University of Virginia Library

William Thomas Lowndes Redivivus

Two (perhaps three) of the mistakes noted above—the incorrect format for the
1779–81 edition of The Works of the English Poets, and the publication year of
the Irish reprint—are traceable to The Bibliographer's Manual of English Literature,
compiled by William Thomas Lowndes in 1834, republished from 1857 through
1864 with many articles "enlarged, entirely re-written, or added by Mr. Bohn,"
and reprinted in 1869.[30] Henry G. Bohn revised the article on "Poets," quadru-


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pling the original entry of Lowndes from one to four columns, and adding a fifth
to cover collections published after 1830.[31] St Clair mined this material for Ap-
pendix 6, unaware that it was often faulty.

One big slip concerns the publisher Charles Cooke, a key player in the evolu-
tion of the canon. Figure 3 in The Reading Nation, an advertisement for Cooke's
publications, pictures a list of forty-six poets under "Select Poets" (p. 129). This
illustration, though a fine piece of evidence in itself, betrays a worrisome level
of inattention, for the list does not match the roster of Cooke's collection in
Appendix 6 (p. 528). That roster is not Cooke's, but rather Bell's, erroneously
attributed to Cooke by Bohn when expanding Lowndes.[32] St Clair's failure to
spot the mismatch is surprising not only because Bohn's list starts with "Chaucer,
14 vols. Spenser, 8 vols. Donne, 3 vols."—poets conspicuously absent from
Cooke's series—but also because he shows interest in the number of times Donne
was reprinted in the eighteenth century (p. 128) and knows full well, from having
described how Chaucer was "squeezed out" of the London trade edition (p. 126),
what level of economic investment was inherent in reprinting such a voluminous

New life is also breathed into other inaccuracies about Cooke's poetry series
copied from Lowndes: that it began in 1798, and was published in eighty parts.
It began in 1794, and continued (by my calculation) through 136 parts—data
not easily unearthed, for Cooke did not include the year of publication in his
imprints, and I have never been able to locate a complete set. St Clair cannot
be criticized for declining to enter this bibliographical labyrinth, but the same
cannot be said for his lack of curiosity about a publisher whom he calls "in many
ways the most innovative and entrepreneurial of the publishers who entered the
new competitive reprint business after 1774" (p. 131). He offers no first name
("Cooke, publisher" is the index entry), and conflates the careers of father and
son (as the old DNB did under "John Cooke"), ignoring the separate identities
assigned to John and Charles in a source he consulted, Rees and Britton.[34] Al-


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though Rees and Britton are vague about when Charles assumed control of the
business, they credit him with having "commenced a new course" with Hume's
History of England and a series of popular novels in weekly numbers. Bohn's refer-
ence to "G. A. Cooke" is a red herring, to be sure, but if St Clair was distracted
by it, he could have turned to the books themselves, all of which bear "C. Cooke"
in their imprints, or checked Ian Maxted (listed in his bibliography), who identi-
fies Charles as the publisher who "Began to publ. series of 12mo classics neatly
embellished by engravings c. 1793."[35]

Over the course of a dozen years after 1793, several strands of the overall
canonical enterprise were brought together by Cooke. St Clair is indefinite on
the dates of each venture. Figure 3 is labeled "c. 1810," but in Appendix 6 "1798
onwards" is given for the poetry (p. 528);[36] "begun late 1790s" for the novels
(p. 535); "c. 1803" for the essays (p. 538);[37] and no date for the plays (p. 538).[38]
(A fifth series mentioned in Chapter 7, the Sacred Classics, is absent from Appen-
dix 6.) The year to mark for the poetry series should have been 1794, after the
novels had been launched successfully in 1793. The correct sequence indicates
another significant "turning point": whereas Bell advanced from Shakespeare
to a drama series and then to the poets of the nation, Cooke tested the market
with novels, then moved on to the poets and the other genres. This contrast be-
tween the 1770s and 1790s—in publishers so innovative and keenly attuned to
the wants of the reading public—suggests that tastes began shifting long before
the 1830s, the decade identified by St Clair when "Poetry seemed suddenly to
have lost its long primacy as the most highly regarded literary genre and as the
form most favoured by readers" (pp. 413–414).[39]

In choosing novels for his maiden series before attempting poetry, Cooke
perhaps heeded the lesson of Joseph Wenman, a bookseller who published The
Poetical Magazine; or Parnassian Library
in the early 1780s in tandem with The
Entertaining Museum, or Complete Circulating Library.
[40] Wenman could not sustain


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The Poetical Magazine, a down-market imitation of Bell's edition at one-third the
price, or sixpence per volume, for the level of readership he had targeted; he
could not market a poetry series to them without bringing prose works into the
mix. Undoubtedly the novel gained a new respectability in the minds of aspiring
authors in the nineteenth century, as St Clair argues, but poetry did not therefore
"suddenly" lose its elite status in the 1830s. Cooke perceived that many readers in
the 1790s preferred prose to poetry; for such readers poetry had not lost its pri-
macy, but had never enjoyed it. Wenman's turnabout and the success of Cooke's
experiments, even as Bell's series and the London trade edition continued to
prosper, suggest how difficult it is to broadly characterize what the generality of
readers favor in any era.

