A belated Wycliffite testament

This mid-nineteenth-century edition of the Wycliffite New Testament, published by William Pickering, who also produced around the same time a run of luxury vellum facsimiles of early editions of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a compelling example of how memorialising religious change often carries a kind of nostalgic anachronism. Its typographic features imitate those of an early printed book, producing a peculiar artefact: a book published in 1848 which presents a simulacrum of an early-sixteenth-century edition of a late-fourteenth-century text. It retrospectively recognises the Wycliffite scriptures as the origin of Reformation, while supplying as an imaginative fiction something that history lacks: an early printed English Testament to serve as the origin-point of vernacular scripture. The title page, with its rubricated gothic typeface and modern spelling, its claim to priority (‘now first printed’), and its imitation of the printer’s device of early Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, along with the main text’s beautiful blackletter font and Middle English prose, combine to offer a belated simulacrum of a book-historical event that never occurred.

The New testament in English translated by John Wycliffe circa MCCCLXXX: now first printed from a contemporary manuscript […] (London: William Pickering, 1848).

CUL: BSS.201.E48

By kind permission of Bible Society

Further Reading

This edition is based on a manuscript which was a gift from a lady Danvers to the monks at Syon, and is now housed in the Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, MS 81, which has been digitised: http://archives.li.man.ac.uk/ead/search/?operation=full&recid=gb133abw-gb133engms81.

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