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John Nourse and His Authors by John Feather
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Page 205

John Nourse and His Authors
John Feather

The rise of the professional author is perhaps the most neglected topic in the history of the book trade; the author, the fountainhead of the trade, has been ignored by historians both of publishing and, in his capacity as paid worker, of literature. This is especially true of the eighteenth century; A. S. Collins's pioneering studies have not yet been bettered, partly because so little research has been undertaken.[1] More recent general studies, based almost entirely on materials known to Collins, have been at best cursory[2] or misleading,[3] and at worst inaccurate;[4] all, moreover, have tended to treat the eighteenth century as a mere prelude to the great age of the periodical and the popular novel. Yet all these scholars agree that it was in the eighteenth century that authorship, for the first time, became a viable profession for a substantial number of practitioners. It is only through the study of individual authors and publishers that we can begin to understand how this happened, and what the rewards of authorship actually were, especially for those who wrote at the lower levels of literature, the so-called 'hacks'. Many literary biographers attempt to assess their subjects' earnings, but only one scholar has offered a detailed analysis of a major author's finances,[5] and there is only one general history of eighteenth-century authorship which has attempted a scholarly synthesis.[6] This paper, based on the agreements, accounts, and correspondence of John Nourse, is intended to go some way towards filling the gap;[7] it is a study of one publisher's dealings with a group of authors, offered as an attempt to establish a context for the more familiar literary copyright agreements, and to show how the trade dealt with authors of no great fame or merit.

John Nourse was known in his own day as a publisher and importer of


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French books, and of scientific works, which some of these agreements reflect, and also as bookseller to George III; when he died in 1780 he had been in the trade for about half a century, and had established a good reputation both with the public and with his fellow booksellers.[8] Like most of his contemporaries he was a retail bookseller as well as a publisher, although he was one of those whose publishing activities overshadowed his retailing, and who led the way towards the emergence of the publisher in the modern sense. These agreements suggest that he was not ungenerous to some of his authors, and his interest in the plight of the professional author, a matter of concern to any professional publisher, is further attested by his acting as one of the booksellers for the Society for the Encouragement of Learning between 1735 and 1749.[9]

In considering the agreements, we have to distinguish between various categories: firstly, Nourse purchased copyrights, both of books which he commissioned, and of unsolicited works, in both cases on differing terms; secondly, he secured various rights in the future publication of an author's books. Fortunately, enough documents survive for us to construct a wideranging picture of his dealings with authors, and to draw some conclusions about their income and his profits. These matters occupy Part I of this paper; in Part II, I have attempted to provide a context in which the Nourse documents can be compared with other, and more familiar, records.


A. The Purchase of Copies

1. Commissioned Books

When Nourse commissioned an author to write a book he normally specified (i) its length; (ii) the time allowed for completion; (iii) the fee; (iv) the means of payment of the fee; and (v) the assignment of the copyright in the first and future editions. The length of the book obviously varied according to subject, and the time allowed for composition according to both subject and length. Length was specified in printed sheets, according to format, and the normal form of agreement states that the type size shall be the same as that in some recently published work to give both the author and the publisher a standard of comparison. Variations of more interest are found in the fees paid, and in the means of payment.

(a) Fees

The fees which Nourse paid varied from £1.1s.od. to £3.3s.od. per sheet. The normal form of agreement was for a fee for the whole book, but a few are for payment by sheet; the pattern seems to be that Nourse paid by the


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sheet when the length of the book was in doubt. Thomas Barlow, a lawyer at the Middle Temple, signed an agreement with Nourse on 4 January 1733 to write a 'Treatise concerning the Duty and office of a Justice of peace'; he was to be paid £2.2s.od. per sheet, for between 25 and 30 sheets of printed folio, including whatever tables, statutes, and precedents he thought it necessary to include. There was clearly some indecision about the probable size of the work; on 5 June 1734 a further agreement allowed Barlow to go up to 40 sheets. The publication of the book was, however, delayed for a decade. Not until 8 August 1744 did Barlow receive £126.0s.od., the payment for 60 sheets, but in a document of the same date, in which Barlow confirmed the assignment of the copyright to Nourse, it was acknowledged that he had actually written about 150 sheets. The book was published, as The Justice of the Peace: a Treatise, in 1745, in 154 sheets, with a further 5½ sheets of preliminaries. Clearly Nourse was not prepared to pay Barlow for having so greatly exceeded the limits set in the original agreement.

Nourse was, however, willing to allow some margin for error or change. When he commissioned John Mills to write 'a Work on the subject of Trade & Commerce' in 1765, it was agreed that the author would receive £2.2s.od. per sheet for 60 sheets, but he was allowed to go up to 80 sheets, pro rata, if necessary; Mills actually received £124.4s.od. between 5 June 1765 and 22 December 1766, the payment for just over 118 sheets, although the book was, apparently, never published in this form.[10] Even vaguer was the commission to Joseph Shaw to write 'a new treatise Intitled Parish Law' in 1731; for £2.2s.od. per sheet, 12°, Shaw was to write up to 15 sheets. More specific was the agreement with John Landen for his Mathematical Lucubrations; he was to be paid £1.1s.od. per sheet for 18 to 20 sheets, 4°. Landen almost kept within his limits; the book, which Nourse published in 1755, has 20¾ sheets, and five engraved plates. The same fee was paid to Marie Le Prince de Beaumont for her Magasin des Adolescentes, 4 volumes, 12°; and to Elias Palairet for a 'Dictionnary of the Ellipses' commissioned in 1760.

Agreements for payment by sheet are, however, exceptional; Nourse's normal form of contract was for a fee for a specified length of book. If the author exceeded that length he received no extra payment. Such a condition was explicit in the agreement with Robert Dossie for 'The Mysteries of Art displayed' in 1757, published in the following year as the first volume of The Handmaid to the Arts; Dossie was to receive £63.os.od. for 30 sheets, but was


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to be paid the same even if one or two additional sheets proved to be necessary for the satisfactory completion of the book.

