Robert Milne Williamson.

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copies at 3s 6d or 3s a copy ?

The second-hand bookseller has the best
chance, but even he must migrate to the
central city, if he is ambitious of doing a
large trade.

The few who made fortunes by book-
selling are not to be compared to the
many who make no more than a modest
livelihood. The happiest men in the
business are not the wealthiest, but the
most contented, the men who love their
occupation, who look on it as a high privi-
lege to buy and sell books. Every day to
such men brings new pleasures. Arrang-
ing books on the shelves, dusting books,
buying books, selling books, and being


daily filled with a deeper love for these
silent companions of their labours. The
pleasure of tasting the contents of a book
is very sweet to the bookseller of a liter-
ary mind. He reads a bit here, another
bit there, and thus he lives a high ideal
life in the midst of what some may think
very commonplace surroundings.



In works of fiction the second-hand book-
seller is a curious compound of imagina-
tion and reality. He is invariably an old
man of a morose, unsociable temperament.
He is of a sceptical disposition ; last
century he quoted frem Voltaire, Hume,
and Tom Paine, and nowadays he studies
the higher critics. He is miserly,
greedy, shabby, and utterly callous as to
the world's opinions. He is usually a
widower ; his charmingly lovely daughter
and a black cat are the companions of
his solitude. One of his customers is a
wealthy young man, the son of a duke,
one of those extraordinary youths of
fiction who " pulled stroke in his Univer-
sity race," or was "one of a select eleven
at cricket in St Somebody's College."
The bookseller's daughter is by nature far
above her station, and to her the duke's
son makes ardent love whilst picking up
in her father's shop "many a quaint and
curious volume of forgotten lore." He
purchases most expensive books from the



old man, tossing down hundred pound
notes as if they were bits of wastepaper.
The story finishes with wedding bells, and
the old bookseller's daughter becomes a

I once knew an old bookseller in the
flesh who allowed his greed for books and
money to over-rule all other interests in
his life. He quarrelled with and parted
from every member of his family. In the
house in which he lived the books which
overflowed from his shop were stored.
Every spare corner was packed with
musty, dusty tomes. Double rows of
book shelves were erected across the
rooms. He had reserved a space by the
kitchen fire in which he lived, moved, and
had his being, in which he cooked his
food, ate, and slept. To get to this inner
sanctuary one had to grope one's way
through a lane of book-laden shelves.
The dust was left to accumulate every-
where undisturbed. The solitary old
man lived in penury, discomfort, and
misery, surrounded by books the value
of which would have supplied him with
every comfort in his old age. His days
might have been made bright, and his
declining years joyous by the companion-
ship and sympathies of loved ones and
friends, but from these he had cut him-
self off, and ho died alone, unwatched by
friends and unattended by human hands.
He was found dead seated in his shabby


old armchair, with books, discomfort, and
dust around him. Well might we pray,
"From a lonely and unregretted death,
Good Lord deliver us."

I was at one time employed by a
second-hand dealer in books who was
the most miserly, miserable, and suspi-
cious man I ever came in close contact
with. He dined every day in the back
shop on rice and milk ; one New Year's
morning he presented me with an orange,
which was the only gift I ever received
from him. When I had been with him
some time, I ventured to ask for an in-
crease in my salary, expecting at least 5s,
but after many objections he added six-
pence per week to my by no means
princely income.

Booksellers of the olden days have
been possessed with literary ambitions.
Samuel Richardson, author of "Pamela,
or Virtue Rewarded," the father of our
English novelists, was a bookseller. Dr
Johnson, the ponderous and prosy lexico-
grapher and essayist, was a bookseller's
son ; and many have been the retailers
and publishers of books who have given
to the world memoirs of their lives, auto-
biographies, and confessions.

One of the earliest booksellers whose
memory has survived was Jacob Tonson
(1656), son of a barber-surgeon. He com-
menced business with £100, died in his
eightieth year worth ,£fc>0,000. About


two hundred years later William Cham-
bers published his memoirs, from which it
appears he began business with 5s in
1819. He died in his eighty-third year,
wealthy beyond the dreams of his early

If Jacob Tonson and William Chambers
are average representatives of the trade,
then let all poor men make their sons
booksellers, for the leading facts in these
two worthy men's lives are alike. They
began life poor, lived far beyond the
alloted span of years in the sheath of this
flesh, and died wealthy.

