Incunable, or sometimes incunabulum (plural incunables or incunabula, respectively) is a book, pamphlet, or broadside, that was printed — not handwritten — before the year 1501 in Europe. "Incunable" is the anglicised singular form of "incunabula", Latin for "swaddling clothes" or "cradle" which can refer to "the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything." ...

There are two types of incunabula in printing: the Block book printed from a single carved or sculpted wooden block for each page, by the same process as the woodcut in art (these may be called xylographic), and the typographic book, made with individual pieces of cast metal movable type on a printing press, in the technology made famous by Johann Gutenberg.
The Center for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care has recently digitized 57 of these early texts, including an edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'arthur. You can read this, with a little effort, even though it is in middle English and in a "typeface" that is quite unfamiliar.

Take a look at the column on the top right. It may take a moment to make out what it says: but after you start to read it, you'll find that you can do so with relative ease. By the time you get to "a grymme hooste of an hondred thousande men" you should be able to make out large sections. In Middle English, if you find that you hit a word you don't recognize, sound it out. Very often you'll recognize the word -- or a cognate with a modern English word that will let you grasp the meaning -- once you hear it out loud. If you're accustomed to reading Shakespeare, you'll already know some of the archaic language; and once you can do this, you can read Chaucer and many surviving poets in the original.

If you don't want to squint at the typeface, you can find the same text on page 845 of this electronic edition.

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