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ousted from Westminster Hall, but perhaps it was not
until 1834 that the last traces of their existence here
were swept away. ' The interior of Westminster Hall,'
says the Gentleman 's Magazine (September, 1834),
' which has so long remained in a dirty and mutilated
state, is to be cleaned and repaired.'

1 50 The Earlier History of English Bookselling .



JACOB TONSON is a clear and distinct figure in the
annals of English literature. There is, perhaps, no
name recorded in literary history of one who contri-
buted so little directly, and yet is so inseparably con-
nected with certain and important parts of that his-
tory, than the subject of the present chapter. Appear-
ing on the scene at a time whsn the fast develop-
ing business of publishing needed men with more
judgment and discretion than the then drunken and
ignorant printer, Tonson has, by sheer industry and
good common sense, left a name and fame far greater
and perhaps more honourable than any of his book-
selling contemporaries. Basil Kennett wrote in Sep-
tember, 1696, "Twill be as impossible to think of
Virgil without Mr. Dryden, as of either without Mr.
Tonson/ and that prognostication has to a great
extent been fulfilled. It is a common thing to refer
in disparaging terms to Tonson, who is described, in
particular, in Mr. Hamilton's ' Poets Laureate/ as ' of a
coarse and vulgar disposition, and treated authors
with but little courtsey ' (p. 98). This is but one
instance of a large number that could be quoted in

Jacob Tonson. 151

support of a proposition which is not only absurd, but
is absolutely a mis-statement of facts, as will be shewn
in the course of this biography. One of the com-
monest of ' literary anecdotes ' is concerning Dryden's
quarrel with Tonson, but there are no records to justify
such a term. That there were bickerings it is not
denied, but what of them ? Johnson (' Lives of the
Poets : ' Dryden) said, referring to the earlier part of
Tonson's career, 'the general conduct of traders was
much less liberal in those times than in our own ;
their views were narrower, and their manners grosser.
To the mercantile ruggedness of that race, the deli-
cacy \sic\ of the poet was sometimes exposed.' In
regard to the statement with reference to delicacy :
had Dryden possessed much of this most useful
element in a general way, it is passing strange that it
should only have manifested itself when transacting
business with Tonson. Delicacy was anything but a
characteristic failing among literary men of Dryden's
time. The relative charge of grossness may be cir-
cumstantially true, but as Jacob was in such constant
association with many of the highest men of the
period, he could not have been much more gross in
his manners than his ' betters.' Count Cavours were
indeed few then, while purity and extreme delicacy
were charges never preferred against the members of
the boisterous, devil-may-care Kit Cat Club. In spite
of their occasional bickerings, Dryden seems to have
had very considerable confidence in his bookseller,
with whom his rents are to be left, and through whom
messages are sent to his wife when the poet is absent.
Jacob Tonson was the son of a barber-surgeon of

152 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

that name who resided and carried on business in
Holborn, and who died in 1668. Jacob was born
probably in the year 1656, being fourteen years of age
when he was apprenticed, on June 5, 1670, to
Thomas Bassett, 1 a bookseller. The Great Fire of
London, which was really an ill wind that subse-
quently blew a great deal of good to printing and
bookselling, probably influenced the elder Jacob in
apprenticing his two sons, Richard and Jacob, to the
latter trade. Beside these two, it may be mentioned,
there were three sisters, and to each of these five
children their father bequeathed a legacy of a hundred
pounds when the age of twenty-one was attained,
Jacob Tonson was admitted a freeman of the Company
of Stationers, December, 20, 1677, and, according to
John Nichols, commenced business, 'as his brother
Richard had done the year before. 5

Scarcely anything is known of Richard. The
brothers seem to have had as little business connection
with each other as possible, and it is rare to find their
names in juxtaposition. One exception is Dryden's
'The Spanish Friar,' 1681, which was 'printed for
Richard and Jacob Tonson, at Gray's Inn Gate, in
Grays Inn Lane, and at the ' Judge's Head ' in Chan-
cery Lane.' One of Richard's first publications must

1 Bassett's shop probably was in Little Britain. In 1718-19
' it appears from Lintot's Account Book (' Lit. Anec.' viii. 293-5)
that the latter purchased of Thomas Ballard 'a fourth of a half
of the several shares of all the copies formerly belonging to Mr.
Thos. Bassett, deceased (except his Law copies), ' in all 133
books.' According to another entry, Lintot bought of George
Conyers 'a fourth share of the several Law copies and trials
belonging to Mr. T. Bassett, deceased,' &c., in all 109 books.

