Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 13. The Publisher as Patron and Employer

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIV. Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800

§ 13. The Publisher as Patron and Employer

A spirit of enterprise and emulation was moving among publishers, and men with acumen, like Tonson, Lintot, Dodsley, Millar and others, were ready to undertake the issue of works they deemed to be of merit on terms liberal to the author. They not only published books offered to them by authors, but they also planned works to meet the needs and tastes of a rapidly widening circle of readers. Commissions for books were freely given, and, to a large extent, the professional writer was the employe of the bookseller. In this aspect of the literary history of the time, picturesque anecdote has been allowed to usurp too prominent a place, and the petty squabbles between author and publisher, which have been held up to public view, have, undeservedly, cast a sordid smirch upon the story of eighteenth century literature. Poets and other “literary creatures” might, in their more lofty moods, affect to look down with disdain upon booksellers as much beneath them; but it was these upon whom they often depended to keep body and soul from parting company, and to whom they turned in financial difficulty. It was a common practice for publishers to advance money upon work not yet done, and, not infrequently, they were called on to rescue their authors from a debtor’s prison.