E. (Edward) Marston.

Sketches of booksellers of other days online

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COPYRIGHT. National and International, with
some Remarks on the Position of Authors
and Publishers. 8vo, 1879. Second edition,
sewed, 1883.

FRANK'S RANCH; or, My Holidays in the

Rockies, 1885.

This book went through Five Editions. The fifth
edition is quite out of print, but a few copies of the
third edition may still be had.

DALE. Imp. 32010.

AFRICA." Crown 8vo, with numerous Illustra-
tions, boards.




Memories of Pleasant Places.

25 numbered copies, printed on Japanese vellum,
and 250 copies, India proofs, all sold. Cheap
edition, illustrated, cloth, gilt edges. Boards.

edition. Cheap edition.

AN OLD MAN'S HOLIDAYS. Fcap. 8vo, cloth.
Second edition, witli portrait (edition all sold).

From a picture by Chamberlin.














I. JACOB TONSON 1656-1736 . . .

II. THOMAS GUY 1644-1724 15

III. JOHN DUNTON 1659-1733 29

IV. SAMUEL RICHARDSON 1689-1761 ... 50
V. THOMAS GENT 1691-1778 70

VI. ALICE GUY (wife of Thomas Gent) . . . 103

VII. WILLIAM HUTTON 1723-1815 .... 115

VIII. JAMES LACK INGTON 1746-1815 .... 149









SAMUEL RICHARDSON (House at Fulham) . . ,, 67





llNCE the death of the late Mr.
George Murray Smith, who was a
few months my senior, I am told
that I am the oldest London pub-
lisher. To be called the doyen of the trade is of
that kind of distinction which one can accept
without pride, and adopt without vanity. It is
a distinction to which everyone is heir who only
lives long enough, and it is presumably one which
no one specially envies or covets, seeing that

"... barring all pother 'twixt one and the other,
We shall all be kings in our turn."

An intercourse of sixty years and more with
Books and Booksellers, Authors and Publishers,
gives me almost the title to think that I am in
my own person a kind of link between the
Publishers of to-day and the Booksellers of the
eighteenth century of whom I have endeavoured
to give some glimpses. My late partner, Samp-
son Low, was a youth of twenty when my last


two subjects, William Hutton and James Lack-
ington, died in 1815 ; and I was born not many
years afterwards ; this perhaps may serve as an
excuse for writing the following SKETCHES OF
cently appeared in "The Publishers' Circular."
The original idea was to condense into a read-
able sketch the main features of the " Lives "
treated of. In bringing them together into a
volume I have tried to make them a little more
complete by adding matter here and there, which
for want of space did not appear in the serial
issue. I have gathered the material from various
sources, chiefly from the autobiographies of those
who have written an account of their own lives ;
for the rest I am indebted to the industry of
Mr. Charles Knight, Mr. W. Roberts, "The
Dictionary of National Biography" and to a
curious book entitled " Fifty Years' Recollec-
tions of an old Bookseller." I have also found
material in Nichols' " Literary Anecdotes of the
Eighteenth Century" (nine volumes), in Southey's
" The Doctor," and in other works. I am also
indebted to Mr. W. H. Peet for the loan of
several books pertaining to the subjects.

April 25, 1901. E. M.

JACOB TONSON, 1656-1736.
From the painting by Kneller.


I. JACOB TONSON, 1656-1736

|F all the booksellers of the olden
time whose figures stand out from
the depths of the shadowy past per-
haps the most conspicuous is the
figure of JACOB TONSON. Doubtless there have
lived in the past centuries hundreds of old book-
sellers, more worthy, more learned, and more
beloved in their generation than Jacob Tonson,
who, after pursuing the even tenour of their way,
have passed into the shadowy world, not unwept
but at least unsung and unrecorded in the pages
of history, as unknown to posterity as if they


had never lived; their good deeds lie buried
with their bones, and they did no evil that should
live after them ; that, indeed, is the common
fate of many of the worthiest of human beings.

Only a few here and there of the shadows of
old booksellers have been evolved from the sur-
rounding darkness, either through their promi-
nent connection with some celebrated writer
who may have belauded or besmirched them
into lasting fame or lasting infamy, or else their
earthly careers have been brought to light by the
industry of such writers as the late Mr. Peter
Cunningham, Mr. Charles Knight, Mr. W.
Roberts, or Mr. Henry Curwen and thus it
was that the life and doings of Jacob Tonson
have been carried down for more than two hun-
dred years.

