University of Virginia Library

Search this document 


expand section 
expand section 
collapse section 
[section 1]
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 
expand section 

expand section 

In Manchester Public Library is an archive of several hundred documents dated 1713 to 1820 relating to payment for literary property by George Robinson and a few other booksellers which seems to be scarcely known to scholars of literary and publishing history. Since copyright documents are somewhat uncommon outside the few publishing firms surviving from the 18th Century such as Longman and John Murray; since George Robinson was a major publisher, called by one contemporary The King of Booksellers; and since some of the documents concern works of importance such as William Godwin's Political Justice, it is worth while summarizing the archive in the great table below, after first setting it in context.

George Robinson (1737 - 6 June 1801) was an enterprising and generous book-seller of whose "integrity too much cannot be said";[1] these


Page 68
characteristics are repeatedly observable in the documents cited below. He set up shop at No. 25, Addison's Head, Paternoster Row, in 1764, and the firm continued there until 1822, long after his death.[2] According to the London directories of the time, his firm traded as Robinson & Roberts (1764-76), as George Robinson (1772-85), as George, George [Jr], John, & James Robinson (1785-93), as George, George [Jr], & John Robinson (1794-1801), as George [Jr] & John Robinson (1802-6), as George Robinson [Jr] (1806-1813), as George Robinson [III] & Samuel Robinson (1814-17), and as Samuel Robinson (1818-30), and most of these styles and dates are confirmed in the Manchester documents. George Robinson's first partner John Roberts died about 1776; George Robinson's brother James retired about 1793; his son George died on 22 May 1811; and his brother John (1752-2 Dec 1813) was, with George Robinson [Jr], declared bankrupt on 8 Dec 1804 partly because of a fire in the printing-office in which they had invested—and after 1804 John Robinson became a partner of George Wilkie at No. 57, Paternoster Row (1806-14). The firm was of a liberal political persuasion; George Robinson founded The New Annual Register to support the Whigs in opposition to the Tory Annual Register, George Robinson supported William Godwin while he was writing his great Political Justice, and the four Robinsons were fined in 1793 for publishing Paine's Rights of Man.

Something of Robinson's character is given by William West: "George Robinson, Sen., might be considered the Prince, nay, the King of Booksellers. . . . The elder Robinson, was perhaps, the most enterprising, intelligent and communicative bookseller with authors of his day, and among those who partook of his hospitality, were the celebrated Arthur Murphy, . . . John Louis Delolme, . . . Dr. Glover, Dr. Gregory, Dr. Wallis, Mr. Holcroft, Alexander Chalmers and others; and in his more select parties . . . Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Radcliffe, &c., &c., visited at his town house in Pater Noster Row, where the wits and critics of the day assembled; he possessed a vast share of ready wit and repartee himself, and [his publications] . . . brought him in contact with the first men of the age. He was a most social companion and . . . was said to be a six bottle man, sometimes knocking up . . . some of his Irish and Scotch


Page 69
friends, and Correspondents, among whom were . . . the Elliott's and Kayes, &c. of Edinburgh. . . .

Nothing could be more gratifying than meeting Robinson and his son and brothers with their parties at their villa at Streatham, about six miles from London. Here I have often seen Holcroft, Godwin, Chalmers and others. . . . John Louis Delolme was a visitor here, when his eccentricities would admit; he was naturally of a gloomy disposition, and disappointments from higher quarters in his expectations from the Constitution and other able political writings encreased his irritability".[3] All these books and authors figure in the copyright documents in Manchester.

The documents in the Robinson Archive include those of a number of booksellers besides the Robinsons, however. George Robinson was a large-scale dealer in copyrights which he bought from other booksellers and sold in his turn, and the copyright dates here range from 1713, for a work published by Bernard Lintot, the publisher of Pope, to 1820, for a work published by Joseph Johnson's successor Rowland Hunter. The Archive is probably a characteristic cross-section of copyright documents for over a century, especially for 1770-1803.

As would be true for any successful bookselling firm, the Robinson copyrights concern mostly bread-and-butter works of proven vendibility, compendia of household or professional usefulness which are of comparatively little interest to posterity. These include such best-sellers as John Abercrombie's Every Man His Own Gardener, which went through dozens of editions from 1767 to 1867, Every Man His Own Lawyer, Every Man His Own Broker, editions of the Bible, cookery books, The Pocket Conveyancer, numerous books on law, school texts on arithmetic and spelling and the classics, a sixtieth share in Shakespeare's plays, dictionaries of English, French, Italian, medicine, law, and chemistry, The Physician's Vade-Mecum, and The Seaman's New Vademecum.

