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Toronto, Apr 23, (Canadian-Media): The oldest English-language book in Canada, a 15th century text that introduced ancient ideas to new audiences is now owned by The University of Toronto, media reports said.
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Image credit: Facebook page
The book, reportedly was published in 1481 by William Caxton, the first person to print English language books, is an English translation of essays by Roman politician Marcus Tullius Cicero, "De amicitia" (Of Friendship) and "De senectute" (Of Old Age).
The printed text, now part of the collection at the university's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, reportedly carries the first translation of classical texts to English, said PJ Carefoote, the university's interim head of rare books and special collections.
"A book like this is part of that whole transition that's going to bring western society out of the Middle Ages into what we now call the modern era, with the Renaissance and the Reformation," said Carefoote.
"It's an important text from the point of view of what it does for reviving learning in the west, that people now have access to something like Cicero ... in their own tongue."
The book printed by Caxton discusses the ideas of old age and friendship and links the two concepts.
Printed English books from that period, said Carefoot were hard to come by because of their significance to the history of the language.
PJ Carefoote. Image credit: Facebook page
Caxton's books, Carefoote explained, translated established languages like Greek and Latin and were produced in large numbers to help standardize English at a time when it was a new language with varying dialects, .
"When Caxton, this printer, comes along and starts translating works ... multiple copies of an English language (book) -- and he chooses specifically the London dialect -- are being spread across England," he said.
"English starts to become English, it starts to unify."
Carefoote was reportedly contacted by a book dealer last year about the Caxton text and donations from the public helped the university acquire the book.
The way the book is written means it may not be easy for a first-time reader to immediately understand, said Carefoote.
"It's kind of like reading Shakespeare for the first time -- it takes a little bit of time," said Carefoote, who added that the font can also be difficult to understand at first.
"People look at it and say 'oh, I'm not going to be able to read that,' and I say just look at it for five minutes, and they all say that after you get used to the form, you read it like anything else."
Having the book at the University of Toronto would be a great resource to students in the book history and print culture program to learn about the origins of technology and culture.
Several other departments were also reportedly interested in the text.
The book also marks the Fisher library's 15 millionth book, which Carefoote said was just a happy coincidence.