University of Virginia Library


The recent publication of Mr. Philip Gaskell's article on "Eighteenth-century Press Numbers" [Library, 5th ser., IV (1950), 249-61] allows me the privilege of anticipating, in his commentary, some of the criticism which may be evoked by my own account. Again I feel constrained to remark that the exclusive interpretation offered by Mr. Gaskell, like the one ventured by Mr. Knotts, cannot prevail against the conflicting testimony of


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the headlines. Perhaps information other than this may be found to support the ambiguous intimations of the figures—such as that recorded in the printers' ledgers, for instance—but until it is forthcoming I shall continue to refer to the corollary evidence now available, and to reaffirm my conviction (1) that Kaye's theory is, essentially, the only one that comprehends all the facts; (2) that the presence of an anonymous pressman need not, therefore, be presumed for all unfigured sheets; (3) that reiterated figures in both formes of a sheet cannot be regarded as the idiosyncrasy of a compositor or foreman (a surmise which overlooks the strangely intermittent indication of what would be a persistent trait), but rather as the sign of full-press operation or of the termination of simultaneous printing; (4) that a shift in the position of a figure does not necessarily signify reimposition; or conversely, (5) that the appearance of a second figure in the same position as the first may not result from the transfer of the forme, during the course of an impression, to another machine. If one recognizes the probabilities which seem to be confirmed by the examples that I have cited, first, that the figures designate the man and not the machine, and secondly, that the figures may be tied up with the letterpress between impressions, then it can be maintained that the occasional appearance of an alternate but identically positioned figure in some sheets usually indicates a replacement at the same press, and the appearance of this figure in all sheets, a subsequent impression at other presses. Moreover, the association of the figure with the man also permits a rational explanation of the large numbers in a few works, such as the '22' which Mr. Gaskell found in Mrs. Piozzi's Observations on a Journey (1789). Actually, Strahan, the printer, may have owned only seven or eight presses and assigned to each three or more men working in shifts.

Despite our several disagreements, Mr. Gaskell and I concur in rearranging the order and reducing the number of impressions which Mr. Knotts devised for the variants of The Beggar's Opera (1728). But where Mr. Gaskell, as a consequence of his premise concerning the variable figures, supposes only one reimposition, and thus limits the total impressions to two—constituting for the first, the groups he labels A—C, for the second, D—G — I wish to defer a commitment on those described as D—E (corresponding


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to the miscellaneous group 3 in my review) until their status has been determined by the headlines. Meanwhile, it should be mentioned that, in addition to the variants already disclosed, several others have been reported. These I describe according to Mr. Gaskell's classification.                
Group   B   C   D   E   F   Copy  
A1  1v-1  7v-2  7v-2  4v-8  CtY (Plays, vol. 68) 
A2  7v-2  7v-2  4r-8  CSmH (Devonshire H.C. 7) 
4v-5  5r-5 
B1  7v-6  4r-6  CSmH (Devonshire 151814) 
E1  8v-6  TxU (Ak/ G252/ 728bad) 
Undoubtedly all but a few of the eleven varieties now identified represent, as Mr. Gaskell suggests, mixed copies or adjustments at press and not separate impressions.