Besides these publishing staples, there are a good many works of greater interest. There are novels by Henry Brooke and William Godwin and William Thomson, plays by Thomas Holcroft and Elizabeth Inchbald and Beaumarchais, Charles Burney's History of Music. Voltaire's Works, translations by Smollett and Inchbald and Holcroft, periodicals such as The Journal of Natural Philosophy, The Ladies' Magazine, The Town and Country Magazine, The London Magazine, The Critical Review,[4] The New Annual Register, The Telegraph newspaper,


Page 70
and The Courier newspaper. Perhaps the most interesting documents are those relating to William Godwin.

The archive is, however, only a small fragment of what once existed for the Robinson firm. These documents refer to about two hundred works published by the Robinsons from about 1764 to 1815, but A Catalogue of New Books, and New Editions of Books, Printed for G.G. and J. Robinson . . . in the Year 1792 lists about one hundred fifty works published (or in print) in that year alone, and A Catalogue of Books Printed for G. & J. Robinson . . . March, 1804, though it omits periodicals and many ephemeral works, lists about seven hundred titles for that year. I do not know what became of the rest of the Robinson archive. This fragment was acquired by a 19th Century bibliophile named Thomas Greenwood and passed from him to Manchester Central Library in 1935. It is quoted here by permission of The City of Manchester Cultural Services Committee.

The documents tell us how much was paid for a work and when. It is striking how many of these papers concern improvements of works already in print—payment for indices or translations or corrections or abridgements. Most of these were of course paid for as commissions by the bookseller or, in one case, by a theatre-manager. Even more interesting are the works which are copyrighted in the name of a person not previously associated with the book. Often this is because the work was anonymous or pseudonymous, and this archive identifies many of the authors and translators who might otherwise be unknown. It also indicates occasionally who had acquired the copyright of a work before it passed to the Robinsons. The status of copyright in the 18th Century was uncertain and changing, with great disputes between the London Trade, which claimed perpetual copyright in the works they controlled, and interlopers such as John Bell in London or the Scottish booksellers, who claimed that copyright protection was for only a statutory number of years, after which the work passed into the public domain. A number of lawsuits left the issue obscure until, in 1774 in the case of Donaldson vs Becket, the legal concept of perpetual copyright in literary works was apparently abolished.[5] Booksellers often banded together in congeries towards the end of the 18th Century, partly to finance expensive publications such as Johnson's Poets or encyclopaedias, and partly to control the publication of lucrative works such as Shakespeare's Plays, of which George Kearsly acquired a sixtieth share in 1768.[6] Whatever the law


Page 71
said, the cautious bookseller saw to it that his copyright agreements were as comprehensive as possible, and a number of these documents convey the copyright in a work "forever" even after 1774.

In the Manchester Archive, the manuscripts are in roughly alphabetical order of vendor. In the Table below, I have made the alphabetical order uniform and supplied cross-references for translators, editors, anonymous works, and the like.

There are of course hundreds of hands represented in the archive—almost all the documents are entirely in manuscript, though a few are on printed forms—and some of them are not easy to read. Doubtless a few of the works in the Table which are not identified proved elusive because I have mistranscribed the name of the author or the book.

There are many difficulties in the way of identifying these works. The vendor of the copyright may not be the author of the book, as in the cases of the booksellers W. Ballard, John Bell, John Coote, Robert Faulder, Bernard Lintot, John Murray, Joseph Pote, James Robson, David Steele, Jacob Tonson, and Barnes Tovey. The author may be identified so vaguely ("Revd Mr Jones") as to make identification tedious if not impossible. The service performed by the vendor may be so minor, in translating the work, say, or abridging it (Charles Allen), or making an index (Abercrombie, Beatson, Nicholson), or reading proof (Abercrombie, Hutton, Devaulx—"two Proofs of each Sheet"), or correcting the punctuation (F. Jones), or revising the book (Abercrombie, Bell, Boote, Cunningham, Dorrington . . .), or editing it (Salmon), that it was not thought worth recording on the titlepage the name of the performer. The name of the author, while often quite clear in these records, may not be recorded in the book or elsewhere at all, and it is only in these documents that we learn who some of the authors are. The most extreme casualness is manifested by Alexander Thomson, who gave George Robinson liberty to publish The Physician's Vade-Mecum "under what Name he thinks proper". But notice that sometimes it is not clear whether the vendor is the author or a bookseller who has acquired the copyright or a relative of the author. The documents record who was paid for what, but they do not always indicate why the receiver deserved payment for that work.

