Book Excerpt



Delivered at the Twenty-second Conference on the History of the British Book Trade Birmingham, July 2005
New Castle, Delaware and London, England: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2008. 6 x 9 inches. Hardcover, dust jacket. 281 pages. Delivered at the Twenty-second Conference on the History of the British Book Trade Birmingham, July 2005. First edition. This ninth volume of the Print Networks series contains twelve exciting chapters from scholars working on the connections between the parties involved in the production of print artifacts; from author to printer, publisher, bookseller..... READ MORE

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HE VARIED SCHOLARSHIP being undertaken in the field of the history of the book is reflected again in this volume of the Print Networks series. The remit of the conferences from which the volumes emerge is broad, focusing on connections in the book trade from the earliest days of the printed book through to the present day. The geographical focus is on Britain, although connections with the former colonies are also explored. For the first time this year, a comparative paper explores the similarities between reading and book-buying in England and the United States in the nineteenth century. Frank Felsenstein’s exploration of the significance of the public library in Muncie, Indiana (known famously to historians as ‘Middletown’ after the study by the Lynds in 1929) shows how, during the late nineteenth century, Muncie’s library positioned the town and its readers in a global community of knowledge. However, as always the central concern of the series remains the production, distribution and reception of printed artefacts in the British Isles. These papers were presented at the conference at the University of Birmingham held in July 2005. Although the conference was held three years after Peter Isaac had passed away, his legacy to this series, his enthusiasm and energy, were still felt by the conference-goers.
            The title of this volume emphasises an important recurring theme in book trade history, that of connections. No author, printer, publisher, bookseller or reader operated in isolation, he or she was part of a network of practitioners of the book trade whose economic, political, social or personal interests were sometimes conflicting but always diverse. An essay by John Feather introduces this volume and served to coalesce the themes of the conference. Feather’s expertise in the history of the book is renowned and his chapter in this volume provides a fascinating insight into those he perceives as being somewhat outside the book trade orthodoxy (if such a thing exists at all). He hopes to shine some light on the book trade’s ‘others’. This encompasses those who have been deliberately censored either by their contemporaries or since, and those whom history has simply forgotten, such as the peddlers of cheap print outside London. Feather also makes a plea for the book trades of Wales, Scotland and Ireland to receive the attention they deserve, which the authors of the chapters here collected have obviously heeded.
            The production and distribution of cheap and popular printed items is a recurring theme throughout these chapters, showing that scholars are now attempting to reverse the previous neglect of these cultural artefacts, dismissed by the less aware as ‘ephemeral’. Angela McShane writes a chapter on the typography of the broadside ballad in seventeenth-century England, and proves that, far from being a peripheral print form during the period, it was ubiquitous and attracted readers from all levels of society. She offers a distinction between black- and white-letter ballads and explores their production methods and the audiences at which they were aimed. Eddie Cass and Paul Smith also explore a cheap printed form, the chapbook versions of the ‘mumming plays’, folk plays that were once popular throughout England and in parts of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Cass explores how versions of these plays transferred from printer to printer in counties such as Lancashire in the nineteenth century, while Paul Smith offers a bibliographic overview of the survival of the ‘mumming play’ chapbooks and describes how an historian of the book might categorize and study these unusual examples of cheap print. In the final chapter of this volume, Elaine Jackson explores the colourful publishing career of Marguerite Jervis, known variously under pseudonyms such as Countess Barcynska and Oliver Sandys. Her contributions of popular fiction to journals in the early twentieth century are surveyed, as are the techniques she used to convey sexually and politically suggestive material.
            Newspapers and periodicals feature prominently in the chapters of the Print Networks volume. Susannah Randall focuses on the proliferation of newspapers during the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis. Randall explores both institutional and cultural reasons for this development, including the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1679. By undertaking a statistical analysis of the production of newspapers, the author makes a unique contribution to the study of print during this turbulent period. A later lapse of the Licensing Act, in 1695, provides the starting point for the chapter by Victoria Gardner. She moves out of the capital to explore the print culture of the North-East of England, a subject dear to the heart of Peter Isaac and many of the contributors to this series. She illuminates the career of John White of Newcastle and York, hitherto neglected by historians and biographers of eighteenth-century newspaper publishers. Indeed, Gardner regards the White family as so significant that she credits them with the founding of printing in the north of England from the Glorious Revolution onwards. The career of another eighteenth-century newspaper publisher is the focus of Stephen Brown’s paper. Peter Williamson (or ‘Indian Peter’ as he became known) was active in Edinburgh during the middle years of the century, but his young life was a fascinating transatlantic story of enforced migration and kidnap by Native Americans. Williamson, like Feather’s ‘others’ was always considered an outsider in the Edinburgh trade, culminating in his divorce from the daughter of Edinburgh bookseller John Wilson, which left him destitute.
From Scotland, the volume moves to Ireland, and a fascinating chapter by Johanna Archbold on the reaction in Irish periodicals to the 1798 rebellion and the Act of Union. Periodicals enjoyed a more secure position than that of newspapers, and were perceived to be less seditious. However, they were still priced cheaply and would have attracted similar sorts of readers to the newspapers. Archbold refutes the claim that many Irish periodicals were simply pale imitations of the London journals and attributes to them a lively and controversial political culture. Lisa Peters also surveys the reaction in newspapers to a period of political crisis, this time focusing on the North Wales press during the Boer War era and specifically their attitudes to David Lloyd George. It was his opposition to the war that thrust Lloyd George into the public eye and the reaction to this differed widely in the Liberal and Conservative newspapers. The relationship between publisher and author is the focus of the chapter from James Caudle. He writes about the experiences in London of James Boswell in the mid-eighteenth century and, through a detailed survey of Boswell’s manuscript archive of letters and diaries, highlights the relationships he had with various book trade practitioners, especially William Flexney and Samuel Chandler. By juxtaposing the world of letters with that of print culture, Caudle exposes the importance of books and their production in London society during this period. The editors hope this collection of chapters by both eminent and emerging book history scholars will reflect the growing significance of the subject among cultural and social historians of all eras. The editors would like to thank Dr. Maureen Bell for her assistance in editing this volume.