The £2.2s.od. which Barlow, Mills, and Shaw were paid seems to have been about Nourse's average fee. Dossie received the equivalent sum for three works, all in two volumes. Anthony Vieyra received only £1.1s.od. per sheet for a Portuguese dictionary, but he also had as much again in books. The next lowest cash payment was the £1.7s.od. per sheet which was the most that Thomas Deletanville could have earned from A New Set of Exercises upon the Various Parts of French Speech; he was to be paid £9.9s.od. for 7 or 8 sheets, including proof correcting. In fact, he received £15.15s.od. in all, the extra £6.6s.od. being for 3½ sheets which Nourse added to the original agreement at a later date. At the other extreme, the same author was paid £157.1os.od. for a French dictionary; this was commissioned in 1761, but the final payment, due on delivery of the manuscript, was not made until 1771, despite a two-year time limit in the agreement. The commission was for about 54 sheets, or approximately £2.18s.od. per sheet. Presumably Nourse, and his co-publisher Paul Vaillant, took into account the quantity of work involved, but there is still a marked contrast with the £1.1s.od. paid to Vieyra for his labours, even when his payments in kind are taken into account. As we shall see, however, Deletanville was a good deal easier to deal with than his fellow lexicographer.

Some authors received copies of their books as well as monetary payments; some were probably for presentation, but others could be sold, often to pre-publication subscribers. Vieyra was to have copies to the value of £210.os.od., or exactly the same as his cash fee. Marie Le Prince de Beaumont received 150 copies of her Magasin des Adolescentes, which compensated her for a fee of only £1.1s.od. per sheet for writing the book. William Lewis was to have 100 copies of his The New Dispensatory, a pharmacoepia which Nourse published in 1753; Lewis was paid £85.os.od., or just over £2.2s.od. per sheet, for 40 sheets, although the book as published has 42½ sheets, and 2¾ sheets of preliminaries. Elias Palairet was allowed 12 copies of his 'Dictionnary of the Ellipses', which we can assume were for presentation to actual or potential patrons whom this rising young cleric was cultivating; his cash payment was only £1.1s.od. per sheet, so Nourse drove a notably hard bargain in this instance. John Robertson had the same number of his Elements of Navigation for which he was to receive £2.2s.od. per sheet, up to a limit of £96.12s.od., or 46 sheets.

There is no means of knowing how these agreements were reached, but it seems that the publisher usually had the upper hand. Indeed some of them are written on manuscript pro formas which appear to be in a legal hand, and in which spaces have been left for the author's name, the title, and the fee. The initiative for payment in kind may sometimes have come from the author if he wished to send copies to patrons or friends or was already committed to subscribers, as Le Prince de Beaumont was with Magasin des


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Adolescentes;[11] but it was also to Nourse's advantage, for it enabled him to conserve his supplies of liquid capital, a perpetual concern for all eighteenth-century businessmen. The agreements for payment in kind, whatever the motive, are distinctly atypical, and it is notable that Palairet, despite the two forms of payment, was treated rather badly by Nourse's usual standards, although, conversely, the treatment of Robertson was distinctly generous. In one case, books alone constituted an author's reward for her labours: Le Prince de Beaumont received 150 copies of Education complète, ou abrégé de l'histoire universelle, 3 volumes, 12°, 1753, but no monetary payment at all; her sales of her copies were not guaranteed for there is no list of prepublication subscribers.

(b) Methods of Payment

All the agreements have a clause in which the time and method of payment are specified. Nourse had three normal practices for books which he had commissioned. Sometimes he undertook to pay sheet by sheet as the work progressed, but this was possible only for books for which he was paying by the sheet; for such books, however, this method was almost invariable, for Barlow, Shaw, and Mills were all recompensed in this way, as was Landen for his Mathematical Lucubrations. A modified form of the same method was used to pay Vieyra and Deletanville for their dictionaries. Such arrangements worked to Nourse's benefit at least as much as to the author's; on the whole, it was the expensive books which were paid for in installments, which not only reduced Nourse's outlay at any one time, but also had the incidental effect of keeping the author at work. It is also notable, however, that Nourse paid by the completed sheet when the author was a man with whom he dealt infrequently, or only once. The authors from whom he regularly commissioned work were paid by a third method. Robert Dossie, the most frequent author in the extant agreements, was paid half of his fee when the book was commissioned, and half on the delivery of the manuscript. Deletanville, another prolific author, was, on two occasions, paid half of his fee on delivery, and half on publication; these payments were for The Child's Guide to the French Tongue in 1757 and 1758, and A New Set of Exercises in January and February 1758.

Payment before completion was obviously fraught with difficulties and dangers for the publisher. William Lewis seems to have failed to complete 'a New practice of Physick', for although he acknowledged receipt of £52. 10s.od., which constituted half his fee, on the day the agreement was signed, there is no receipt for the other half, and no evidence that the book was ever published. On the other hand, relations between Nourse and Lewis continued to be good, as we shall see, and we may suspect that this book was abandoned by agreement.

It is fortunate that in addition to the agreements there are some extant


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accounts with authors, from which we can trace in detail the progress of a book, and of the payments for it. The account with Vieyra is particularly illuminating in this respect. In the agreement, dated 9 November 1765, Vieyra undertook to produce 200 sheets, 4°, for £210.os.od., plus copies of the book to the same value at Nourse's wholesale price; the £210.os.od. was to be paid in monthly installments of £5.5s.od. for as long as the work was in hand, and it seems that Nourse required evidence of this. In practice, Vieyra never had his £5.5s.od. per month regularly; on 6 December 1765, he received £10.1os.od., and the same sum, at two-monthly intervals, from February to December in the next year. The payments then became much less regular. He had his £10.1os.od. in February 1767, but no more until June, when he received five months' payment, a total of £26.5s.od., including, presumably, one month's work paid for in advance. The next payment, however, was not until February 1768, when Vieyra received £10.1os.od., a gap only partially filled by a payment of £21.os.od. in the next month. When these payments are taken together, it seems that Vieyra was not paid for two months in 1767, presumably months in which he did no work on the dictionary. In April 1768 he received a single month's payment; perhaps Nourse was trying to bring him to order, but, if so, he failed, for after that there is no regular pattern of payment at all. Vieyra had £10.1os.od. in November 1768, a single payment of £42.os.od. in 1769, the fee for eight months' work, and no more until he received £154.18s.6d. in September 1770. This figure is difficult to explain: he may have been doing other work for Nourse, but this is unlikely since the account is headed 'for the Portuguese Dictionary'; more probably, it was a pro rata payment for work actually completed. £7.7s.od. in February 1771, and £6.6s.od. in April of the same year, brought Vieyra's receipts up to £359.1s.6d.; this was considerably more than Nourse had contracted to pay, but as there is no record of the books given to Vieyra, it may be that Nourse subtracted the £149.1s.6d. from the value of Vieyra's complimentary copies. The book was finally published in 1773.

