Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Edmund Curll in The Grub Street Journal

The Grub Street Journal, or Memoirs of the Society of Grub-Street, “operated as a kind of serialized Dunciad” (Paul Baines, Pat Rogers, Edmund Curll, Bookseller (2008), 216). It repeatedly, and amusingly, attacked Edmund Curll for publishing smut: Issue no. 4 (29 January 1730) contains a fictional application from “Kirleus” for the position of Bookseller to the Society of Grub-Street, the election is discussed in no. 15 (16 April 1730) and in no. 24 (18 June 1730) it is reported that “Kirleus,” dissapointed at missing out on this post, has attached the Society in the Daily Journal on 23 May.

The election in no. 15 is debated in three speeches, by Orthodoxo, Pruriento and Pamphleteero. The best of these, the arguments of Pruriento, are supposed to be self-evidently sophistical; but they are, perhaps, too clever by half, because some of the arguments appear perfectly reasonable to a modern eye! Since this essay isn’t available online I have corrected the OCR of the Google Books reprint of 1737 for your entertainment.

No 15. Thursday, April 16. [1730]

Faciet lucrum bibliopola Tryphon. Mart. Epig. L. xiii. Ep. 3.
Die Mercurii, Ap. 15, 1730.

THIS day having been appointed for the election of a book-seller, there was a very numerous appearance at the Pegasus. Many letters from book-sellers in all parts of the town were read; which, being written in a very different stile, and spelt after a different manner, yielded great variety of diversion to the society. As the Letter of the great Curlus, published in our 4th Journal, was much superior to all the rest; so the party which appeared for him seemed to be so: who thought they had secured his election, by putting up against him a person, who, tho’ very famous in the world, yet made no great figure in the trade, having been but newly set up. This person was captain L. Gulliver; who by the advice of some friends at Dublin, and with the incouragement of some copies sent from thence, had lately removed from Redriff, and opened a shop near Temple-bar.
  The friends of Mr. Curlus, not doubting that they should carry the election, were very eager for putting it to the vote: when, to their great surprize. Orthodoxo stood up, and made the following speech.

Gentlemen; Tho’ it be certain, that some or other of this society, as writeing upon all learned subjects, are frequently publishing books in opposition to revealed religion, and in favour of immorality; yet, since the name of the author is seldom put to any such pieces, they can no otherwise be known to belong to our members, than by the stile and manner of them. And therefore, as the society can not fix them upon any particular persons, they can not pass so effectual a censure upon those persons, as they design, whenever the authors have the impudence to put their names in the title-page. Of this they gave an instance in their censure of a reverend renegade, in their Journal, numb. 13. and the same day, Ap. 1. they passed a resolution, to discountenance all their members who endeavour to promote the cause of infidelity and immorality. With this resolution, I imagine, it will not seem at all consistent, to chuse a person for our book-seller, who has been very instrumental in corrupting the manners of the age. Mr. Curlus has not only reprinted all the lewd books he could collect, written in English; but likewise taken care to get a great number to be translated out of foreign languages: of which several gentlemen here present, if they think proper, can give, I believe, the most convincing proof. In this sort of trade he became so eminent, as to give occasion to the enriching of our language with a new term; filthy discourse having now for several years been called, by the polite part of the world, Curlism. Of which elegant word I wonder that our laborious and learned brother N. Bailey, φιλολογοσ, has taken no notice: who, tho’ in his Etymological Dictionary (dedicated first to the royal family, and now very lately to the earl of Pembroke) he has taken the pains to collect and explain most of the obscene words, frequently used by the dregs of the people, has yet omitted this less vulgar term, which comprehends all manner of obscenity.

To this Pruriento made the following answer.