Sometimes the title is remarkably laconic, as in W. W. Ellis's Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain Cook and Captain Clerke, called merely Narrative in these documents, or the "Stretch Bible" sold by Jno Coote. When the initial words of a title are silently omitted, as in Pyle's [Ninety-Six] Sermons or Jesse's [Dissertation on the Learning and] Inspiration of the Apostles, the task of identification becomes more difficult, and sometimes titles are altered, as when Culley's


Page 72
Observations on Livestock is called "Treatise on Livestock". Some of the titles I have not identified may be elusive because of their brevity and vagueness, such as Thomas Coote's Original Letters or Godwin's On the Revolution in France. Some, however, are described in considerable detail, such as William Dardies' collection of Original Letters of the Much Celebrated Alexander Pope which seems to have left no trace, though Robinson paid him the handsome sum of £600 for them. Pilon and Rayner provide similar examples; they must have been published, but, if they were, they have left no trace which I can find.[7] Where are the bestsellers of yesteryear? Gone to dustheaps, far too many.

Of the ephemeral or unidentified works here, perhaps the most striking are the novels. Clearly many more novels once existed than are recorded in Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica, Block's Catalogue of the English Novel 1740-1850, the catalogue of The British Library, or The National Union Catalogue, but it is disconcerting to observe how high the proportion is.

Many of the works recorded here were published anonymously, and these records permit positive identification of their authors or translators, some perhaps for the first time.[8] These include

  • John P. BURROWS, France and England, A Novel (1787)
  • Charles DODD, The Curse of Sentiment, A Novel (1787)
  • Anna EDEN, The Confidential Letters of Albert, A Novel (1790)
  • Thomas HOLCROFT, Try Again: A Farce (1790)
  • Anna Maria JOHNSON, Retribution, A Novel (1788)
  • Lewis LYONS, translator of d'Epinay's Conversations of Emily (1787)
  • Leonard MACNALLY, Tristram Shandy, A Farce (1783)
  • William OPPENHEIM, translator of Anon., Cisalpine Republic (1798)
  • Barbara PILON, Marian, A Novel (1812)
  • Andrew REID, translator of Macquer's Chemistry (1758)
  • George Lethieuller SCHOEN, New Spain, An Opera (1790)
  • Alexander THOMSON, Memoirs of a Pythagorean (1785)
  • Anna THOMSON, The Labyrinth of Life, A Novel (1791)[9]
  • William THOMSON, Fatal Follies, A Novel (1788)
  • Elizabeth Sophia TOMLINS, Memoirs of a Baroness, A Novel (1792)
  • Joseph TRAPP, Travels Before the Flood (1796)
  • Anne URTICK, Ela, A Novel (1787)
Such identifications are invaluable, particularly with such ephemeral works as novels.


Page 73

One must of course be cautious in assuming that the vendor of the work is the author, for sometimes the vendor is merely a relative who had inherited the work (see Cornelius Elliot and Ann Rogers) or even a bookseller. The most prolific user of pseudonyms in this list seems to be William Thomson, who apparently wrote the works attributed to Mrs Thomson, to An English Gentleman, and to Harriet Pigott.

Some of the provisions of the copyright agreements are remarkably restrictive. A few agreements are for one edition only (e.g., Hooper, Jones). William Marshall not only contracted for a page-for-page reprint of his Rural Economy of Norfolk but named the printer and the member of the congery of book-sellers who was "to have the Management" of the concern, and Nicholson specified the paper to be used in his book. A few named the number of pages (e.g., Arnot) or sheets (Glover, Russell) of which the printed work was to consist, and others gave the cost of the copyright in terms of the number of sheets printed (Boote at £2.10.0, Cunningham at 10s.6d., Payne at £2.2.0, Russell at £4.40). William Nicholson agreed to provide the printer with three sheets per week, with penalties for tardiness. It was not uncommon to stipulate that the publisher should print no more than a specified number of copies, a thousand in the cases of Boote, Brooke, Brown, Forbes, Hooper, Marshall, and Moore, one thousand five hundred for Beatson, Marshall, and Payne, and two thousand for Clarke. The provision was necessary to protect authors selling one edition at a time from rapacious booksellers who might otherwise print enormous numbers of copies or even keep the type of the work standing, printing from it repeatedly, without extra payment to the author.[10] Is it an indication of George Robinson's scrupulousness or of his author's suspiciousness, that the Robinson contracts so frequently include such clauses to protect the authors?