Nourse's accounts, like so many others in the days before books were open to inspection by the Internal Revenue, are often obscure and sometimes imprecise; some are little more than jottings of payments. Nevertheless, the outlines of his dealings with Vieyra are clear enough for us to draw some conclusions from them. If Nourse had intended the installment plan as a means of keeping Vieyra at work, he was unsuccessful in the long run, but at least he ensured that the dictionary started well, with 20 months of continuous work from December 1765 to July 1767, and another continuous period probably from October 1767 to April 1768. In the rest of 1768, however, only two months' work was submitted, and by September 1770, when he made his last payment, Nourse was certainly paying for work actually completed, rather than on a simple monthly basis. By July 1769, when he paid for eight months' work, it must have been obvious to Nourse that his outlay would exceed the £210.os.od. for which he had contracted, and it


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seems to have been then that he decided to pay Vieyra pro rata. On the basis of the extant accounts it would seem that he suffered both losses and delays in his dealings with this author, and that he was a good deal more flexible than the letter of the contract allowed him to be even when Vieyra was not working consistently.

Deletanville was paid in equal installments for as long as he was at work on his French dictionary. Again the account survives, but it is easier to interpret than that with Vieyra. The publication was a joint one between Nourse and Vaillant, so that when Deletanville submitted his final account on 6 April 1771, half of the liability was Vaillant's. The publishers had undertaken to pay the author £154.1os.od. for about 54 sheets; Deletanville, an experienced author, submitted 55. He added, however, £34.7s.od. for a further 12½ sheets, 'necessary to compleat the work', slightly less than the pro rata cost; and another £1.1s.od. for 'the Dictionaire de Richelet' which he had bought to assist him. Of the resulting total, Nourse's share was £96. 9s.od.. In fact, Deletanville had been receiving his installments at regular intervals. He had £10.1os.1od. on 25 March and 25 September 1762, and 24 March 1763 (and presumably from Vaillant on the other quarter days), £15.15s.od. in October 1764, and further payments of £10.1os.od. in November 1765, and June 1767. Progress had been slow, but it had also been regular and reliable. Thus Nourse owed Deletanville £30.19s.od. which he paid three weeks after the author's final statement was submitted, on 30 April 1771. With a reliable author, this method of payment worked to the advantage of both parties: Deletanville had a regular income, and Nourse was able to spread his investment.

2. Unsolicited Books

(a) Purchases of Completed Manuscripts

In the surviving agreements there are only two certain instances of Nourse purchasing the unprinted manuscript of a work which he had not commissioned; it is significant that in both cases his terms were somewhat less generous than those for commissioned works. On 1 October 1769 Thomas Tyrrell agreed to sell Nourse the manuscript of 'Lettres et Memoires pour servir à l'histoire du Cap Breton ou Isle Roïale' for £31.1os.od., together with 100 books of the author's choice; Tyrrell was also to receive 25 copies of his own book when it was published, but there is no evidence that it was. In addition, Nourse would arrange for a translation to be made and printed, and again Tyrrell was to receive 25 copies; this translation, like the original, was not published, so far as can be traced. Although Tyrrell probably received the equivalent of Nourse's payments to his commissioned authors, the presentation of 100 books from his own stock was a far slighter drain on Nourse's liquid resources than cash payments would have been. It would, however, appear that the author retained the copyright, which gave him, theoretically, the possibility of additional income from the book in the future.


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John Landen fared even less well than Tyrrell. In 1755 Nourse had published his Mathematical Lucubrations which he had commissioned at £1.1s.od. per sheet, but in 1760 they negotiated a contract which was less favorable to the author. When the agreement was signed on 22 January 1760, Landen had completed the manuscript of The residual analysis, which was expected to make about 30 sheets, 4°; in return for the copyright, and for the cost of printing, Landen was to receive 100 copies for his subscribers, from whom he derived his only income for the book. In fact, this work was notably unsuccessful. It seems that the intention was to publish it in two parts, for the first volume, 'Part 1,' has only 17 sheets and 5 plates; a manuscript note on the title-page of the copy in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (shelfmark Savile Ii. 15), records correctly that this was 'all that was ever published'. Landen was destined for distinction as a scientist, but was never a successful author.[12]

(b) Purchase of a Printed Edition

As an important London bookseller Nourse had the advantage of easy access to the national book distribution system which was effectively controlled by the leading members of the London trade. This placed him in a position to bargain with his authors, and especially with those who had already paid to have their books printed and now wanted a wholesaler and distributor. As a consequence, when he purchased the whole, or a substantial part, of an edition, he was able to drive a hard bargain. Thomas Lally, a clergyman, received nothing at all for 700 copies of his translation of The Principles of the Christian Religion except the cost of production, and the promise of £21.os.od. if there was another edition; there was not. John Palairet assigned a ½-share in his New English Spelling Book to Nourse in 1746, in return for the £10.1os.od. which Nourse had already spent on advertising the book; the implication of the agreement is that it was already in print and that Nourse had undertaken the marketing.[13] In 1750 Palairet sold all the rights in this book to Nourse for £15.15s.od.; the sale included the copper-plates which had to be engraved at the author's expense.

There are two rather more generous agreements. Palairet himself was the beneficiary of one of them, when, in 1733, he sold all 1,000 copies of the second edition of his 'Grammar' to Nourse for a total of £55.os.od., half of which was payable immediately, and half in six months' time. It is probably significant that this was at the beginning of Nourse's career when he was less able to deal from strength in contracting with authors, but he made a good bargain, for the 'Grammar' can be identified as The New Royal French Grammar which was frequently reprinted.[14] Finally, George Aylette, a surgeon,


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received the equivalent of Nourse's commission payments for his 'compendium of Physick & Surgery' in 1768; the book, in 30 to 34 sheets, 8°, had been printed at the author's expense, but Nourse bought the whole edition for £52.10s.od. plus the cost of production, with a promise of £52.10s.od. for any and all future editions.

