W. (William) Roberts.

The earlier history of English bookselling online

. (page 5 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dinner or supper, for then he is as quick as other
three, eating six times every day.'

There is a story in connection with the publication
of nearly every sixteenth century book, so thac it
becomes a difficult matter to decide what to indude
and what to omit. The wiser plan perhaps wAl be
to confine ourselves to the better known vriters.
When, for example, the first three books of the
' Faerie Queene ' (1590) made no inconsiderable stir,
William Ponsonby, or Ponsonbie, upon his own sole
authority and quite without the poet's knowledge,
issued a collection of poems under the tite of ' The
Visions of Petrarch' (1591) as the work of Spenser.
It contained, inter alia, several pieces, slightly altered,
that appeared more than twenty years before as
' devised by S. John Vander Noodt,' ind when no
reference of any kind is made to Spenser. 'A
Theatre,' &c. (1569), opens with six epigrammatic
sonnets which are identical with the first six in the
4 Visions,' and, moreover, eleven of tie fifteen sonnets
in ' A Theatre ' are among ' The Visions of Bellay '
published with 'The Visions of Petrarch.' Prof.
Hales has pointed out that there ;s as little difference
between the two sets of poems as is compatible with
the fact that the old series is vritten in blank verse
and the other in rhyme. Why the bookseller should
have adopted such tactics we cannot even suggest,
and perhaps it would be an idle task to hazard con-
jectures.

That industrious antiquary, Anthony a Wood, had



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 59

an especial dislike to booksellers, and he complains
of its being the 'usual thing in those days to set a
great name to a book, or books, by which the shark-
ing booksellers or snivelling writers get bread.'

Most of the elder writers appear to have tried all
the leading booksellers, deeming, perhaps, one trans-
action with one individual quite sufficient. Robert
Greene, for example, had many, but Edward White
and Thomas Cadman were the principal ones. The
former, whose shop was ' at the little north door of St.
Paul's, at the sign of the Gun,' issued 'Morando'
in 1584, ' Euphues' in 1587, ' Perimedes, the Black-
smith,' in the following year, and ' Friar Bacon and
Friar Bungay' in 1594. John Busbie published
* Ciceronis Amor' (1597), ' Never Too Late' (1590),
and the second part of the latter, viz. ' Francesca's
Fortunes.' Thomas Cadman, whose shop was ' at
the great north door of St. Paul's, at the sign of the
Bible,' issued ' Planetomachia ' (1585), ' Pandosto '
(1588), and 'The Spanish Masquerado ' (1589).
Greene's most valuable prose work, ' The Repentance
of Robert Greene' (1592), was published by Cuth-
bert Burby or Burbie, whose shop was the 'middle'
one in the Poultry, under St. Mildred's Church, in
1592 ; and who removed, in or about 1594, to near the
Royal Exchange, where he was carrying on business
in 1599. There is a reference in the address of the
4 Printer to the Gentlemen Readers ' to the death of
Robert Greene, ' whose pen in his lifetime pleased you
as well on the stage as in the stationers' shops.' But
William Ponsonby, Thomas Woodcock, and Roger
Warde, among others, published one or more works



60 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

of this prolific writer, whom Anthony Wood charges
with ' that high and loose course of living which poets
generally follow.'

George Peele, who, according to Collier, was the
son of Stephen Peele, a ballad-writing bookseller,
was likewise a man of many publishers. William
Barley, of Gratious Street, sold several of his works,
including ' Edward I.' (1593). William Wright, whose
shop was adjoining St. Mildred's Church, in the
Poultry, issued Peelers 'Farewell to Norris and Sir
Francis Drake ' (1589). Peele's ' The Honour of the
Garter' (1593 ?) bore the imprint of J. Busbie, ' King
David' (1599) that of A. Islip, 'Merry Conceited
Jests' (1627) that of F. Faulkner, and 'Alcazar*
that of R. Bankworth. It will be seen, therefore,
that Peele's knowledge of the London booksellers
was extensive. The same may be said of Thomas
Nash ; but many of his pamphlets bear no imprint at
all, or, what is just as bad, a bogus one : their tone
and character rendered this amount of secrecy most
essential. His ' Anatomic of Absurditie ' (1590) was
issued by Thomas Hackett ; ' Christ's Teares ' (i 593),
by J. Roberts ; ' Have with you to Saffron-Walden '
(1596), by J. Danter; 'Lenten Stuffe' (1599), by
N. Ling ; and ' Summer's Last Will and Testament '
(1600), by Walter Burre. W. Jones, C. Burbie, and
Richard Jones also published for Nash. The last-
named, perhaps more than any other, will always be
associated with the satirist's name. Indeed, he almost
deserves to be reckoned among the smaller lights of
literature. His dedications form quite a feature in
literary by-paths. In 1590 he produced the first two