Jacob Tonson. 153

have been Charles D'Avenant's 'Circe,' which was
published in 1667, a second edition of this tragedy
was issued in 1685, also by Richard; but the third
edition was printed for Jacob Tonson in 1703. In
1677, Richard entered into a contract with another
bookseller, Benjamin Shirley, to bear a portion of the
expense in publishing ' The Life of the Valiant and
Learned Sir Walter Raleigh,' an octavo of 243 pages ;
r.nd what seems to have been an abridgment of this
appeared ten years later, purporting to be ' the third
edition,' in which his name still figures on the title-
page. Richard also sold in 1678 Rymer's ' Tragedies
of the Last Age/ a work which received so much atten-
tion at the hands of Dryden ; and Sedley's ' Antony
and Cleopatra ' (1677), Otway's 'Cleopatra/ S. Por-
dage's ' Siege of Babylon ' (1678),' The Art of Making
Love/ &c., were issued with Richard Tonson's name as
bookseller. Although he published several other
books, he took but a subordinate part in his calling.
We do not know the date of his death ; and in the
absence of absolute proof it is fair to conjecture
that his shop in Gray's Inn Gate was taken about 1698
or 1699 by his brother Jacob.

Jacob's debut in trade circles seems to have been
characteristically careful ; and for the first year or two
he contented himself with being simply the retailer of
plays, books, and the like, issued by his more opulent
and more experienced confreres. With a hundred
pounds as capital, and a shop under the sign of The
Judge's Head, in Chancery Lane, close to the corner
of Fleet Street, Jacob could not afford to make great
speculations. He cultivated the habits of prudence

154 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

and patience, and was at length rewarded by securing
the copy of Dryden's ' Troilus and Cressida,' one of
the many attempts at adapting or improving Shake-
speare, of which Dryden himself never thought much,
and which was probably played at Dorset Gardens
about April, 1679. The play itself was preceded by
a discourse on the grounds of criticism in tragedy,
to which, Dr. Johnson suspects, Rymer's book had
given occasion. Dryden demanded twenty pounds
for the copyright, but prudent Jacob hesitated to give
this sum for even a play of the great Mr. Dryden,
and consequently shared expenses and profits with
Swalle, the play coming out probably late in 1679.
The importance of this transaction was great, and
the connection between Dryden and Tonson was only
broken by the poet's death. Dryden's previous con-
nection with Herringman has already been referred to.

Charles Knight states that in 1681 there was an
indefatigable collector of the fugitive poetry, especially
political, which formed the chief staple of many book-
sellers' shops, and the most vendible commodity of
the noisy hawkers. Mr. Narcissus Luttrell recorded
according to his custom of marking on each sheet
and half-sheet of the ' Sibylline Leaves ' the day he
received it that on the I7th of November he received
a copy of the first part of ' Absalom and Achitophel,'
'from his friend JacobTonson.' The bookseller must
have made a large sum out of this poem, for, being
issued at 2d., its popularity and sale were immense.

Perhaps nothing so important had as yet transpired
to bring Tonson into notoriety as the first volume of
the Miscellany, which was issued in 1684. For some

Jacob Tonson. 155

time previous the poet and the bookseller had been
on excellent terms ; for the former, in acknowledging
a present of two melons from the latter, and speaking
of the new project for issuing the famous Miscellany,
observes : ' Since we are to have nothing but new, I
am resolved we will have nothing but good, whom-
ever we displease.' This is an excerpt from a letter
dated September, 1684, and the first volume came
out shortly afterwards. The project was so entirely
successful that imitators were soon in the field, and,
among these one of the earliest was Herringman's, or
was, at least, issued in his name. Dryden refers to
this publication in one of his letters, and states that
most of the pieces therein given have been printed
before. Nothing of the kind had, as Malone points
out, been attempted for many years. The work was
purported to be the production of the ' most eminent

The most celebrated imitation was, of course, the
Pope-Lintot one. Writing to Wycherley, May 20,
1709, Pope observes : ' This modern custom of appear-
ing in miscellanies is very useful to the poets, who,
like other thieves, escape by getting into a crowd,
and herd together like other banditti, safe only in
their multitude.' He further quotes ' a good descrip-
tion of these kind of collections ' from Strada. In
the same letter he remarks : ' I can be content with
a bare saving game, without being thought an eminent
hand (with which title * Jacob has graciously dignified

Some editions read, ' which little Jacob,' but we are inclined
to think the word in this context to be the correct one. Pope,
in this case, was speaking of the 6th vol. of Tonson's Miscellany.