B. The Purchase of Rights

In some instances, it is not clear exactly what it was that Nourse bought. In 1760, for example, he paid Palairet £21.1os.od. for the rights in Nouvelle introduction à la géographie moderne, published in 3 volumes in 1754 and 1755; the plates were included in the sale, which suggests that Nourse envisaged publishing another edition, although he does not seem to have done so. Another ambiguous agreement with the same author is that for A Short Treatise upon Arts and Sciences, dated 16 May 1738; Nourse paid £10.10.od. for the sole rights in the copy. It is possible, however, that the book was already in print, for the first extant edition, that of 1741, is the third. These ambiguities lead us to consider the second major category of Nourse's dealings: his purchases of whole or part shares in existing, forthcoming, or future editions, especially the latter.

1. Future Editions

We have already seen some examples of Nourse explicitly purchasing the right to publish future editions of a work; additionally, this right was implicit in any agreement for the outright purchase of a copy, as was the case with commissioned works. There are, however, some agreements in which he deviated from his standard practices.

An Essay towards a Practical English Grammar, and The Royal English Grammar, which was an abridged version of the same work, were both purchased by Nourse from their author, James Greenwood, in 1736. Nourse paid Greenwood £42.1os.od. for the rights to any and all future editions. In fact, he made little profit from this; his first edition was the fourth of 1740, which was still in print in 1753 when it was advertised in volume 1 of Le Prince de Beaumont's Education complète. That work was itself published under an agreement which gave Nourse unlimited rights to reprint without payment, in return for which he gave the author 150 copies of the first edition, and no cash.

Not all of these agreements, however, were as unfavorable to the author as that with Le Prince de Beaumont; indeed there are some in which Nourse was very generous. William Lewis was a notable beneficiary. Nourse paid him £105.os.od. for The New English Dispensatory, published in 1753, six years after the agreement was signed. In addition, Lewis received 100 free copies, and had the right to revise future editions if he wished to do so; even if he did not wish to revise the work himself, he still retained control over its contents for he was permitted to see any revisions which were made by others, and no revised edition was to appear without his consent. The second


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edition appeared, with the author's revisions, in 1765; for his work, Lewis received £52.1os.od. and 100 copies. There were three further revisions, in 1770, 1781, and 1785, for which no documentation has survived. For 'a New practice of Physick' Lewis was to be paid £105.os.od. for two volumes, 8°, and then £31.1os.od. for the second edition, and £21.os.od. for each of the third and fourth; it was further specified that no edition should exceed 1,000 copies. Such contracts as this were at least as favorable to the author as they were to the publisher.

Lewis was not the only author with whom Nourse made agreements for future payments. When Greenwood sold his two grammatical works to Nourse, one clause in the contract granted him a further £10.1os.od. if more than 1,000 copies were sold, although, as we have seen, this clause probably never took effect. An edition size of 1,000 seems to have been the norm upon which Nourse based his contractual arrangements. For The Elements of Navigation, published in 1754, John Robertson received £96.12s.od., and 12 copies of the book, for 43 sheets, 8°; Nourse had the rights in all future editions, but for each of them, none of which was to exceed 1,000 copies, Robertson was to receive £24.13s.od., and 12 copies. This author, unlike Greenwood, profited from the arrangement; there were further editions of his book in 1764, 1772, 1780, and 1796. Indeed, he actually received more than the contract envisaged, for Nourse paid him £16.16s.od. for eight extra sheets for the 1764 edition, and raised the fee for subsequent editions to £28.7s.od..

Specified payments for revisions appear elsewhere. For his Thesaurus ellipsium Latinarum, Palairet was paid £1.1s.od. per sheet, but was to have 10s.6d. per sheet for revising any future edition. Le Prince de Beaumont, on the other hand, had no commitment to Nourse for one form of revision of her Magasin pour servir à l'instruction des jeunes personnes; Nourse was entitled to arrange for an English translation if he so wished, but the author was free to write and publish a version suitable for Roman Catholics, a right easily ceded by Nourse since the market for such a version would be chiefly outside England.

2. Joint Publications

Nourse did not always undertake the whole risk of an edition himself. Barlow's Justice of the Peace was originally to have been a joint publication between Nourse and Francis Coggan, but in 1742, 9 years after the original agreement was signed, Coggan sold his ½-share to Nourse. No further documents survive, but it seems that Nourse re-sold this share to John and Paul Knapton, for their names appear with his in the imprint of the edition published in 1745. Coggan was also joint owner of Shaw's Parish Law; Deletanville's Dictionary was a joint venture with Paul Vaillant; and Lewis's New Dispensatory started as a joint publication with Thomas Longman, although only Nourse's name appears in the imprint. In addition to these, one book, Robert Dossie's Memoirs of Agriculture, was sponsored, and may have been


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subsidised, by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; and Abraham Le Moine sold only half the rights in his Treatise on Miracles, and took half the profits, an arrangement which was to apply to all subsequent editions.

C. Costs and Profits

Detailed accounts do not survive for the costs of production of most of the books, and, unfortunately, the one exception is for a book with a nonstandard contract. This exception is Le Prince de Beaumont's Education complète, for which Nourse paid only in kind, in the form of 150 copies. An edition of 1,250 was printed in 1753, and the account shows a loss of 6d., and 127 copies on hand (Table I). From the remaining 127 copies, however, Nourse could make £22.4s.6d. at the wholesale price of 3s.6d., and he may have charged 5s.od. retail, a potential profit of £31.15s.od. He was a retail

Education complète, 1753: profit and loss account

DEBIT  £  s.  d.  CREDIT  £  s.  d. 
Paper (120 reams &c.mmat; 14s.od./ream)  84  860 copies to Dessan & Saillant for sale to Holland &c.mmat; 3s.6d. 
Printing (48 sheets &c.mmat; £1.4s.od.)  58  16  150  10 
13 copies sold 
Advertisements, &c.  10  -------- 
--------  152  16 
152  16  -------- 
bookseller, and no doubt sold some copies in his shop, so that the profit on the publication fell somewhere between these two figures.