When an apprentice, I was presented
by my employers with a copy of "Self-
Help," by Samuel Smiles. In this most
popular of biographical books, the author
tells the story of the lives and struggles
of a wonderful collection of men who
have succeeded in piling up for them-
selves nice heaps of gold before they
"shuffled off this mortal coil," and the
youth who reads the book is told to go
and do likewise. Not a word is said by
Samuel of the thousands who fail. The
man who makes money, keeps money,
and dies clutching his money, is the ideal
man, the perfect example. " Man's chief
end in life " — according to the philosophy
of Smiles and other writers of books for
young men — "is to get as much money
as one possibly can."

The lives of the best and most un


selfish of men and women are seldom
written, simply because they are not
vulgarised by the glitter of gold, and
because they are, in the eyes of the self-
helper, failures. Think what a poor show
the life of Jesus, who was poor and self-
denying all His days, would make when
compared with the life and experiences of
a self-made millionaire.

Of the many booksellers who have
lived, and sold books, and died in the
shadowy past, one can meet with the
shades of those only who have by their
originality, or success, made some little
stir in the world. Jacob Tonson made
most of his money by publishing, not sell-
ing books. He was Dryden's publisher,
and had a share in the early editions of
Milton's "Paradise Lost." His shop was
in Gray's Inn Gate, under tho sign " The
Shakspere's Head." Tonson was in 1700
the founder of the Kit Cat Club. In
1703 he built a room at Barn Elms,
Barnes, for the use of the club. This
room was adorned with portraits of mem-
bers, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller, on
canvas of a special size, 36 inches by 28
inches, which has always since been called
" Kit Cat " size. Jacob Tonson, with his
nephew, was connected as publisher with
Pope, Swift, Addison, Steel, and other
writers of the essayist school.

An honourable place as a bookseller
and philanthropist is occupied by Thomas


Guy, born in 1644, founder of Guy's
Hospital. The Bible was the foundation
of Guy's fortune. Not as a reader of the
sacred pages, nor as a preacher of its
truths, nor as a commentator, but as a
publisher and distributor of cheap well-
printed editions of the Bible did the
worthy bookseller make money.

At that time English editions of the
Scriptures were badly and inaccurately
printed on cheap paper. The best edi-
tions were issued in Holland and imported
to this country for sale. Thomas Guy
obtained from the University of Oxford
an assignment of their privilege of print-
ing the Bible, and he soon established a
large trade. Later in life he made profit-
table investments in South Sea Stock.
The " South Sea Bubble," which spelled
ruin to so many, meant fortune to the
lucky speculative bookseller. His great
benefaction to humanity was the building
and endowing of Guy's Hospital at a cost
of £240,000. He died in 1724, eighty
years of age.

In 1705 was published a curious book
entitled "The Life and Errors of John
Dunton, late Citizen of London, written
by himself in solitude ; with an idea of
a New Life ; wherein is shown how he'd
think, speak, and act, might he live over
his days again." The author was a book-
seller, brother-in-law of the Rev. Samuel
Wesley, father of the founder of Method-


ism. Dunton was a man of many ideas,
some mad, some sensible. He published
" The Athenian Gazette " as early as 1690,
being the founder of magazine and news-
paper literature. In his old age he got
into difficulties, and unlike the other
worthies whose shades have appeared to
us, he died in poverty in the 75th year of
his age.

Many, like John Dunton, would wish
to get the chance of living a new life, if
they could but roll back the years that
have gone, and live them over again ; yet
for everyone, be he young or old, the new
life is waiting with the rising of the sun
every morning. Fresh, new, glorious,
hopeful, victorious and happy life, could
one but have the clearness of vision to
see one's possibilities.

Printers, publishers, and retailers of
literary ware were formerly all included
in the term booksellers. Nowadays we
have many sub-divisions connected with
the making and selling of books. The
work of the author of a book and of the
artist who illustrates its pages may be
likened to the spiritual or immortal part
of a man. The work by which the unseen
idea of the creator of a book becomes
visible to all men is like the building-up
of the earthly tenement in which the soul
for the time being lives.

