a History of the Yorick Club 1868–1966, Melbourne, The Savage Club, 1994, p.161.


‘Felton Bequest Donations to the Public Library’ [no date but 1946]. The Library made spectacular purchases in 1946, from its own means, of the Historia Augusta – originally commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici, the Poissy Antiphonal and a Pontificale, for a total of £2,360 – all on the advice of Sir Sydney Cockerell and from W. H Robinson as part of the long sale of the Sir Thomas Phillipp's collection. This was followed by the last great purchase of manuscripts in 1949 – see B. Hubber, ‘Of the Numerous Opportunities’, pp. 7–8. This confirms that the loss of access to the Felton Bequest was by no means the end of ambitious buying and points to a continuing and significant relationship between the Library and Sir Sydney Cockerell. The term ‘retained by the National Gallery’ needs some explanation. The Accession Books kept by the Library show that all the books and collections of leaves were added to the Library collection at the time of purchase – the three great manuscripts were never part of the Library collection, and always part of the National Gallery Collection. This fine point of custodianship serves to explain the strength of feeling over the decision to apply the Bequest only to the Gallery.


Public Library General Press Cuttings 1934 to May 1945 held in Rare Books – see The Age; The Argus,6/2/1937; The Weekly Times,11/2/1937; The Leader,13/2/1937; The Adelaide Chronicle,16/2/1937; The Adelaide Advertiser,17/2/1937; The Australasian,18/2/1937.


The great work of scholarship on Myrrour of the World is O. H. Prior, Caxton's Mirrour of the World, published for the Early English Text Society, London, Kegan and Paul, 1913. A useful summary is at the University of Glasgow website which featured the Hunterian specimen of the second edition of Myrrour of the World as its Book of the Month in August 2005: [as consulted 17/11/2005 15.39 pm]. The 500th anniversary of the first Caxton saw a renewal in scholarship in the area – while many of the key works were consulted in the writing of this paper, citations (out of deference to close readers of footnotes) have been kept to a minimum.


See N. F. Blake, Caxton and his World, London, Andre Deutsch, 1969; and L. Hellinga, Caxton in Focus, London, The British Library, 1982.


S. A. de Ricci, Census of Caxtons, Oxford, University Press, 1909, p. 97. See also L. Hellinga, p. 26, and extract from the catalogue of the original sale by W. H. Robinson kept with the volume in Rare Books.
Christies King Street, London. July 08, 1998, Lot Number: 4. Sale Number: 6012. Estimate: 120,000–160,000 British pounds. Price Realised: 529,500.00 British pounds. Lot Description: The Myrrour of the World. Translated by William Caxton. [Westminster: William Caxton, not before 8 March 1481] Wentworth Sale.