SHADOWS OF THE OLD BOOKSELLERS.*
A BOOK has been written on the fertile subject of what men have said of women. There is room for a companion volume, to be called, " What Authors have said of Publishers." Horace's slight mention of the Sosii is about our earliest instance, and though Horace's allusion to them is generally taken as a panegyric, we are not certain that it implies more friendly relations between men of letters and men of books in Rome than those which have generally existed. We do not know, Macaulay tells us, what Bavius and Mmvms wrote about Marcenas. We do not know that Virgil was well treated by his publisher ; that Juvenal did not include his in a satire ; that Lucilius did not give his a kick with the foot which his habits of composition left him at liberty to employ. But we might perhaps infer it from what we know of modern authors. Dryden trembled at the thought of Tonson's spoken incivilities, and vented himself in written incivilities which produced even more effect. Pops satirized some of his publishers and defamed others. Johnson knocked one down with a folio. In more recent times Campbell, when called upon for a toast at a literary dinner, gave the health of Napoleon because he had shot
• Shadow of the Old BooAsellers. By Charles Knight. Loudon: Bell and Daddy. 16C5.
a bookseller. One of the wittiest stanzas in Coleridge's Devil's Walk is that in which the devil claims kin with a p❑hlialier
For I myself sat like a cormorant once
Upon the tree of knowledge."
But we will not multiply instances. These were suggested by the book before ua, in which Mr. Charles Knight, after having served the public both as author and publisher, revives many plea- sant associations of both branches, and gives both branches the benefit of his experience, after having done all he could to promote a good understanding between them by his example.
Years have passed since Mr. Knight published the youthful works of Praed and Macaulay, and he can now speak with all the authority of those years when he tells authors and publishers that if they understood their mutual interests there would be little distinction between them ; lean kine and fat kine would both flourish on the same pastures. Unfortunately there is little chance of this hope being realised. Both authors and publishers understand their own interests too well to think of each others' interests. There are of coarse some cases in which both have worked in concert, just as there are cases when the publisher has been of the greatest assistance to the author. Millar, whom Johnson respected because he raised the price of literature ; Dodsley, who suggested the English dictionary to the "great lexicographer ;" Ebusley, whom Gibbon honoured as a friend and companion, may be taken as fair types of the ideal publisher. But how many such occur in the list of old booksellers, and how many more have succeeded them since publishing has risen to its present rank? The price of literature has risen very much since Millar gave Fielding 2001. for a novel. The whole system has changed since Jacob Towson wrote to Pope, "I remember I have formerly seen you in my shop, and am sorry I did not improve my acquaintance with you. If you design your poem for the press, no one shall be more careful in printing it, nor no one can give greater encouragement to it than, Sir, &c." All the relations between authors and publishers are different from those in force when few literary bargains were settled without a dinner, and business was discussed in coffee-houses with the prospect of a " whet." But these changes in the external aspect of things have not been accompanied by a growth of confidence and friendship. Clipped money has been superseded by protested bills. We believe nothing was ever said by an author of any old bookseller as severe as what was said of a modern publisher by a novelist of distinction. And it was a modern author who made the parable of the Good Samaritan run, " A certain man went down to Pater- noster Row, and fell among thieves," and the 18th Chapter of St. John end with the words, "Now, Barabbas was a—publisher."