The range of prices is very large, from £5 for William Heckford's Historical Anecdotes of All the Kings and Queens of England (1787) to £2,200 for William Belsham's Memoirs of . . . the House of Brunswick, 2nd Edition (1796) and Memoirs of . . . George the Third, 2nd Edition (1795). In many cases, the author was to share the profits (e.g., Frederick, Hooper, Hutton, Marshall, Murray). Occasionally the author was partly paid in copies of the work,[11] from a gentlemanly six to Marshall, twelve


Page 74
to Moore, and twenty-two to Beatson, to a commercial hundred to Culley and to Payne and three hundred to Enfield. Marshall's contract called for payment to him of £15 for each shilling of the selling-price—a high but not implausibly-based rate—and some agreements called for additional payments for future editions—£15 for Enfield, £21 for Forbes, £52.10.0 for Moore, and £100 for Beatson. Kearsly was to give Glover "a douceur of Ten guineas more" if the work sold well. But few seem to call for what we might today think of as ordinary royalties, as say 10% or 15% of total sales. There seems to be no standard form of copyright agreement, and the range of stipulations is surprisingly large.

The rates of payment for certain kinds of work are interesting. Translation was comparatively well-paid presumably largely on the basis of the amount translated—most translations were probably paid, as Pickar was, by the sheet.

Greivey  £210 
Thomson  £160 
Cullen  £157.10. 0 
Marshall  £ 89. 1. 0  plus 
Reid  £ 70 
Thomson  £ 63  plus perhaps £5.5.0 more 
Brown  £ 50 
Holcroft  £ 49.10. 0 
Will  £ 40  plus? 
Poulin  £ 37.16. 0 
Inchbald  £ 30 
Hooper  £ 28.17. 6? 
Digby, Hooper  £ 28 
Farquharson  £ 21  plus? 
Pickar  £ 16. 4. 0  at 18s. per sheet 
Heron  £ 15.15. 0 
Trapp  £ 12.12. 0  plus? 
Street  £ 8. 8. 0  plus? 
Lyons, Walker  £ 5. 5. 0  plus? 
A V E R A G E  £ 54. 1. 7  plus[12]  

Many of these writers were probably professional translators or at least booksellers' hacks, but at least two of them were successful dramatists (Holcroft and Inchbald) who were clearly being paid as much for stage sense as for translating, and one translator was the author himself (Dr Brown).

The range of prices for plays was a good deal narrower than that for translations, but the average was about the same, for several of the plays were quite successful:


Page 75
Inchbald, Pilon  £105 
Inchbald, Lee, Reynolds  £100 
Cobb  £ 63 
MacNally  £ 50 
Inchbald, Schoen  £ 42 
Pilon  £ 35 
Inchbald, Portal  £ 30 
MacNally  £ 10.10.0 
Gibson  £ 5. 5.0  plus 
A V E R A G E  £ 58. 8.2 
Of course plays have the advantage over other works from the publisher's point of view in that mostly they have had a good deal of stage-advertisement before they come to be printed, and from the author's point of view in that the author has usually been paid, even well-paid, before the work is printed.