156 The Earlier History of English Bookselling .

his adventurers and volunteers in poetry). Jacob
creates poets, as kings sometimes do knights, not for
their honour, but for their money.' ' You will make
Jacob's Ladder raise you to immortality,' observes
Wycherley, in his reply to Pope.

The second volume of the Miscellany was issued in
1685, and the third in 1693. Tonson had now, as
Knight remarks, ' become a sharp tradesman,' So
far as we know, only one of Tonson's letters has been
preserved, and as this is valuable and curious in many
respects, it is here given. As will be seen, it was written
prior to the publication of the third Miscellany, and pro-
bably late in 1692. It is exceedingly characteristic :

' You may please, sir, to remember that upon my
first proposal about the third Miscellany, I offered
fifty pounds, and talked of several authors, without
naming Ovid. You asked if it should not be guineas
and said I should not repent it ; upon which I imme-
diately complied, and left it wholly to you what, and
for the quantity too : and I declare it was the farthest
in the world from my thoughts that by leaving it to
you I should have the loss. Thus the case stood, when
you went into Essex. After I came out of Northamp-
tonshire I wrote to you, and received a letter dated
Monday, Oct. 3, '92, from which letter I now write
word for word what follows : " I am translating about
600 lines, or somewhat less, of the first book of the
Metamorphoses. If I cannot get my price, which
shall be twenty guineas, I will translate the whole
book, which coming out before the whole translation
will spoil Tate's undertakings. 'Tis one of the best
I have ever made, and very pleasant. This, with Hero

Jacob Tonson. 157

and Leander, and the piece of Homer (or, if it be not
enough, I will add more), will make a good part of a

' Those, sir, are your very words, and the only ones
in that letter relating to that affair ; and the Monday
following you came to town. After your arrival you
showed Mr. Motteaux what you had done (which he
told me was to the end of the story of Daphnis) and
demanded, as you mentioned in your letter, twenty
guineas, which that bookseller refused. Now, sir, I
the rather believe there was just so much done, by
reason the number of lines you mention in your letter
agrees with the quantity of lines that so much of the
first book makes ; which upon counting the Ovid I
find to be in the Latin 566, in the English 759 ;
and the bookseller told me there was no more de-
manded of him for it. Now, sir, what I entreat you
would please to consider of is this : that it is reason-
able for me to expect at least as much favour from
you as a strange bookseller, and I will never believe
that it can be in your nature to use me the worse for
leaving it to you ; and if the matter of fact as I state
it be true (and upon my word what I mention I can
show you in your letters) then pray, sir, consider how
much dearer I pay than you offered it to the other
bookseller ; for he might have had to the end of the
story of Daphnis for twenty guineas, which is in your
translation, 759 lines ; and then suppose twenty guineas
more for the same number, 759 lines ; that makes for
forty guineas 1518 lines ; and all that I have for fifty
guineas are but 1446, so that, if I have no more, I pay
ten guineas above forty, and have seventy-two lines

158 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

less for fifty, in proportion, than the other bookseller
should have had for forty, at the rate you offered him
the first part. This is, sir, what I shall take as a great
favour if you please to think of. I had intentions of
letting you know this before ; but till I had paid the
money, I would not ask to see the book [which he
acknowledges to have received from Dryden in an
earlier 'part of this same letter, with which it is re-
turned] nor count the lines, lest it should look like a
design of not keeping my word. When you have looked
over the rest of what you have already translated, I
desire you would send it ; and I own that if you don't
think fit to add something more, I must submit :
'tis wholly at your choice, and I left it entirely to you ;
but I believe you can't imagine I expected so little ;
for you were pleased to use me much kindlier in
Juvenal, which is not reckoned so easy to translate as
Ovid. Sir, I humbly beg your pardon for this long
letter, and upon my word I had rather have your good-
will than any man's alive ; and whatever you are
pleased to do, will always acknowledge myself, Sir,
your most humble obedient Servant, Jacob Tonson/
A few extracts from this letter are common to every
' general reader,' and are often levelled against Tonson
himself, as proving his mercenary qualities. It is
simply a business letter, one that any shrewd man,
with an eye to ' No. I ' might write. It would have been

:t In the 'Sullen Lovers' (1668) of Shadvvell one of the
characters complains that his bookseller has refused him twelve-
pence a line, when the intrinsic worth of some verses is at least
worth ten shillings, and all can be proved to be worth three
shillings ' to the veriest Jew in Christendom.'

