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T is the second week of September, the year 1666. At his shop-door in Holborn, beneath the time-honoured emblem of
his profession, the particoloured pole, stands Mr. Jacob Tonson, barber-surgeon. He looks earnestly and sorrowfully at the dense canopy of smoke that hangs over the east. The fire that bad destroyed more than half of London is still smouldering. Fragments of burning paper still fall upon the causeway, as the remains of the books that were stowed in St. Faith's, under Paul's, are stirred by the wind. Mr. Tonson is troubled. He has friends amongst the booksellers in the ruined City; and occasional customers who have come thence to be trimmed, with beards of a se'nnight's growth, tell him that these traders are most of them undone.
A month has passed since the fire broke out. The wealthy are finding house-room in Westminster and Southwark, and in streets of the City which the flames have not reached. The poor are still, many of them, abiding in huts and tents in Moorfields and St. George's Fields, and on the hills leading to Highgate. Some of the great thoroughfares may now be traversed. Mr. Tonson will venture forth to see the
condition of his Company's Hall. With his second son, Jacob, holding his hand, he makes his way to Mugwell Street. Barber Surgeons' Hall has sustained some injury; but the Theatre, built by Inigo Jones, which is the pride of the Company, has not been damaged. He shows his son Holbein's great picture of the Company receiving their charter from Henry VIII., and expatiates upon the honour of belonging to such a profession. Young Jacob does not seem much impressed by the paternal enthusiasm. The blood-letting and tooth-drawing are not more attractive to him than the shaving, which latter operation his father deputes to his apprentices. They make their way through narrow lanes across Aldersgate Street, and so into Little Britain. Mr. Tonson enters a large book-shop, and salutes the bookseller with great respect. By common repute, Mr. Scot is the largest librarian in Europe. Young Jacob listens attentively to all that passes. His father brings out William London's ‘Catalogue of the most vendible Books in England,'* and inquires for “The Anatomical Exercises of Dr. W. Harvey, Physician to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, concerning the Motion of the Heart and Blood.' Mr. Scot is somewhat at leisure, and says that he has heard more dis
* I am indebted to Dr. John Edward Gray, of the British Museum, for the loan of this curious and rare volume, published in 1658. Dibdin says, in a note to his edition of More's Utopia,' that in the Introduction to this catalogue, “Almost every popular English writer, up to the period when it was composed, is quoted or referred to. Such an excellent treatise has never since accompanied any bookseller's catalogue.”
putes about Dr. Harvey's opinions of the circulation of the blood, than upon any subject not theological. Mr. Tonson buys for his son, who has a taste for verse, a little volume of Mr. Milton's Poems, with a Mask before the Earl of Bridgwater.' Mr. Scot informs him that Mr. Milton, who had gone to Buckinghamshire upon the breaking out of the plague, has returned to his house in Bunhill Fields, and, as he hears, is engaged upon a heroic poem. He intimates that he knew in 1660 where Mr. Milton was in hiding, pretty nigh his shọp. The sum which Mr. Tonson has to pay for the two books rather exceeds his expectation; but Mr. Scot gives it not only as his own opinion, but that of a very shrewd customer of his, Mr. Pepys, that, in consequence of so many books being burned, there will be a great want of books. Mr. Scot is firmly impressed with the truth of an old adage, that what is one man's loss is another man’s gain, and has no scruple about raising the prices of his large stock. “A good time is coming, sir, for printers and booksellers,” says Mr. Scot. “Ah, Jacob,” exclaims Mr. Tonson, “if I hadn't a noble profession for you to follow, I should like to see you a bookseller.”
Two years have elapsed. The good chirurgeon has fallen sick; and not even his conversion to Dr. Harvey's opinions “concerning the motion of the heart and blood” can save him. Young Jacob had employed most of his holiday hours in reading plays and poems, and he had a decided aversion to the business carried on “under the pole.” His father had left his brother Richard, himself, and his three sisters, one hundred pounds each, to be paid them upon their coming of age. The two brothers resolved for printing and bookselling. Jacob was apprenticed, on the 5th of June, 1670, to Thomas Basset, bookseller; he was then of the age of fourteen. I scarcely need trace the shadow of the boy growing up into a young man, and learning, what a practical experience only can give, to form a due estimate of the trade-value of books, and the commercial reputation of authors. After seven years he was admitted to his freedom in the Stationers' Company, and immediately afterwards commenced business with his capital of a hundred pounds. The elder brother had embarked in the same calling a year before. Thus, at the beginning of 1678, he entered “ the realms of print”—a region not then divided into so many provinces as now. Under “The Judge's Head,” which he set up as his sign in Chancery Lane, close to the corner of Fleet Street, he might have an open window, and exhibit, upon a capacious board, old law books and new plays, equally vendible in that vicinity of the inns of court. But he had a higher ambition" than to be a mere vender of books. He would purchase and print original writings, and he would aim at securing the most eminent hands.” He published before 1679 some of the plays of Otway and Tate. But he aimed at more illustrious game. I see him as he sits in his back shop, pondering over such reputations. Mr. Otway's 'Friendship in Fashion' is somewhat too gross, and his Caius Marius' has been stolen, in great part, from Shakspere. As for Mr. Tate, he
may be fit to mangle 'King Lear, but he has no genius. Could he get hold of Mr. Dryden! He, indeed, were worth having. Mr. Herringman has been Mr. Dryden's publisher, but the young aspirant hears of some disagreement. He will step over to the great writer's house near St. Bride's Church, and make a bidding for his next play. “Troilus and Cressida; or, Truth found too late,' was published by Tonson and Swalle, in 1679. The venture of twenty pounds for the copy is held to have been too large for our Jacob to have encountered singly.
Let me endeavour to realize the shadow of the figure and deportment of the young bookseller. He is in his twenty-third year, short and stout. Twenty years later, Pope calls him “little Jacob.” It was not till after his death that he became immortalized in the Dunciad' as “left-legg'd Jacob.” In one previous edition, Lintot, “with steps unequal;" in another, “ with legs expanded," "seemed to emulate great Jacob's pace." The "two left legs," as well as “leering looks,” “bull face," and "Judas-coloured hair,” are attributed to Dryden's pen in a satirical description of 'Bibliopolo,' a fragment of which is inserted in a virulent Tory poem, published at the time when Tonson was Secretary of the Kit-Cat Club, composed of the Whigs most distinguished as statesmen and writers. In a dialogue between Tonson and Congreve, published in 1714, in a small volume of poems by Rowe, there is a pleasant description of Tonson before he had grand associates