Even narrower in range and humbler in financial pretensions were the novels:

White  £57.15. 0 
Moore  £52.10. 0  plus £52.10.0 for a 2nd Edition 
Pearson, Thomson  £52.10. 0  plus? 
Thomson  £40 
Rowson  £30 
Dalrymple, Davies, Dodd, Godwin, Johnson  £21 
Burrows  £18.18. 0  plus 
Boldero  £15.15. 0 
Tomlins  £11.11. 0 
Pile  £11  plus? 
Eden  £10.10. 0 
Urtick  £ 5. 5. 0  plus £5. 5. 0 more if successful 
A V E R A G E  £27.19. 0 

The average cash payment for novels is artificially low, for a really successful author such as Henry Brooke, the inventor of The Fool of Quality (1766 ff) kept to himself seven-eighths of the profits (and expenses) of his novel Juliet Grenville (1773). On the other hand, George Robinson almost certainly paid novelists a good deal more generously than many other booksellers did. In her Minerva Press 1790-1820 (1939), 72-73, Dorothy Blakey assembles a good deal of evidence about what was paid for novels at this time. In April 1757 The Critical Review asserted that the Noble brothers "never paid to any author for his labour a sum equal to the wages of a journeyman taylor", and Lackington in his Memoirs (1791) said he had been told of booksellers "who frequently offer as low as half a guinea per volume for novels in manuscript; it is a shocking price to be sure, but it should be remembered that . . . many novels have been offered to booksellers, indeed, many have actually been


Page 76
published, that were not worth the expence of paper and printing, so that the copyright was dear at any price". Mr Jones in Robert Bage's Man as He Is (1792) was paid £6 for two volumes, and little Tim Cropdale in Smollett's Humphry Clinker (1771) "had made shift to live many years by writing novels, at the rate of five pounds a volume". Fanny Burney was paid £20 for her first novel Evelina, though she was given £250 for Cecilia, and one author says the Minerva Press authors were normally paid £10 to £20. Dorothy Blakey herself estimates that "the average [price for a] novel ranged from five to twenty pounds". Clearly, if these figures are to be trusted, Robinson was a good deal more generous with his novelists than most booksellers were, for a third of the novelists listed here were paid £21 and a third were paid more.

A few of the contracts are distinctly odd in legal terms. For example, Timothy Cunningham revokes the agreement he had previously made with John Coote for his book, and one wonders whether all contracts could be as casually and unilaterally altered as this. Clearly for many of these documents, the force was moral rather than legal, and in many if not most cases there probably was no legally binding contract at all beyond these casual documents. Some form of the phrase "I promise to execute an Assignment on demand" frequently recurs, implying to me that the author would sign a legal contract if necessary. The legal costs of such an official assignment were high—£4.5.0 for William Marshall's Memorandum of 1803—and apparently in most cases the promise to make such an assignment was taken to be an adequate substitute. The relationship of author with bookseller, or at least with George Robinson, was ordinarily pretty easy-going, and it is only with very large works, such as Shakespeare's plays or the Biographia Britannica or Voltaire's Works, or with potentially popular works, such as Brooke's Julia or Godwin's Political Justice or Belsham's Memoirs of . . . the House of Brunswick and the Bible that formal, elaborate legal documents were drawn up. For some of these, the scale was very large indeed. Though the largest edition-size mentioned here is two thousand copies, there were 12,776 copies of Voltaire which changed hands (apparently seven sixteenths of those still in print) and 180,000 numbers of Rider's Bible. Clearly here is the bread and butter of the bookseller's trade.

A very few of the documents have nothing to do with payment, as when Charles Du Bellamy disclaimed any share in The Cheerfull Companion. The only document which, because of its nature, will not fit conveniently in the Table below reports on the progress of the Biographia Britannica, the Second Edition of which was revised chiefly by Andrew Kippis (Vol. I-V [F] in 1778-93):


Page 77

At a Meeting of the Committee, of the Biographia Britannica March 26, 1794;

Present Dr Kippis, Mr Longman, Mr Robinson and Mr Nichols.

Agreed to begin Vol.6; Dr Kippis promises to supply some Copy for this purpose directly; and to proceed as before for a month or two; and in May will be able to proceed with some Dispatch. That the Number to be printed be 1250; Mr Nichols to be the Printer; Mr Chapman to supply the Paper

  • And: Kippis
  • J Nichols
  • Thos. Longman
  • Chas. Rivington [N.B. Rivington is not named above]
  • Geo: Robinson

The plan was frustrated by the death of Dr Kippis at the age of seventy on 8 October 1795, eighteen months after the agreement, and only the first half of Volume VI was published, in 1795.

