05 April 2011
Initially, the notion of travelling back through time filled me with fearful foreboding. Not the actual crossing over from now to then, I could cope with that, being a bit heroic in the exploring stakes. No, it was the idea of meeting up with a dead person that worried me, knowing he's dead yet sitting with him, drinking coffee, or vodka, pretending he's alive and feeling talkative. Famous or infamous, he'd still be dead. Deceased! Defunct! But on second thoughts, I guess it could be fun. Question is, which man would I like to meet. I say he, but it doesn't have to be a man. Take Cleopatra. She was intriguing as an individual, though I wouldn't fancy encountering her in case she was still screwed up over that blessed asp. Best leave her dead and buried in case she turns spiteful and sets an asp on yours truly. Let me think. What about Will Shakespeare? His stories were brilliant. He could string words like pearl necklaces. Put me to shame, he would, if we met. I'd rather carry on in blissful contentment, writing my own yarns, getting them read my only concern. William Caxton wouldn't have such trials, he'd print his own. William Caxton, English printer? Now he was bright. Without him I couldn't have read Shakespeare's Macbeth, or Hamlet, or The Taming of the Shrew. Or Wilbur Smith! Caxton was born in 1422. In Kent. He became apprenticed to a London cloth dealer and ultimately set up his own business in Bruges. I'd like to know how his interest in printing arose but I daresay cotton cloth and papyrus were similar. I could ask him about design and layout. He was Governor to the English merchants in Bruges and negotiated on their behalf with the Dukes of Burgundy but somewhere along the line he cottoned on (excuse the pun) to printing and took himself off to Cologne to learn the art. Bit of a traveller was Will: England, Belgium, Germany, by ship and by road. I wonder if the ancient ships were as uncomfortable as I imagine them to be. I'd ask what life was like in the 1400s, what sort of pace it had and how he felt when he set up his press in Bruges. Must have been thrilling, in 1474, when he printed his own version of a French romance entitled Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Like I said, he was bright. Bet the poets Chaucer and Gower and John Lydgate thought so too, when he published their works. William Caxton, printer of a hundred books. Perhaps, if I went back, I could persuade him to give me some publishing tips. What satisfaction I'd have vetoing today's uninterested publishers and printing my own.