Blind reliance on Lowndes leads to another error, slight in itself, but one that
masks how resourceful publishers could be in marketing products to a range of
buyers. St Clair declares "The Poets of Great Britain, 18mo., 124 volumes bound
as sixty two" to be merely a "reprint of Bell's Poets" (p. 526). Even the greater
clarity of NCBEL ("A reprint, with additional volumes, of Bell's Edition") pro-
vides no clue that Samuel Bagster and his co-proprietors dropped eleven of Bell's
109 volumes before adding twenty-six, but something more interesting is detected
if one examines several sets of the edition: it was sold in two forms under different
titles to accommodate readers of different means. Purchasers of double-bound
sets opened to a half-title page in each of sixty-one volumes (not sixty-two; two
were triple-bound) that read The Poets of Great Britain, in Sixty-One Double Volumes.
Customers able to afford twice as many bindings, by contrast, bought sets with
half-title pages that read The Poets of Great Britain, in One Hundred and Twenty-Four
with different volume numbers and different poets assigned to them.
St Clair notes that this collection was described in the Longman impression
books as "Johnson's British Poets"—a curious designation, given its lineal descent
from Bell's edition. The irony passes without explanation.[41]

Another inaccuracy dating back to The Bibliographer's Manual taints the entry
for "The Works of the British Poets, with Prefaces Biographical and Critical, by Rob-
ert Anderson. Edinburgh, 1793–1807" (p. 526): fourteen volumes, not thirteen,
made a full set in 1807.[42] Two additional mistakes are contributed by St Clair:
that it was produced by "a consortium of Edinburgh and Glasgow publishers/
printers," and was sold out by 1805. The assertion that Glasgow entered the
picture is baffling, when the title-pages suggest the other proprietary interest
to have been a London firm, John and Arthur Arch, who joined the Edinburgh
venture after Bell and Bradfute had taken over the project from the printers who


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originated it, Mundell and Son. And how could it be sold out by 1805 when its
publication extended to 1807? St Clair misreads a letter from Sir Walter Scott
to James Ballantyne in 1805, in which Johnson's edition is reported to be "out of
print; so is Bell's." Scott finds Anderson's edition "contemptible in execution,"
but does not say it is out of print. It was not. The full collection was available in
1805, in 1807 (augmented by the fourteenth volume), and even in 1814.[43]

By appropriating data about several poetry collections from Lowndes without
inspecting the books themselves and correcting errors, St Clair inadvertently
has provided a rule for using Appendix 6: to approach it as one would The Bib-
liographer's Manual.
Dipping into Lowndes always yields something worthwhile;
it is a marvelous source, pleasurably more scattershot than systematic, but any
datum of interest must be vetted thoroughly before it can be applied to further
scholarly pursuits.

Other slips too counsel vigilance. One name is missing from the list of poets
in The Cabinet of Poetry, for instance, and St Clair's speculation that this anthol-
ogy was "Perhaps extracted from Anderson's edition" overlooks the poets not in
Anderson (pp. 526–527).[44] Under an entry for British Classics he gratuitously
explains that the term "British" in the title "enabled Falconer and Thomson,
who were Scottish, not English, to be included" (p. 533), yet Falconer was also
included in series that were designated as "English," and Thomson figured in
them all, irrespective of their titles.

In the pages examined thus far, the goal of establishing a factual basis for
further scholarly work has eluded St Clair. My corrections surely are not the sort
of exercise he had in mind when saying that his appendices "can be added to by
anyone who chooses to do the spade-work" (p. 16). Through errors of omission
and commission he has left his readers to perform routine bibliographical checks
in sources he bypassed, like NCBEL or ESTC; to rectify conflicting titles and
publication years of works mentioned more than once; to sort out discrepancies
between various pieces of evidence; to puzzle over contradictions between his
data and claims; and to double-check his printed sources to make sure he has
not jumbled or skipped over important information. Alert readers might catch
a few such lapses, but only someone intimately conversant with the field is apt
to sense when printed sources are quoted or paraphrased inaccurately, and thus
know when to track down and clear up suspicious claims.


