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2 8 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

A few months after Mary's desperate and futile attempt
at checking the freedom of the press, a diametrically
objective change occurred, and with Elizabeth's acces-
sion to -the throne in November, 1558, the licensed
stationers conveniently veered around and were as
industrious in suppressing Catholic books as they had
been a few weeks previously in endeavouring to stamp
out those of the new religion. The irony of fate was
indeed hard upon the poor stationers !

The Reformation contributed greatly to the demand
for printed books, for upon the dissolution of the
monasteries, the office of scribe was practically obso-
lete. The ecclesiastical authorities vainly hoped to
see the trade in printed books die a natural death,
and the revival of the old methods of diffusing know-
ledge. ' Under Henry VIII.,' observes D'Israeli, ' books
became the organs of the passions of mankind, and
were not only printed, but spread about ; for if the
presses of England dared not disclose the hazardous
secrets of the writers, the people were surreptitiously
furnished with English books from foreign presses.'

A few months after Elizabeth's accession an injunc-
tion was issued, in 1559, to the effect that no one
might print any book or paper whatsoever, unless the
same be first licensed. It was not long after she re-
newed the charter of the Stationers' Company, than
with characteristic perverseness she, in or about 1577.
upset it by making several grants quite upon her own
responsibility. John Jugge, her Majesty's printer,
secured the privilege of printing Bibles and Testa-
ments ; ' Richard Tothill the printinge of all kindes
Lawe bookes, which was common to all printers, who

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 29

selleth the same bookes at excessiue prices, to the
hindrance of a greate nomber of pore students.' John
Day, ABC's, and catechisms, ' with the sole selling of
them by the collour of a commission ;' James Roberts
and Richard Watkyns, all almanacs and prognosti-
cations ; Thomas Marshe, Latin books used in the
grammar schools ; Thomas Vautrollier, of all Latin
books other than latin school books ; ' one Bryde a
singing man/ all music books ; William Seres, salters,
primers and prayer books ; and ' Francis Flower a
gentleman beinge none of our companye hath privilidg
for printingeMtf Cramer and other thinges, and hathe
farmed it oute to some of the Companie for one hun-
dred poundes by the yere, which C li. is raised in the
inhaunsinge of the prices above th' accustomed order/
The foregoing names occur in a list, probably drawn
up by a stationer, and presented to the Queen, first as
' The griefs of the printers, glass-sellers and cutters
susteined by reson of privilidges. granted to privatt
persons,' but was ultimately modified into ' Complaint
of diuerse of their hyndrance by graunts ofprivelidges/
The memorandum (which is reprinted in Arch&o-
logia, xxv. 101, and Bibliographer, vi), is followed by
a list of the names of all such Stacyoners and Printers
as are hindred by reson of the presaid Privilidges '
to the number of thirty-five. Besides these there were
140 'thathan byne made free of the Stacyoners since
the begynnynge of the quenes maiesties reign that now
is, besides a great nomber of apprenticez ; ' in addition
to these there were ten others ' as do ly ve by book-
selling being free of other companies, and also hindered
by the said privilidges/

3O The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

The terrified stationers were much alarmed, and
accordingly drew up a petition which met with nothing
but a severe reprimand ' for daring to question the
Queen's prerogative.' But, ' approaching her Majesty
a second time much more humbly than before/ the
company was at length granted the exclusive right of
printing and selling psalters, primers, almanacks,
ABC's, the ' little Catechism/ and Nowell's English
and Latin catechism. Roger Ward, and John Wolf,
a fishmonger, treated the Queen's ruling with the
most supreme contempt, likewise the Stationers' Com-
pany. He ' printeth what he lysteth ' was the com-
pany's complaint. The memorandum describing the
officials' defeat is a choice piece of drollery ; ' comminge
to the house of one Roger Warde, a man who of late
hathe shewed himselfe very contemptuous againste
her Majesty's high prerogative, and offering to come
into his pryntinge house to take notice of what he did>
the saide Roger Warde faininge himselfe to be absente^
hys wyfe and servants keepeth the dore shutt againste
them, and saide that none shulde come there to search.'
John Wolfe, who was perhaps an unmarried man !
did not fare so well, for he paid the penalty of his
daring by way of imprisonment. In spite of decrees )
and a host of means to bring transgressors to the bar
of judgment, the many so-called privileges of par-
ticular persons and bodies corporate were being con-
stantly infringed. The Queen's prerogative was re-
peatedly questioned, and frequently set at nought.
And with the dawn of the seventeenth century, the
' rights ' of the monopolists existed only in name.

