W. (William) Roberts.

The earlier history of English bookselling online

. (page 17 of 26)
Online LibraryW. (William) RobertsThe earlier history of English bookselling → online text (page 17 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

devil, instead of snarling about who are, and who are
not, vested with effectual power to act this way or that
way in the Church, or in the State ? How much more
like "preachers of righteousness" had ye appeared, if,
as far as became you, ye had laboured to establish our
youth in virtue and piety, and so suppressed the spread-
ing abominable vices by the agency of the printing-


' In a word, Mist, record it for posterity to wonder
at, that in four years past of the blessed days we live
in, and wherein justice and liberty are flourishing and
established, more beastly unsufferable books have
been published by this one offender, than in thirty
years before by all the nation ; and not a man, clergy-
man or other, has yet thought it worth his while to
demand justice of the government against the crime
of it, or so much as to caution the age against the
mischief of it.

' Publish this, Mist, as you value your promise, and


242 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

remember you'll be honoured with having put the
first hand to correct a crime which begins to make
us scandalous to our neighbours, and, in time, if
not prevented, will make us detestable among all the
Christian nations of Europe. Your friend, H.'

Curll was a Whig, and Mist was a Tory. It goes
without saying that political animosities prompted the
attack. So long as the Whig government could de-
cently refrain from prosecuting an adherent possess-
ing some amount of influence, as Curll did, they would
naturally do so. Curll zealously promoted the Hano-
verian succession, which was consummated nearly
four years before Mist's attack, and the Whigs had the
laughing side. Curll's reply was entitled ' Curlicism
Display'd, or an Appeal to the Church. Being just
Observations upon some Books published by Mr. Curll.'
It was in the form of ' a letter to Mr. Mist' (6d.}. Curll
commences thus :

' Mr. Mist,

' Your journal is now become the oracle of a
discontented party, wTiose fruitless schemes and many
disappointments make them kick against the pricks,
and who like the deluded multitude of old had rather
consult the Devil than not hear some responses in
favour of their wandering (pretended) monarch :

" Restless he rolls about from place to place,
But will not look an army in the face."

Your superannuated letter-writer was never more
out than when he asserted that CURLICISM was but
of four years' standing. Poor Wretch ! he is but a
mere novice in Chronology, and I do sincerely assure

Edmund Curll. 243

you, Mr. Mist, that CURLICISM (since it must be so
called) dates its original from that ever memorable
aera of the reign of the first monarch of the Stuartine

After this short bit of introductory, Curll defends
several of his publications, specifying at considerable
length their nature and their origin. Following Mr.
Thorns' excellent example, we shall not enter into
that phase more fully than by quoting a representative
example : ' The first piece of CURLICISM that ap-
peared was that remarkable Tryal between Robert
Earl of Essex and the Lady Frances Howard, who,
after eight years' marriage, commenced a suit against
him for impotency.' Curll concludes his defence
with the following :

' Thus, Mr. Mist, I have impartially laid before
you and the world a full account of the books I have
printed, which give your religion mongers so much
uneasiness. I shall, in the next place, reduce all their
trifling objections under four heads, and prove them
false in every particular.

1 i. The first charge against me is, " That I am the
inventor and introducer of a set of books into the
world upon such subjects as were never before known
to be brought under the pen."

' 2. " That no nation would permit the publication
of such books but our own.'

'As to the first of these calumnies, I think I stand
pretty clear, by the concurrent testimonies of the
canonists and civilians, from the original institution
of the law of nature and nations. And as to the
latter, whenever any of these points have been de-

R 2

244 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

bated in our own kingdom, the main support of the
charge, as well as the judgment given, have been
wholly confirmed by precedents cited from the eccle-
siastical institutions, and the authority of the Fathers

' 3. The other articles of the charge against me,
are, " That these books would not have been suffered
to be printed four years ago ;" when (if we may believe
your old gentleman) none but persons of exemplary
piety and virtue, such as the Ormonds, the Marrs,
the Bolingbrokes, &c., and their agents the Swifts,
the Oldisworths, the Sacheverells, &c., shared the
royal favour, and defended that Church which has of
late been so much in danger.

' 4. And lastly, " That these books are now printed
by the connivance of the present government."

