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The Murray Reprints of George Grabbe: A Publisher's Record Franklin P. Batdorf
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Page 192

The Murray Reprints of George Grabbe: A Publisher's Record
Franklin P. Batdorf

IN the nineteenth-century business records of the publishing house of John Murray, in London, are data not elsewhere available regarding the publication by Murray of George Crabbe's works after the poet's death.[1] These records contain an account of the reprints of both the eight-volume edition which first appeared in 1834 and the edition complete in one volume which was published first in 1847. The information concerning the number of copies received from the printer, the dates when they were received, and the rapidity of the sales should be useful to students of Crabbe's success and reputation as well as to librarians, collectors, and bibliographers. For the present this information must be regarded as a means of checking bibliographical evidence rather than as definitive material, since even a superficial preliminary survey reveals discrepancies between the publisher's records and the bibliographical facts which can hardly be accounted for without a thorough study of the extant volumes themselves.[2]

The Murray stock books make clear, however, that the eight-volume edition came out originally in monthly numbers, as the dating, February-September, in Huchon's list of the publications of Crabbe suggests.[3] The original printings of the first two volumes are dated in the stock book February and March, respectively; and those of the other volumes are dated specifically the first day of each succeeding month.[4] Apparently, Huchon did not make use of the Murray stock books. I find no mention of them in his study, the scope of which, indeed, hardly includes the history of the Murray editions published after Crabbe's death.

The dates recorded in the stock books for the reprints of these individual volumes throw doubt upon Bartholomew's listing of the reprints of 1835 and 1836, in which it is indicated that the set was reprinted in toto in


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both of these years.[5] The stock books show that all of the volumes were reprinted once during 1835, but in three different groups.[6] There is no record in the stock books, moreover, of any reprint of Volumes III and VIII during 1836. At the moment it is impossible to say whether any copies of these two volumes were issued with cancel titles bearing the date 1836. This seems improbable on account of the variety of dates in extant copies of this eight-volume set, which suggests that no effort was made to achieve the appearance of uniformity.

This variety of dates is accounted for by the indication in the stock books that between December, 1834, when the entire set was reprinted, and February, 1847, when it was reprinted again, there were many reprints of individual volumes or groups of volumes, but none of the set as a whole.[7] Thus the suspicion of numerous cancel titles is somewhat allayed, and the impulse to assume frequent reprints of the whole set with numerous shiftings, by booksellers and other owners, of copies from one issue to another is held in check. The table below summarizes the facts as to the dates of the reprints.

The records of the number of copies disposed of are a little less clear than those of the dates of the various reprints, because some of the entries showing numbers of copies disposed of seem to represent an accumulation and not to belong specifically to the dates assigned to them. This is indicated by several facts: first, that there is only one entry showing the number of copies of Volume I presented as gifts; second, that this number and the numbers of copies in the entries showing coffee-house sales are comparatively large; third, that these figures representing accumulations are rather infrequent for some of the years covered by the records; and fourth, that in a few cases the number of copies recorded as having been sold by a certain date exceeds the number recorded as having been printed by that date. It is possible, however, to get a fairly trustworthy idea of the rapidity of the sales of the various volumes of this edition as well as of the issues that were printed together as sets, for the total number of copies disposed of plus the number not disposed of corresponds exactly to the number printed. I shall give the record of the number of copies printed as it appears in the stock books, because these entries are intelligible without interpretation. But instead of putting down all the various entries in the records of sales, I shall summarize these and relate them to the records of printings.


