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For many reasons, then, French booksellers were neither so free nor so prosperous as their English counterparts in the eighteenth century; and this had many important literary consequences. Most important of all, perhaps, is the fact that in France patronage remained the chief way for writers to earn a living, and this prevented the degree of what one may call the democratization of literature which, for good or evil, occurred in England: both materially and spiritually the home of the French eighteenth-century writer remained the court and the aristocratic salon, whereas in England it was fast becoming the coffee house and the bookseller's backroom—Tom Davies', for example, where Boswell met Johnson.

The eventual literary effect of the changed economic and social orientation of the author in England has a close bearing on our answer to the question of whether the widespread hostility of Augustan writers to the booksellers, a hostility which has no genuine parallel in France, was really justified.

The mere fact that in England the booksellers were much more prominent and prosperous than they had been before or were elsewhere, would no doubt be enough to explain most of the attacks against them in Pope's time: since it was a new situation in the world of letters it was bound to excite envy. In any case, as far as the Augustan


Page 10
writers were concerned the increasing power and prestige of the booksellers was a particularly striking example of the current changes in the class structure which threatened the hierarchical social tradition which had their ideological allegiance.

Quite apart from these historical considerations it also must be remembered that the very nature of the relationship between publisher and author in general tends to breed animosity, like that between landlord and tenant. The letters of Dryden to his publisher, Jacob Tonson, for instance, reveal how rich in possibilities of friction is the situation where the writer is wholly dependent on a man whose ultimate concern is only to get the right kind of copy at the right time for the agreed price, and how this friction is exacerbated by the fact that the writer typically comes to what is essentially an economic transaction with a not wholly material view of his role. So in the end history remembers, not that Dryden got more from Tonson than any poet had got from a bookseller before, but only that Dryden blamed Tonson's meanness for the cursory nature of the annotation to his Virgil; that he sent him a messenger with the ominous triplet:

With leering looks, bull-faced and freckled fair,
With two left legs, and Judas colour'd hair
And frowzy pores that taint the ambient air.
And that he accompanied it with the verbal message—"Tell the dog that he who wrote these can write more."

It is a pity that he didn't, but of course Tonson wouldn't have paid him for them, and a Dunciad is only possible to a poet who, like Pope, is well beyond the reach of immediate financial necessity. But by an irony he must have relished, Pope himself was only in this fortunate position as a result of the very considerable increase in the scale of payments to authors from the days of Dryden onwards. It was Tonson, apparently, who was mainly responsible for the change: he lured Dryden away from his earlier publisher, Herringman, by offering twenty pounds for his version of Troilus and Cressida, in 1679; for the Fables we have the contract between them for the payment of 250 guineas for 10,000 lines—a shilling a couplet; and according to Pope, Dryden made 1200 pounds for the Virgil. Less than a generation later, however, Pope was able to play Tonson off against his aspiring rivals, notably Bernard Lintot, to much greater effect, so that, partly through the sale of subscription copies given him free, and partly through Lintot's payment of 200 pounds for the copy of each of the six volumes, Pope probably cleared about five thousand pounds for the Iliad, and not much less for the Odyssey. To attempt some assessment of this in


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terms of income level, it might be fair to say that, since interest rates of 5 and 6 per cent were common, the two works alone could have given Pope an income of 500 pounds a year; an income which was more than that of some of the lesser bishoprics, which was over twice the average income Gregory King assigned to "lesser merchants," and which fell short of Johnson's estimate of "splendour" only by a hundred pounds.

Pope, of course, was exceptional, but there are many other indications of the very high prices paid to authors, especially later in the century; sums of a thousand pounds or more for a substantial work, were not uncommon—for Mrs. Carter's Epictetus for example or Fielding's Amelia. Indeed there is perhaps no other period where so many of the acknowledged masterpieces received such immediate and handsome monetary reward—one thinks of 700 pounds for Tom Jones, of over 1000 pounds for The Sentimental Journey, of 6000 pounds for the Decline and Fall, of 500 pounds for the first edition alone of The Wealth of Nations. Johnson's Lives of the Poets, it is true, brought Johnson only 300 guineas, but that was more than the 200 he had asked, and Malone thought that if he had gone as high as 1000 or even 1500 guineas the booksellers would have accepted: similarly, the mere 200 pounds which Swift received for Gulliver's Travels was the figure he had named.