" The Dictionary of National Biography " de-
votes considerable space to the Tonsons (for
there were three of them) and other old book-
sellers; much of the same information some-
what differently told is to be found in each of
the authorities above mentioned, but the " Dic-
tionary of National Biography " is the most con-
cise. It is from these authorities and from John
Nichols' " Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth


Century," that the information given below has
been mostly obtained.

Jacob Tonson, like John Gilpin, was born " a
citizen of famous London town," about the year
1656 the younger of two sons of Jacob Tonson,
barber-surgeon and citizen, who died in the year
1 66 1, leaving ^100 to each of his two sons and
three daughters. " Ah ! Jacob," once said his
father to him, " if I hadn't a noble profession
for you to follow I should like to see you a
bookseller." Young Jacob had a decided aver-
sion to the business carried on " under the pole."
He had employed most of his holiday hours in
reading plays and poems, and so two years after-
wards he was apprenticed, on the 5th of June,
1670, to Thomas Basset, bookseller ("probably
in Little Britain," says W. Roberts). He was
then fourteen years old, and after seven years he
was admitted to his freedom in the Stationers'
Company, and immediately afterwards started in
business with his capital of ^100, following the
example of his elder brother who had com-
menced business as a bookseller the year before
in a shop within Gray's Inn Gate. Jacob's shop
was for many years under "The Judge's Head,"
which he set up as his sign in Chancery Lane,


close to the corner of Fleet Street. Had he
begun business a few years earlier he would have
been a near neighbour of Izaak Walton, but
they probably never met, for old Izaak was nearly
ninety years of age, and had left Fleet Street
before young Jacob started, and one can hardly
imagine two characters so widely divergent as
the tall and dignified Izaak and the short " bull- x
faced "Jacob.

Walton's printer and publisher was Richard
Marriott, in St. Dunstan's Churchyard close by.

Jacob Tonson was very ambitious of getting
in touch with authors of the highest standing,
and in his twenty-third year, 1679 (four years
before Walton died), he made the bold venture
of purchasing Dryden's " Troilus and Cressida "
for ^20, which sum he had to borrow ; and thus ^
he became Dryden's publisher, and with Dry-
den he seems to have continued on more or less
friendly terms till the death of the poet. Before
this year he had published some of the plays of
Otway and Tate. At this period he is imagined
by Charles Knight, who endeavours to realize
the shadow of the figure and deportment of the
young bookseller in his twenty-third year as
" short and stout," and twenty years later Pope *


calls him "little Jacob." It was not till after
his death that he was immortalized in "The
Dunciad," as " left-legged Jacob."

It was in 1683 that Tonson became the pur-
chaser from Brabazon Ailmer, the assignee of
Samuel Simmons, of one half of his right in
" Paradise Lost," and of the remaining half in
1690. Milton at that time was very unpopular,
and Tonson waited four years after his purchase
before he ventured to bring it out by subscrip-
tion. Dryden had spoken of it as one of the
greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems
which either the age or nation had produced.
It was an immediate success and thus Jacob
Tonson identified himself with Milton by making
" Paradise Lost " popular.

He brought out the fourth edition in 1688, in
folio, with a portrait by White. It was as a
motto under this portrait that Dryden wrote the
well-known lines :

" Three poets in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, England, did adorn,
The first in loftiness of mind surpassed ;
The next in majesty, in both the last.
The force of nature could no further go,
To make a third she joined the former two.

In 1684 he brought out a volume of miscel-


laneous poems under Dryden's editorship. Other
volumes followed in 1685, 1693, 1694, and 1703.
The series was called indifferently Dryden's or
Tonson's Miscellany.