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 6 1

editions of Marlowe's ' Tamburlaine the Great,' but
the edition dated 1592 is more particularly interesting
to us from the address of Jones, or Jhones, or Johnes.
* I have/ he said, ' purposely omitted and left out
some fond and frivolous gestures, digressing, and, in
my poor opinion, far unmeet for the matter, which I
thought might seem more tedious unto the wise than
any way else to be regarded, though haply they have
been of some vain-conceited fondlings greatly gaped
at, what time they were shewed upon the stage in
their graced deformities : nevertheless, now to be
mixtured in print with such matter of worth, it would
prove a great disgrace to so honourable and stately a
history.' In the same year he exercised his talents
in connection with Nash's ' Pierce Penilesse : his
Supplication to the Devil.' And as this ' Address
to the Gentlemen Readers ' is short, as well as cha-
racteristic, we cannot refrain from quoting it :
'Gentlemen, In the Author's absence I haue been
bold to publish this pleasaunt and wittie discourse of
" Pierce Penilesse, his Supplication to the Diuell ;"
which title, though it may seeme strange, and in
it selfe somewhat preposterous, yet if you vouchsafe
the reading, you shall finde reason, as well for the
Authour's vncouth nomination, as for his vnwonted
beginning without epistle, proeme, or dedication : al
which he hath inserted conceitedly in the matter ;
but lie be no blab to tell you in what place. Bestow
the looking, and I doubt not but you shall finde
dedication, epistle, and proeme to your liking.
Yours bounden in affection, R. J.' In 1591 he
wrote an introduction to N. Breton's 'The Bower of



62 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

Delights.' There are nearly a hundred books in
existence with Jones's imprint, embracing the last
thirty years of the sixteenth century. He kept a
shop at the seuth-west door of St. Paul's Church,
and, according to Timperley, lived at the sign of
the Rose and Crown, near Saffron Hill, in Holborn ;
and at the upper end of .Fleet Lane, over against
St. Sepulchre's Church, at the sign of the Spread
Eagle.

In prosecuting an inquiry into the general state of
bookselling just three hundred years ago, a frequent
and not altogether explicable circumstance is that in
relation to the different imprints which appear in
some cases in the same year on one work. 'There
was practically no such thing as copyright ; and the
moment a manuscript left the author's hand, and
found its way into the printing-office, all claim on
the part of the author ceased. If one bookseller had
sufficient confidence to publish a poem or a play, and
it proved successful, the chances were a thousand to
one that rival tradesmen would offer rival copies.
We may take, as a by no means extreme example,
Marlowe's ' Hero and Leander,' of which Taylor, the
Water Poet, repeated verses as he plied his boat on
the Thames. The first and second editions were
printed in 1598 for Edward Blount. John Flasket,
of the Black Bear, in St. Paul's Churchyard, pub-
lished an edition in 1600, and another six years
afterwards. In 1609, Blount and W. Barret appear
to have gone into partnership, and to have succeeded
Flasket at the Black Bear ; for at this address they
issued two editions, one in 1609 and the other in



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 63

1613. In 1629, Richard Hawkins, of Chancery Lane,
and eight years later William Leak, of the same
quarter, were publishers of distinct editions of this
work. In fact, it is most difficult to say to whom the
copyright belonged, or if, indeed, one had more
right to it than another.

George Chapman had almost a fresh bookseller for
every new pamphlet or play. One of his earliest
works ' Skia Nuktos' (1594) was issued by William
Ponsonby ; and more than one bore the imprints of
both William Aspley and the ingenious Thomas
Thorpe. Walkley, Bonian and Walley, John Budge,
Lisle, and George Norton are among the best-known
members of the fraternity who published for Chap-
man. Thorpe, Ling, and Stansby published some of
Ben Jonson's works.

