[Chapter 2] Editions.
So polite a congé from a Citizen, induced me to apply to some bibliopolist of renown, on the West side of Temple Bar; naturally presuming, that there I should meet with more enlarged sentiments. But unfortunately,
Incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charybdin,
I fell into the other extreme. I addressed myself to one, whose sentiments were, in some respects, more enlarged than my own.
Without condescending to turn over my manuscript, or concerning himself about its contents, all his enquiries were confined to the Form in which I proposed to publish my work. He talked much about the beauty of Elziver editions, large types, neat picas, royal paper, the peculiar grace of broad margins, and distant lines.
‘But, sir, this manner of printing will infallibly drive out a few familiar epistles, to several volumes quarto.’
“Aye, to be sure. You do not intend to publish them in a meaner form?”
‘Sir, my ambition rises no higher than to humble pocket volumes.’
“Humble! why humble pocket volumes? Though little, they may yet be proud—You propose doubtless to imitate the modern mode, and to have each single thought elegantly set in the centre of a duodecimo page? Suppose it a trifling one, the Pomposity of the frame will give it an air of consequence.”
‘I told him I was by no means insensible to the charms of an elegant edition, yet this new mode was, in my opinion, a most arbitrary and cruel tax upon men of letters; who in general can least afford to pay it.[’]
“Men of letters, (quoth he) are so few in number, that they cannot reasonably expect particular attention should be paid them; and entre nous, they seldom concern themselves with books of this class: but for the public at large, it is the most kindly tax imaginable—It pleases every body—First, as to the Author; I have already hinted it is a happy and certain method of making a few thoughts valuable.—Besides, sir, the pleasure communicated by an elegant type and superfine paper, is imperceptibly ascribed to the beauty of sentiment, clearness of expression in the work itself.—It is like enunciation in a public speaker; every thought has full justice done it, and is placed in the most conspicuous point of view. Whereas, the choicest ideas of the greatest Wit, huddled together in narrow lines, with a misty letter-press, and on spungy paper, lose all their brilliancy, and absolutely sink in with the ink.
“Again, it is more gratifying to the pride of the Reader. He sets himself down before a pompous Quarto, or Folio, with all the dignity of a Professor. Or, if he condescend to dip into these duodecimos, as he lolls upon the sopha, with his tooth-pick in his hand, he has the satisfaction to find that even in his indolent moments—he can soon become a very voluminous reader—
“And, sir, it is infinitely more to our advantage—A single article for a sixpenny magazine, will, according to this happy method of printing, swell itself into a treatise of half a crown or three shillings value; and the same train of ideas communicated to the world in an octavo for five, will, spread upon one of our Quarto’s, entitle us to no less than fifteen shillings or one guinea per volume—What a glorious interest this for the extraordinary consumption of paper!”
‘I acknowledge, said I, that there is much force in your remarks, and they deserve attention. But these elegant editions, as they are necessarily more expensive than the others, must consequently diminish the number of purchasers.’
“Your consequence is not so conclusive as you imagine. They may alter the class of customers, but they may also increase their numbers.”
‘Aye! this is a paradox that wants explanation.[’]
“Why, Sir, expensive editions secure the custom of those, who, though they complain every thing is dear, will purchase nothing that is cheap. And the number of such, in this metropolis, is so very considerable, that, were they Readers, nine parts out of ten, would enquire the price of a book, exclaim against it as exorbitant, pay the money, and look with contempt upon an edition they might have had for one third of the value.”
“Again, a flattering edition excites every one’s curiosity. It is naturally supposed a work must have some intrinsic merit, or the editor would not have had the presumption to have been at such an extraordinary expence: and the whole impression stands a chance of being sold off, before the public are aware of their mistake.”
“And finally, these superb impressions are sure to draw the attention of most of your nobility and gentry; who collect books as they collect pictures, or keep mistresses—not from the great pleasure they take in either, but merely as articles of State. To the eyes of these personages, your puny editions of the most respectable authors would cut but a despicable figure—For they would make no shew in their libraries.”