Another amusing episode in the early days of copy-

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 3 1

right may be related. Francis Reynault (or Reynold),
a Frenchman who fell under the displeasure of the
Inquisition for printing the Bible in English. He
had, at the time of the row, a number of primers in
English, which aroused the jealousy of the Stationers'
Company during the reign of Henry VIII. He was
frightened, and begged Coverdale and Grafton to
intercede with Cromwell to grant him a licence to sell
what he had already printed, and engaging to print no
more in England unless he had an Englishman to
correct the proofs for him.

The evolution of the bookseller from the typo-
grapher took place during the reign of Elizabeth, an
interesting fact which is proved from contemporary
evidence. In 1582, Christopher Baker, then Upper
Warden of the Stationers' Company committed to
paper a most interesting and valuable summary of the
Printing Patents granted up to that time by Elizabeth.
From this evidence we glean that in the reign of
Henry VIII. there were but few printers, which were
of p good credit and component wealth, at whichetyme
before, there was another sort of men, that were writers t
Lymners of bookes and dyverse thinges for the Church
and other vses called Stacioners ; which have and
partly to this daye do vse to buy their bookes in
grosse of the saide printers, to bynde them vp, and
sell them in their shops, whereby they well mayn-
tayned their families.' In the reign of Edward VI.,
although printers greatly increased, it became so
costly an art that ' printers were dryven throughe
necessitie, to compound before [hand] with the
booksellers at so lowe value, as the printers them-

3 2 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

selves were most tymes small gayners, and often

From a sixteenth century document in the Lans-
downe collection, we learn, ' that the booksellers being
growen the greater and wealthier nomber, have nowe
many of the best copies and keepe no printing house,
neither beare any charge of letter, or other furniture,
but onlie paye for the workmanship' (Archceologia
xxv.). An early example of the co-operative method
may be cited in 'The Four Sons of Aimon ' (1554),
which had been printed both by Caxton and Wynken
de Worde, and was again reprinted in 1554 by Wil-
liam Copland ; a certain number of copies were struck
off for particular stationers, with their names on the
imprint. Some copies have the name of John Waley,
and others that of Thomas Petet.

In noticing Arber's ' Transcripts of the Stationers'
Registers/ Mr. H. B. Wheatley has pointed out in the
Bibliographer that ' the number of copies that went
to make up an edition was fixed in the interest of the
workmen. The utmost recognized limit, irrespective
of the size, price or popularity of the book, was 1250,
so that the master-printer was put to the cost of re-
setting his book in type, even in cases where he was
certain of a larger sale ; and this circumstance accounts
for the slight variety in different editions of popular
books in those days. Double impressions of 2500
were allowed of primers, catechisms, proclamations,
statutes, and almanacs. Of the grammar and acci-
dence four double impressions, or 10,000 copies of each,
were allowed to be printed annually; but in 1587 it
was decided that should further impressions of these

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 33

be needed in any one year, they should consist of
1250 copies only.'

The war between the bookseller and the author
almost synchronised with the introduction of printing ;
and it still goes merrily on ! They appear to agree
only in regarding their interests as antagonistic.
Nearly every literary quarrel will be found to contain
a greater or lesser element of bibliopolic vagary.
And on the other hand, perhaps nothing can exceed
the abuse and scurrilous invective which have been
hurled at booksellers and publishers. For many
years after the invention of printing, the press was
chiefly employed in increasing the stock of literature
provided by classic authors, and the producers were
therefore trading on fairly safe ground. The selection
was not so much a matter of discrimination as of
taste or convenience. The supply almost regulated
the demand. The unhappy guerilla warfare between
the two parties commenced in real earnest so soon
as authorship by profession became an established,
if hopelessly miserable, fact. It should be remem-
bered that the early printers, such as Gutenberg,
Faust, Dolet, and Caxton were men emphatically
of 'light and leading.' They were followed, in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, by others
whose only remarkable trait was ignorance, and who
stuck at nothing to advance their own ends, and fill
their own pockets. They ridiculed the notion of
any other than a common right in literary property,
and cared nothing for an author's feelings, which,
indeed, they appear to have persistently ignored.