Jacob Tonson. 159

surprising indeed if Tonson had allowed a rival trades-
man to out-distance himself in a bargain without utter-
ing a word of protest ; especially when that bargain was
one spontaneously offered by the poet himself. Dryden
admits Tonson's soft impeachment, when he wrote, on
August 30, 1693 : ' I am much ashamed for myself,
that I am so much behind-hand with you in kindness.
Above all things I am sensible of your good-nature, in
bearing me company to this place [somewhere in
Northamptonshire], wherein, besides the cost, you
must needs neglect your own business ; but I will en-
deavour to make you some amends, and therefore I
desire you to command me something for your
service.' In 1689 all Dryden's emoluments from the
Government were taken away, so that he could hardly
afford to be very independent.

The publication of Dryden's translation of Virgil
was perhaps the most important incident in Tonson's
career. This arduous task was commenced in 1694, or
late in 1693, and was actually finished by the close of
1696, although, upon his own admission to Tonson,
he considered the task as one which would require
seven years to translate ' exactly/ Tonson issued the
translation of Virgil in July, 1697. It was of course
published by subscription, although its success was
from the first almost a foregone conclusion. A hun-
dred and two five-guinea subscribers' had each his
arms printed at the foot of the 102 plates ; whilst the
two-guinea subscribers figured in the list of names
only. The proportion in which the subscriptions were
divided between Dryden and Tonson are not now
known ; Malone thinks the poet had so/, for each

1 60 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

book of the vEneid, a sum which some biographers
conjecture to have been paid for every two books.
Pope has stated that ' Dryden cleared every way
about I2OO/. by his Virgil' (Spence : Singer's Ed.
p. 198). 'Virgil was one of the first books that had
anything of a subscription, (and even that was a good
deal on account of the prints, which were from Ogilby's
plates touched up') 4 (ibid.}. There are several most
interesting letters to Tonson from the poet during the
progress of his great work. Arranging for a Coffee-
house or tavern the almost invariable rendezvous for
such transactions Dryden writes : ' Be ready with the
price of paper, and of the books. No matter for any
dinner ; for that is a charge to you, and I care not for
it. Mr. Congreve may be with us, as a common friend.'
Much of the translating is done in the country, hence
the necessity for epistolary communication. ' Some
kind of intercourse,' writes Dryden, October 29, 1695,
' must be carried on betwixt us, while I am translating
Virgil. Therefore I give you notice, that I have done
the seventh Eneid in the country [i.e. at Burleigh,
the seat of the fifth Earl of Exeter], and intend some
few days hence to go upon the eighth : when that is
finished, I expect fifty pounds in good silver ; not such
as I had formerly. I am not obliged to take gold,
neither will I ; nor stay for it beyond four-and-twenty
hours after it is due. I thank you for the civility of
your last letter in the country ; but the thirty shillings
upon every book remains with me, you always in-

4 This refers to Virgilii Opera, per |Joh. Ogilvium edita et
adornata. Lond., 1658. This work was issued in royal folio,
with plates after Lombart, Faithorne, Hollar, &c.

Jacob Tonson. 161

tended I should get nothing by the second subscrip-
tions, as I found from first to last.' Not long after
this letter, Dryden writes thanking Tonson for his
kindnesses, ' being very sensible that I have not
hitherto deserved them.' A passage from the letter
to Tonson, dated February, 1695-6, further illustrates
the debased character of the coinage at that period,
and the general mistrust which it occasioned. ' I
shall lose enough by your bill upon Mr. Knight/'
for after having taken it all in silver, and not in half-
crowns neither, but shillings and sixpences, none of the
money will go ; for which reason I have sent it all
back again, and as the less lost will receive it in guineas
at twenty-nine shillings each. 'Tis troublesome to be
a loser, but it was my own fault to accept it this way.'
In this same letter the writer expresses regret that
Tonson ' will not allow anything towards the notes,'
and, apparently growing petulant towards the end of
the epistle, exclaims, ' Upon trial I find all of your

5 ' Probably a goldsmith, and well known afterwards as the
cashier of the Southsea Company.' Malone.