Page 194

The reprints of the individual volumes of Crabbe's works are recorded in the stock books as follows:


Table of Printings[8]

Date  Number of Copies Printed 
Volume I  II  III  IV  VI  VII  VIII 
Feb., 1834  7,090 
March, 1834  5,062 
April 1, 1834  5,062 
May 1, 1834  5,040 
May, 1834  504 
June 1, 1834  5,098 
July 1, 1834  5,092 
Aug. 1, 1834  5,100 
Sept. 1, 1834  5,064 
Sept., 1834  504  502 
Dec. 1, 1834  506  506  504  504  506  506  1,000 
Dec., 1834  502 
Feb. 25, 1835  502  490 
June 19, 1835  505  500  506  506  506 
Sept. 19, 1835  504 
April, 1836  252  250  502  252  250  252 
June 7, 1836  250 
June 7, 1837  250 
Jan., 1838  250  252  252  254  250 
Feb., 1839  250 
July, 1839  250 
Feb., 1840  252  252  252  252  252  252  252 
Sept., 1841  250 
Dec., 1842  250  250  250 
Dec., 1843  252  252 
Jan. 1, 1844  234 
March, 1844  252 
Dec., 1845  252  252  252 
March 1, 1846  252 
9,589  7,580  7,330  7,290  7,358  7,362  7,368  7,572 

Although the column for each of the volumes in the 1832 stock book ends with the notation "To new book," I have found no entries in the next book, the one opened in 1844, for any of the volumes except the first, and only one for that, i.e., the one for January 1, 1844, given in the table above. Perhaps the phrase "To new book" refers to the records of the reprints of the set as a whole, which do appear in the 1844 book; or perhaps when the new book was opened it was contemplated that there might be further reprints of the individual volumes. In any case, I believe that these records as I have given them are complete, since they extend through 1846, the year before the set as a whole was reprinted. Regrettably, the stock books do not indicate whether the type for any of the volumes was distributed


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and re-set between 1834 and the last reprint of the set.[9] Nor do they show whether all of the printing was done by Spottiswoode. This writer has seen no copies of any of the volumes bearing the imprint of any other printer; and Spottiswoode is mentioned in the 1844 stock book as the printer of the 1847 issue.

The records of sales indicate that up to and including the year 1846 the individual volumes were disposed of as follows:


Table Showing Disposal of Copies[10]

Year  Taken Over by Booksellers, Sold at the Murray Shop, or Presented 
Volume I  II  III  IV  VI  VII  VIII 
1834  7,751  5,914  5,671  5,477  5,377  5,357  5,316  5,551 
1835  541  455  444  509  501  481  506  573 
1836  273  256  246  252  316  308  298  324 
1837  250  217  214  224  232  236  242  225 
1838  150  137  131  113  134  161  148  147 
1839  122  131  52  123  116  139  141  139 
1840  12  22  22  16  17  17  17  27 
1841  82  77  72  82  76  75  75  84 
1842  118  117  122  110  120  126  125  123 
1843  17  15  14  17  12  22  23  10 
1844  167  128  136  142  136  163  166  146 
1845  43  82  32  28  38  23  31  31 
1846  24  46  45  48  58  58  52 
9,550  7,559  7,277[11]   7,138  7,123  7,166  7,146  7,432 
To new book  39  21  53  152  235  196  222  140 
5,589  7,580  7,330[11]   7,290  7,358  7,362  7,368  7,572 

The rather extreme fluctuation of sales for the eighteen-forties suggests the possibility that some of the sales may have been recorded for the wrong year, perhaps on account of the use of a lump figure representing transactions over a period of time; but, as I have already said, the total number of copies disposed of corresponds exactly to the total number printed. I have not found any record of the disposal of the copies which are designated as


Page 196
carried over to the new book, but the general trend of the demand for these volumes is clear enough nonetheless.

It is interesting to note that the Volume I, containing the memoir of Crabbe, sold better than any of the volumes of his poetry except Volume II, which contained the poems that appeared first in 1807, and that Volume I maintained its position fairly consistently throughout the period represented by the figures. This fact is accounted for partly, of course, by the fact that the memoir was a new work. Although Crabbe's biography can scarcely be expected to have had a sale comparable with that of Boswell's Life of Johnson, also chronicled in the Murray stock books, it may nevertheless be worth mentioning that from 1835, when the house of Murray brought out the latter in ten monthly volumes, until 1839, these volumes sold roughly at the rate of 900-1000 copies each per year.