The paper manufacturer, the printer,
the binder, all minister to the publisher,


who designs the form in which a new
book is to appear. We have next the
wholesale bookseller distributing to the
retailer, and lastly the public ever eager
for something new. There are also the
great public libraries, and the smaller cir-
culating libraries, where books are not
sold but are lent out for hire to those who
wish to read but cannot purchase. Lastly,
we have the second-hand bookseller, who
deals in the books which survive the wear
and tear, after they have been cast aside
by their original owners.

Samuel Richardson (born 1G89) was a
bookseller in the most comprehensive
sense of the word. He was an author of
books which are still read and admired ;
he was a printer, a publisher, and during
part of his career attended behind the
counter. His father meant him to be a
parson, but he could not afford to pay for
his education, so Samuel was apprenticed
to a printer instead. When he was thir-
teen years of age he amused himself by
writing love letters for the girls of the
Derbyshire village where he lived. These
early literary epistles, no doubt, were the
foundations on which he built his letters
in " Clarissa," " Sir Charles Grandison,"
and "Pamela."

Fielding, the author of "Joseph
Andrews," laughed at the " puny Cockney
bookseller pouring out endless volumes of
sentimental twaddle," and called him " a


moll-coddle and a milksop." Kichardson
retorted by — "Had he not known Field-
ing, lie should have believed the author of
'Joseph Andrews ' to have been an ostler."
One feels that it is a degradation of litera-
ture when writers descend to such person-
alities, and one is glad that modern
authors as a rule have a finer sense of
delicacy and right feeling towards each
other. Richardson died in 1761, having
lived two years over the allotted three
score and ten.

Mr Thorpe, a London bookseller, pub-
lished from a manuscript he had dis-
covered, in 1832, a little book entitled
"The Life of Mr Thomas Gent, printer,
of York, written by himself." Gent was
born in 1691, and died in his eighty-
seventh year (1778).

Some time ago I heard a paper read
entitled "Whom the Gods Love." The
subject of this suggestively-named essay
was the poets who "died young." Shel-
ley, Keats, Kirke White, Chatterton,
Burns, all were loved of the gods, and
passed to the world of shades in their
youth or early manhood. What shall we
say of the booksellers 1

William Hutton, bookseller, of Birming-
ham, was ninety-two when he died ; Ton-
son, Guy, Dunton, Richardson, Gent,
Bohn, Black, Chambers, the elite of book-
sellers whose shades are with us, lived
every one of them for over seventy years,


If these worthies were not "loved of the
gods," their memories are honoured by
men. Their long, useful, and fruitful
lives are monuments of which booksellers
of the present day might well be proud.

William Hutton wrote the story of his
life from memory when he was seventy-
five years old. This book has gone
through four editions, the latest being
published by Warne & Co., 1872.
Hutton's early life was very hard. When
only seven years of age he had to work in
a silk mill, rising at five every morning.
In 1750, when he was twenty-seven years
of age, he started as a bookseller in Bir-
mingham. Ho was very frugal. Five
shillings a week were all his expenses for
food, rent, lodging, washing. The "eter-
nal female " had not at this period entered
into his life. She came in the form of
Miss Cock, five years later. In a year he
saved twenty pounds. In addition to
selling, he "hired out books." This was,
in 1752, one of the earliest circulating
libraries of which we have record outside

In London the first recorded circulating
library was in the Strand (1740), kept by
a bookseller named " Batho." Our pet
Scotch American millionaire, the prince
of lending library promoters, might do
worse than erect a monument to the
memory of the shade of this Batho
(whose Christian name I have failed


to discover), the humble originator of
a great idea.

From the time of his becoming a book-
seller, William Mutton's life is a record of
increasing prosperity. He was the author
of "A History of Birmingham" (1781)
and other antiquarian works. He was a
good specimen of that most delightful of
beings, " the happy old man." In his old
age he wrote "What is a happy life —
suppose a man can at fourscore walk
thirty miles a day. Suppose him by
assiduity and temperance to have ob-
tained a complete independence, that he
is blessed with an affectionate son and
daughter — would you pronounce this a
happy man 1 That man is myself.
Though my morning was lowering, my
evening is sunshine."

One feels, however, that in Hutton's
testimony there is something wanting.
His happiness rested on his physical
well-being, his independence, his past
careful life, and his children. The hap-
piest man would be he who could submit
to the loss of all these things, and still be
happy having as the foundation and source
of his joy of heart a possession of which
no power could deprive him.