Dryden's "Translation of Virgil" was pub-
lished by Tonson in July, 1697, by subscription,
and its publication gave rise to serious financial
differences between the poet and his publisher.
It has been stated that on one occasion, the
bookseller having refused to advance money, the
poet sent him the following triplet, with the sig-
nificant message : " Tell the dog that he who x
wrote these lines can write more :

" With leering looks, bull-faced, and freckled fair ; f*
With two left legs and Judas-coloured hair,
And frowzy pores, that taint the ambient air. "

(From "Faction Displayed.' 1 '")

These lines were never intended by Dryden
to be transmitted to posterity but a Tory satir-
ist who gave vent to his spleen by including
them in a poem, ridiculed both Tonson and the
Kit-Cat Club. Pope has stated that Dryden
cleared every way about ,1,200 by his " Virgil." -

Subsequently author and publisher became
more friendly, and on the publication of the
volume of " Fables " which contained the cele-


brated " Ode to St. Cecilia," commonly known
as " Alexander's Feast," for which he paid the

/ author two hundred and fifty guineas, to be
made up to ^300 when a second edition was
demanded Dryden wrote to Tonson : " I hope
it has done you service and will do more."
Dryden died in May, 1700.

Nichols says : " However plain in his appear-
ance, of which the above satirical description
may be supposed to have been a caricature, he
was certainly a worthy man, and was not only re-
spected as an honest and opulent tradesman, but
after Dryden's death lived in familiar intimacy
with some of the most considerable persons of
the early part of the last century."

Before the end of the century Tonson removed
from Chancery Lane to Gray's Inn Gate, the
shop previously occupied by his brother, who
had died. Here he dropped the sign of " The
Judge's Head," and adopted " The Shakspere's
Head." Charles Knight says : " He was truly

X the first bookseller who threw open Shakspere to
a reading public. ... In 1709 Tonson pro-
duced Rowe's edition in seven volumes octavo."
Jacob Tonson and his successors of the same
name quite justified the sign of " The Shakspere's


Head," for the various editions edited by Rowe,
Pope, Theobald, Warburton, Johnson and Capell
were all associated with the name of Tonson.

Jacob had no children, and seemingly never x:
married ; he took his nephew Jacob into partner-

In the year 1700 Tonson was instrumental in
founding the Kit-Cat Club, of which he became
secretary. This club was composed of the most
distinguished wits and statesmen among the
Whigs. The meetings were first held at a shop
in Shire Lane kept by Christopher Cat, who ex- X
celled in making mutton pies, which were regu-
larly part of the entertainment. In 1703 he built
a room at Barn Elms, Barnes, for the use of the
club. This room was adorned with the portraits
of the Kit-Cat club, painted by Sir Godfrey
Kneller, on canvas of a special size which has
always since been called Kit-cat, viz., 36 inches
by 28 inches. A splendid volume, containing
43 portraits, beginning with Sir Godfrey Kneller *\
and ending with Tonson, was published in 1735
by J. Tonson in the Strand. The plates were en-
graved by T. Faber. In a poem on the club,
attributed to Sir Richard Blackmore, these lines
occur :

9 -2


" One night in seven, at this convenient seat,
Indulgent Boca) (Jacob) did the muses treat."

This year (1703) he went to Holland to obtain
paper and engravings for the fine edition of
" Caesar's Commentaries," which he published in
royal folio, with eighty-seven plates, under the
editorial care of Dr. Samuel Clark in 1712.
Nichols describes this edition " as perhaps the
most magnificent work that has been issued by
the English press." The manufacture of paper in
England at this period had become confined to
the commonest sorts, chiefly used for packing,
and the types used in the better English printing
offices were imported from Holland. In 1705 he
published " Addison's Remarks on several parts
of Italy"; and in 1706 he became acquainted
with "young Pope" and proposed the publication
of his " Pastorals," which ultimately appeared in
the " Miscellany " in 1709.

Writing of Tonson's " Miscellany Poems " in
a letter dated May 2oth, 1709, Mr. Pope says:
" I shall be satisfied if I can lose my time agree-
ably this way, without losing my reputation. I can
be content with a bare saving game, without being
thought an eminent hand (with which little Jacob
has graciously dignified his adventurers and volun-


teers in poetry). Jacob creates poets, as kings /-
do knights ; not for their honour, but for their
money." Mr. Wycherley in reply, with an in-
decent allusion to scripture, observes, " You will
make 'Jacob's Ladder' raise you to immortality." x

In a letter to Steele, Pope says : " I should
myself be much better pleased if I were told you
called me your little friend, than if you compli-
mented me with the title of a great genius or an
eminent hand, as Jacob does all his writers."