One of the two main exceptions to this tendency for increasingly high scales of literary payment by booksellers does a good deal to explain Pope's generally unfavorable attitude: poetry rarely commanded a high price, except for collected editions after the author had made his name. The reason for this relatively low scale of payments for poetry is probably that the booksellers tended to value copy mainly by the two criteria of the known demand for the subject and the probable size, and therefore price, of the book. Any work in several quarto volumes which was either a survey of some important field of knowledge or was of such established literary status that it could be regarded as indispensable to a gentleman's library, constituted a likely investment; and for this reason large works by indifferent writers often received huge rewards—John Hawkesworth, for instance, made 6000 pounds in 1773 for his three-volume Account of Cook's voyages. The usual payment for poetry, on the other hand, was very small: a poem that was less than book length, as most are, averaged from five to twenty pounds: Johnson received ten pounds for London, Pope seven for The Rape of the Lock, and fifteen for the Essay on Criticism; on longer poems the highest rates of payment seem to have been the 200 pounds


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which Pope received for a one-year copyright on the Essay on Man, and the 220 guineas which Young received for his very lengthy Night Thoughts.

Insofar as the market price of payment influenced what the author wrote, the system, then, discouraged poetry and favored whatever literary genres enabled the author to fill the most sheets the most quickly. This conclusion was in fact drawn by many writers, including Goldsmith. Typically he began with poetry, but having received only twenty guineas for The Traveller, and perhaps not much more for The Deserted Village, despite its five editions in three months, he came to the conclusion that "by pursuing plain prose I can make shift to eat, drink and wear good clothes." The fact is that Griffin, Goldsmith's publisher, could hardly expect to make a great deal out of The Deserted Village at only two shillings a copy. The relative brevity of poetry, combined with the longer time it takes to write, would in general seem to make it peculiarly unsuited to payment by the sheet, and peculiarly suited to a system of patronage, if only because many patrons may be presumed to be even more chary of their time than of their money.

The other main exception to the tendency for high scales of literary remuneration occurred when a work proved unexpectedly successful; Robinson Crusoe, for example, is said to have brought Defoe very little, but to have laid the basis of William Taylor's publishing fortune. The reason for this exception is that although the booksellers may in the main have deserved Johnson's praise as generous, liberal-minded men, they still tended to treat literature just like any other market commodity; there had not yet come into being the modern royalty system whereby, jointly though no doubt unequally, author and publisher combine to do as well as possible out of the public.

Not that all transactions in the eighteenth century consisted of the outright sale of the copy by the author to the publisher for a lump sum: booksellers occasionally made further payments if a second edition was called for, either ex gratia, as Millar gave Fielding another hundred pounds for Tom Jones, or by contract—such was Tonson's agreement to "pay Mr. Congreve . . . the sum of twenty guineas whenever his volume of poems—which I am now printing—shall come to be reprinted." There were various other approximations to the royalty system: an author might receive a stated proportion of the profits, as Gibbon got two-thirds on those of the third edition of The Decline and Fall, and Johnson a similar share of the proceeds from the publication of The Idler in book form; and there were also many kinds of


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subscription arrangements, very characteristic of the early decades of the century. The author might, in exchange for the copyright, receive so many volumes to sell for his own benefit, or else he might have the whole edition printed at his own expense, get his friends to sell as many as possible, and turn the rest over to the booksellers: in either case the cost of producing the book was defrayed, at least in part by the subscribers before it was printed.

But the commonest arrangement for authors was still that of the outright sale of their copy, and so the writer who had neither capital nor reputation might earn only a pittance which was spent long before the book was published; while for the successful writer the system meant that, in the absence of any continuing regular income from royalties, a Johnson or a Goldsmith would spend most of his literary energies on various kinds of casual labor—proposals, dedications, introductions, epilogues, compilations, translations, and so forth.