The superior popularity of Volume VIII is doubtless due also to the fact that its contents, the Posthumous Tales, were appearing for the first time. It is to be noted that Volume VIII tends to lag behind the others after the first three years following publication.

The principal significance of these figures, of course, is that they indicate how rapidly the popularity of Crabbe declined in the years following his death. It is to be remembered, however, that what we have here is only a partial record. The publication of Crabbe by other houses doubtless contributed to the decline of the sale of the Murray edition; but we cannot say how much.[12] Unfortunately no figures are at the moment available showing the rapidity of the sales of the editions brought out by other publishers.

The story is carried forward by the record of the printing and disposal of the eight-volume set as a whole. The stock books indicate that it was printed as follows:

February, 1847  Life and Works Complete, 8 vols.  Spottiswoode 
Fcap 8 vo  252 
January 1, 1849  Reprint  252 
Returned by Trade  24 
1853  Reprint  250 
The probable meaning of the item "Returned by Trade" is that some of the copies which had been taken over by booksellers or coffee houses and recorded as having left the stock room were returned, so that when these were again disposed of their number was again added to the record of copies taken from the stock. The number of copies returned had to be added to the record of stock received from the printer in order to make the books balance. The number of copies of the set printed, then, was 754 instead of 778.


Page 197

The 1849 and 1853 reprints have not been listed by Crabbe's bibliographers, nor have I seen copies of them.[14]

The following table is derived from the stock book record of the disposal of these complete sets:


Table Showing Disposal of Copies[15]

Year  Copies Disposed of  Year  Copies Disposed of 
1847  240  1858 
1848  20  1859  30 
1849  50  1860 
1850  131  1861 
1851  51  1862 
1852  119  1863 
1853  1864 
1854  23  1865 
1855  24  1866 
1856  19  1867 
1857  21  --- 
778 (total) 
Since the last recorded sale is dated April 4, 1867, and since the total number of copies disposed of equals the number received, the eight-volume set must have gone out of print at that time, except for a few copies of volumes printed individually before 1847 which may possibly have been left.[16] Since the eight-volume edition was in competition with the one-volume edition as early as 1847, the significance of the record of sales of the former will not appear until after I have given the figures for the latter.

The Murray records show printings and reprintings of the one-volume edition as follows:

Crabbe's Life & Works  Clowes 
March, 1847  One Volume, Royal 8 vo  2000 
Overplus  23 
Nov. 13, 1850  Returned by trade  46 
Feb., 1851  " " "  38 
Dec., 1850  Second edition  1,011 
July, 1854  Returned from shop 


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Crabbe's Works  Clowes 
Aug. 11, 1854  1 vol. royal 8vo  1,010 
June, 1860  Returned from trade  10 
Mar., 1861  ................ shop 
To other edition with plates  25[18]  
1901  1,010 
I have not seen the stock book entry for the 1901 reprint; it was transcribed for me by Mr. James Farquharson, of the house of Murray, who has told me that the volume has not been reprinted since that time, and has given me the following additional information from records accessible to him: The Poetical Works of Crabbe with his Letters and Journals and his Life was published by Murray, with illustrations, in seven parts royal octavo at one shilling each in 1860;[19] then in 1866 a one-volume edition made up of previously published monthly parts was issued with a new volume title.[20]

The Murray records add one reprint, that of December, 1850, to the list of reprints of the one-volume Murray edition given by Crabbe's bibliographers. The reprint listed by Huchon as belonging to the year 1867 may be the title-page edition of 1866, as the date on the title-page would probably be 1867 if the edition was issued late in the year 1866. Bartholomew, however, lists a one-volume edition for 1866.