6 Dryden's complaint about bad money is frequent in his
letters to Tonson, and the incident has afforded Macaulay
material for some comment on the coinage of that time. There
is absolutely no foundation for the legend that Tonson wanted to
cheat Dryden by paying him in debased coin. In 1695, pro-
bably in April, Dryden writes : ' You know money is now very
scrupulously received ; in the last which you did me the favour
to change for my wife, besides the clipped money, there were at
least forty shillings brass.' It has been observed by one writer
that the gold and silver coinage remained in a depreciated state
until the new coinage took place under the care of Charles Mon-
tague, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The value of a guinea was
fluctuating and uncertain.


1 62 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

trade are sharpers, and you not more than the others ;
therefore I have not wholly left you. Mr. Aston does
not blame you for getting as good a bargain as you
could, though I could have got a hundred pounds

All men of light and leading subscribed to the
Virgil. It was a known secret that its dedication
to King William would be a good stroke of business,
and Jacob Tonson, ardent Whig as he was, was ex-
ceedingly anxious to bring about this consummation.
But Dryden had had enough of political and religious
somersaulting. Writing to his two sons at Rome,
where they were employed in the Pope's household,
under date Sept. 3, 1697, Dryden observes: 'He
[Tonson] has missed of his design in the dedication,
though he had prepared the book for it, for in every
figure of Eneas he has caused him to be drawn like
King William, with a hooked nose,' Malone tran-
scribed from the Harleian MSS. two verses occasioned
by this circumstance :


' Old Jacob by deep judgment sway'd,

To please the wise beholders,
Has placed old Nassau's hook-nosed head
On poor Eneas' shoulders.

' To make the parallel hold tack,

Methinks there's little lacking ;
One took his father pick-a-pack,
And t'other sent his packing.'

The principal plays and poems which Tonson pub-
lished for Dryden are : ' Troilus and Cressida ' (1679),

Jacob Tonson. 163

' Spanish Fryer' (1681, with R. Taylor), ' Threnodia '
(1685), 'King Arthur' (1691), 'Alexander's Feast'
(1697). On January 12, 1 686-7, ' Mr. Jacob Tonson
enters this caveat that no person enter the poem
called The Hind and ye Panther.' Tonson also pub-
lished that unhappy attempt, 'Britannia Rediviva"
(1688). During the last ten or dozen years of the
seventeenth century, Tonson acted as 'sponsor' for
a large number of publications, and partly shared, in
addition, the responsibility of much other literature
than that on the imprint of which his name alone
appeared. He had become a great figure in the pub-
lishing line, and few poets except, perhaps, the
ultra-Tories were there whose productions were not
issued more or less under the direction of Jacob. In
1696 we find Dryden negotiating with Tonson for the
publication of his son's play ; and at about the same
period Tonson issued Ch. Hopkins' ' Boadicea '
(1697) an d 'Friendship Improved ' (1700). He had
for several years partly published Congreve's and
Otway's plays. Mr. John Dennis, 'the renowned
critick,' and Sir Richard Steele (the latter at that
time plain Mr.) had each entrusted some work to
Jacob, who, in addiHon to sundry poetical effusions,
could also supply his customers with Jeremy Collier's
translation of Tully's ' Five Books of Morals ; or, the
Final End of Man ;' with ' The Art of Making Love,'
which went through two or three editions ; and with
Dr. Lister's account of his ' Journey to Paris in 1658.'
Tate's 7 ' Monumental Poem,' in memory of Sir

7 Swift, with exquisite irony, says, ' Nahum Tate, who is
ready to take oath that he has caused many reams of verse to be

M 2

1 64 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

G. Treby, once Chief Justice of H.M.'s Court of
Common Pleas, also bore Jacob's name, as did the
' Reports ' of Sir Peyton Ventris ; the opera 'Arsinoe/
by Clayton ; and a great many others. Mr. Robert
Bell, in his excellent edition of Dryden's poems,
points out that, according to an entry in the
Stationers' books, made by Tonson, in April, 1686,
Dryden had completed, by James the Second's com-
mand, a translation of Varilla's 'History of Heresies ;'
but its publication was suppressed, in consequence
of the credit of its author being destroyed by the
appearance of Burnet's ' Reflections.' Witty Mr.
Prior, too, was reckoned among Jacob's authors ; 8
and in September, 1695, Prior, writing from Hague,

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