The negotiating position of the writer with the bookseller was somewhat strengthened by the 1710 "Act for the Encouragement of Learning" which for the first time, apparently, stated that literary compositions in manuscript were the property of their author. Personally I find it difficult to follow some writers who have seen this as the Magna Carta of authorship; but I suppose that some modest jubilation is in order whenever the law is discovered to agree with the expectations of uninstructed reason. Another provision of the Act, limiting copyright to fourteen years and making it renewable only to the author, was probably an indirect step toward the establishment of a royalty system: Pope, for example, sued Henry Lintot on the grounds of this clause, and having thus resumed his rights in The Dunciad, he was able to issue the new and enlarged version in 1743—fourteen years after the old.

The 1710 Act, however, was not primarily concerned with the rights of authors; it was, as Pope said, "a bookseller's bill" to make it easier for the trade to take action against piratical printers and publishers; and the need arose partly because of the lapse of the old Licensing Act, and partly because of the intensified competition for copy which came with the increase in the number of booksellers. It is this competition, of course, which is symbolized in the second book of The Dunciad where, parodying the traditional games of epic, the Goddess Dulness makes the booksellers run races and perform other, should one say—feats of skill?—with authors—imaginary or real—as prizes. Pope makes Curll run away with all the trophies—"Still happy impudence obtains the prize"—because he was the most famous of the pirates, and


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had indeed boldly laid both Swift and Pope under contribution: he wrung from Swift the tribute that "one thorough bookselling rogue is better qualified to vex an author, than all his contemporary scribblers in critic or satire."

Curll was only the most prominent of a minority of booksellers who, lacking the capital to attract established authors or to purchase valuable copyrights, employed hacks to turn out various kinds of ephemeral writing which are obvious examples of the literary debasement which ensued from unrestricted competition between publishers for the attention of the public. One of the most conspicuous of these new genres, the one most favored by Curll, and the one most objectionable to Pope, was the scandalous contemporary memoir, biography or secret history, especially that which took the form of the unauthorized publication of private letters. The tremendous vogue of these piracies, and the extent to which they penetrated public awareness, is suggested by a letter from one J.W. (probably Dr. John Woodward) to John Dunton in 1718, which ends: "You'll hear no more from me. . . . There's no writing to a man that prints everything."[4]

Dunton, incidentally, well illustrates the influence of the more directly commercial context of literature which was coming to the fore. One day, when walking through St. George's Fields with some bookseller friends, he stopped and exclaimed: "Well, Sirs, I have a thought I will not exchange for fifty guineas." The thought materialized as a weekly question and answer paper called The Athenian Mercury; and the inanity of some of its contents is representative of the kind of thing Pope was attacking in The Dunciad. One question indeed—"Why a horse with a round fundament emits a square excrement?"—typifies the deluge of scatological and pornographic writing called forth by the itching palms of the less reputable booksellers; Pope's revolting depiction of Curll's fall in Corinna's pool, and of his later submingent prowesses, are a fair satiric comment on this aspect of the literary gutter. (The whole subject, incidentally, of the cloacal image in Augustan polemic cries aloud for the attentions of some curious and intrepid scholar.)

A less gamey dullness, however, was much more typical of the commercial kind of writing described by Pope as "daily books and daily bread"; things like Samuel Wesley's "Pindarick Ode on Three Skipps of a Louse," or the endless pamphlet wars on religious, political and literary controversies. To keep these going, it was often alleged, booksellers forced their hacks to write against their own convictions: Fielding,


Page 15
in The Author's Farce, makes his Curll-like—and significantly named—publisher, Bookweight, explain to one of his garret writers that to argue on "the wrong side" of a question is "the properest way to show [his] genius"; and Archibald Campbell develops the theme in his The Sale of Authors.

This particular kind of institutionalized subornation and hypocrisy is, of course, the basis of modern journalism, where it goes under the name of conformity to editorial policy: and it is but one of the many examples of how most of the features in the commercial exploitation of the writer today were already beginning to appear in the eighteenth century. It is true that it was the marginal writers and publishers who were then mainly involved; and one could perhaps dismiss Pope's alarm by saying that The Dunciad deals with extreme and trivial cases which only represent, in Chesterfield's phrase, "the licentiousness which is the alloy of liberty." But Pope also introduces some of the big booksellers—Tonson, Lintot, Osborne—into The Dunciad, and thus implies that the booksellers in general bore some responsibility for the spreading empire of Dulness. At the beginning, for example, he couples the booksellers with the theatrical managers as progenitors of the works of Dulness from:

. . . the Chaos dark and deep
Where nameless somethings in their causes sleep,
'Till genial Jacob, or a warm third-day
Call forth each mass, a poem or a play.