William Thomas Lowndes, The Bibliographer's Manual of English Literature, 4 vols. (Lon-
don: William Pickering, 1834), and William Thomas Lowndes, The Bibliographer's Manual of
English Literature,
a new edition, revised, corrected and enlarged … by Henry G. Bohn, 6 vols.
(London: Bell & Daldy; New York: Scribner, Welford, & Co., 1869). The third error possibly
related to Lowndes is the idea that a seventy-five volume edition of The Works of the English
was published "without the prefaces" (see note 14). In Lowndes' original entry for the
poetry collection, the 1779–81 and the 1790 editions were listed in tandem, each followed by
catalogue listings of specific sets with prices affixed. The pertinent portion of the entry stood
thus: "Heath, 1870, 58 vols. in 57, 10l. 10s. Hollis, 387, 77 vols. 8l 8s.—Lond. 1790 12mo.
75 vols." (1834, 3: 1472–73). Bohn eliminated several catalogue listings, but also clarified the
Heath citation to indicate that this particular set of the 1779–81 edition lacked volumes 59–68.
With Bohn's adjustments, the same portion of the entry now looked like this: "Heath, 1870,
58 vols. in 57 (i.e., without Johnson's Prefaces) 10l. 10s.—Lond. 1790 12mo. 75 vols." (1869, 4:
1897). A misreading of this close conjunction of words and figures (situated eye-catchingly at
the bottom of the column in Bohn's revision) might have led to the idea that the 1790 edition
lacked Johnson's work.


The "principal articles" contributed by Bohn are enumerated in the front matter to
The Bibliographer's Manual (1869), 1: xiv.


The Bibliographer's Manual (1869), 4: 1898.


St Clair's point would have been even stronger had he realized that the volumes in
question were small octavo, not duodecimo. In Bell's 109-volume octodecimo project, the
works of Chaucer and Spenser accounted for fourteen and eight volumes respectively, or 20%
of his capital investment.


Thomas Rees, Reminiscences of Literary London from 1779 to 1853 … with extensive ad-
ditions by John Britton, F.S.A.
(New York, 1896), pp. 26–28. St Clair quotes from this book on
pp. 131, 134, and 528. See Bonnell, "Cooke, John, and Charles Cooke," Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography,
61 vols. [Oxford, 2004], 13: 155–156.


The London Book Trades 1775–1800: A Preliminary Checklist of Members (Folkestone,
1977), p. 50.


The advertisement in Figure 3 shows the poetry series as it stood early in 1805, before
it was complete.


The advertisement leading St Clair to infer "c. 1803" for this series, unaccountably, is
found in a book that includes "inscriptions [which] show it is before 1803."


The titles of various collections of plays are listed without dates or numbers of vol-
umes. Cooke's British Theatre cannot be called "one of the first" when Bell's British Theatre (not
to mention the New English Theatre or Joseph Wenman's series, neither noted by St Clair) ante-
dated it perhaps by forty years. Indeed, Cooke's collection was possibly a reissue of Bell's series
with newly commissioned copperplates. The scenes depicted in Cooke's Illustrations to the British
(n.d.; engravings dated 1816–21) are all from plays included in the 1790s expansion of
Bell's original late-1770s production. Given that Charles Cooke died in 1816, the fact that these
plates were "Printed for C. Cooke" complicates the puzzle.


Critical regard and popular favor, of course, are not the same thing. The word "sud-
denly" in this context—like "soon" and "quickly" in the passags discussed above—is mislead-
ing and overly dramatic.


St Clair lists these publications on pp. 527 and 535, respectively, without naming
Wenman in relation to either, and perhaps without recognizing the connection between them.
For information on The Poetical Magazine he gives a mongrel citation ("Bonnell, 'Bookselling'
151"), which joins the correct page number from one of my articles (the one absent from his
bibliography; see note 20) to the title of a different article. Wenman is discussed by name in
the article.


Bagster's collection actually contained Johnson's prefaces, a fact that heightens rather
than lessens the irony, and makes it even more inappropriate for this entry to fall under the
rubric of "The Edinburgh poetry canon." (See note 24.) This edition of the Lives has hitherto
escaped detection, and is not recorded in A Bibliography of the Works of Samuel Johnson.


Thirteen volumes constituted a complete set in 1795, but a fourteenth volume was
added in 1807—information available in the NCBEL.


Thomas Constable, Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents: A Memorial, 3 vols.
(Edinburgh, 1873), 1:176 The New London Catalogue of Books, Sizes and Prices (1805), p. 4; The
New London Catalogue of Books, with Their Sizes and Prices
(1807), p. 4; and The London Catalogue of
Books, with Their Sizes and Prices
(1814), p. 21.


In so far as it goes his speculation is accurate, for the editor drew on the prefaces from
Anderson's collection. But the fact that poets besides those in Anderson were also included
points to a wider context for The Cabinet of Poetry.