The records of the disposal of the one-volume edition which I have seen extend only through the year 1854. They show the following:


Table Showing Disposal of Copies[21]

Year  Copies Disposed of 
1847  1,765 
1848  72 
1849  132 
1850  502 
1851  238 
1852  125 
1853  269 
1854  17 
These figures account completely for the first and second issues of the


Page 199
one-volume edition, but for no others. The belief has been expressed to me by Mr. Farquharson that the one-volume edition is not even yet quite out of print.

The demand for Crabbe's works in the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century can be seen more clearly from a combination of the sales figures for the eight-volume set with those which are available for the one-volume edition. These combined figures are given below:


Year  Copies Disposed of 
1847  2,005 
1848  92 
1849  182 
1850  633 
1851  289 
1852  244 
1853  270 
1854  40 
It is regrettable that this series cannot be continued, for it would be interesting to know whether the slump of sales in 1854 represented a trend. Perhaps it did not do so any more than did the low figure for 1848.

On the whole these data do not give the impression that all interest in Crabbe ended with his life. To be sure, the number of purchasers of his works was small in the years immediately preceding 1847, when Murray's two complete editions were published, and in the following years as well; but the sale of two thousand copies by a single publisher in 1847 and the comparatively steady sale in the following years are impressive.



I am grateful to Sir John Murray, K.C.V.O., D.S.O., and to Mr. John Grey Murray for their kindly permitting me to examine these records at their offices in London, and for their other kindness and assistance.


For example, in the New Orleans Public Library there is a copy of the eightvolume edition in which the title-pages of Volumes IV, V, VI, and VIII bear the dates 1845, 1843, 1843, and 1845, respectively; but the Murray records do not mention any reprints of these volumes in these years. One may guess that Volumes IV, V, and VI were dated 1845, 1843, and 1843, respectively, because they were printed in December of the preceding year; but the date of Volume VIII cannot be accounted for in this way.


René Huchon, George Crabbe and His Times (1907), a translation by Frederick Clarke of Huchon's Un poète réaliste anglais (Paris, Librairie Hachette, 1906).


Stock book dated 1832.


A. T. Bartholomew's bibliography of Crabbe's works, in Volume III of A. W. Ward's edition of Crabbe's Poems (1907).


Stock book dated 1832.


Stock book dated 1832 and stock book dated 1844.




The same must be said of the records of the printing of the eight-volume set as a whole and of the one-volume edition.




It will be noted that the totals for Volume III do not agree with the figures in the column. Since the figures representing sales are not entirely legible in the stock book, the discrepancy is probably due to an error in my interpretation of these rather than to an error in the totals. I have therefore given the totals as they appear in the stock book. A further argument in favor of these totals is that the total number of volumes disposed of plus the number carried over to the new book agrees with the figure given in the record of printings for the total number of copies printed. The validity of this argument is perhaps slightly questionable, however, since it is not certain that the figures showing the number of copies carried over represents an actual count.


See Bartholomew's bibliography.


Stock book dated 1844.


In addition to the lists of Crabbe's publications previously mentioned there is one by H. G. Pollard in the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1941).


Stock books dated 1844 and 1854. The twenty copies which I have indicated as disposed of in 1848 are recorded in the stock books for 1847. The monthly dates, however, and the fact that there is no other record of sales for 1848, suggest that these belong to the latter year.


Stock book dated 1854.


The record from March, 1847, through July, 1854, is from the stock book dated 1844.


The record from Aug. 11, 1854, through the item "To other edition with plates" is from the stock book dated 1854. The figure 999, presumably, represents sales.


Mr. Farquharson's source for the foregoing was John Murray's Official Quarterly List dated October, 1860.


These records do not account clearly for the one-volume edition with a printed title dated 1861 and an engraved title dated 1860. Bartholomew lists such an edition with plates, and a copy (also with plates) is extant in the Howard Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana. Possibly the twenty-five copies issued with plates were so dated. See the table above.


Stock book dated 1844.