' To which it is sufficient to answer, "That the five
volumes of the Cases of Impotency and Divorce were
all printed in the reign of her late so pious Majesty ;
and that these books, which have given such grievous
offence, were so far from appearing in public, by the
connivance of this, or indeed any former government,
that most of them were published by the immediate
command and authority of the government itself."

' And now, Mr. Mist, having made good my promise,
and refuted every particular of the charge against me,
with relation to the publishing these books, I am
farther to assure your old man, that they cannot by
the laws of nature and nations be termed bawdy
books, since they treat only of matters of the greatest
importance to society, conduce to the mutual happi-
ness of the nuptial state, and are directly calculated

Edmund CurlL 245

for antidotes against debauchery and unnatural lewd-
ness, and not for incentives to them. For which
reason I shall not desist from printing such books,
when any occasion offers, nor am I either concerned
or ashamed to have them distinguished by the face-
tious name of " CURLICTSM."

' This, I think, Mr. Mist, an unexceptionable answer
to the allegations of your antiquated letter-writer ;
and to prevent one objection, which he might other-
wise possibly hereafter make, I shall frankly acknow-
ledge to him, that as considerable a person as he may
seem in the eyes of your admirers, nothing which
either he or you could say of me, should have moved
me to vouchsafe a reply, had not an opportunity
thereby offered itself to me of publishing to the world
the contents at large of these several pieces, which
have of late been so severally inveighed against, and
of demonstrating to your correspondent in particular
(who I take for granted never read a syllable in either
of them beyond the title-page 7 ) that his zeal has
been employed against such books, as are not only
inoffensive, but very useful ; and that his indignation
against what he calls Curlicism, proceeds from a
partial infatuated bigotry, and an implicit spirit of cen-
soriousness, into which he has been led by what I call
Mysticism and Poperycism. Whether he be really an
old fellow, or only affects a formal gravity, to give
his arguments the greater weight among the rabble
of malcontents, to whose service alone his pen is de-

1 ' Ay, there's the rub.' Mr. Curll's title-pages were the chief
objection. They were foully suggestive, whilst the books were,
in many cases, comparatively pure.

2 46 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

voted I shall however be glad to see him in town,
whither I suppose he is coming to some employment
under you, either to solve cases of conscience, which
your tattered customers are continually furnishing
you with, or to strengthen your political reasonings
and zealous insinuations against the government,
with quotations from the fathers of the first four
centuries, in which sort of learning the gentleman
seems to me to be chiefly remarkable ; and like the
rest of his regular brethren in Christianity, to be
passionately fond of their venerable errors, for the
sake of their antiquity, and peremptorily to condemn
the profane politeness of the classics, as much as he
does the damnable conscientious sincerity of our
modern prevailing freethinkers.

' Notwithstanding our present difference, Mr. Mist,
I am willing to give you a piece of wholesome friendly
advice : whereas you publicly declared in my presence,
before several witnesses, who will attest it upon oath,
that the first letter against me was inserted designedly
to reflect on His Majesty under my cover ; and like-
wise, that as for any passages in your Journal, whether
they should be true or false, they equally conduce to
the interest of the cause in which you are embarked,
and to the reputation of your paper amongst the
party your only constant readers. And whereas on
another occasion you have made your boast, that
whenever the government has thought fit to take
an action of you, you have always brought them to
your own terms, I wish you would accept the advice
of a generous enemy, and take particular care lest
your repeated insolences and treasonable glances on

Edmund Cur II. 247

your indulgent superiors, should at length, contrary
to their innate and unexampled clemency, prevail
with them to put a stop to such flagrant enormities,
and oblige them for once to bring you to their terms.

' Having thus given the world an impartial account
of the books I have printed, which is the sole design
of this letter ; and being therefore resolved to enter
into no future debate, either with yourself or your
champion correspondent, I shall conclude all in the
words of a late eminent and learned controvertist
[the Dean of Chichester] : " I now submit what I
have said to the reader's judgment : whatever your
letter-writer may be, the world, I am persuaded, is
tired of such altercations, as I am sure I am."
E. CURLL, Fleet Street, May 26, 1718.'

The importance and interest of the subject, and
the rarity of the pamphlet from which the foregoing
is extracted, must be our excuse for the length of the
excerpt. But notwithstanding his expressed deter-
mination not to notice any further attack from Mist,
or his ' old man,' we find Curll once more in the heat
of a combat, with 'An Answer to Mr. Mist's Journal
of the Twenty Eighth of January, 1726.7.' Misfs
Journal, we may mention, persistently attacked Curll.