Calculations of cost and profit on the other books must necessarily be speculation, but we can base them upon three reasonably firm assumptions: firstly, that 14s.od. per ream represented the quality of paper which Nourse usually used, as comparison of Education complète with his other books suggests that it was; secondly, that his normal edition size was 1,000; and thirdly, that he paid his printers the average price calculated from the Strahan ledgers, that is £1.os.od. per sheet set in Great Primer, English, or Pica, the usual text types in his books.[15] These calculations, approximate as they are, nevertheless provide a context in which we can judge Nourse's payments to his authors.

As an example, we can take Dossie's Elaboratory Laid Open; the author received £31.10s.od. for 18 sheets, and in fact delivered matter to fill 26. His fee is included in the costs (Table II). If Nourse sold the whole edition at 2s.6d. wholesale, his profit was £46.2s.od., or about 25% more than the author's income from the book. Similar figures emerge if we approximate


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Elaboratory Laid Open, 1758: approximate costs

£  s.  d. 
Paper (26,000 sheets = 52 reams app. &c.mmat; 14s.od.)  36 
Printing (26 sheets &c.mmat; £1)  26 
Advertisements, &c.  10 
Payment to author  31  10 
TOTAL  103  18 
the cost of publishing a book by another of Nourse's major authors, John Palairet. He was paid £21.os.od. for Nouvelle introduction à la géographie moderne, including an abridgement of the same work, and the copperplates. The book was printed in 3 volumes, containing 53 sheets (Table III).

TABLE III Nouvelle introduction . . ., 1754,55: approximate costs

£  s.  d. 
Paper (53,000 sheets = 112 reams app. &c.mmat; 14s.od.)  78 
Printing (53 sheets &c.mmat; £1)  53 
Estimated cost of paper & printing for 5 x 1,000 plates  30 
Advertisements, &c.  10 
½ author's payment*  10  18 
TOTAL  181  18 
Note*: on the assumption that ½ was for the abridgement
At a wholesale price of 4s.od. Nourse's profits would have been £18.2s.od.; at 4s.3d. (a retail price of 6s.od.) he would have made £35.12s.od.

These figures all exclude the cost of binding, as do Nourse's own accounts for Education complète, although there was probably at least a partial edition binding for that work. The copy in the Bodleian Library, Oxford,[16] is uncut in blue boards, and is the copy deposited under the provisions of the Copyright Act. It has all the appearance of a trade binding, which would clearly have to be added to the cost of production, but the wholesale copies, especially those intended for export, were almost certainly sold in sheets. Nourse's '&c.' may indeed include the cost of binding part of the edition, although we have seen that in at least one instance he did spend £10.os.od. on advertising. Whatever these minor costs may have been, it is clear that Nourse made a comfortable margin of profit if an edition was sold out, and that he was both able and willing to pay his authors fees which bore a reasonable relation to his own profits.


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Although the surviving agreements represent only a small proportion of Nourse's dealings with authors during his career in the trade, they are notable for their variety. Nourse commissioned manuscripts; he bought them; he bought editions of printed books; he bought and sold rights in copies, translations, abridgements, adaptations, and future editions. His fees were variable, but within fairly restricted limits, and he varied his means of payment for his own and his authors' convenience. In this variety he was typical of eighteenth-century English publishers, for we can find parallels for almost all of Nourse's forms of agreement. Commissions by the sheet were common, although perhaps more usual for periodicals than for books; Mark Akenside, for example, received £100.os.od. per annum for writing The Museum in the 1740s, and was required to produce 1½ sheets in Small Pica every fortnight.[17] It was not unknown for poets to be paid by the line; even Dryden at the height of his fame had a contract of this sort for the Fables (Saunders, p. 130). There were, however, profit-sharing agreements, parallel to that between Nourse and Le Moine; such was the arrangement between Gibbon and Cadeil for Decline and Fall, under which the author apparently had a right to ⅔ of the profits.[18] Outright purchase was nevertheless the most common form of agreement, even for unsolicited works; it continued to be so until the middle of the nineteenth century, and, according to Diderot, the same was true in France and in other European countries during the eighteenth century.[19] In this respect, Nourse was entirely typical.

Literary scholars have frequently misunderstood the relationship between authors and their publishers in the age before royalties, and have consequently condemned the trade unfairly. A famous example is that of the copyright of Paradise Lost for which Samuel Simmons agreed to pay the poet £5.5s.od. for each of three editions of 1,500 copies; in all, Milton and his widow received £18.os.od.[20] The general implied condemnation of Simmons is more than a little unfair. He was taking a political as well as a commercial risk in publishing a poem by an unrepentant republican who was lucky to have escaped with his life, and a poem moreover which was both long and difficult, and unlikely to appeal to the reading public of Restoration London. Even so, Milton's contract was generous, including as it did an agreement to pay additional fees when further editions were published. It is unlikely that Simmons made a great profit from this unfashionable and expensive book. It took half a century for Paradise Lost to be established as a classic and, while it is true that a number of eighteenth-century booksellers


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made a great deal of money from it, this was not least because Milton's cause was so assiduously promoted by one of their number, Jacob Tonson.[21]

By the middle of the eighteenth century competent writers could and did command high prices for popular books. Fielding's £700 for Tom Jones (Saunders, p. 139), and Smollett's £2,000 for his History of England (Ransom, p. 61) were exceptional, but the unknown Samuel Johnson was paid £15.15s.od. for his Life of Savage in 1743 (Fleeman, p. 212), a figure not unlike those paid by Nourse for commissioned works of a similar length. The equally unknown Alexander Pope received £16.2s.6d. for a translation of Statius at the beginning of his career (Saunders, p. 135), and for an undistinguished translation of Don Quixote Dodsley gave Charles Jarvis's widow £21.os.od. and 15 copies of the book (Straus, p. 87). Lintot paid Theobald 4d. for 3 lines of Sophocles, and 6½d. for 3 lines of Horace, the former to include a commentary, but this was a low rate.[22] At the very lowest level of literature, the political hack and failed lawyer William Arnall earned nearly £11,000 in four years from Walpole, which, with the pension on which he retired, was a more than adequate financial reward, and perhaps even offered some comfort for his appearance in The Dunciad.[23]

This is the context of Nourse's agreements: purchase of rights was not universal, but it was usual, and payments reached £100 only for a few writers and works, or in exceptional circumstances. Moreover, we have to remember that a large number of eighteenth-century authors, indeed probably the majority of them, were not, unlike Arnall or Johnson, dependent upon their pens for a living. This was certainly the case with Nourse's writers. George Ayelette was a surgeon; Theodore Barlow was a lawyer, and so, probably, was Joseph Shaw; James Greenwood was Sur-Master at St. Paul's School; John Landen was surveyor to Lord Fitzwilliam; Abraham Le Moine was Rector of Evereley in Wiltshire; William Lewis was a practising physician; Elias Palairet was a clergyman on the first rung of the ladder of preferment as chaplain to the Bishop of Bangor; John Palairet was London agent for the Dutch government; and John Robertson taught mathematics at Christ's Hospital.[24] The professional authors were the exception amongst those with whom Nourse was dealing, and the receipts of the others have to be seen as supplementary income.