In the "Memoirs of James Lackington "
(1791) we have the confessions and ex-
periences of one of the most self-satisfied
of scribbling booksellers. He was born in
174G, and died in 1815. When fourteen


years of age, he was apprenticed to a shoe-
maker. When seventeen he was con-
verted to Methodism, but after a while
became a "backslider." His book is
padded with a great amount of badly-
digested discussions on and diatribes
against " Wesleyanism," but more serious
blots on this "Memoir," of which all
booksellers should be ashamed, are the
vulgar "original humorous stories and
droll anecdotes " which it contains.

In 177-4 Lackington opened a shop with
a stock value of t £5, in Fetherston Street,
St Luke's, London. He had again been
converted, and borrowed £5 from the
AVesleyan Society. The story of Lack-
ington's life is a story of progressive
success. He sold books cheaper than his
fellow tradesmen, and built up a very
large business. He again quarrelled with
the Methodists, and in his " Memoirs " is
bitterly unjust in judging those who had
befriended him in his struggling days.
In 1804 Lackington published his confes-
sions, in which he expresses great regret
at having in his "Life" cast so much
ridicule upon the Wesleyans. In his
latter years he became a lay Methodist
preacher. He made amends for his past
by building and endowing several Wes-
leyan chapels.

Adam Black, founder of the great pub-
lishing house, was in his early days em-
ployed in the business which Lackington


originated thirty years previously with a
£5 note.

In 1725, in Creech's Land, at the east
end of the Luckinbooths, facing High
Street, Edinburgh, Allan Ramsay estab-
lished the first circulating library ever
known in Scotland. Ramsay sold his
business in 1752 to Jamos MacEwan,
from whom it passed to Alexander Kin-
caid, who died in 1777 whilst Lord Pro-
vost of Edinburgh. Smollett was a fre-
quenter of this shop. In 1771 William
Creech entered into partnership with Kin-
caid, and ho conducted the business for
forty-four years afterwards with success.
Thus for nearly a century the quaint old
book shop was the resort of the literary
public of Edinburgh — clergymen, profes-
sors, legal and other notabilities. William
Creech was the publisher of the works of
Cullen, Gregory, Adam Smith, Dugald
Stewart, Henry MacKenzie, Blair, Beattie,
Lord Karnes, and others. It is, however,
as the friend and publisher of Burns that
the memory of Creech is best known. Sir
AValter Scott was in his younger days a
reader in the library established by Allan

Alexander Donaldson was an Edin-
burgh bookseller who helped the Scottish
printing industry by reprinting popular
London-published books in Scotland. The
London trade tried by litigation to re-
strain him, but failed, the law of copy-


right not being then so clearly defined as
it is now. He was succeeded by his son
James, who died in 1840, the greater
part of whose fortune, £240,000, was
bequeathed to found the magnificent
hospital which bears his name.

In 1758 was published in Edinburgh
"The Autobiography of Peter William-
son." Peter, when a boy in Aberdeen,
was kidnapped and carried off as a white
slave to America. He passed through
many perils and adventures, and at
last settled in Edinburgh as a printer
and publisher. He established in the
northern metropolis the first penny post,
thus being the forerunner of Sir Rowland
Hill. He published in 1784 the first
Edinburgh Directory. He died in 1799.

Thomas Nelson, founder of the publish-
ing firm, was born at Throsk, near Stir-
ling, in 1780. When a youth of twenty
he went to London to seek his fortune ;
after various vicissitudes he entered the
employment of a Paternoster Row firm.
Afterwards he came to Edinburgh, and
combined the publishing of cheap editions
of standard books with bookselling. He
died, in 1861, eighty years of age.

A mighty man amongst booksellers
was William Blackwood, founder of the
" Maga." He was born at Edinburgh in
1776. In 1804 he commenced business
as a second-hand bookseller at 64 South
Bridge. In 1816 he removed to 17


Princes Street and became a publisher.
In 1817 the first number of "Blackwood's
Magazine" appeared. What a glorious
host of names of men of genius are linked
with this publication — Christopher North,
De Quincey, Aytoun, Scott, Lockhart,
Hogg, Moir, and others.