The horror with which eminent men refused to be


34 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

classed as authors is almost proverbial, and only too
clearly indicates the status of the then professional.
The feeling is not even now obsolete. ' To say truth,
ma'am, 'tis very vulgar to print,' observed Sheridan's
Sir Benjamin Backbite, and there was a good deal
of force in the remark. The effusions of the dilet-
tanti were circulated among their friends in MS.,
in which condition they remained until they fell into
the hands of some enterprising bookseller. The
poems of the noble but ill-fated Surrey, although
circulated in MS. during his lifetime, were not
printed until 1557. Sidney's ' Astrophel and Stella'
was never written with the intention of being pub-
lished, but two impressions of it issued from the
press in 1591, with a notice from its bookseller,
Thomas Newman. One of the most interesting ex-
amples of the 'horror' to which we have alluded
offers itself in 'England's Helicon' (1600), which is
a collection of poems by various writers, and pub-
lished by John Flasket. The curious address to the
reader refers to stationers making free with each
other's property, but Flasket was hoisted with his
own petard. By helping himself pretty freely to
other people's work he raised a perfect hornet's nest
around his own ears, and was compelled to paste
slips of paper over the names which he had cited.

A sort of 'half-and-half arrangement appears to
have obtained connection with Barnabe Googe's
' Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes ' (1563), which
was ' imprinted at London, by Thomas Colwell, for
Raffe Newbery, dwelyng in fleetstrete a little aboue
the conduit in the late shop of Thomas Bartelet.'

TJic Dawn of English Bookselling. 35

But we will let Mr. Googe tell the story in his own
way, but with the orthography modernized : ' A very
friend of mine, bearing as it seemed better will to my
doings than respecting the hazard of my name, com-
mitted them all together unpolished to the hands of
the printer. In whose hands during his absence
from the city till his return of late they remained.
At which time he declared the matter unto me :
shewing me, that being so far past, and paper pro-
vided for the impression thereof, it could not with-
out great hinderance of the poore printer be now
revoked. His sudden tale made me at the first
utterly amazed, and doubting a great while what
was best to be done, at length agreeing both with
necessity and his council, I said with Martial " iam
sed poteras tutior esse domi." ' There was none of
this reticence and modesty in M. Fra^ois De La
Mothe Le Vayer (1588-1672), who, upon being in-
formed by his bookseller of the slow sale of one
of his books, is reported to have said, ' I know a
secret to quicken the sale.' He procured an order
from the Government for its suppression, and as a
consequence the whole impression rapidly sold !

Great movements are proverbially the outcome of
small causes. And such was the case when the con-
tumacious John Wolfe, upon 'being admonished that
he being but one so meane a man should not pre-
sume to contrarie her Highnesse governmante,' un-
ceremoniously retorted, ' Tush, Luther was but one
man, and reformed all the world for religion, and I
am that one man that must and will reforme the
government in this trade.' In spite of the fact that

D 2

36 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

the opposition was bought off, and that on July i,
1 583, Wolfe was admitted a freeman of the Stationers'
Company by redemption, paying the usual fee of
3.?. 4*/., a great concession was made to the unlicensed
printers, by which any of them might, with the
authority of the master and wardens, reprint such
works as the owners did not care to reproduce, or
such as had long been out of print. For this privilege
the unlicensed individuals were to pay at the rate of
2.\ per cent, on the cost of the book.

Book entries appear to have occupied a very minor
place in the consideration of the Company, and were
inserted in the Register only when the fee of ^d. or
%d. was charged. The first copy entered on the
books is ' to William Pekerynge, a ballett called a
Rise and Wake, 4^.' The motive for entering was
perhaps more as an advertisement than anything
else. The fines levied by the Company (observes
Mr. Wheatley) in early days formed a very con-
siderable item in their revenue, and the amount
received from them was sometimes more than from
all other sources put together. Men were heavily
fined for not serving the office of warden, and on
August 1 8, 1578, Oliver Wilkes was fined 2Os. for
refusing to serve on the livery, with the option of
imprisonment if he did not pay the money. It is
more than passing strange that the leading men of
the fraternity were neither excused nor let off nomi-
nally. Richard Tottell, for example, was fined in
July, 1588, for keeping an apprentice two years un-
represented ; and in May, 1586, Christopher Barker,
the Queen's printer and elder warden, was also fined

