Wynkyn de Worde’s “Remorse of Conscience”: a unique survivor

Wynkyn de Worde (died c. 1534) was a printer and publisher in London and is best known for his work with William Caxton. Although Caxton was the first printer to set up shop in England, it was arguably de Worde who proved instrumental in ensuring the success of the printing trade in this country. Through technical innovations and an insistence on high quality materials, he greatly improved the fledgling art of printing and has since been described as ‘England’s first typographer’ (Haley, 1992).

Device of William Caxton which subsequently passed to Wynkyn de Worde in 1492. From ‘Pilgrymage of perfecyon’, printed in 1531 by de Worde

Few details are known about de Worde’s early life. He was thought to have been born in Woerden in Holland (but possibly Woerth in Alsace). It is often assumed he accompanied William Caxton to England as a journeyman printer, working for him as apprentice or foreman until Caxton’s death in 1492, however there is little evidence to support this. We do know that de Worde took over Caxton’s printing house in Westminster around the time of Caxton’s death in 1492, and began by reprinting some of Caxton’s earlier titles. In 1496, following the settlement of a long dispute with Caxton’s family over the will, he was able legally to take control of the enterprise.

In 1500 de Worde transferred the business from Westminster to London and was the first printer to set up a press in Fleet Street, a location that would become synonymous with the printing trade. He published more than 400 books in 800 editions (Mueller, 2002), some of which are now known to exist in just a single copy. One of these unique survivors, The remorse of conscience (1515), is to be found here at Lambeth Palace Library, held within the Sion College Library Collection.

Title page: 'The remors of conscyence: Here begynneth certayne demonstracyons by our lorde to all synfull persones with the remors of mannes conscynce to the regarde of the bounte of our lorde'
‘The remors of conscyence. Here begynneth certayne demonstracyons by our lorde to all synfull persones with the remors of mannes conscynce to the regarde of the bounte of our lorde’

Wynkyn de Worde printed at least three editions of The remorse of conscience,  in 1510, in 1515 and again in 1534 (see Rhodes, 1958). The Sion copy is the only recorded example of the second edition. A fragment only, it was discovered within Sion College’s copy of Albertus Magnus, De officiis (Cologne, 1503) where it had been bound among the flyleaves. The fragment consists of folios 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 11 only (the first and second sheets of quire A and the second of quire B). The title (The remors of conscyence) is printed within a wooden scroll, and both the title page and its verso are illustrated with the same fine woodcut of a penitent kneeling before Christ.

De Worde often illustrated his books with woodcuts, not only re-using woodblocks from Caxton’s period but also commissioning new products from skilled craftsmen. These new blocks would be used again and again in different publications, eventually showing evidence of wear, as shown by our copy of the The remorse… The woodcut has a neat crack down the middle, also visible in the previous edition. By the time of the third recorded edition, thought to have been printed in 1534, the same woodblock has been badly broken.

Woodcut of the penitent kneeling before Christ
Woodcut of the penitent kneeling before Christ. Damage to the block is clearly visible.

The remorse of conscience takes the form of a dialogue between God and Man and is also known in earlier manuscript editions as The complaynt of God (Lambeth Palace Library holds two 15th century copies at MS306 and MS853). The author was the poet William Lichfield, whose gravestone at Christ’s College, Cambridge, reads: “William Lichfield, Doctor of Diuinitie, who deceased the yeare 1448, hee was a great student, and compiled many bookes both moral and diuine”.

Haley, Allan. Typographic milestones, London: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.
Meuller, Janel. Cambridge history of early modern English literature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Rhodes, D. E. “The remorse of conscience”, The Library, pp. 199-200, 1958.


Sion College Library Provenance Project

Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755), a bibliophile and bishop of the Church of England, donated many books to Sion College Library (A83.2ap/H22)
Gilt armorial stamp of Sion College Library

Sion College Library was founded in the early 17th century for the clergy of the City of London. The Sion collections, now held by Lambeth Palace Library, have been greatly enriched over the centuries by numerous donations and bequests. These collections strongly reflect the very wide community of citizens who supported Sion College Library: everyone from nobility, surgeons and attorneys to merchants, stationers and many of London’s clergy. The names of each donor were listed by the College in a volume known as the Book of Benefactors (see Sion L40.2/E64 for a transcription), but many of the books also contain physical evidence of their previous owners.

Do you recognise this hand-painted armorial bookplate found in a Lutheran Bible of 1536? (A13.6/L97)

With a major project currently underway to catalogue the 30,000 early printed books in the Sion collections, it has become clear that marks of provenance are both numerous and varied, and that evidence of previous ownership, such as bookplates, inscriptions, ink stamps and armorial bindings, can reveal the history of an individual book. Inspired by the University of Pennsylvania’s wonderful Provenance Online Project (POP), the Printed Books team here at Lambeth have created the Sion College Library Provenance Project:

Home page of the Sion College Library Project
Home page of the Sion College Library Provenance Project
18th century bookplate of the Dutch sea captain, J. G. Michiels (A96.6/J23)
18th century bookplate of the Dutch sea captain, J. G. Michiels (A96.6/J23)

The project’s home page allows you to view all of our images, organised in chronological order with the most recent shown first. There are also separate sets for each different category of provenance mark (with most types divided into “identified” and “unidentified” examples): – Identified bookplatesUnidentified bookplatesIdentified inscriptionsUnidentified inscriptionsIdentified bindingsUnidentified bindingsIdentified stamps Unidentified stampsIllegible inscriptionsSion College Library marksBinding wasteAnnotations. You can also browse the collections using the tags we have added to each entry.