Curll was nothing if not singular, and so we find
in his lists of publications the most devout sermons
issued in company with indecent tales and poems.
All was grist for the mill, however, that came in his
way. Next to his almost insane, and quite insatiable
desire of publishing

' The speeches, verses, and last wills of Peers,'
may be classed his restless attempts at securing the

248 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

' copy ' of some controversial Bishop's work, or that
of any other eminent divine. He had a peculiar
weakness for eminent persons, but more especially
for Bishops. In 1718 he published a couple of works
espousing Hoadly, the originator of the once famous
but now forgotten Bangorian controversy. Each of
these works was written by Nicholas Amhurst, the
conductor of Terr&-Filius, a periodical issued twice
weekly, January to June, during 1721, and subse-
quently of the Craftsman. The titles of Amhurst's
two poems were ' Protestant Popery, or The Con-
vocation,' and 'A Congratulatory Epistle from His
Holiness the Pope to the Rev. Dr. Snape.' Both
were anonymous publications, and were attributed
to George Sewell who, however, inserted a denial
in the Evening Post.

Pope, in his ' Narrative ' of the method by which his
letters had been published, says, ' Mr. Pope's friends
imagined that the whole design of E. Curll was to get
him to look on the edition of Cromwell's Letters,
and so print it as revised by Mr. Pope, in the same
manner as he sent an obscene book to a reverend
Bishop, and then advertised it as corrected and revised
by him.' The obscene publication referred to was
Rochester's ' Poems,' of which Curll issued several
editions. But Curll denies Pope's account, and
offered a hundred guineas if this ' narrative writer '
can 'produce any such advertisement.' Curll's ex-
planation of the transaction is, that he offered to give
Dr. Robinson, Lord Bishop of London, an interleaved
edition of Rochester, and ' whatever his Lordship saw
amiss, if he would be pleased to strike out any lines

Edmund Curll. 249

or Poems therein, such leaves should be reprinted,
and rendered conformable to his Lordship's opinion.'
Upon being made acquainted with Curll's proposition,
the Bishop smiled, and informed Henry Hoare, the
medium, ' Sir, I am told that Curll is a shrewd
man, and should I revise the book you have brought
me, he would publish it as approved by me.' 8
Where two such men as Pope and Curll volunteer
as many different stories of one transaction, it is not
an easy matter to decide which is telling the truth,
but in the present instance perhaps Curll's version is
the more correct.

Between the years 1721-4, Curll struck up a
correspondence with Bishop Kennett and Sir Robert
Walpole. That with the former arose from the
natural desire <|f publishing, after purchasing the
copyright, of his Lordship's Translations of Erasmus's
' Praise of Folly,' first published in 1683, and Pliny's
'Panegyric/ 1686. Curll writes the Bishop, Nov.
4, 1721, to inform him of his intention, and also to
offer him the opportunity of revising the publications.
A prompt reply, dated Nov. 6, was received, in
which the Bishop of Peterborough desires to know
of whom the copyrights were purchased, as the
author had only invested the original booksellers
with the right of a single impression ; winding up
with a very broad hint ' that property and privilege
are valuable things,' and discountenancing altogether
the bookseller's project. The following day Curll

8 A story identical with this is related of Wilkes and the
' Essay on Women,' and also of Samuel Foote and ' The

250 The Ear Her History of English Bookselling.

was again 'at' his Lordship, and, in a rather lengthy
epistle, which need not be here quoted, makes a
general defence against the charge of publishing
indecent books, a charge which he ascribes to
rumour only, ' or some idle paragraphs, inserted
against me in that sink of scandal, Misfs Journal,
wherein the best ^characters have been traduced.' He
further obliges his Lordship with his catalogue, which
' will in some measure convince your Lordship, that I
have been ready, and shall always be, to promote any
work of religion or learning, as any other person of our
profession.' But Mr. Curll did not obtain Kennett's
sanction, and the reissue was not undertaken.