Probably the most important group of documents in this Archive is those relating to William Godwin, who worked for George Robinson steadily in 1783-1793 as a man of letters or bookseller's hack. In his journal, Godwin wrote of the year he was twenty-seven: "This was probably the busiest period of my life; in the latter end of 1783 I wrote in ten days a novel entitled Damon and Delia, for which Hookham gave me five guineas, and a novel in three weeks called 'Italian Letters' purchased by Robinson [5 January 1784] for twenty guineas . . .".[13] Italian Letters was long lost to sight until Professor Burton Pollin discovered a copy which he published in 1965. The price in the Robinson Archives confirms the sum in Godwin's journal.

In 1781 George Robinson had founded The New Annual Register, to rival the Tory Annual Register, which Edmund Burke had established in 1759. For a time the Historical Part of The New Annual Register was conducted by Dr Gilbert Stuart, but, as Godwin wrote, after Stuart "had thrown up his task", Godwin finished "the historical part of the New Annual Register" [July 1784], and thereafter he "was installed in due form writer of the historical part of the New Annual Register at the stipend of 60 guineas".[14] I take it that the stipend was £126 a year, or perhaps ten guineas a month, for from 4 March to 23 December 1785 (nine and one-half months) Godwin was paid ninety guineas for his work on The New Annual Register. (Note that in 1791 and 1794 Gregory


Page 78
was paid £126 for the Historical Part of the The Annual Register.) Perhaps some of this payment was for work on sections other than "the historical part". Godwin continued this work until the summer of 1791, but none of the other Manchester documents refers directly to it.

Godwin must have done a good deal of hack work which cannot now be identified. One such undertaking which may now be identified fairly confidently from the Robinson Archive is The English Peerage, which the Robinsons published in 1790; Godwin received £10.10.0 on account for it on 10 January 1786, and he recorded in his MS Journal for 28 June [1789] "Finish the Peerage".[15]

At the same time that he was writing for Robinson's New Annual Register, Godwin was also contributing to Robinson's Political Herald and Review, which had been founded in August 1785 by Fox and Sheridan as a Whig journal. Godwin described himself in late 1786 "as the editor of the Political Herald",[16] and he wrote that "all the letters with the signature Mucius were contributed by me". The Robinson Archive records one payment of ten guineas to Godwin for this work on 24 November 1785. Robinson carried on the work for political rather than commercial motives, and Godwin reported that "Mr. Robinson, the bookseller, has, I think, acted in the business with honour & propriety. . . . the publication is a losing bargain to him, & he professes not to entertain the remotest wish of gaining by it".[16] But after three volumes, Robinson let it die in 1786. Godwin was evidently impressed by Robinson's generosity in carrying it on so long.

In the next year, Robinson published Godwin's History of the Internal Affairs of the United Provinces, for which he paid him forty guineas on 25 August 1787. The work work was advertised for publication on 1 September 1787 as an octavo at 4s. in boards.[17] Though it was reviewed favourably,[17] it apparently sold slowly, and Godwin wrote generously to Robinson in the Spring of 1788: Because of "the ill success of that volume . . . I am willing to relinquish him any part or the whole if you please of the sum which I received of you on that account."[17] Such generosity must have impressed Robinson profoundly.

For some years, George Robinson was Godwin's chief source of support.


Page 79
As Godwin wrote in the Preface to the 1832 edition of Fleetwood, "By the liberality of my bookseller, Mr George Robinson, of Paternoster Row, I was enabled then, and for nearly ten years before [?1784-93], to meet these expenses, while writing different things of obscure note, the names of which though innocent, and in some degree useful, I am rather inclined to suppress. . . . My agreement with Robinson was, that he was to supply my wants at a specified rate, while the book was in the train of composition". Robinson's most important support for Godwin, and perhaps for literature and politics, was his extraordinarily generous agreement to support Godwin while he was writing his Political Justice. In his Journal, Godwin wrote: "In the summer of 1791 I gave up my concern in the New Annual Register, the historical part of which I had written for seven years. . . . I suggested to Robinson the bookseller the idea of composing a treatise on Political Principles, and he agreed [10 July 1791] to aid me in executing it".[18] In Political Justice (1791) itself (p. vii), Godwin wrote that "It was projected in the month of May 1791" and written "with unusual ardour" from September 1791 through January 1793. Kegan Paul[19] saw and summarized the contract for Political Justice between Godwin and Robinson, saying that Robinson "paid down" £735 for the copyright for some one hundred twenty sheets and promised £315 more on the sale of three thousand copies in quarto or four thousand copies in quarto and octavo together,[18] but apparently no one else has recorded the copyright agreement itself of 5 February 1793:

