Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 16. Tonson, Lintot, Dodsley, Millar

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

§ 16. Tonson, Lintot, Dodsley, Millar

Hitherto, new editions of deceased dramatists and poets had consisted almost exclusively of mere reprints of old copies, and Shakespeare’s collected works existed only in the four folios; but Rowe’s Shakespeare, which Tonson brought out in 1709, inaugurated a new era in the production of critical texts of the greater writers. An edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, in seven volumes, was issued in 1711, from Tonson’s new address, the “Shakespear’s Head,” in the Strand, and it was at this shop, in the same year, that Swift met Addison and Steele, the last of whom, both before and after this time, was frequently at Tonson’s house. The sign “Shakespear’s Head” was well chosen, for, after Rowe’s edition, almost every important eighteenth century issue of Shakespeare—Pope’s (1723–5), Theobald’s (1733), Warburton’s (1747), Johnson’s (1765), Steevens’s (1766), Cappell’s (1767–8)—carries the name of Tonson, either by itself or in partnership with others.

Tonson’s social ambitions found scope in the Kit-cat club, of which he was, for many years, secretary. His weakness for good society occasionally gave offence to his contemporaries; but he was much esteemed. Dunton, whose characterisations are generally direct, though, perhaps, showing a happy weakness for the best side of a man, said of Tonson that “he speaks his mind on all occasions and will flatter nobody”; and even Pope, who could not resist dubbing him “left-legged Jacob” in The Dunciad, speaks of him, also, as “genial Jacob,” and again, as “old Jacob Tonson, who is the perfect image and likeness of Bayle’s Dictionary; so full of matter, secret history, and wit and spirit, at almost fourscore.” About the year 1720, Tonson retired from active part in the business, leaving the traditions of the house to be carried on by his nephew (Jacob II, d. 1735), and his great-nephew (Jacob III, d. 1767). It was the third Jacob who paid Warburton five hundred pounds for editing Shakespeare, whom Johnson eulogised, and of whom George Steevens wrote that “he was willing to admit those with whom he contracted, to the just advantage of their own labours; and had never learned to consider the author as an under-agent to the bookseller.”

As Tonson’s name is associated with Dryden, so is that of his contemporary, Bernard Lintot, closely connected with Pope. “The enterprising Mr. Lintot, the redoubtable rival of Mr. Tonson,” began business at the sign of the Cross Keys about 1698, and he, likewise, made plays a feature of his early publications. His connection with Pope began with the Miscellaneous Poems and Translations by several hands, which he launched in 1712 as a set-off to Tonson’s Miscellany. Three years later, he brought out the first instalment of Pope’s translation of the Iliad. The terms on which Lintot, who made the highest offer, acquired the work, were that he should supply, at his own expense, “all the copies which were to be delivered to subscribers or presented to friends,” and pay the translator two hundred pounds for each volume. Under this agreement, Pope is said to have received, in all, some £5300; but the result was less fortunate for Lintot, who had hoped to recoup his outlay and justify the enterprise by the proceeds of a folio edition which he printed for ordinary sale. The market for this impression was, however, spoiled by a cheap duodecimo edition, printed in Holland and imported surreptitiously; and Lintot, in self-defence, had to undersell the pirate by issuing a similar cheap edition. The method of publishing by subscription became a common practice in the eighteenth century, and the endeavour to secure a liberal patron for the dedication of a book was succeeded by the effort to procure a list of subscribers previous to publication. For an author who could “command” subscriptions, this was a very helpful means of coming to terms with a publisher; but, though this method of procedure has continued to be largely used down to the present day, authors gradually relinquished into the hands of publishers the task of canvassing.

A dispute arose over the translation of the Odyssey which Lintot published in 1725–6, and he, too, was splashed with mud from Pope’s malicious pen. With a sensitive penchant for singling out physical defects, Pope seized upon Lintot’s ungainly figure, and thus caricatured him:

  • As when a dab-chick waddles thro’ the copse
  • On feet and wings, and flies, and wades, and hops:
  • So lab’ring on, with shoulders, hands, and head,
  • Wide as wind-mill all his figure spread,
  • With arms expanded Bernard rows his state,
  • And left-legg’d Jacob seems to emulate.
  • In his dealings with authors, Lintot took an enlightened view of the dignity of letters, and the title-pages of works by many of the best writers of the day bear his imprint. A memorandum book in which he entered “copies when purchased” has preserved a record of the sums which various authors received from him. A large proportion of the entries consists of plays, and he also invested freely in law books, which seem to have been always productive property. In 1701, he purchased, for £3, 4s. 6d., a third share in Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift, and, thereafter, acquired several other plays by that writer. To Thomas Baker, a now forgotten dramatist, he gave, in 1703, £32. 5s. 0d. for The Yeoman of Kent. In 1702, Farquhar received £15 for The Twin Rivals, and, four years later, just double that sum for The Beaux’ Stratagem. For Gay’s Wife of Bath, he paid £25, while, for Trivia, he gave him £43, and practically the same sum for Three Hours after Marriage. Mrs. Centlivre had £10 each for two plays, and Steele £21. 10s. 0d. for The Lying Lover. Elkanah Settle, then long past his vogue, could get no more than £3. 10s. 0d. for The City Ramble (1711); but, for Rowe’s Lady Jane Grey (1715), and Killigrew’s Chit-Chat (1719), Lintot had to pay £75. 5s. 0d. and £84 respectively, while, upon Richard Fiddes’s Body of Divinity, he expended so much as £252. 10s. 0d. His transactions with Pope amounted to upwards of four thousand pounds.