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 37

for the same misdemeanour. William Norton, who
lived at the King's Arms, St. Paul's Churchyard,
and who died in 1593, an original member of the
Company, and one of the first six who came on the
livery after the renewal of their charter, was fined
for keeping open shop, and selling books, on St.
Luke's Day, and also on Sundays, a practice for
which other minor lights had to pay penalties.
Several got into trouble for using 'undecent .lan-
guage.' This entry, under date March 7, 1591,
sufficiently explains itself: 'Thomas Gosson for his
copie, "A ballad of ayonge man that went a ivooy ing"
&c. Abel Jefifes to his printer hereof provyded alwayes
that before the publishing hereof the undecentness
be reformed.' This entry is struck through, and in
the margin is written, ' Cancelled out of the book for
the undecentness of it in diverse verses.' Four years
later Jeffes was again in hot water for printing
certain ' verye offensive ' things.

The rapidity with which books and pamphlets
multiplied during the sixteenth century caused each
successive Parliament and sovereign great consterna-
tion and alarm at the problematical consequences.
Laws, as we have seen, were passed, and indictments
framed, but all to very little purpose. The printer
disposed of his secretly-printed wares to the in-
numerable pedlers and chapmen, who, in their turn,
disseminated the proscribed literary merchandise in
various and remote parts of the country. Perforce,
the poor printer was made the scape- goat when
caught : he it was who pandered to the party that paid
him, irrespective of his own views. The bookseller

38 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

was, by the very nature of his calling, an ' artful
dodger/ who, so soon as he detected danger ahead,
could gather up his goods and chattels, and, to use
an Americanism, ' make a retrograde movement for
a stratagetic purpose.' The printer was much more
heavily handicapped ; but where the supply fell
short of the demand, the people were supplied through
the medium of foreign presses and agencies against
which red-tapeism was quite powerless. The autho-
rities were baffled and befooled all along the line.
Webbe, in his ' Discourse of English Poetrie '(1586),
speaks of the 'innumerable sortes of Englysshe
bookes, and infinite fardles of printed pamphlets,
wherewith thys countrey is pestered, all shoppes
stuffed, and eury study furnished.' Generally the
authorship was a profound secret ; sometimes it was
an ' open ' one, and at others more or less distinctly
implied in the complimentary odes and sonnets of
friends and admirers added by way. of proem. It is
to such practices that we may trace many of the
existing doubts and uncertainties. But much of our
bibliographical confusion is attributable to another
cause, in which the luckless bookseller plays the
leading part. Anything that would ' sell ' he would
have printed without any compunction. Acting as
his own editor, he had only himself to blame for his
inaccuracies, and his back was broad enough to bear
any amount of curses that would in any case fall to
his share. A man who indulged in poetical frivolity
in his youth, and who in after years became famous,
was fair game for the bookseller, who would forthwith
not only collect and publish or republish those tenta-

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 39

tive efforts, but all others that could by any possible
means, fair or foul, near or remote, be fastened to
the same authorship. In some few instances this
energy has proved positively beneficial to posterity.

The history of the old printer-booksellers is a
very fascinating one : their quaint mannerisms, their
squabbles, fraternal and otherwise, their escapades,
and their triumphs over difficulties, all give colour to
by-paths which are almost as charming as the very
high road of literature itself. A knowledge of botany
adds tenfold to the interest of a country walk ; and to
the 'grubber ' among the black-letter quartos and folios
of three and four centuries since an imprint is much
more than an imprint, for it forms quite a little
chapter of a component whole. There is a mar-
vellous continuity, not individually, perhaps, but
certainly collectively, in the annals of bookselling,
from Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, and Pynson, to
Murray, Rivington, and Longman. Times have
changed, and we with them, but the fundamental
principle the propagation of knowledge remains
the same. Where they printed in tens, we print in
tens of thousands ; where they sought the exclusive
patronage of one or two great men, we appeal to a
circle which has no limits, to a clientele whose taste
is universal, and to a constituency in which every
person thinks and acts differently.

