Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 15. The Eighteenth Century

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

§ 15. The Eighteenth Century

It is with Jacob Tonson, the elder, that the modern line of publishers may be said to begin. One of his earliest ventures was the issue, in 1678, of Nahum Tate’s tragedy, Brutus of Alba, and, in the next year, he gave some indication of his ambition to make a name as a publisher of polite literature by bringing out Dryden’s Troilus and Cressida, though, in order to provide the twenty pounds wherewith to pay the author he was, apparently, obliged to take Abel Swalle into partnership in this publication. Henceforth, his name is associated with that of Dryden, whose publisher he became, in succession to Herringman. Various anecdotes have been related of occasional friction between publisher and author; but nothing occurred sufficiently serious to disturb permanently the harmony of their relations. The publication of Tonson’s Miscellany, the first volume of which appeared in 1684, under the editorship of Dryden, brought him into prominence, and, later, earned for him Wycherley’s sobriquet “gentleman-usher to the Muses.” In the preceding year, his instinct for a good thing had led him to purchase from Brabazon Aylmer one half of the rights in Paradise Lost; but it was not until five years later that he brought out by subscription his fine folio edition of the poem. In 1690, he bought, at an advanced price, the other half, and thus acquired the whole rights of what produced him more money than any other poem he published.