In addition to showing the different marks of provenance within the Sion collections, the project also aims to seek your collaboration and comments to help decipher and identify as many of our provenance marks as possible. If you know of any information that would help identify an entry, please feel free to sign in and leave us a comment or transcription! We look forward to hearing from you.

Click here to visit the project: Sion College Library Provenance Project

A83.2a B14E (2)
Can you decipher this inscription? Let us know! (A83.2a/B14E)

The Printed Books Team

The Fables of John Gay

The pre-1850s printed books of Sion College Library have been part of Lambeth Palace Library’s collection since 1996, following the closure of the college (you can read more about the History of Sion Library by following the series of blog posts here). The collection is currently being surveyed by our Sion Conservator, being lovingly cleaned and cared for alongside cataloguing by our rare books team to enrich and bring the old card-catalogue records up-to-date. This is giving us the chance to appreciate the full breadth of this diverse collection. From religious works to novels, educational tomes to poems, the Sion material is nothing if not eclectic. Two volumes of Fables by John Gay (1685-1732) are prime examples (K65.1 G25 C).

Image 1      Image 2
Title pages from the two volumes of John Gay’s works.

Published in 1727 the first volume (printed by J. Tonson and J. Watts) contains an assortment of fables which were dedicated to Prince William Augustus (later Duke of Cumberland), third son of King George II. Written in verse with rhyming couplets and purportedly drawing inspiration from classical works, the moralizing tales were originally composed to educate and amuse the six year old prince. Each was preceded by detailed copper engravings created by William Kent, John Wootton, and Hubert-François Gravelot (aka Hubert-François Bourguignon), to capture the spirit of the allegories. The titles of the works are somewhat curious and, much like the collection to which the copies belong, present an intriguing assortment of topics. Fable II, for example, is entitled “The Spaniel and the Cameleon” [sic] which warns against flattery and falsehood in order to win favour. The consequences in this instance were severe, as a companionable spaniel is cautioned by a passing stranger. Jove, seeking to teach a sycophantic courtly gentleman a lesson, one day turns him into a chameleon – a changeable figure indeed.

Image Spaniel
When near him a Cameleon seen,
Was scarce distinguish’d from the green…”

A particular favourite in the library is “The Elephant and the Bookseller” (Fable X). An elephant is to be found browsing in a bookshop, taking books from the shelves and reading the many and varied works that are available – from Greek literature to Natural History. However, the wise and knowing elephant dismisses the written works of man as inaccurate.

Image 4
“A book his curious eye detains,
Where with exactest care and pains,
Were ev’ry beast and bird portray’d,
That e’er the search of man survey’d.
Their natures and their powers writ
With all the pride of human wit;
The page he with attention spread,
And thus remark’d on what he read
Man with strong reason is endow’d;
A beast scarce instinct is allow’d:
But let this author’s worth be try’d,
‘Tis plain that neither was his guide.”

Meanwhile the elephant is overheard in his musings by the Bookseller, who with excitement piqued by the polymath pachyderm, bows to the elephant and implores him to “take up his pen” and share his wisdom. This however is met with disdain:

“When wrinkling with a sneer his trunk,
Friend, quoth the Elephant, you’re drunk”

And so the Elephant seemingly trundled off.

The fables proved popular and would go through numerous reprints over the years, entertaining both young and old. The works are still being produced and adapted today for contemporary audiences, with editions now available in e-formats. What Gay’s impressions of this would have been can only be imagined. Fifty years after the first publication, the accompanying images were redesigned by the engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewicke, who was known for his History of British Birds (1797) and the many illustrations for Aesop’s Fables that he produced during his lifetime. In 1823 James Plumtre produced a revision (K65.1 G25 F), prefaced with somewhat mixed praise:

“The Fables of Gay have ever been esteemed for their easy flow of versification for their wit and humour and for containing a considerable portion of moral and worldly instruction. They are not, however, without a very considerable portion of alloy” (Plumtre, 1823, iii).

Gay is best remembered for his poetical, dramatic and observational works, which include the Shepherd’s Week (1714), the Beggar’s Opera (1728) and the Wife of Bath: a comedy (1730) – each of which are held in the Sion collection alongside a plethora of Gay’s other works. But with the royal dedication of his fables Gay had hoped to secure himself a prestigious (and indeed lucrative) position at court. However, when royal notice fell upon him he was offered the role of Gentleman-usher to the Princess Louisa (Prince William’s younger sister). This he refused – the role it would seem, was not quite what he had in mind. Although, perhaps he had thought twice for fear of taking a reptilian turn?