The worst of the shadows chosen by Mr. Knight for his dis- solving views is that of Curl, whose life and personal appear- ance are almost as nauseous as are the things written against hint by Swift and Pope. One of the pleasantest shadows is that of Richardson. Mr. Knight has of course a fellow feeling with the bookseller of Salisbury Square and author of Clarissa. An in- teresting fact connected with his works, and one of equal value in a bookselling as in a purely literary point of view, is that Pamela sprang from a request made to Richardson by two of his trade. " Two booksellers," he says, " my particular friends, entreated me to write for them a little volume of letters in a com- mon style, on such subjects as might be of use to those country readers who were unable to indite for themselves. ' Will it be any harm,' said I, ' in a piece you want to be written so low, if we should instruct them how they should think and act in common cases, as well as indite ?' They were the more urgent with me to begin the little volume for this hint. I set about it, and in the progress of it wrote two or three letters to instruct handsome girls, who were obliged to go out to service, as we phrase it, how to avoid the snares that might be laid against their virtue. And hence sprung Pamela." And hence, too, sprang Joseph Andrews. A request from some booksellers for a polite letter-writer produced two such novels. Mr. Knight alludes briefly to the feud between Richardson and Fielding, and enters a passing pro- test against Thackeray's contemptuous mention of the "puny Cockney bookseller, pouring out endless volumes of sentimental twaddle." It is certainly some extenuation of itichardson's pre- judices that he had been a kind and early friend to Fielding. He might have looked on Fielding's ridicule as deep ingratitude, while to Fielcling's broader, heartier nature, such ridicule was perfectly legitimate. But if on this occasion Richardson met with such treatment at the hands of a brother author, he might have been consoled by the compliment another author paid him in his double capacity. Young wrote to him, "Suppose in the title-page of the Night Thoughts you should say, published by the Author of Clarissa r" Judging from another anecdote in Mr. Knight's volume, Young was by no means a blind worshipper of publishers. He was once in correspondence with both Tonson and Lintott about the printing of one of his works, and answering both their letters the same morning, he misdirected them both in his hurry. When Lintott opened the one that was addressed to him, he read, " That Bernard Lintott is so great a scoundrel—."
So far we have been considering what authors have said of publishers. But there is another side to the account,—what pub- lishers have said of authors. What Millar said of Johnson when he received the last sheet of the dictionary was, " Thank God, I have done with him !" Griffiths, the hard taskmaster of Goldsmith, accused that author a idleness, threatened him with a gaol, and called him sharper and villain. Lintott's views on the subject of authors were clearly stated in his journey to Oxford with Pope. He thought Pope might translate the Odes of Horace in his leisure hours, but he was generally hard on translators, and shut the mouths of critics with a piece of beef and a slice of pudding. Translators, he said, were the saddest pack of rogues in the world ; they would take up a Greek book, and say it was Hebrew ; and would pretend to a knowledge of all the Patristic literature, when they could not tell in reality whether the Fathers lived before or after Christ. Naturally enough a book- seller's judgment of any book turned on its success or failure. In an account of the Chapter Coffeehouse and the booksellers who frequented it, quoted by Mr. Knight from the Connoisseur where George Colman began his literary career, we read that "the conversation turns upon the newest publications, but the criticisms are somewhat singular. When the booksellers say a good book, they do not mean to praise the style or sentiment, but the quick and extensive sale of it. A few nights ago I saw one of these gentlemen take up a sermon, and after seeming to peruse it for some time with great attention, he declared it was very good English. The reader will judge whether I was most surprised or diverted when I discovered that he was not commending the purity and elegance of the diction, but the beauty of the type which, it seems, is known among the printers by that apliellation." On these principles the booksellers would have been great admirers of Gibbon, the first volume of whose Decline and Fall passed through three editions in two years. Mr. Knight gives us the account presented to Gibbon by Messrs. Strahan and Cadell after the third edition. The expense of publication amounted to 3101., the sale of 1,000 copies to 8001., and of the 4901. of profit Gibbon received two-thirds, viz, 326/. 13s. 4d., and the publishers the remainder. Hume's History was not so fortunate, and did not answer the bookseller's test so well as Gibbon's History. There were only forty-five copies sold in the first twelvemonth. Mr. Knight takes occasion from this to aim a rather misplaced and not more deserved hit at the Student's Hume, which may be " the cruelest of devices for assailing the reputation of Hume," as it corrects his inaccuracy, but is perhaps none the leas useful to the student. The charms of Hume's style have never been disputed, but style is not the first thing in history. If Mr. Knight values it so highly he should have avoided one or two blemishes in his own work, especially the habit of always mentioning Johnson as "rolling,"—" a gigan- tic figure, with a huge face scarred by disease, rolled into his shop,"—" a burly man was rolling along the labyrinth of dirty streets and alleys that then separated Oxford Market from Pall Mall." One touch of this nature lights up a page, but the repe- tition of it has just the contrary effect.
We do not wish to part from Mr. Knight on bad terms, as we owe him too many obligations for past works as well as for this collection of shadows. His pages abound in anecdote and illus- tration, and fill up clearly and pleasantly an important chapter in the annals of English literature.