In 1 7 1 2 he removed to "The Shakspere Head,"
opposite Catherine Street, in the Strand. In 1 7 1 1
Swift, Addison, and Steele met at young Tonson's,
and from 1712 Tonson, in conjunction with
Samuel Buckley, became the publisher of the /;
" Spectator." In 1712 Addison and Steele sold
all their interest in one half of the copies of the
first seven volumes of the "Spectator" to Tonson,
junior, for ^575, and all rights, and the other ^
half to Buckley for a like sum. In October 1714
Buckley resigned his half share to Tonson,

In consequence of his attachment to the Whigs
he obtained, in 1719-1720, a grant to himself and
his nephew Jacob Tonson, junior, of the office of *
stationer, bookbinder, bookseller and printer, to


some of the principal public Boards, and great
offices for the term of forty years, and in 1722 he
assigned and made over the whole benefit of this
grant to his nephew, who in 1733 obtained from
Sir Robert Walpole a further grant of forty years.
This lucrative business remained in the Tonson
family till 1800.

In a dialogue between Tonson and Congreve,
published in 1714, in a small volume of poems
by Rowe, there is a pleasant description of
Tonson before he had grand associates :

" While in your early days of reputation,
You for blue garters had not such a passion,
While yet you did not live, as now your trade is,
To drink with noble lords and toast their ladies,
Thou, Jacob Tonson, were, to my conceiving,
The cheerfullest, best, honest fellow living."

Tonson seems to have been fortunate, not only
in his publishing ventures, but he was congratu-
f lated on his luck in South Sea stock ; he made
V. a large sum also in connection with Law's Mis-
sissippi Scheme.

In 1720 he gave up business and bought an
estate called "The Hazells," at Ledbury, in

Jacob Tonson died in 1736, and is reported,
according to Nichols, on his deathbed to have


said : " I wish I had the world to begin again, x^
because then I should have died worth a
hundred thousand pounds, whereas now I die
worth only ^80,000." Nichols, however, re-
garded it as a very improbable story, for, in spite
of Dryden's complaints, Tonson seems to have ?<
been a generous man for the times and to have
fully earned his title of the " Prince of Book-

Dunton, a contemporary publisher, says of
Tonson : " He is a very good judge of persons
and authors ; and, as there is nobody more com-
pletely qualified to give their opinion of another,
so there is no one who does it with a more severe
exactness or with less partiality, for, to do Mr.
Tonson justice, he speaks his mind upon all oc-
casions and will flatter nobody."

Pope, writing of him to Lord Oxford, said that
if he would come to see him he would show him
a phenomenon worth seeing : " Old Jacob Ton-
son, who is the perfect image and likeness of
Bayle's Dictionary ; so full of matter, secret his- *
tory, and wit and spirit, at almost fourscore."

The elder Tonson's death at Ledbury, April >
2nd, 1736, was preceded by that of his nephew,
November 25th, 1735 who at his death wasde-


scribed as worth ^100,000, whilst the uncle's
estate is mentioned as ^"40,000.

Old Jacob made his will December 2nd, 1735,
after his nephew's death, in which he appointed
his great-nephew Jacob (the third of the name)
his executor and residuary legatee. This Jacob
the third bookseller of the name of whom
Dr. Johnson speaks as " the late amiable Mr.
Tonson," carried on business first in the old shop
opposite Catherine Street, in the Strand, but
latterly he removed to the other side of the way,
where he died, without issue, March 3151, 1767.

According to Curwen, Tonson's only rival in
business was Bernard Lintot, and he gives an
amusing anecdote of competition between these
two worthies for a work by Dr. Young. Both
had made an offer for the work. The poet an-
swered both letters the same morning, but un-
fortunately cross-directed them ; in the one in-
tended for Tonson he said that Lintot was so
great a scoundrel that printing with him was out
of the question, and in Lintot's that Tonson was
an old rascal.

W. Roberts, whose account of the Tonsons is
written in a kindly spirit, says of Jacob : " Lin-
gering for a moment or two over the character of


old Jacob Tonson, we find it to be indubitably
that of a thorough tradesman, not of a hero, but
certainly of a generous, hearty, and good man,
with a plentiful sprinkling of the worldly in his

THOMAS GUY, 1644-1724.
Founder of Guy's Hospital.

From the statue by J . Bacon, R.A.

