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PROPOSE in this little work to attempt. some delineations of a series of personages whose doings may, upon a hasty
view, appear to have too much of a com
mercial character to be generally interesting. At any rate they may seem more fitted for the valuable but somewhat dry details of bibliography, than to be included under a title which may indicate something as much akin to fiction as to fact. In 1851 and 1852 I wrote for Mr. Dickens's 'Household Words' a series of sketches under the title of Shadows;' by which title I sought to indicate their half ideal, half real, character. Those Shadows' had for the most part the interest which belongs to romance as well as to history. The subjects of the present outlines, with a few exceptions, are little fitted for imaginative pictures of startling adventures, or of curious details of domestic. life. But they have another sort of interest. They flit before me, ever accompanied with shadows of many of the immortals of literature. They are obscure and ill-defined until the period of the Restoration; but
when a reading public is beginning to be formed, they become something more than names upon titlepages. As they walk the earth, from the middle of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth, I see a band who, during five generations, have been carrying forward the great work of national enlightenment, sometimes, indeed, in a narrow and mercenary spirit, but not unfrequently in a spirit far above that of mere money-getting. I am not about to write their biographies. They will "come like shadows, so depart;" but as they pass over the stage, they will tell something like a connected story of literary progress, in its commercial relations, up to a time when my own experience, imperfect as it was, enabled me to catch some glimpses of its modern aspects.
In the Typographical Antiquities' of Ames and Herbert are recorded the names of three hundred and fifty printers in England and Scotland, including foreign printers engaged in producing books for England, who flourished from the time of Caxton's press to very nearly the beginning of the reign of James I.; that is, from 1474 to 1600. In the term "printers" are included "booksellers." There was scarcely any division of these, and of other cognate branches of the book-trade, until very modern times. The dealers in old books, the publishers of new books, the book-printers, the printers of journals, and even
the book-auctioneers and printsellers, held a common place in the registers of that ancient company which had existence before the introduction of printing, that of the "Stationers or Text-writers, who wrote and sold all sorts of books then in use." The division of employment amongst all those connected with "paper and print," as capitalists, was of very slow growth, as it was also amongst the labourers. The earliest printers had to do everything for themselves; to construct the materials of their art,-types, presses, and every other instrument and appliance. The art of printing, in its rude beginnings, exhibits the slowness with which the production of books had become less rude. In the same way some of the facts I shall have to record show how the commerce of books gradually assumed less of a retail and even peddling character. In a former work I said, "the most difficult labour of the ancient printer, and that which would necessarily constitute the great distinction between one printer and another, had yet to come. He had to sell his books when he had manufactured them; for there was no division of the labour of publisher and printer in those days." The present volume will show how long that union prevailed. The separation of the employments, perhaps, diminished the risk of publishing; for the printer-publisher might often be tempted into rash
adventures for the purpose of employing his presses. On the other hand, the bookseller-proper loses the manufacturer's profit, and must put a corresponding price upon his commodity. Each system has its risks and its advantages. But the risks of the publishing branch of a large commerce will probably grow less and less with its natural extension. The production of dear books for the few is nearly obsolete; and the results will follow the unvarying process of an earlier period. "For some years after the invention of printing, many of the ingenious, learned, and enterprising men who devoted themselves to the new art which was to change the face of society, were ruined, because they could not sell cheaply unless they printed a considerable number of a book; and there were not readers enough to take off the stock which they thus accumulated. In time, however, as the facilities for acquiring knowledge which printing afforded created many readers, the trade of printing books became one of less general risk; and dealers in literature could afford more and more to dispense with individual patronage, and rely upon the public demand." The transition period is most fruitful in mistaken calculations as to the power of meeting a large cost for original literature, by the sale of cheap books for the many.
*William Caxton: a Biography.'
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