Robert Dossie, described as a gentleman of St. James's, Westminster, does not seem to have had any profession other than writing, although he may have had other sources of private income. Even if this were not the case, he did not starve. From March 1757 to December 1760 he was continuously at work for Nourse, writing five works, three of them in two volumes. For


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these labors he received a total of £347.11s.od., an income of nearly £100 per annum (Table IV). Moreover, this represents only his income from

Robert Dossie's income from Nourse 1757-60

Income  Year totals 
Date  £  s.  d.  Book  £  s.  d. 
Mar  15  15  Elaboratory Laid Open  
Aug  27  ibid. 
Sep  31  10  Handmaid, vol. 1 
74  11 
Feb  31  10  ibid. 
Mar  10  10  Handmaid, vol. 2 
May  31  10  Institutes, vol. 1 
Jul  52  10  Handmaid, vol. 2 
Sep  31  10  Institutes, vol. 2 
157  10 
Jan  31  10  Institutes, vol. 1 
Apr  31  10  Institutes, vol. 2 
May  26  Pharmacoepia  
Dec  26  ibid. 
TOTAL  347  11 
Nourse in a limited period of time. Dossie wrote other books for Nourse, and for other publishers, in later years, including a play, The statesman foil'd, in 1768. Nothing is known of him, but it seems likely that the gentleman of St. James's, Westminster, was an amateur scientist and an aspirant playwright who supported himself largely by his writings.

None of the other authors worked for Nourse regularly enough for comparable calculations to be made, or, if they did, the evidence has not survived. We have already noted, however, that Nourse and Vaillant paid Deletanville at regular intervals while he was at work on the French dictionary, and that Nourse paid Vieyra regularly for the Portuguese dictionary for as long as there was evidence of progress. John Nourse never made his authors rich, but he did not cause, or allow, them to die in garrets.

The inevitable concentration on relationships between literary writers and their publishers has disguised some essential facts about the role of the author in the eighteenth-century book trade. Firstly, he was often not a professional author at all, but a clergyman, a schoolmaster, or other professional man, seeking to increase his reputation and only incidentally his income. Those who were professional authors seem to have been paid reasonably


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well as long as they kept their side of the bargain and wrote their books.[25] Secondly, although there are examples of publishers making large profits from books whose authors did not benefit from them, in most cases the author received a fair reward for a work which was never likely to make a fortune for anyone. In such circumstances, the sale of rights was preferable to profit-sharing, for not only did it simplify the publisher's accounting, it also guaranteed the author at least some income, even if only in the form of one or two cash payments and a few books. When there was a reasonable expectation of large profits, payments to authors were normally correspondingly large; or, as in the case of Tom Jones, there were negotiations, or ex gratia payments. Indeed, if John Nourse is typical of the leading members of the trade, as he seems to be, we can conclude that eighteenth-century English authors were not ill-treated by their publishers as long as they were able to produce saleable work without too great a delay.


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Note: this is a list of the documents which include an agreement or other papers which give the terms of a contract. There are a few other receipts in this MS. which cannot be related to agreements, and have not, therefore been used or listed. In the last column * indicates that the book has not been traced; I have searched the catalogs of the British Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford, and University Library, Cambridge, and the National Union Catalog, together with appropriate subject bibliographies, and Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica.

Author   Title in documents   f. no.  Date  Fee   Other documents   Published book  
Aylette, George  a compendium of Physic & Surgery for the use of Young Practitioners  23-23v   11.25.68  £52.10+ same for repr.  receipt (15-16v
Barlow, Thomas  Treatise concerning the Duty and office of a Justice of peace  20  1.4.33  £2.2s. per sh.  draft of agreement (21); agreement to enlarge work (21v); memo. on copyright (25); receipts (26, 27); assignment of copyr. (27v-29v The Justice of the Peace: a Treatise, 1745 
Blackwell, Elizabeth  Herbal  --  --  --  assignments of shares books, &s. (31-31v, 33-35v, 36v-37, 38-40v); accounts (42-48v A curious herbal, 1737,39 See Appendix, B, p. 226 
Deletanville, Thomas  The Child's Guide to the french Tongue  70-71v   11.10.57  £10.10s  --  The Child's Guide to the French Tongue, 1758 
Deletanville, Thomas  A dictionary in two parts, viz., french and English and English and French  74  11.14.61  £157.10s.  accounts (76); receipt (76v A New French Dictionary, (1st ed., *, 2nd ed., 1779) 


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Author   Title in documents   f. no.  Date  Fee   Other documents   Published book  
Deletanville, Thomas  A new Set of Exercises upon the various parts of French Speech, calculated for the use of Such as are desirous of making French without the use of any Grammar whatever  72  1.16.58  £9.9s.  receipts (72v A New Set of Exercises upon the Various Parts of French Speech, 1758 
Dossie, Robert  The Laboratory laid open, or the secrets of modern chemistry and pharmacy revealed  85r-v   3.7.57  £31.10s  receipt (85v); receipt, agreement to enlarge (86)  The Elaboratory Laid Open, 1758 
Dossie, Robert  The Mysteries of Art displayed; later: Handmaid to the arts  87r-v   9.24.57  £63  receipt (87v); title changed, receipt, assignment (88)  The Handmaid to the Arts, vol. 1, 1758 
Dossie, Robert  The second Volume of the Handmaid  89r-v   3.25.58  £63  receipts, assignment (89v The Handmaid to the Arts, vol. 2, 1758 
Dossie, Robert  A Treatise on Experimental Chemistry Volume the first  91r-v   5.15.58  £63  receipts, assignment (91v Institutes of Experimental Chemistry, vol. 1, 1759 
Dossie, Robert  Institutes of experimental Chemistry Volume the second  93r-v   9.22.58  £63  receipts, assignment (93v ibid., vol. 2, 1759 
Dossie, Robert  Memoirs of Agriculture and other Œconomical Arts  102  3.31.68  £63  receipts (102v Memoirs of Agriculture and Other Œconomical Arts, vol. 1, 1768 
Dossie, Robert  Memoirs of Agriculture and other œconomical arts, volume 2  103r-v   2.16.69  £63  receipts, assignment (103v, 104)  ibid., vol. 2, 1771 