II. THOMAS GUY, 1644-1724

HE fame of Thomas Guy does not
rest upon him as a bookseller,
but as a philanthropist ; it is true
that by great industry, great fru-
gality, and great tact he made much money as
a bookseller, but, unlike his contemporary Jacob
Tonson, he did not seek to attach his name to
the works of great authors such as Dryden,
Pope, and Addison. The Bible first and the
Great South Sea Bubble next were the chief
sources of his wealth. "The Dictionary of
National Biography" states, however, that he
published numerous books, and his imprint is
not so rare as has been represented.

From his earliest days he seems to have re-
solved to be rich, not, according to all accounts
that I can gather, for the sake of being rich, but


from a real desire to do good in his generation
and the generations that should come after him.
Mr. Charles Knight, quoting mainly from Mr.
William Maitland's memoir of Guy prefixed to
his account of Guy's Hospital, published in his
"History of London" in 1739, tells us that
Guy was born in the north-east corner of
Pritchard's Alley, in Fair Street, Horselydown,
in the year 1645, DUt tne precise date is not
given. The statue says 1644.

He was the son of Thomas Guy, citizen and
carpenter, who was by profession a lighterman
and coal-dealer in Horselydown, Southwark ; he
died when his son was eight years old. His
mother was a native of Tamworth, and after her
husband's death she returned to that town, and
soon afterwards married again.

Mr. Roberts states that a writer in the
"Gentleman's Magazine," 1784, page 340, says
that Tamworth was the place of young Guy's
birth ; but the probabilities are in favour of
Mr. Maitland's more precise statement ; the
latter authority says that Mrs. Guy " was care-
ful to have her children carefully educated."
Thomas's education from the age of eight to
eleven was in all probability in Tamworth.


He was bound apprentice September 2nd,
1660, to John Clarke, a bookseller, in the porch
of Mercers' Chapel, Cheapside; and in 1668
he became a freeman of the City of London
and of the Stationers' Company ; he commenced
business with a capital of 200.

Up to this point there is much similarity in
the careers of Guy and Tonson. Both were
shrewd, careful, and plodding, and both started
with the intention of amassing wealth through
the medium of the business in which they had
been educated; there is, however, little or no
evidence to show that either of them possessed
any educational advantages or literary or intel-
lectual gifts that should distinguish them from
hundreds of their fellow tradesmen who have
departed and left no trace behind them Litera-
ture happened to be their trade, and they culti-
vated it at first doubtless on a little oatmeal,
not however for its own sake, but as a means to
bear them on to fortune.

Tonson's ambition seems to me to have been
of the bullying, blustering sort, which eventually
enabled him to patronize great authors and
hob-a-nob with dukes and lords at the Kit-Cat



" Sweating and puffing for a while he stood,
And then broke forth in this insulting mood ;
I am the touchstone of all modern wit ;
Without my stamp in vain your poets write."

(From "Faction Displayed")

His name will be carried down to remote
generations on the title-page of the books of the
greatest writers of his time, not as a great bene-
factor, but as a fortunate plodding tradesman.

Thomas Guy's ambition to make money
seems to me to have been of the purely unselfish
sort. He lived penuriously, and grew rich with A
the single purpose of doing good with his riches.

He started in business in 1668, two years
after the Great Fire, in a little newly-built shop
near Stocks Market. The shop was at the angle
formed by Cornhill and Lombard Street, de-
scribed by Maitland as the " little corner shop."

Charles Knight says that the area upon which
the Mansion House now stands was for some
centuries the market for butchers and fish-
mongers, deriving its name from " The Stocks,"
which were set up in the public thoroughfare
for the punishment of evildoers. The whole
place was swept clear by the Great Fire of 1666.

The position which Guy had chosen was an
admirable one. Within a year after he had


opened his shop the second Exchange was
opened with great pomp.

Mr. Knight fancifully portrays young Guy
sitting in his little shop amidst his small stock
of books of the value of ^200, restless at the
want of occupation, and envying the great mer-
chant adventurers congregating at the Exchange,
whose ships brought the produce of every land
to the port of London.

Mr. Guy was a good Protestant, and as he sat
in his shop, too often unvisited by customers,
he meditated frequently on the large trade he
could command if it was in his power to offer
godly people well-printed and cheap Bibles.

The King's printer and the two universities
possessed the exclusive privilege of printing the

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Online LibraryE. (Edward) MarstonSketches of booksellers of other days → online text (page 1 of 9)