Gay died in December 1732 and is now buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey, just across the river from Lambeth Palace Library. A second volume of his fables was published posthumously by J. and P. Knapton and T. Cox in 1738, produced from manuscripts left behind by Gay. The tone of the work is slightly darker than those in the first edition, but equally varied in scope – from the Degenerate Bees to the Ant in Office. Inside can be found an image of Gay’s monument and a short dedication to him as “a man of sincere heart”:

Image 5

Wholly Yellow Pages, Librarian!

Everyone has probably seen book pages discoloured by time, pollution and exposure to light.  The pages turn yellow and brittle, especially at the edges. If they are ‘dog eared’ with corners folded over, these will often break away. This is often accompanied by that delicious old book smell, which is unfortunately a sign of deterioration products in the paper.

Discoloured pages.
Discoloured pages in ARC A57.9 IR2.
A62.6 W84
More discoloured pages in ARC A62.6 W84.

However, this discolouration, which is often more brown than yellow, is very different to the colour found in ‘Preparation to the Crosse’, a collection of three volumes printed in 1540, 1544, and 1545. The pages of this book are dyed a bright yellow. It is unclear what was used to dye the pages but orpiment and lead tin yellow were in use at the time of printing. Both orpiment and lead tin yellow are light sensitive, but this doesn’t seem to have affected the vibrancy of the colour as the pages are protected by being bound into a book.  Whichever pigment was used, it is water sensitive as can be seen in areas of water staining where the colour has readily moved. The original colour of the paper underneath can bee seen in these areas.

Bright yellow pages of ARC A62.12 ER1C.
Bright yellow pages of ARC A62.12 ER1C.

It is likely that the pages were coloured by the first owner, rather than the printer. The owner may have purchased the pages in sheets, had them coloured and then bound together. Looking down into the fold of the section the yellow colour can be seen to fully colour each folio, see image below. This points to the colouring happening before it was sewn or bound. The sewing appears to be original and of a natural fibre, probably linen, and stands out starkly against the bright yellow. The sewing stations match the raised bands on the spine and the book does not appear to have been resewn despite being rebound. The current binding, a nondescript pale sheep, was likely done in the early 19th century.  It was not uncommon for rebindings to retain the original sewing at this time. When the original sewing supports broke and the boards became loose a new binding was simply created to replace the old.

A62.12 ER1C thread (4)
Centre of section showing sewing thread and fully dyed page.

In addition to what was used to colour the pages, it is also unclear why the pages were dyed. There are references at the time to yellow being the colour of Judas and therefore an unfavourable. Conversely, there are references to yellow being a colour of valour and bravery. Unfortunately, neither of these meanings sheds light on why this book was coloured yellow. However, colour has long been used to organize libraries. For example, the fore-edge may have been coloured a variety of shades to distinguish subject headings while books were still shelved fore-edge out. Our books edges are coloured red, likely trimmed and coloured at the time of the 19th century rebinding. Later books shelved in the modern spine-out fashion used a similar system by utilizing various colours of leather. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain the very yellow pages on the inside of the book either. If you have any other thoughts or can shed light on this mystery, we would love to hear about them in the comments!

Historic paper repairs – with a pin!

Before the arrival of Asian papers in the late 1970s, Western paper was used to repair losses and tears in books.  Ideally, the paper would be the same type, age, weight, and colour of the original damaged paper.  Laid paper would be used to repair damaged laid paper and wove paper would be used on damaged wove paper.  Chain and laid lines would be matched to those of the original.  Patches would be cut out of the repair material with the edges overlapping by 1-2 mm on all edges.  Next, the overlapping edge of the patch would be bevelled.  Finally, both the repair and the original would be pasted around the gap and pressed until dry.[1]

Western paper repairs along fore edge. Sion ARC B53.5 ES8
Western paper repairs along fore edge. Sion ARC B53.5 ES8

However this was not always the case.  Occasionally, what was to hand was used to affect an immediate repair.  In the example below a pin was been used to prevent the torn portion from becoming lost.  The pin appears to be from the 18th century so this was a very effective and long-lasting repair.

Metal pin holding torn leaf in place. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2. Before, recto and verso.

Before, verso. Metal pin holding torn leaf in place. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2.
Metal pin holding torn leaf in place. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2. Before, recto and verso.

It was decided that the pin should be removed and the tear mended.  The pin could pose a hazard, damage could occur from repeated removal and reattachment, and the holes would enlarge over time lessening the integrity of this repair.  After the pin was removed the edges of the tear and the text were matched.  Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste were used to hold the pieces together from the reverse.  The text is now legible and the repair is discernible, but unobtrusive.

Torn leaf after repair. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2. Recto and verso.

After, verso. Torn leaf after repair. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2.
Torn leaf after repair. Sion ARC A54.0 SW2. Recto and verso.

[1] Robert Lepeltier, The Restorer’s Handbook of Drawings and Prints, 1977