    Lintot also kept translators busy. Homer seems to have had special attraction for him, and served as a kind of counterpoise to the Shakespeare of his rival Tonson. Besides issuing Pope’s translation he had convenanted with Theobald, in 1714, for a translation of the Odyssey, but this scheme was abandoned when Pope undertook his version. For a translation of the Iliad published in 1712, he paid John Ozell £10. 8s. 6d. for the first three books, and, in the next year, he gave the same translator £37. 12s. 6d. for his Molière. The publication of some books was undertaken on the half shares principle: in the case of Breval’s Remarks on several parts of Europe (1726), author and bookseller each took one guinea, the latter being at the expense of producing the book and the copyright remaining his property; Jeake’s Charters of the Cinque Ports (1728) was issued by subscription at a guinea, of which author and bookseller each had half. For Urry’s Chaucer, eventually printed in 1721, a tripartite agreement for equal division of the proceeds was entered into, in 1715, by Urry’s executor, the dean and chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, and Lintot; the dean and chapter’s share to be supplied to the finishing of Peckwater quadrangle, and the bookseller again paying the cost of production.

    Lintot’s rivalry with Tonson must have been somewhat in the nature of friendly competition, for his notebook records several agreements with Tonson, relating to the publication of various works, including a convention, in February 1718, that they should be equally concerned in all plays bought by them eighteen months from that date. He, too, in the heyday of success, retired from the turmoil of business to country quiet.

    With the year 1735, there enters into the publishing lists perhaps the most attractive figure in the eighteenth century trade, Robert Dodsley, poet, playwright and quondam footman. Lintot had now some years ago resigned his business into the hands of his son Henry; and, at the house of Tonson, the third Jacob was reigning. The substantial firm of Awnsham and John Churchill, renowned for its big untertakings, had, with the death of Awnsham in 1728, run its course; and James Knapton, who made a feature of books of travel and works on trade and economics, was nearing the end of his career. Richard Chiswell the “metropolitan bookseller” of England, had long since been succeeded by Charles Rivington, who was laying the foundations of what was to become the chief theological publishing house of the next hundred years; and Thomas Longman, successor to William Taylor, publisher of Robinson Crusoe, was quietly building up the business in Paternoster row where his sign, a ship in full sail, still keeps on its course. Lawton Gilliver, of the Homer’s Head in Fleet street, was now Pope’s publisher; and Edward Cave had been running his Gentleman’s Magazine since 1731. Other active names in the publishing world were John Brindley of New Bond street, Andrew Millar in the Strand, Thomas Cooper at the Globe in Paternoster row, and James Roberts in Warwick lane.

    When Dodsley, with the patronage and assistance of Pope and other friends, set up his sign, Tully’s Head, in Pall Mall, he was already known as a writer of poems, and his play, The Toyshop, which had been published by Gilliver a few months previously, achieved the success of six editions before the year was out. In 1737, he made a great hit with Richard Glover’s Leonidas; in the next year came Johnson’s London; and, soon, Dodsley was recognised as one of the leading publishers of belles lettres, his shop, ere long, becoming a favourite meeting place of the literati of the day. A sound literary taste, seconded by enterprise and business ability, brought him abundant success; and his probity of character and lovable personality endeared him to a numerous company of friends. Chesterfield, Shenstone and Spence were of this circle, and Johnson, who held “Doddy” in especial regard, said that he looked upon him as his patron. Besides works by Pope and Johnson, it was from Tully’s Head that Young’s Night Thoughts, Shenstone’s Schoolmistress, Akenside’s Pleasures of Imagination, Goldsmith’s Present State of Polite Learning, with many others of equal note were sent forth; and, if Gray’s Eton Ode fell flat in 1747, the failure was more than compensated for by the acclaim which greeted the Elegy in 1751. But the publications by which Dodsley remains a living name in English literature are the two anthologies to which he stood in the relation of editor as well as publisher: the Select Collection of Old Plays (1744–5) and the Collection of Poems by several Hands (1748–58). When the first of these was announced in 1743, sufficient names to justify the undertaking were received in a week, and, at the time of publication, there were nearly eight hundred subscribers.

    Apparently, Dodsley considered a periodical publication to be a proper adjunct to a house of standing, for he made more than one adventure in that hazardous emprise. The Public Register, which he launched in 1741 as a weekly rival to The Gentleman’s Magazine, was killed at its twenty-fourth number by a boycott on the part of opposition journals. Five years later, he projected a fortnightly literary magazine, called The Museum, which appeared under the editorship of Mark Akenside; and this was followed by The World, which Edward Moore successfully conducted from 1753 to 1756. But his greatest achievement was The Annual Register, which he founded in conjunction with Edmund Burke, and which still makes its yearly appearance. In March 1759, just before the first issue of the Register was published, Dodsley relinquished the cares of business into the hands of his younger brother, James, whom he had taken into partnership some time previously.

    It is understood to have been Robert Dodsley who first suggested to Johnson the idea of the Dictionary; but the chief part in the arrangements for its publication was undertaken by Andrew Millar, a man of quite different calibre. Though not possessed of great literary judgment himself, Millar had the instinct to choose capable advisers, and his hard-headed business faculty carried him into the front rank of his profession. He ventured boldly, and must have been fairly liberal in his dealings with authors, or Johnson, speaking from a writer’s point of view, would scarcely have expressed respect for him on the ground that he had raised the price of literature. When Hume’s History was in danger of falling flat, it was Millar’s energy that contributed largely to securing its success; and when, after giving Fielding a thousand pounds for Amelia, he feared the book would not go off, he resorted to a ruse to incite the trade to buy it.