These articles of agreement, made in London on the fifth day of February in the year 1793, between William Godwin of Charlton Street in the parish of St Pancras Middlesex Gentleman, of the one part; & George Robinson of Pater Noster Row bookseller, on the behalf of himself & partners, on the other part: witness,

That the said William Godwin for & in consideration of the sum of seven hundred guineas to him in hand paid or to be paid, & the farther sum of three hundred guineas as is hereafter more fully expressed, hath sold & assigned over to the said George Robinson the whole copy right of a certain book, of which he the said William Godwin is the author, entitled An Enquiry concerning Political Justice & its Influence on General Virtue & Happiness & now about to be published in two volumes quarto, containing one hundred & twenty sheets or thereabouts:

And the said George Robinson for himself & partners & for his & their respective executors, administrators & assigns, doth hereby accept & purchase the said work, & doth promise to pay on demand to him the said William


Page 80
Godwin the sum of seven hundred [pounds del] guineas aforementioned:

And moreover that he or they shall & will immediately after the sale of three thousand copies of the said work in quarto; or otherwise immediately after the sale of four thousand copies of the said work in quarto & octavo added together, according as either event shall first happen, pay unto the said William Godwin, his executors, administrators or assigns, the farther sum of three hundred guineas herein beforementioned:

And lastly, in order that such sale, or disposal of copies of the said work may be satisfactorily ascertained, he the said George Robinson for himself & partners, & for his & their respective executors, administrators & assigns, doth hereby covenent & agree that he or they shall deliver or convey at any time hereafter, to him the said William Godwin, his executors, administrators, or assigns, sufficient extracts for that purpose from his or their accounts of sales, signed by him or them, whenever they shall be requested by the said William Godwin, or his executors, administrators or assigns, so to do.

In witness whereof the said parties have hereunto put their hands & seals, the day & year first above written

Signed, sealed & delivered
being first duly stamped,
in presence of
John H. Coman
George Hamilton

Will. Godwin
Geo Robinson
for Self & Co

Feb 5. 1793
Recd. of Mr. Geo Robinson the sum of seven hundred guineas in pursuance of the above articles.
W Godwin

A separate receipt reads:

Account between Messieurs Robinson & Godwin, Feb. 5, 1793
Mr. Godwin Cr ___ 735..—..—___
Dr ___ 651..—..— ___
[Balance owing Mr Godwin:] 84..—..—
Settled by a note on demand of that date
Geo. Robinson
W Godwin

for Self & Co

Presumably the £651 which Godwin had already received had been advanced to him at various times while he was writing the work, and the chief expectation he had from the work was the £84 owing from this contract plus the possibility of £315 more, which evidently was forthcoming. But Robinson paid him forty guineas more on 24 December 1794 for corrections and additions to the Second Edition and another


Page 81
forty guineas for it on 11 January 1796. Robinson was remarkably generous to pay so much more for a work which had already cost him dear.

Indeed, its dearness was apparently what protected Political Justice from prosecution as a seditious work. Mary Godwin Shelley wrote: "I have frequently heard my father say that Political Justice escaped from prosecution from the reason that it appeared in a form too expensive for general acquisition. Pitt observed, when the question was debated in the Privy Council, that 'a three guinea book could never do much harm among those who had not three shillings to spare'."[20] Shelley wrote on 7 January 1812 with somewhat greater hyperbole than usual: "if government at one time could have destroyed any man, Godwin would have ceased to be".[21] In 1793, the year of publication of Political Justice, the Robinsons were fined £250 for selling Tom Paine's Rights of Man for shillings rather than guineas.

The last record of Godwin's own work for Robinson in these Archives is the most mysterious and tantalizing. On 5 March 1796 Robinson paid Godwin twenty guineas for what is identified in an undated receipt for the same sum as "a book to be written on the Revolution in France". Professor Jack Marken tells me that Godwin's manuscript diary indicates that from 20 January to 3 April 1796 he was writing an unnamed work, perhaps this one. I have no record that Godwin ever produced such a work, and it is possible that Robinson or Godwin, like William Blake, Joseph Johnson, William Wordsworth, and others, decided that they could not publish on the subject both truly and safely and that the project was therefore abandoned. On the other hand, since the Robinsons preserved Godwin's receipt, rather than returning it to him when he paid them back the money (if he did), it seems likely that they still regarded it as payment for goods expected and, presumably, eventually received. Perhaps Godwin did write "a book . . . on the Revolution in France" which has yet to be identified, perhaps published under a different author or title. If it does survive, it would be well worth knowing, both in itself and for the influence it may have had upon his friends, disciples, and admirers, such as Coleridge, Shelley, Blake, and Wordsworth. Godwin's mature reflections on the revolution in France, made at the height of his powers and his influence, would be very interesting indeed.