The last few years of the sixteenth century were
notorious for the publication of a vast quantity of
scurrilous literature. In 1599 most of this was
committed to the flames by order of Whitgift and
Sancroft, but the effect of this was not perceptible
upon the slippery sharp-shooters. As an example of
the attacks upon private vices, we quote one of the
introductory epigrams which occur in ' The Scourge
of Folly' (circa 1611) of John Davies, of Hereford :

' At stacioners shops are lyes oft vendible,
Because such shops oft lye for gains untrue :
But truth doth lye there oft contemptible ;
Unsold, sith old ; but lyes are often new.
Then should my booke sell well, sith full of lyes,
Ah, would they were : Nay, sure they leazings bee
In saying such and such do villanies ;
When none so nam'd commit such villany.



64 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

But I use namelesse names, because their shame
Should light on nobody that beares the blame.'



We may be sure that Richard Redman, located at
* ye West Gate of Paules,' the vendor of Davies's book,
declined the soft impeachment so far as he was per-
sonally concerned. Nash has a contemptuous reference
in 'Pierce Penile.-se' to the inferior writings of the
time : ' Who can abide a scurvie pedling poet to
plucke a man by the sleeue at eurie third step in Paules
Churchyard, and when he comes in to survey his wares
there's nothing but purgations and vomits wrapt vp in
wast paper.' Barnaby Rich, in his preface to the
courteous and friendly reader, in ' A New Description
of Ireland ' (1610), says, ' One of the diseases of this
age is the multitude of books, that doth so overcharge
the world that it is not able to digest the abundance
of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought
into the world, that are as divers in their forms as their
authors be in their faces. It is but a thriftless and a
thankless occupation, this writing of books : a man
were better to sit singing in a cobbler's shop, for his
pay is certain a penny a patch ! but a book-writer, if
he get sometimes a few commendations of the judicious,
he shall be sure to reap a thousand reproaches of the
malicious.'

Doubtless Michael Drayton was of Rich's opinion
on the subject of authorship. Writing to the friend
so well known to us through the medium of rare Ben
Jonson,' Drayton exclaims, ' I thank you, my dear
sweet Drummond, for your good opinion of Polyol-
bion. I have done twelve books more, that is, from



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 65

the i8th book, which was Kent (if you note it), all the
east parts and north to the river of Tweed ; but it
lieth by me, for the booksellers and I are in terms ;
they are a company of base knaves, whom I scorn and
kick at.' Considering the elephantine ponderosity of
Drayton's books, it was not at all surprising that he
and the booksellers were ' in terms ' and that they got
no further. However, three years later the second
part actually put in an appearance, but in the mean-
time his natural enemies had been dealing hardly by
him. The preface is despairingly, and we might al-
most say savagely, inscribed ' To any that will read it.'
From this source we learn that the stationers, who were
concerned at the slow sale of the former part, had left
out the epistle to the readers ! But we will relate the
incident in Drayton's own words. He complains of
the cold reception which the first portion of his great
work met, and that he not only failed to receive the
encouragement which his friends predicted, but that
he had been subjected to base detraction, and so forth.
' Such a cloud/ he laments, ' hath the devil drawn over
the world's judgment. Some of the stationers that
had the selling of the first part of this poem, because
it went not so fast away in selling as some of their
beastly and abominable trash (a shame both to our
language and our nation), have despightfully left out
the epistle to the readers, and so have cousened the
buyers with imperfect books, which those that have un-
dertaken the second part have been forced to amend
in the first, for the small number that are yet remain-
ing in their hands.' Even in ' the good old times ' of
slow travelling, slow eating, and slow reading, a poem

F



66 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

which ran into about 30,000 lines was scarcely likely
to be read by everybody. ' Where art thou, Michael ? '
was the cheery inquiry of John Davies of Hereford,
and under the accumulation of miseries, Echo might
well have answered, ' where indeed ? '

If, however, precedent goes for anything, the book-
seller might have justified himself by citing more than
one instance. William Turner, in the dedication to
Elizabeth of his ' New Herbal ' (1568), complains of a
crafty, covetous and Popish printer, not satisfied with
suppressing the author's name and leaving out the
preface, but furnishing his own preface and publishing
as if it were the production of his own brain ! Another
example may be found in the case of an exceedingly rare
little work, ' A Petite Palace of Petties his Pleasure '
(1576). The printer-publisher, ' R. B.,' supplied the
address ' to the gentle Gentlewomen,' and also that to
' all readers.' It is with a charming naivete that he
describes his manner of procedure. After the book had
been in his ' custodie ' for some time, he was ' eftsoones
ernestly sollicited to publish ' it, which he at length
resolved to do. ' I have,' he goes on to say, ' put the
same in printe, vsing my discretion in omitting sutch
matter as in the Aucthores iudgement might seeme
offenciue ; ' urging, as a plea, that the printer may
sooner offend in printing too much than in publishing
too little. But the old booksellers did not confine
themselves to editing and prefatory or dedicatory
writing. They had a strong partiality for title-pages,
which after all are not unimportant in the by-ways of
bookmaking. The great aim, of course, was to obtain
an attractive ' nomination/ which more often than not



