Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 30. Popular Literature

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

§ 30. Popular Literature

The book-collector in search of fine editions, and the reader with literary tastes enquiring for the latest hit in belles lettres, would, naturally, go to Tonson’s, Payne’s, Dodsley’s, or one of the other leading shops, such as that of Samuel Smith, bookseller to the Royal society, who spoke with fluency both French and Latin, and specialised in foreign literature. But, among the wider and less cultivated class of readers, there was a large demand for small and cheap books in what is commonly known as practical divinity, and this literature formed an important feature in the stock-in-trade of the smaller booksellers. In the seventeenth century, James Crump, who had his shop in Little Bartholomew’s Well-yard, was one of the publishers who made a speciality of providing this class of book, and Richard Young, of Roxwell in Essex, a voluminous writer of such matter, furnished him with A short and sure way to Grace and Salvation, The Seduced Soul reduced, and rescued from the Subtilty and Slavery of Satan, together with some thirty other tracts with similar compelling titles; and these, consisting severally of eight or a dozen pages, were sold at a penny each. More substantial examples of this class of popular literature are the “practical” works of Richard Baxter and The Pilgrim’s Progress, of which eleven editions appeared within ten years of its first publication. John Dunton, who, with wide experience in catering for the popular taste, had great faith in the commercial value of such books, printed ten thousand copies of Lukin’s Practice of Godliness, and, concerning Keach’s War with the Devil and Travels of True Godliness, of which the same number were printed, he ventured the opinion that they would sell to the end of time.