Page images

The general interest in “The Old Booksellers” must be derived from that connexion with men of letters, which was principally but not exclusively confined to London. In this relation they furnish many examples of ability, courage, perseverance, and, I may add, honesty, in their calling, which ought to neutralise the desire which still clings to some clever writers to represent them as born to realise the converse of Pharaoh's dream, that the fat kine should devour the lean kine. If authors and publishers understood their mutual interests there would be little distinction between the lean kine and the fat, and they would equally flourish on the same pastures. There was formerly only one mode in which a writer could go to the public without the intervention of what has been called “the false medium.” He might send out proposals for subscription, and receive the full price for each copy. Pope made a fortune by his Subscription books; but Johnson saw that the time for that mode of seeking the just rewards of authorship was passing away. “He that asks subscription soon finds that he has enemies. All who do not encourage him defame him.” The system came in time to be regarded as undignified; and then the author left the trading part of the operation to the Publisher. Though the rewards of literary labour might be less, it was deemed better to take the broad road, which

saved a writer from humiliation and commercial liability.

When the system was established under which “a man goes to a bookseller and gets what he can,” it seems to have worked satisfactorily to both authors and publishers till the partnership became embittered by mutual jealousies. The tradesman began to fancy that he advanced all the capital, and had all the risk. The man of letters, seeing that his expenditure of skilled labour was also as real an advance as the cost of paper and printing, demurred to the principle of the material advance having a larger and a prior remuneration than the intellectual. Thus it was, I presume, that Campbell lauded the first Napoleon because he had shot a bookseller; and that Coleridge, in his 'Devil's Thoughts,' wrote

“ He went into a rich bookseller's shop

Quoth he,“ We are both of one college,
For I myself sate, like a cormorant, once,

Fast by the tree of knowledge.'”.

The time is held to have arrived when authorship is a more gainful calling than of yore; and it may therefore be concluded that “the false medium" has become a juster standard of relative value.

Although the leading purpose of my little work is to show Booksellers in their capacity of Publishers, it is impossible to limit these Shadows of a past time to a class whose especial business was to obtain an interest in copyrights, to employ printers, and to sell the books wholesale to which their names were affixed on title-pages. There was no such class among the Old Booksellers. Many had printing-offices; they all kept shops ; some dealt not only in printed books but in stationery: bookbinders were not unfrequent amongst them; and up to very recent times they were the chief proprietors of newspapers. The area I have to survey is therefore a large one; but it is not necessary that it should all be mapped out, or that I should fill the background with a great many figures. One principal Shadow will succeed another; and round each of these, as a representative man of a particular era, I

may group many minor Shadows, in some general relation to the times in which the leaders and the rank-and-file marched on in their common battle against ignorance.

My attempt to call up Shadows that might represent something of the substance of literary progress, is far less complete than it might have been could I have included in one volume other names that naturally presented themselves. My plan for this volume has not included the publishers of books exclusively connected with the learned professions. Others, although they have distinct relations with books and bookselling, would more fitly form the principal subjects of a separate series. For example:: Amongst the Printers, BoWYER, NICHOLS, BASKERVILLE, BULMER, FOULIS, would claim a prominent place, not forgetting WALPOLE and his Strawberryhill Press. BEWICK, the reviver of wood-engraving, would open a new era of book illustration. BOYDELL would take the lead of the Printsellers. Of Book Auctioneers, Cock, CHRISTIE, PATERSON, LEIGH, EVANS, would suggest some curious details of Bibliomania. WOODFALL, ALMON, PERRY, WALTER, STUART, as London Journalists, would be surrounded by the most marked party men and political writers. Provincial Journalists, such as GEORGE FAULKNER, RAIKES, MONTGOMERY, BAINES, would demand more than a cursory notice. CONSTABLE and MURRAY, as representatives of the higher criticism of the early years of the nineteenth century, might fitly close these sketches.

I have endeavoured to make the present volume tolerably complete as regards Old Booksellers connected with general literature. Yet I am aware that some names might have here claimed a place, as belonging as much to the end of the eighteenth century as to the beginning of the nineteenth. Commencing with those who flourished in the days when books were a luxury for the few, I have brought this Series down to the times when a literary revo

[ocr errors]


lution was impending, in the necessity for providing reading for a larger number. Another decade or two thus largely added to the file of the booksellers. “ The trade” became an important branch of home manufacture. Some of the founders of great modern houses, such as the LONGMANS, the RIVINGTONS, and the BALDWINS, have been briefly indicated. A fuller notice would appear due to the place they and their successors have filled in the commercial history of our literature. I have naturally made those Shadows more prominent that have well-defined personal attributes. Perhaps I may be accused of having inclined too much towards those who were writers as well as booksellers. Yet I cannot believe that a taste for literature and a capacity for authorship should necessarily have been incompatible with carrying on a trade in books, with all the sagacity required for success in any commercial operation involving some risk. There was an axiom amongst some of the old vendors of literary wares, that a bookseller should know nothing of books beyond their title pages. Osborne, whom Johnson knocked down with a folio, saying “ lie there thou lump of lead,” was one of the tribe of whom ignorance was the badge. Elmsley, honoured by Gibbon as one of the most instructive of friends and companions, was the type of many a one presented

« PreviousContinue »