The last but not the least of the shades
of the old booksellers which memory
recalls are William and Robert Chambers.
William was born in 1800 and Robert two
years later in the hill-environed Tweed-
side town of Peebles. They both found
their way to Edinburgh and began
separate businesses as booksellers in a
very modest way. Robert was the author
of "Traditions of Edinburgh" (1823-4),
" History of the Rebellion," and other
works. In 1832 the two brothers, now
united in business, started " Chambers's
Journal," and from this time forward
their success was assured. William was
Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1865, and
to him we owe the restoration of St Giles'

As one glances back on the lives of
these booksellers of bygone days, one may
see that few of the worthies who have
made fortunes have done so simply by
buying and selling books. Fortunate
publishing of books has been the founda-
tion of their success. To be a successful
publisher is not an easy matter. One
requires to possess the intuitive knack,


which is almost an inspiration, of knowing
what the public want, and when it is
wanted. Few speculations pay better
than the publication of a book which
sells, and yet how easily money is lost by
printing that which no one desires.

In writing this paper I have been greatly
assisted by a little work entitled "Sketches of
Booksellers of Other Days," and I desire to
thank the author, E. Marston, Esq., and the
publishers, Messrs Sampson, Low, Marston &
Co. , for permission to use the information con-
tained in that book.



A rummage in the twopenny box of an
old book stall is a pleasure within the
reach of every one. To bo the possessor
of a library of rare works, and "editions
de luxe," is the privilege of the favoured
few, yet the many may drink their fill at
this humble well of learning, and spend
but little. At haphazard, one picks up
an odd volume of a little Bible, bound in
old calf, with an exquisite hand-tooled
design on the cover. Though the cost be
only twopence, the book is, to look on,
" a thing of beauty."

On a fly leaf is a written family record,
from which one learns that one Alex.
Gibson, writer in Paisley, was married in
1767 to Janet Forrester, and that they
had in twelve years a family of six sons
and four daughters. How came this
family rolio to the old book shop ?

Poetry abounds in the twopenny box.
Poets do not love to blush unseen, they
prefer to publish their songs and sonnets
in dainty little volumes. The number of



poets is legion ; they blossom forth under
poetic pen names in every newspaper, in
the corner sacred to the muses ; they
modestly fill up little blank spaces in
every magazine ; and if the poetic fever
lasts long enough they appear in artistic-
ally got-up volumes.

Happy is the poet who gets some liter-
ary celebrity to introduce him to the
world, or, failing a literary man, the next
best thing is to get some reverend gentle-
man to stand sponsor. The late Kev.
George Gilfillan was an adept at discover-
ing poets. In Brechin there resides a
worthy poet lover, Mr D. Edwards. He
has published sixteen volumes of "Modern
Scottish Poets," and has written a brief
memoir and appreciation of each of the
sixteen hundred poets, selections from
whose writings are included in the col-

It is the correct thing for a poet to
have his or her portrait as a frontispiece,
and a list of subscribers at the end of the
volume. It is also an understood formula
for a poet to state on the title-page of his
book the position in life to which he be-
longs. This is not meant as an excuse
for bad poetry, but is intended to show
how gonius is independent of circum-
stances. It is also considered to be in
the poet's favour if one can say he has
had little or no education.

We have "Poems, by a Painter,"


"Songs and Verses, by Surfaceman,"
"Wailings in Rhyme, by a Milkmaid,"
"Poems, by a Journeyman Mason,"
"Verses, by a Nursery Governess,"
"Thoughts on Love, by an Operative
Tailor," "Musings on the Moon, by a
Policeman." The poets who have copied
Burns' title-page word for word, "Poems,
chiefly in Scottish dialect," are not to be
numbered. One might be able to collect
a fairly extensive collection of poets at
2d each.

Biographical works are nearly as plenti-
ful as the poets. Memoirs of missionaries,
ministers, politicians, and good people in
general are, one regrets to say, not so
saleable as lives of pirates, adventurers,
thieves, warriors, detectives, swindlers,
and rogues.

In the same box with our modern
monthlies, with their bright covers and
pages of pictures, one meets with dingy
volumes of some eighteenth-century
magazines. Many old books are superior
to our machine-produced works, they
possess the charm which hand and brain
production alone can give ; but these old
magazines are as a rule badly printed and
unattractive ; yet the student who has

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Online LibraryRobert Milne WilliamsonBits from an old book shop → online text (page 4 of 6)