The year 1721 opened inauspiciously for Curll, and
in the latter part of January we see him again at
loggerheads with the members of the House of
Lords. The Daily Journal of Monday, January 22,
contained an advertisement announcing the speedy
publication of the ' Works ' of John Sheffield
Duke of Buckinghamshire, prose and verse, with a
' true copy of his last Will and Testament/ On
Tuesday, Jan. 23, Curll attended, ' according to
order/ the House of Lords ; he came out of the
threatened conflict without hurt, but their lordships
anticipated any future contacts by adding to the
Standing Orders of the House the resolution that if
the works, life, or last Will of any Lord of that
House be published without the consent of his heirs,
executors, administrators, or trustees, ' the same is a
Breach of the Privilege of this House.' This order
was vacated July 28, 1845.

Like many other skirmishers, Curll professed a

Edmund Curll. 251

devoted attachment to his party when in power ; but
this devotion has almost invariably personal gain
for its ulterior object. In 1723, Curll and Henley
(who seven years later started The Hyp-Doctor to
further Walpole's cause) seem to have gleaned some
information respecting a projected fifth volume of
Mrs. Manley's ' Atalantis,' which never seems to have
appeared, but the design of which was ' to give an
account of a sovereign and his ministers who are
endeavouring to overturn that Constitution which
their pretence is to protect ; to examine the defects
and vices of some men who take a delight to impose
upon the world by the pretence of public good, whilst
their true design is only to gratify and advance them-
selves.' These, according to Curll, writing to Walpole
from the Strand, on March 2, 1723-4, were Mrs. Man-
ley's own words. Curll's patriotism was not un-
diluted, for within a few lines of the above quotation
he says, ' As your Honour was formerly pleased to
promise me your friendship, I now hope to feel the
effect of it for what I can, without vanity, call my
unwearied diligence to serve the Government, having
in a manner left off my business for that purpose.
Mr. Goode told me, that I might depend upon having
some provision made for me, and that he had named
something in the Post-Office to your Honour for my
purpose. And I hope that, either in that or some of
the many others over which your Honour presides,
I shall be thought on.' And also, in a P.S, ' Lord
Townshend assured me he would recommend me to
your Honour for some provision in the Civil List.
In the Stamp Office,' Mr. Curll modestly suggests,

252 The Earlier History of English Bookselling .

' I can be serviceable.' His patriotism and devotion
not only availed him nought, for none of the
Government offices had the advantage of his zeal,
but were probably an additional if unexpressed
reason for the Government prosecution of a couple
of years later.

This prosecution was commenced in November,
1725, the trial itself having taken place on the 3Oth
of that month. The whole transaction was a very
singular one, inasmuch as Curll was indicted for the
publication of certain libels, whereas the books
' were made the subject of prosecution because they
were obscene.' Why it had taken so long for the
Government to arrive at the conclusion that Curll
was a proper object for prosecution, it would be very
difficult to say, but the episode is only one of the
many erratic movements made by English Govern-
ments. Of the five books held up to execration, the
larger number had been in circulation at least a
couple of years before receiving this gratuitous
advertisement at the hands of His Majesty's custo.
dians of morals and good manners. The title-pages
of these books, however, sufficiently indicate their
nature, and are as follows : (i) ' The Translation ' of
Meibomius, and ' Tractatus de Hermaphroditus/ 1718;
(2) 'Venus in the Cloister, or the Nun in her
Smock,' which was ' done out of French by Mr.
Samber, of New Inne' (who also 'did' 'One Hun-
dred Court Fables' from the French of Le Motte
for Curll in 1721); (3) ' Ebrietatis Encomium' (vide
ante, p. 240), 1723; (4) 'Three New Poems,' Le.
' Family Duty,' ' The Curious Wife,' and ' Bucking-

Edmund Cur II. 253

ham House ;' and (5) ' De Secretis Mulierum,' 1725.
Apparently nothing daunted by this unexpected
difficulty, which, if his political services to his party
were of any value at all, ought never to have arisen,
the ill-starred object of the prosecution published
' The Humble Representation of Edmund Curll,'
Bookseller and Citizen of London, concerning five
books complained of to the Secretary. Mr. Thorns
states that ' Curll was found guilty, but moved an
arrest of judgment, on the ground that the offence
was not a libel ; but if punishable at all, was an
offence contra bonos mores, and punishable only in
the spiritual courts.' The case is reported at con-
siderable length in Strange's ' Reports,' and con-
cludes thus : ' Curll not having attended me in time,
I acquainted the Court I was not prepared : and my
want of being ready proceeding from his own neglect,
they [the Judges] refused to indulge him to the next
turn. And in two or three days they gave it as
their unanimous opinion, that this was a temporal

offence In this case they gave Judgment for

the King. And the defendant was afterwards set in
the pillory, as he well deserved.'