When Godwin remarried in 1801, his wife took up the yoke as a bookseller's hack. About 1805, Godwin wrote that "She did her best for some years to assist our establishment by translations",[22] but her work


Page 82
as a translator has long been invisible or obscure. The only translations traced to her pen of which I am aware are Voltaire's Thoughts, Remarks, and Observations (Robinson, 1802), for which she was paid £31.10.0,[23] and Sylvain Golbery [i.e., de Golbery], Travels in Africa, tr. William Mudford (1803).[24] The Robinson Archive, however, demonstrates that she was also responsible for the translation of J. C. von Struve, Travels in the Crimea (1802), for which she was paid £15.15.0 on 5 June 1802, and it seems likely that Godwin had a hand in this translation, as he probably had in the Voltaire.[23] Doubtless other translations by Mrs Godwin could be traced through the Robinson firm, who were remarkably faithful to Godwin, despite his querulousness and their alarms concerning the Voltaire.[23]

The Robinson Archive contains other evidence of the influence of Godwin, beyond payments for his books and those of his wife. The relationship between Godwin and Robinson was so long and so important for each, that it would be surprising if there were not authors whom Godwin introduced to Robinson and books which he specially fostered. One of these protegés of Godwin was a cheerful and somewhat egregious young man named John Arnot, who walked from Edinburgh to London, met Godwin with enthusiasm, and fell in love with his housekeeper. Godwin responded generously to the young man's energy and admiration. He encouraged him in his vagrant impulses, and the young man set off in 1798 to travel from Russia through Poland and Germany to Vienna—on foot. Arnot was to make notes on his wanderings "for a book of travels to be published on his return. Godwin warmly approved of this plan, and aided Arnot to carry it into execution". Kegan Paul quotes a number of Arnot's wayward and fascinating letters to Godwin, which, as he comments, "are extremely good", and Godwin responded with money and affection. Arnot intended to write "a great book of travel, which should supercede all existing books on the subjects treated, and come as a very revelation to his countrymen", and in fact "From Hamburg his journals were despatched to [?Godwin in] England, with the intention that they should be simultaneously published in English, French, and German". However, Godwin somewhat rashly showed the manuscript to Arnot's brother about 1799, who protested strongly that "the ingenuity and knowledge which he may have evinced is prostituted in the support of sentiments which are visionary, and subsersive of all social order, and yet (thank God), totally irreducible to practice". He


Page 83
directs Godwin "in the most particular manner not to publish these MSS."—or, if they must be published, let it be anonymously. And Kegan Paul concludes: "There is, however, no trace of such a work discernible, his family strongly opposed the publication, and it is probable that their objections prevailed".[25]

The work did come close to publication, however, for on 23 July 1803 George & John Robinson agreed to pay to John Arnot, of York Buildings, Middlesex, gentleman, two hundred twenty-five guineas for his Travels thro' Russia and Poland to Vienna and Dresden in the Year 1798, and a Plan of the Route, which was "to form a quarto volume of at least 400 pages", to be put to press in the next week, finished 1 December, and published on 15 December 1803. It seems exceedingly likely that Godwin had encouraged them to take this step. As far as I can discover, the work was never published either under the author's name or with a title anything like this one, and one may surmise that some impediment was raised by Arnot's family, by the literary quality of the manuscript—or perhaps by its "visionary, and subversive" character. At any rate, we may surely see in this contract an example of Godwin's friendship for both Arnot and George [Jr] & John Robinson.

The Robinson Archive throws a good deal of light upon William Godwin and a host of others. We may rejoice as much at the new views of old friends, such as Godwin's Political Justice and Charles Burney's History of Music, as we do at the raising of previously scarcely suspected ghosts, such as Arnot's Travels or Pilon's Ward of Chaucery. We are very fortunate that such tantalizing riches are preserved for us in Manchester Public Library.