Actually, it could be argued, genial Jacob Tonson had, in Pope's own case, called forth into print the young poet's first works, and this because, as he flatteringly wrote to Pope, he had seen "a pastoral of yours in Mr. Walsh's and Mr. Congreve's hands, which is extremely fine, and is generally approved of by the best judges in poetry." Here, as in most of his publishing, Tonson was certainly reflecting the best educated taste of his time, and much the same can be claimed, some-what less convincingly, for most of the other well-established booksellers of the time. In any case the main income of the big booksellers like Tonson, Lintot, Longman, Millar, Dodsley, and of the wealthy printer-publishers like Buckley, Tooke, Barber, Richardson, Strahan, came either from copyrights in works of authors now dead (Tonson, for example, claimed an exclusive right to publish Shakespeare and Milton), or from various other monopolies—government printing contracts, or patents giving exclusive rights to publish special kinds of material, educational, legal or religious, for which there was a continual demand. Their primary interest, therefore, was to defend the prices and the copyrights of these valuable properties, and they were not


Page 16
mainly dependent on current writing. To Horace Walpole's charge in 1764 that "our booksellers here at London disgrace literature by the trash they bespeak to be written, and at the same time prevent every-thing else from being sold," they could fairly answer that he naturally tended to reflect the hostility of their envious rivals, the printers, and further that the main things which they in fact bespoke were large and valuable projects like Johnson's Dictionary or Hume's History, works which could not have been produced otherwise. James Ralph—another Dunce, incidentally—pictured in his The Case of Authors by Profession or Trade Stated (1758) how "the sagacious bookseller feels the pulse of the times, and according to the stroke, prescribes not to cure, but flatter the disease"; he gave as his example the novel, and it is no doubt true that fiction, from the time of the seventeenth-century publisher "Novel Bentley" until the days of the mass production of fiction in the late eighteenth century by the Noble brothers and the Minerva Press, was much stimulated by booksellers without noticeable regard for literary value. But here again the main booksellers could claim that though of course they catered to all comers, the dominant tendency of their editorial policy was nevertheless to reflect the solid and traditional tastes of the educated reading public, if only because they were the main purchasers of the substantial volumes on which they made their largest profits.

Even so I believe that Pope and the other alarmists were in a sense right: something like Sainte Beuve's "Littérature Industrielle" (1839) was coming into being. In Pope's day it was mainly confined to Grub-Street, but as the century wore on the implications of the new context of literature became more evident. The mere fact that even the greatest authors increasingly had their eye on the reading public as a whole, rather than on their patrons or on their peers in taste and knowledge, must have had incalculable effects on the style and content of what they wrote: not all of these effects, one imagines, were bad, and yet they were almost certainly bad for the kind of matter and manner we find in Pope, for example: much of his perfection of form and compressed intransigence of statement must have been lost on what Shenstone called "the mob in reading." Certainly, any commercial pressure towards haste in composition is particularly disastrous for poetry; as Oldham put it in his imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry, though not, perhaps, without inviting an invidious reflection:

But verse alone does of no mean admit;
Who'er will please, must please us to the height;
He must a Cowley or a Flecknoe be,
For there's no second-rate in poetry.


Page 17

On the other hand the new situation was uniquely favorable to the very antithesis of poetry, journalism, which provides the readiest means for printers, publishers and writers alike to engage the attention of the largest number of readers. Goldsmith made the logic of this tendency explicit when he wrote in 1761 that "the effort . . . to please the multitude, since they may be properly considered as the dispensers of rewards," made writers concentrate on bringing "science down to their capacities." "This," he continued, "may account for the number of letters, reviews, magazines, and criticising newspapers, that periodically come from the press." As time went on journalism, by Gresham's law, started to drive out much of the older literary currency; this at least was what Crabbe suggested in his "The Newspaper" (1785), a poem which he considered to be "the only one written on the subject":

For these [newspapers] unread the noblest volumes lie;
For these, in sheets unsoiled the Muses die;
Unbought, unblessed . . .