Page images
PDF
EPUB

frolic. He can transform himself into different shapes, and adapt himself to every company; yet, in a coffee-house, or in the ordinary course of affairs, appears rather dull than sprightly. You can seldom get him to the tavern; but when once he is arrived to his pint, and begins to look about, and like his company, you admire a thousand things in him which before lay buried. Then you discover the brightness of his mind and the strength of his judgment, accompanied with the most graceful mirth.”*

It is scarcely necessary that I should notice Addison or Steele as members of the Kit-Cat Club, except as they hover round the Shadow of Jacob Tonson. The bookseller, it would appear from Pope's representations, had no great affection for the famous essayist :“Old Jacob Tonson did not like Mr. Addison. He had a quarrel with him, and, after his quitting the secretaryship, used frequently to say of him: 'One day or other you'll see that man a bishop! I'm sure he looks that way; and indeed I ever thought him a priest in his heart.'” In Spence's 'Anecdotes' Tonson is made to say: “ Addison was so eager to be the first name, that he and his friend Sir Richard Steele used to run down even Dryden's character as far as they could. Pope and Congreve used to support it.” Tonson, indeed, appears to have been chivalrously faithful to his first great friend. There is a curious letter addressed to him by Dennis the critic, in 1715, which thus begins :“When I had the good fortune to meet you in the City, it was with concern that I heard from you of the attempt to lessen the reputa

* Quoted in Mr. Carruthers'. Pope,' vol. ii. p. 445.

[ocr errors]

tion of Mr. Dryden; and 'tis with indignation that I have since learnt that that attempt has chiefly been carried on by small poets.” Pope is here the jealous rival who is pointed at. One more anecdote which Spence gives, on the authority of Dr. Leigh:—“Mr. Addison was not a good-natured man, and very jealous of rivals. Being one evening in company with Philips, and the poeins of Blenheim and the Campaign being talked of, he made it his whole business to run down blank-verse. Philips never spoke till between eleven and twelve o'clock, nor even then could do it in his own defence. It was at Jacob Tonson's; and a gentleman in company ended the dispute, by asking Jacob what poem he ever got the most by ? Jacob immediately named Milton's · Paradise Lost.'

The statesmen of the Kit-Cat Club—" the patriots that saved Britain”_thus lived in social union with the Whig writers who were devoted to the chiefs of the party that opened their road to preferment. This band of orators and wits were naturally hateful to the Tory authors that Harley and Bolingbroke were nursing into the bitter satirists of the weekly sheets. Jacob Tonson of course came in for a due share of invective. In a poem entitled 'Factions Displayed' he is ironically introduced as “the touchstone of all modern wit;" and he is made to vilify the great ones of Barn Elms :

“ I am the founder of your loved Kit.Cat,
A club that gave direction to the State ;
'Twas there we first instructed all our youth
To talk profane and laugh at sacred truth;
We taught them how to boast, and rhyme, and bite,
To sleep away the day, and drink away the night.”

Tonson may be deemed the prince of booksellers in his association with some of the most eminent men of his own time. But the mighty ones of the past had not less to do than the living in the establishment of his fortune and his fame. He identified himself with Milton by first making ‘Paradise Lost' popular. A few years after, when he moved from his old shop in Chancery Lane, he no longer traded under the sign of “The Judge's Head," but set up

Shakspere’s Head.” He was truly the first bookseller who threw open Shakspere to a reading public. The four folio editions had become scarce even in his time. The third folio was held to have been destroyed in the fire of London. In 1709 Tonson produced Rowe's edition in octavo. Bernard Lintot the elder, who about the same time republished Shakspere's Poems, expresses himself in his advertisement as if Tonson's speculation were an experiment not absolutely certain of success :—“The writings of Mr. Shakspere are in so great esteem that several gentlemen have subscribed to a late edition of his Dramatic Works in six volumes, which makes me hope that this little book will not be unacceptable to the public.” Tonson and his family were long associated with editions of Shakspere. Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Warburton, Johnson, and Capell, were liberally paid by the Tonsons for their editorial services—as liberally, perhaps, as the demand of a new reading public would allow.

CHAPTER IV.

THOMAS GENT, PRINTER, OF YORK,

[ocr errors]

OUTHEY, in his most amusing volume of The Doctor,' writes in Chapter CXIV., “If I were given to prolixity and allowed

myself to be led away, I might here be tempted to relate certain particulars concerning Thomas Gent.” In the previous chapter Southey says, “ His autobiography is as characteristic as John Dunton's, and, like it, contains much information relating to the state of the press in his days, and the trade of literature.” Of some of these matters the author of "The Doctor' gives a very brief notice, and, as stated in his heading of Chapter CXIV., only “hints at certain circumstances in the life of Thomas Gent, on which he does not think it necessary to dwell.” The autobiography from which these “ tain circumstances" are derived was published in 1832 by Mr. Thomas Thorpe, which celebrated bookseller met with the MS. in a collection of books that he had purchased in Ireland. Without being “given to prolixity," I may take this memoir of Thomas Gent, written in his own hand in 1746, as the groundwork of a chapter essentially connected with “ the subject before me.”

Thomas Gent, though of English extraction, was

cer

born of humble parents in Dublin. He was apprenticed to a printer of that city, who used him so brutally that, having served three years of his time, he ran away, in August, 1710, with seventeen pence in his pocket. Having got into the hold of a vessel bound for England, he met with kind usage from the captain, and was landed at Park-gate. Setting forward towards Chester, he tried there to obtain employment;. “ but then no printing-press, as I could hear of, was set up in those parts.” He reached St. Albans with twopence in his pocket, but there found a good landlord, who, observing him very lame and tired, gave him food and lodging. There is now a break in the narrative; but when it is resumed we find him in the employ of Mr. Midwinter, a London printer, who carried on his trade at Pie Corner. His labour in this servitude, where he remained until he was about twenty years old, appears to have been severe and incessant, “working many times from five in the morning till twelve at night, and frequently without food from breakfast time till five or six in the evening, through our hurry with hawkers.

Let me diverge a little from my pursuit of the shadow of Thomas Gent, to glance at that large portion of the printing and bookselling business of London which was chiefly carried on by hawkers. This business was in full activity when Gent arrived in London in 1710. It soon received a heavy blow, whose consequences were thus anticipated by Swift in his Journal to Stella,' January 31, 1711 : “They are here intending to tax all little printed penny papers, a halfpenny every half-sheet, 'which will

« PreviousContinue »