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 67

was half the battle towards selling out an edition.
Whether the title had an immediate or remote reference
to the subject-matter does not appear to have been
considered material, or in fact whether it had refer-
ence to anything at all in particular. Who, for example,
could divine the burthen of Yates" ' Castel of Courtesie,
whereunto is adjoyned the Hold of Humilitie, with the
Chariot of Chastitie thereunto annexed' (1582), or
Gascoigne's 'The Droome of Doome's Day' (1576), or
Breton's ' A Flourish upon Fancy' (1577), or many
hundreds- of others that might be named ? Clearly
the bookseller was in most cases solely responsible
for the titles ; and if the first was not satisfactory a
second or a third was brought into requisition. Dec-
ker, in the ' Strange Horse-race ' (1613), observes that
' The titles of books are like painted chimnies in great
country-houses, make a shew afar off, and catch travel-
lers' eyes ; but coming near them, neither cast they
smoke, nor hath the house the heart to make you
drink.' John Houghton, when starting his ' Collection
for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade ' (i682) }
cautions the booksellers to send him no new titles to
old books for they ' will be rejected.' But the worthy
John, who was an F.R.S., must have been very ' green '
if he thought the trade would heed his warning !

The old booksellers employed metaphors in quite a

distinct fashion, and so the expression a ' good book '

is not understood to necessarily indicate a ' high ' toned

religious or otherwise intrinsically meritorious work ;

it simply meant one that sold well. 1 The term,

which is still employed, is a very old one, and is re-

1 See Connoisseur, January 31, 1754.

F 2



68 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

ferred to by Ben Jonson in his poem to his book-
seller :

' Thou, that mak'st gaine thy end, and wisely well
Call'st a book good, or bad, as it doth sell,
Use mine so, too : I give thee leave. But crave
For luck's sake, it thus much favours have,
To lie upon thy stall, till it be sought ;
Not offered, as it made suit to be bought :
Nor have my title-leaf on post, or walls,
Or in cleft-sticks, advanced to make calls
For termers or some clerk-like serving-man,
Who scarce can spell th' hard names : whose knight scarce

can ;

If, without these vile arts, it will not sell,
Send it to Bucklersbury, 2 there 'twill well.'

The following, a preliminary sonnet, ' Ad Bibliopo-
lam/ from Henry Parrot's ' The Mastive, or young-
whelpe of the Olde Dogge,' (printed for R. Meighen
and Thos. Jones, 1615), is sufficiently apropos to be
quoted here :

' Printer, or stationer, or what ere thou proove,
Shalt mee record to Time's posteritie,
He not enjoine thee, but request in love
Thou so much deigne my Book to dignifie,
As first it bee not with your ballads mixt ;
Next, not at Play-houses mongst Pippins solde ;
Then that on posts, by th' eares it stand not fixt
For every dull-mechanicke to beholde ;
Last, that it come not brought in pedlars' packs
To common fayres of countrey, towne or citie,
Sold at a Booth mongst pinnes and Almanacks.
Yet on thy hands to lye thou'lt say 't wer pittie :

Let it be rather for tobacco rent,

Or butchers' wares, next cleansing week in Lent.'

2 A famous street in London, noted in Ben Jonson's time for
chemists and herbalists. See ' Merry Wives of Windsor,' iii. 3.



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 69

Like so many other apparently modern institutions,
the practice of selling books of words at the theatre
before the play began is a very old one. In the pre-
face to William Fennor's ' Descriptions ' (1616), we
learn that books other than those bearing directly
upon the entertainment, were sold at the theatre. ' I
suppose' 'this Pamphlet will hap into your hands
before the play begin, with the importunate clamour,
" Buy a New Booke " by some needy companion/

It has been pointed out that in the time of Shake-
speare, the price of the copy of a play to the book-
sellers was about twenty nobles, or 61. i$s. ^d. The
patron to whom the play was dedicated paid about
forty shillings for such an honour. These figures are
represented at the present day by about five times as
much. Undoubtedly, the law of supply and demand
operated, and the more popular the play, the greater
the demand for copies, and small probability was
there of the successful author being content to receive
the ordinary honorarium.