Tho’ what you have urged against my worthy friend cannot be denied; yet a good deal may be sayed, not only in excuse, but even in vindication of him. It is a maxim, which, tho’ not openly avowed, is yet generally followed, by most people in the way of trade, That the same action may be lawful, or unlawful, according as it is done by a person, either in, or out of his proper business. Thus, if a book-seller should tell me, that Col. Francisco was a very honest and chaste person, that all which had been sworn and sayed against him was false, and consequently that I might safely trust him with my money and my wife; this might be justly accounted a lie. But if the same person should assure me, that the bishop of Bangor wrote The Tryal of the witnesses, in order to promote the sale of it; this, tho’ perhaps no truer than the other, yet would not properly come under the notion of lying, The reason is: because in the former case, the book-seller acting out of his sphere, ought to speak the truth, his interest not being concerned; whereas in the latter, his right to promote his own interest in his own proper business, is antecedent, and consequently superior, to my right to true information. The falshood in this case is of the same nature with that, which even religious, if well-bred, persons oblige their servants to tell almost every hour in the day, viz. that they are not at home: which none but vulgar people, bred in a mean, low way, count to be lying. All such expressions therefore as, It was written by such a person; It sells extremtly well; I have but so many left; I never sell it for less; &. tho’ they all contain falshoods, yet they are falshoods of such a nature, as the ignorance, avarice, and impertinence of buyers have rendered necesary; in-so-much, that without them it is morally impossible to carrie on a trade to any considerable advantage.
  This, being premised, naturally prepares the way for a just vindication of the book-sellers in general, and of my friend in particular, as to the printing and publishing of such books, as are commonly called smutty or bawdy: as to which there is a great difference. For the design of some of them is to give a true historical account of former transactions, which may serve as precedents in determining the like cases which may happen, such as Cases of impotence end divorce, &c. Others are designed to promote natural knowledge, as The use of flogging; Art of kissing; Art of getting pretty cbildren; Mysteries of conjugal love; &c. which all tend very much to the good of the public, by inciting to the propagation of a sound and vigorous off-spring. And books of novels, if the events are unfortunate, are useful to deter young persons from following the like lascivious courses. Now, if the abuse of writings of this kind be an argument against the use of them; it will hold equally strong against books of Anatomy, Surgery, Midwifery, &c. which are all perverted by the natural corruption of some readers to the promoting of lewdness and debauchery.
  Nay, even as to those books, which, having been written solely with a design to corrupt the minds of persons, contain lewd descriptions of scenes of lust, and therefore may justly be called bawdy by way of eminence; even these have often an effect contrary to that which was originally intended. For, according to the late duke of Buckingham’s just observation, —Obscene words, too gross to move desire, Like heaps of fewel do but choke the fire. So that possibly some well-disposed book-sellers may sell them, as (what they really are to persons of an elegant taste) antidotes against lechery. And with this view, perhaps, the choicest pieces collected out of Rochester’s poems, and printed under the title of The Cabinet of Love, are publicly exposed to sale at a low price, like peny sermons, for the benefit of the poor.
  But setting aside all these favourable constructions, supposing even that these books in all probability will have a very bad effect; yet a book-seller may lawfully publish and sell them, in order to provide a comfortable subsistence for his family. If, indeed, a shoe-maker should pretend to do this, it would be altogether unlawful; because it would be going beyond his last, and acting out of his proper calling. But to publish and sell books being the proper business of a book-seller; he may do it, without inquiring concerning their contents, any farther than whether they are likely to sell or not: and he is no more answerable for the ill effects which may be produced by them, than a cutler or a gun-smith, for the murders committed with swords or pistols.
  This, I am well assured, is current doctrine among the generality of the trade; and their practice every day verifies their firm belief of the truth of it. And this is further confirmed by a remarkable account given me by my worthy friend; which, at the same time that it sets him upon the level, in one respect, with the rest of his fraternity, in another raises him to a superiority above them all. He tells me, that when he began to be eminent for books in this kind of literature, some of his preciser brethren, who did not care to put their names to such books, have given him a valuable consideration for the use of his; under which whole impressions have appeared printed at their charge. He assured me likewise. that several grave persons, who now deal much in religious books, have formerly dealt in the other sort; and that it has been no unusual thing, for a man to appear very devout and religious on a sunday, after having sold obscene books all the preceding week. The names of these cautious traders may one day appear: but at present this affair is only just mentioned, to shew that Mr. Curlus is full as innocent, and much more illustrious, than the generality of his brethren; and therefore may justly. claim a preference in your favour.

After a short silence, Pamphleteero stood up and sayed.

  Tho’ what the gentleman who spoke last has sayed is a full vindication of Mr. Curlus, as a book-seller; yet I must declare I can not, approve of his election, for reasons, both honourable to him, and such as, I believe, will induce him to decline the office of his own accord. As he has distinguished himself by writeing, and imitated the stile of some of our most celebrated brethren, both in prose and verse, I think he ought to be chosen a member of our society.
  There are two or three resolutions have been passed by the society, with which it is morally certain he will not complie, and therefore can not be chosen our book-seller. It has been resolved, that whoever has that place shall not be an author for the future, nor publish any thing of his own composeing, except a title-page, or an advertisement; and that he shall not vend any obscene or irreligous book. As it would be great pity to deprive the world of the ingenious lucubrations of Mr. Curlus, by his confining himself to the employment of a book-seller; so I am very certain, that he will never consent to do it much less to deprive himself of the annual profit arising from the sale of diverting books. There are three branches of literature, in which he has distinguished himself; natural history, and philosophy (called by fome obscenity) and antiquities. In labours relating to the two former he spent the vigour of his years: to the last he has applied himself in his more advanced age, as a subject more suitable to his maturer judgment. The testimony of a learned antiquarian, relating only to his collections in one of these sciences, may be justly applied to him in respect of all, That no book-seller in town has been so curious as he. Twenty volumes of Antiquities, and more than twice twenty of natural philosophy, and history, are a noble stock for one book-seller; sufficient to enable him to carrie on in his Literatory a very profitable businefs, with ease and dignity in his old age. All these branches of trade will be left almost entirely to him: for as our book-seller will be obliged not to meddle with the two former; so, tho’ the other consists of several productions of our society, it will be in Mr. Curlus’s own power to keep it to himself. Since therefore our choice of him would only be the occasion of giving us a second trouble, I don’t doubt but you will look upon captain L. Gulliver as the most proper person to fill the place. He has, it is true, been an eminent author, tho’ only in the way of travels: but, as he has resolved neither to travel, nor to write any more, he is duly qualified for the place he desires: and he has delivered into the hands of our secretary many curious Memoirs of literature relating to the state of learning in Laputa and Balnibarbi, which on proper occasions may be communicated to the public.
  They then proceeded to the ballot; and upon casting up the votes, Mr. President declared Capt. L. Gulliver duly elected book-seller to the society.

M. [=John Martyn (1699–1768)]

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