But even here Curll bore up with becoming forti-
tude, and came off in flying colours, as will be seen
from the ' State Trials ' (xvii. p. 160) :

' This Edmund Curll stood in the pillory at
Charing Cross, but was not pelted nor used ill ; for
being an artful, cunning (though wicked) fellow, he
had contrived to have printed papers dispersed all
about Charing Cross, telling the people that he
stood there for vindicating the memory of Queen

254 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

Anne ; which had such an effect on the mob, that it
would have been dangerous even to have spoken
against him : and when he was taken out of the
pillory, the mob carried him off, as it were in
triumph, to a neighbouring tavern.'

Another prosecution was commenced in May or
June, 1726, and this time it was occasioned through
purely political motives, which the Government might
have anticipated, but unwisely omitted doing. It
transpires from what Curll says in ' The Curliad,' that
during a five months' imprisonment in 1726, in the
King's Bench, one of his fellow-prisoners was John Ker
of Kersland, Esq., ' revered by Queen Anne.' Ker re-
solved to publish his ' Memoirs and Secret Negocia-
tions ' at the Courts of Great Britain, Vienna, Hanover,
&c., and desired his fellow-prisoner, the bookseller, to
examine his papers. ' I returned them to him/ says
Curll, ' after I had gone carefully through them, with a
very short answer, but my real opinion, that the facts
they contained, were too true to be borne. However, he
pressed me to engage in the affair, which I told him
I durst not venture at, unless he would give me leave
to communicate his intentions to the ministry. This
he most readily acquiesced in, adding withal, that he
intended to put himself under the patronage of Sir
Robert Walpole. Upon which the contents of all his
manuscripts were accordingly transmitted to the
Secretary of State, neither from whom, nor from his
patron, did Mr. Ker ever receive any the least
countermand to his intended purpose.' The first
volume was issued in May, 1726, and a few days
afterwards the author was served with a warrant in

Edmund Cur II. 255

which his book was called a ' scandalous and a
seditious libel.' Ker generously took the sole re-
sponsibility, but was unable to obey the warrant,
being confined to his bed through lameness ; and as
he died in July, nothing came of the prosecution so
far as he was personally concerned. Curll was
naturally pounced upon, whether culpable or no.
According to promise, the second and third volumes
of Ker's ' Memoirs ' were published ' upon Oath.'
And soon after this, says Edmund in ' The Curliad,'
' a warrant was issued out against me for publishing
the three volumes, an information was filed against
me, and a true copy of the said Information I both
printed and translated, that my Crime might not be
forgotten. For this misdemeanor I was likewise
fined twenty marks and the corporal punishment of
(what the Gentlemen of the long Robe are pleased
jocosely to call) mounting the Rostrum for one hour,
which I performed with as much alacrity as Mr.
Pope ever pursued his spleen against Mr. Theobald ;
and tho' he is pleased to say that this machine
will lengthen the face of any man, tho' it were ever
so comely, yet will it not make the crooked straight.
However, I have always been of opinion, that it is the
Crime, not the punishment, or the shape of a man,
which stamps his ignominy.'

It would be difficult, if Curll's account be true, as
there is every reason to suppose it is, to instance a
more diabolical piece of injustice. His motives for
publishing the work were probably purely mercenary,
but it is most obvious that the persecution was ani-
mated throughout by the desire to suppress, not

256 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

obscene books, but Ker's ' Memoirs,' in which there
were certain statements not very palatable to those
in power. The ministerial bungling is now patent to
all ; but it had the one good feature of extensively
advertising the book, which ran through at least three
editions within a few months.

We shall do no more than refer to Curll's publishing,
in six volumes, the ' Cases of Impotence and Divorce,'
attributed to the pen of Sir Clement Wearg, whilom
Solicitor-General, which caused a declamatory letter
to be inserted in the London Journal, Nov. 12, 1726,
signed ' A. P.'

The charge which held ground for so long a time

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryW. (William) RobertsThe earlier history of English bookselling → online text (page 17 of 26)