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Dossie, Robert  Pharmacopeia chyrurgica  95r-v   4.25.59  £52.10s.  receipts (95v Theory and Practice of Chirurgical Pharmacy, 1761 
Greenwood, James  An Essay towards a practical english grammar and an Abridgement of the said Essay & entitled The Royal English Grammar  --  --  --  assignment, repr. agreements (135, 137)  An Essay Towards a Practical English Grammar, 4th ed., 1740 and The Royal English Grammar, 1737 
Landen, John  Mathematical Lucubrations  146  2.27.55  £1.1s. per sh.  receipt (146)  Mathematical Lucubrations, 1755 
Landen, John  Treatise on the Residual Analysis  147  1.22.60  100 copies  --  The Residual Analysis, 1764 
Langhorne, J.  Translation of the Lettres d'Emerance a Lucie  148  1.14.66  £1.11s.6d. per sh.  receipts (148v Letters from Emerance to Lucy, 1766 
Lally, Thomas  a Translation of a book intitled The Principle of The Christian Religion  --  --  --  700 copies bought, repr. rights (144) 
Le Moine, Abraham  A treatise on miracles &c  150  9.18.47  Equal profits  --  A Treatise on Miracles, 1747 
Le Prince de Beaumont, Marie  Magasin pour servir a l'instruction des Jeunes personnes nouvellements mariees ou pretes a l'etres ou Suite du Magasin des Adolescentes  68  4.18.63  £105.2s.  receipt (68)  ? Le magasin des jeunes dames, 1764 
Le Prince de Beaumont, Marie  Magasin des Adolescentes  66  7.4.59  £1.1s. per sh.  receipt (66)  Magasin des adolescentes, 1766 
Le Prince de Beaumont, Marie  Education complete, ou abrege de l'Histoire universelle, a L'usage de la Famille Royalle  63  7.11.52  150 copies  receipt (64)  Education complète, ou abrégé de l'histoire universelle, 1753 


Page 224
Author   Title in documents   f. no.  Date  Fee   Other documents   Published book  
Lewis, William  A New English Dispensatory  152r-v   1.16.46  £105  draft agreement (154r-v); incomplete copy of agreem. (157r-v); revisions (163); receipts (152v, 159)  The New Dispensatory, 1753 
Lewis, William  a New practice of Physick  161  7.23.53  £52.10s  receipt (161v
Mills, John  a Work on the subject of Trade & Commerce  174  6.5.65  £2.2s. per sh.  account (178); letter (176r-v * See p. 207 
Palairet, Elias  Dictionnary of the Ellipses  197  1.18.60  £1.1s. per. sh.  receipts (197)  Thesaurus ellipsium Latinarum, 1760 
Palairet, John  Atlas Methodique  £105  --  Atlas methodique, 1754 
Palairet, John  Translation of the French Introduction to modern Geography  196r-v   undated  £31.10s.  -- 
Palairet, John  Grammar  --  1.22.33  --  1000 copies bought (188)  The New Royal French Grammar, 1730+ 
Palairet, John  The New English Spelling Book  --  --  --  assignment of ½ + ½ share (191, 192)  See p. 212 
Palairet, John  Nouvelle Introduction a la Geographie moderne  Nouvelle introduction a la geographie moderne, 1754 
Palairet, John  Abrege de la Nouvelle Introduction a la Geographie Moderne  {194  5.19.60  £21 for 2 works  receipt (194)}  Abrege de la nouvelle introduction a la geographie moderne, 1761 
Palairet, John  nouvelle methode Pour apprendre a Bien Lire Et a Bien ortographier  --  6.27.35  --  assignment of ½ share (189)  Nouvelle methode pour apprendre a bien lire et a bien orthographier, nouv. ed., 174- 


Page 225
Author   Title in documents   f. no.  Date  Fee   Other documents   Published book  
Palairet, John  A Short Treatise upon arts 191 and Sciences  191  5.16.38  £10.10s.  --  A Short Treatise upon Arts and Sciences, 1741 
Robertson, John  the Elements of Navigation  208  1.10.54  £2.2s. per sh.  receipts, agreement to enlarge (208v Elements of Navigation, 1754 
Shaw, Joseph  a new treatise Intitled Parish Law  218  11.10.31  £2.2s. per sh.  memo. on copyr. (25); receipts (220, 221)  Parish Law, 1733 
Tyrrell, Thomas  Lettres et memoires pour servir a l'histoire du Cap Breton ou Isle Roïale  241  10.1.59  £31.10s. + 25 copies + 100 books  -- 
Vieyra, Anthony  a Complete Dictionary of the portuguese Language in two parts Vizt. in English and Portuguese and in Portuguese and English  245r-v   11.9.65  £210+ £210 in copies  receipts (246, 248); accounts (247)  A Dictionary of the Portuguese and English Languages, 2 vols., 1773 


Page 226


The transactions with Elizabeth Blackwell for the distribution of her A Curious Herbal, published in 1737, are unique in the extant documents. The authoress and her husband had had the book printed at their own expense, a very costly undertaking, since it is in two folio volumes and has 625 engraved plates, which, in some copies, are hand-colored; there is no letterpress. The Blackwells were in financial difficulties even before this project started, and they soon become worse. Their first bookseller was Samuel Harding, whose name appears in the imprint of some copies of both volumes; they subsequently approached Nourse, perhaps because he was better able to distribute and advertise the book, or perhaps because they felt that he would be willing to invest in it. On 28 September 1737, three months after publication, Nourse paid £150.os.od. for a ⅓-share, which entitled him to a ⅓-share of the profits, and gave him ownership of ⅓ of the text plates. As a guarantee to him, he was to take possession of his share of the plates, and was granted the right to a ⅓-share in any future work by Mrs. Blackwell on the same subject. These guarantees are so like security against a loan that the transaction has to be seen in that light rather than as normal trading in shares in copies.

