Cranmer’s Prologue to the Great Bible

For the whole cornucopia of reasons that you can readily enough recite — academic, Anglican, biblical scholar, theoretician, typographer, preacher, reader of Henrician/Elizabethan literature, partisan of the non-verbal elements of communication — I have long been fascinated with Thomas Cranmer’s writings on biblical interpretation. One favourite of mine, his Prologue to the Great Bible, has brought me back, time and again. I wanted to be able to show students what the early printed versions of the preface looked like. Many people casually assume that “typeset, printed works” equals “uniformity of content”, but reading the Prologue in its various editions reminds you that the print revolution was accompanied by a long interval of textual fluidity. Even within the same edition, words are spelled differently, punctuation marks are inserted almost randomly, and sentences meander for indefinite durations.
It’s great!
So this weekend, partly for students and partly for myself, I finally whipped up a version of the Prologue that I can use for classes or for reference. The project was made much easier — nay, possible — by Jeff Lee’s having designed and offered to the public the typefaces JSL Blackletter (which I used for the Prologue itself) and JSL Ancient (which I used for the regularised English version). I then set the blackletter and regularised versions on opposite pages, and made a PDF of the result. This version doesn’t correspond precisely to any one edition of the Prologue; there are scans of the Prologue to do that work. Instead, it compiles an eclectic text according to the conventions of abbreviation and expansion, typography and spelling, that the Prologue itself displays in its various editions. Unless I’ve made a mistake, nothing in this does not appear in one or another edition of the Prologue, so it might as well be the result of a sixteenth-century printer preparing an A5 edition for digital distribution (and if I have made a mistake, well, I’ll go back and correct it forthwith).
Now, back to work that’s more obviously productive for my day job.