One of the most important facts in connection with,
the trade during the time of Shakespeare is that in
1595 the first Catalogue of books was published.
It was compiled by a bookseller named Andrew
Maunsell, who commenced business in or about 1 570,
at the sign of the Parrot, St. Paul's Churchyard.
Very few books were printed by him, but he had an
extensive connection as a publisher. He ' undertook '
at least two of Churchyard's books, dated 1578 and
1579, respectively. The catalogue is of great value,
bibliographically speaking ; and its title runs as
follows : ' The first part of the Catalogue of English



70 The Earlier History of English Bookselling,

Printed Books : which concerneth such matters of
divinitie as have bin either written in our owne tongue,
or translated out of anie other language : and which
have bin published to the Glory of God, and edifica-
tion of the Church of Christ in England. Gathered
into alphabet, and such method as it is, by Andrew
Maunsell, bookseller. Unumquodque propter quid.
London : printed by John Windet for Andrew
Maunsell, dwelling in Lothburie, 1595.' There were
three dedications, the first to Queen Elizabeth, the
second to the clergy, and the third to the Master,
Wardens and Assistants of the Stationers' Company
in particular, and all other printers and booksellers
in general. This last dedication is of especial literary
and bibliopolic interest. 'Seeing' (observes Maun-
sell) ' many singular books, not only of divinity, but
of other excellent arts, after the first impression, so
spent and gone, that they lie even as it were buried
in some few studies : I have thought good in my
proper estate to undertake this most tiresome business,
hoping the Lord will send a blessing upon my labours
taken in my vocation ; thinking it as necessary for
the bookseller (considering the number and nature of
them) to have a. catalogue of our English books, as
the apothecary his Dispensatorium, or the school-
master his Dictionary. By means of which my poor
travils, I shall draw to your memories books that
you could not remember ; and shew to the learned
such books as they would not think were in our own
tongue ; which I have not slighted up the next way,
but have to my great pains drawn the writers of any
special argument together, not following the order of



Bookselling in the Time of Shakespeare. 71

the learned men that have written Latin catalogues,
Gesner, Simler, and our countryman, John Bale.
They make their alphabet by the Christian name, I by
the surname : they mingle divinity, law, physic, &c.,
together ; I set divinity by itself ; they set down
printed and not printed, I only printed. Concerning
the books which are without authors' names, called
Anonymi, I have placed them either upon the titles
they be entitled by, or else upon the matter they en-
treat of, and sometimes upon both, for the easier
finding of them.' The second part of this catalogue,
relating to books on mathematics, arithmetic, geo-
metry, astronomy, astrology, music, war, navigation,
physic and surgery, appeared shortly after the first,
and it likewise had three dedications. The first was
to the Earl of Essex, the second to the Professors
of Mathematics, Physic and Surgery, and the third,
as in the former part, was addressed to the Stationers'
Company. The third and perhaps the most valuable
part never appeared : it was to have dealt with books
on grammar, logic, rhetoric, law, history, poetry, &c.
The first part is composed of [viii.] 123 folio pages,
and the second, which was printed by J. Roberts, of
[vi.j 27 pages.

III.

The imprint of a book is almost invariably an
important and frequently an accurate guarantee of
merit, and not only is this the case at the present
moment, but something very analogous existed in
times which have long since become merged in the
dim obscurity of the past In writing the literary



72 The Earlier History of English Bookselling.

account of a particular person or epoch, historians,
almost without an exception, pass over in silence the
part which booksellers played, and apparently con-
sider it not only as beneath notice but as altogether
superfluous. The essentially interwoven connection
between bookselling and authorship is so great that
the influence of the author must be taken side by
side with the operations of the bookseller. We are
in the present day startled with an extraordinary
theory in connection with certain plays ostensibly
the work of Shakespeare. And without entering
upon debatable ground, we may serve a useful purpose
in giving a brief account of the works which Bacon
issued during his lifetime, and as sort of balance to
our somewhat exhaustive account of the first publica-
tion of the works of Shakespeare, who, indeed, might
have echoed the sentiments of the author of ' The
Ant and the Nightingale, or Father Hubbard's Tales,'
which was sold by Jeffrey Charlton ' at his shop at the
North Doore of Paules' (1604). 'I never' (observes
the writer) ' wisht this book better fortune than to
fall into the hands of a true spelling printer, and an