In February 1739 the Blackwells needed money again, perhaps to settle the printer's bills, and they arrived at a further agreement with Nourse in which he was able to protect his earlier investment. He paid £319.4s.6d. for the sole rights in the book. He was given all remaining unsold copies, and the rights in all future editions. Of the unsold copies, however, only ⅓ were for his profit; this was his fee for marketing the other ⅔ of which the profits went to the Blackwells. When his expenses were covered, however, any remaining part of the Blackwells' ⅔ was to be returned to them for their own use and profit. This in fact never happened.

At this point, the title-leaves of both volumes were cancelled, and cancellantes printed dated 1739, and with Nourse's name instead of Harding's in the imprint; there are, however, some mixed sets, including one in the British Library, London (34. i. 12.-13.), and one in the library of the Royal Society of Medicine, London. The book was reissued, with further cancellantes, in 1751, but was never reprinted. For full details of the complex bibliographical history of A Curious Herbal, see Blanche Henrey, British Botanical and Horticultural Literature Before 1800 (1976), II, 228-234, and III, 9-10. I am indebted to Mr J. F. Fuggles of the British Library for his help with this matter.

In October 1740 the Blackwells sold Nourse a further ⅙-share in the copyright for £75.0s.0d., and in 1747 he bought the ½-share which they still owned for a mere £20.0s.0d.; at that time they owed Nourse £108.13s.0d., for expenses incurred on their behalf in marketing and coloring the book. In effect he acted as their wholesaler, but the book was so expensive, and sold so slowly, that they were obliged to sell it to him because they could not sustain their expenses.

There are no other transactions of this kind in the extant documents, but this case, although apparently unique in Nourse's business, is of great interest in illustrating the difficulties inherent in publishing an expensive book for which no commercial publisher could be found, and which, even though sold in weekly parts, attracted few subscribers (R. M. Wiles, Serial Publication in England before 1750 (1957), p. 312).



Authorship in the Days of Johnson (1927); and The Profession of Letters, 1780-1832 (1928).


Victor Bonham-Carter, Authors by Profession, vol. 1 (1978), pp. 11-32.


James Hepburn, The Author's Empty Purse and the Rise of the Literary Agent (1968), pp. 4-21.


J. W. Saunders, The Profession of English Letters (1964), pp. 93-145, on which see Pat Rogers, Grub Street. Studies in a Subculture (1972), pp. 393-396.


J. D. Fleeman, 'The Revenue of a Writer. Samuel Johnson's Literary Earnings', in Studies in the Book Trade in Honour of Graham Pollard, Oxford Bibliographical Society, new series 18 (1975), pp. 211-230.


Harry Ransom, 'The Rewards of Authorship in the Eighteenth Century', Studies in English, (1938), pp. 47-66.


British Library, London, MS. Addl. 38729; precise references will be found in Appendix A, where there is a list of the Nourse documents used in this paper.


H. R. Plomer, G. H. Bushnell, and E. R. McC. Dix, A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers who were at work in England Scotland and Ireland from 1726 to 1775, The Bibliographical Society (1932), p. 183; and Terry Belanger, 'A Directory of the London Book Trade, 1766', Publishing History, 1 (1977), 12-13.


See Clayton Atto, 'The Society for the Encouragement of Learning', The Library, 4th ser., 19 (1938-39), 263-268.


It is tempting, but wrong, to identify this book with the same author's A New and Complete System of Practical Husbandry, published in 5 volumes between 1762 and 1765. This was published jointly by Baldwin, Johnstone, Crowder, Longman, Cooke, Hindmarsh, Nicoll, and Davis. Longman may, however, have been involved in 'A general view', the title given in the receipt for Nourse's payment; in October 1768 Nourse paid Mills £28.os.od. of which £18.os.od. was 'By note of Mr Longman', but he may merely have endorsed to Mills a bill which Longman had given him on another account. It is clear, however, that Mills had been at work, and it is unlikely that there would be no trace of so substantial a book had it been published. Perhaps Nourse withdrew from the project, in documents which have not survived, and the work was incorporated in New and Complete System.


F. J. G. Robinson and P. J. Wallis, Book Subscription Lists. A Revised Guide (1975), no. 760LEP


He wrote one other book; see E. G. R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Hanoverian England (1966), p. 210.


An advertisement in The General Advertiser (6 Feb. 1746) is the only evidence, apart from this document, for the book's existence; see R. C. Alston, A Bibliography of the English Language, IV (1967), no. 583.


The first edition appears to be that of 1730, and at least 6 others are known in the 18th century, the latest in 1786.


Patricia Hernlund, 'William Strahan's Ledgers: Standard Charges for Printing, 1738-1785', Studies in Bibliography, 20 (1967), 89-111.


Present shelfmark: Vet. A5 e. 5040, but originally 8° A 11.106 Jur., a classification used for deposit intake in the mid-18th century.


Ralph Straus, Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher & Playwright (1910), pp. 82-83.


Ransom, pp. 61-62; and J. E. Norton, A Bibliography of the Works of Edward Gibbon (1940), pp. 44-45.


Quoted in David T. Pottinger, The French Book Trade in the ancien régime 1500-1791 (1958), p. 44.


James Holly Hanford, A Milton Handbook (4th ed., 1954), pp. 191-192, and 191, n. 10.


Harry M. Geduld, Prince of Publishers (1969), pp. 113-32.


J. C. Eade, 'Lewis Theobald's Translation Rate: a Hard Bargain', The Library, 6th ser., 1 (1979), pp. 168-170.


Saunders, p. 123; Rogers, pp. 187, 197; Hepburn, p. 7.


All this information is from the documents, and from DNB; and, for Landen, from Taylor, loc. cit.


It was as true in the 18th century as it is now that the author's side of a contract is, in practice, unenforceable at law, unlike the publisher's side; the point is made by Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (8th ed., rev. by Philip Unwin, 1976), pp. 73-74.