It is not necessary nor even desirable in such a
work as this to give a chronological account of the
vikings of literary enterprise-; but it will not be out
of place to indicate a few of the more important
points in the history of this wide- spreading subject.

4O The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

Pugnacity, as we have seen, was a well-developed
element in the constitution of the early booksellers.
Before the advent of authorship by profession, they
relieved the monotonyof every-day life by quarrelling
among themselves. These trade differences have
many points of interest and even value to us, for
during their course some important evidence has
been unconsciously disclosed. Regard for the sacred
rights of property was not one of the articles in the
bookseller's creed. In or about 1525, for example,
Robert Redman assumed and altered one of the best
devices of Pynson, and also infringed upon his rights
to print law-books. The case is laid before the public
on October 12, 1525, at the end of an edition of
' Lytyltons Tenures,' in a Latin letter. The Royal
Printer for such was Pynson was by no means
unpleasantly particular in his employment of adjec-
tives. ' Behold, I now give to thee, candid reader, a
Lyttleton corrected (not deceitfully) of 1 the errors
which occurred in him. I have been careful that not
my printing only should be amended, but also that
with a more elegant type it should go forth to the day :
that which hath escaped from the hands of Robert
Redman, but truly Rudeman, because he is the rudest
out of a thousand men, is not easily understood.
Truly I wonder now at last that he hath confessed it
his own typography, unless it chanced that even as
the Devil made a Cobbler a Manner, he made him a
Printer. Formerly this scoundrel did profess himself
a Bookseller, as well skilled as if he had started forth
from Utopia. He knows well that he is free who
pretendeth to books, although it be nothing more.'

The Dawn of English Bookselling. 4 1

In April, 1527, Redman made matters worse by
removing to the sign of the George, in St. Clement's
parish, the very house which Pynson had vacated.
In this year, also, Pynson made another onslaught
upon his rival in an edition of the ' Magna Charta.'
But the quarrel was probably* made up' in 1532,
when we find Redman occupying Pynson's residence
next to St. Dunstan's Church, and when, according
to Herbert's contention, Pynson retired from business,
and made over his stock to Redman. Henry Pep-
well, who died in 1539, was one of the most extensive
of the earlier publishers and booksellers. Ames was
of opinion that Pepwell acted as a sort of agent, at
the Holy Trinity, St. Paul's Churchyard, for works
printed abroad ; he bequeathed to Bermondsey
church in which parish he was born, 'a mass Ibook,
of five shillings value, for prayers to be made for his

Richard Grafton, whose operations extend from
1537 to I S7 I > is one f tne rnost interesting persons
who combined the threefold functions of printing,
bookselling, and authorship, in the early days of
typography. In addition to Hardyng's ' Chronicles,'
which he reprinted, and to which he ' added a con-
tinuacion of the storie in prose to this our tyme, now
first imprinted, gathered out of diuerse and sondery
authours that haue write of the affaires of Englande '
(1543), he also reprinted and continued Hall's
' Chronicles '(15 50). Next to Grafton in chronological
sequence, but perhaps before him in importance,
comes John Day, whose name is so linked with
literary enterprise from 1546 to 1584. Bibles, ser-

4 2 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

mons, and ABC's were all strong features with
Day. But he is a notable personage in many
respects ; he published books during the reigns of
Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth. In the first of
the three reigns he established a reputation as a
printer of Bibles, and in the last he had the distinction
of being the only one in his trade who possessed Old
English characters, and with these Foxe's edition of
the Saxon Gospels was printed. John Foxe, of
' The Book of the Martyrs ' fame, worked for Day as
author, translator, and editor. Day's motto was,
'Arise, for it is Daye.' Day issued, in 1560, the first
Church music-book in English, and a few months
previously (i.e. October 2, 1559) he was fined by the
Stationers' Company for printing without first having
obtained a licence. He commenced business at the sign
of the Resurrection, near the Holborn Conduit, and
removed in 1549 to a house adjoining the City wall,
Aldersgate. This latter place did not content the
industrious John, and so several of his friends pro-

Online LibraryW. (William) RobertsThe earlier history of English bookselling → online text (page 3 of 26)