a Flemish Renart, an Incunabulum, German Renarts, Henri Morley, Johann Christoph Gottsched, Le Roman de Renart, Paulin Paris, rubrication, the first English printer, The History of Reynard the Fox, William Caxton, Wolgang von Goethe
William Caxton’s Reynard the Fox
In 1450, legendary Briton William Caxton (c. 1422 – c. 1491), a merchant, a diplomat, a writer, a translator and Britain’s first printer, moved to Bruges, Belgium. At that time in history, the Franco-Flemish lands were very rich and, as I have stated several times, they were the cultural hub of Europe. As a merchant, Caxton had joined the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London of which he would become the governor.
Caxton was interested in literature. He learned Flemish and translated the very popular Roman de Renart from the Flemish into English. Caxton had set up a printing press in 1476, at Westminster, England, where, in 1481, he printed his translation of the Roman de Renart, which he entitled The History of Reynard the Fox. Caxton also printed Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and he is the translator, in collaboration with Colard Mansion, of Raoul Lefèvre‘s the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, or Recueil des Histoires de Troy, printed in Bruges and the first book to be printed in the English language.
Although Le Roman de Renart is a masterpiece of French literature, it has Flemish, German and other roots. Renart was born as Reinardus in Nivardus of Ghent’s Ysengrimus, a Latin fabliau and mock epic, and his adventures were told in several languages. Its earliest “branches” were published in c. 1171.
German Translations of the Roman de Renart
Renart was first translated by Alsatian Heinrich der Glïchezäre as “Reinhart Fuchs ” (1180) almost as soon as its first branches were published in France. Glïchezäre’s Reinhart Fuchs is the first Beast epic in the German language and “branches” of Reynard’s adventures would be retold in the German-speaking lands until Wolfgang von Goethe as Reinecke Fuchs DE during the French Revolution. Goethe’s Reynard is rooted in Johann Christoph Gottsched‘s Reineke der Fuchs.
Caxton’s The History of Reynard the Fox (click) is an internet publication. It was digitized by Canadian University of Victoria professor David Badke in 2003. It is a treasure as is professor Badke’s Medieval Bestiary, which includes Reynard. David Badke used an edition published by George Routledge and Sons, in 1889. Henry Morley wrote the introduction to Caxton’s 1889 Reynard the Fox. It is a concise but very informative introduction.
I have already mentioned Joan Acocella‘s “Fox News: What the stories of Reynard tell us about ourselves.” Joan Acocella used Caxton’s translation. Le Roman de Renart is also a Wikisource publication, in French. However, Wikisource used a shorter but superior reworking of Le Roman de Renart. It was rewritten by celebrated medievalist Paulin Paris. (See Paulin Paris, Wikipedia.)
Reynard: an Incunabulum
As for Caxton’s Reynard the Fox, it is an incunable, or a book printed between Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and movable type, in c. 1439, and the year 1501. Incunables have also been called “fifteeners.” From time to time, patrons asked printers to leave blank areas so the book could be somewhat illuminated or rubricated, as shown below:
The above is not the article I wanted to post as Preface to Reynard the Fox: Motifs. That post was too long which required my dividing it into several more or less independent short posts. It may be published in its entirety, but I doubt it. It would be repetitive.
- Reynard the Fox: Motifs (2 April 2017)
- The Sick Lion Tale as Source (19 March 2017)
- “Belling the Cat:” more Bells (30 July 2015) (Ysopet-Avionnet)
- It’s no skin off my nose (6 October 2014)
- Reynard the Fox, the Trickster (22 October 2011)
- Reynard the Fox, the Itinerant (23 October 2011)
- Reynard the Fox, the Judgement (25 October 2011)
Sources and Resources
- William Caxton, A History of Reynard the Fox, 1481
- List of Literary Cycles, Wikipedia
- Le Roman de Renart is a Wikisource publication FR
- Multilingual Folktale Database (ATU)
- How the bear lost his tail (ATU 2)
- The bear and the honey (ATU 49)
- Reynard the bear at court (ATU 53)
- Tailless Fox Tries in Vain to Get Foxes to Cut off Tails (ATU 64)
- Joan Acocella, “Fox News: What the stories of Reynard tell us about ourselves,” The New Yorker (4 May 2015)
© Micheline Walker
8 April 2017