‘But do they pay no attention to the nature or contents of a book?’
“Little or none, sir. They give an order for such a number of Folios, such a number of Quartos, or Octavos, according to the largeness and construction of their book-case; (—or perhaps Duodecimos, where a fortunate corner will admit them, provided the margins be very broad, the lines very distant, the paper superfine, and the type a la Baskerville.—) These are generally required to be the newest publications of some note, but the particular choice is generally left to ourselves—so that it is often in our power to serve a Friend, Mr. Buncle.”
The surprise I manifested at these declarations, was construed by him as bordering upon incredulity; and, by way of supporting their validity, he assured me that a gentleman had sent him, the other day, several sets of books in boards, to be uniformly bound; some of which had been in his possession ten or fifteen years, and not a sheet of them was as yet cut open. “I was also called (says he) to reconnoitre the empty shelves of a Nobleman’s study, in order to stock them from my shop. Curiosity led me to take down Buffon’s Natural History, which was upon an adjacent shelf, consisting, of about twelve volumes in Quarto; and I found that the blundering Binder had lettered the whole set towards the bottom, in an inverted direction. This celebrated Philosopher hath, of consequence, stood upon his head, it may be seven years, and the proprietor hath not the least suspicion of the indignity done him.”
So very favourable an account of pompous Editions, and the hopes of considerable gains, by an inconsiderable hazard, made me more than half a convert to his scheme. For the Works of John Buncle, junior, to appear in four or five volumes Quarto; to be bound in Red Morocco; sumptuously Gilt and Lettered on the back; and placed upon a conspicuous shelf in a splendid Library, I will confess, did not a little flatter my vanity:—and yet, upon recollection, it hurt my pride to be treated like a livery Servant;—a meer vassal to another’s greatness: and to have all the praises due to the brilliancy of my thoughts, lavished upon the Printer or Bookbinder. ‘No, said I, in a muttering accent,—when I write it is to be read, not gazed at, to correct, not countenance folly.’ However, I thought it prudent to conceal from my Chapman this inward contest between Avarice and Pride. But to make a virtue of rejecting his advice, I placed my refusal to the score of consistency. I observed, that although I had not much objection to satyrizing others, I did not like to hit myself a slap on the face. ‘Some years ago, said I, my youthful muse brought forth a few lines in ridicule of these pompous publications; in which, either fortunately or unfortunately, there are several ideas similar to your own. Whether they contain any of the true attic salt, or savor of the sal catharticum amarum, possessing more bitterness than pungency; or whether there be salt of any kind in them, I shall leave you to judge—Here they are—
When authors of old brought their works into light,
*Multum in parvo’s the motto to which they had right:
But now ’tis revers’d,—their matter is slighter,
*Parvum in multo belongs to each modern writer.
Deep margins, large letters, the lines at a distance;
’Stead of genius prolific, become their assistance.
Each pitiful Rhymster has such a proud heart too,
He scorns to exhibit, in less than a Quarto;
And like a physician, expecteth rich fees
For being as pompous, and empty as he is.
When I read a large volume, with scarce any print,
(An emblem too just of the little that’s in’t,)
Which stript of the swelling parade of its dress,
Would sink to a sixpenny pamphlet, or less;
I think of that worshipful bird, the grave owl,
Which robb’d of its feathers, is but small fowl;
Or the peacock you’ve seen on the stage, and have smil’d,
To hear it contain’d or a dwarf, or a child;
Or, a miser, that wraps up in papers a-many,
You’d think it a treasure—an old silver penny;
Or, a Dutchman’s large breeches, that cover a bum,
No larger perhaps than the bulb of one’s thumb.
Indeed I’ll confess, that I sometimes am hurried,
Lest under such loads their poor wit mould lie buried,
And suffer the fate of a jay I’ve seen hop
In the chinks of some reams, in a stationer’s shop.
But yet, to their comfort, a Flea will draw breath
Through clothes that would smother large bodies to death.
And book-Lice, will crawl under burdens with ease,
That would give you or me a most terrible squeeze.
When I’d written thus far, cries a friend, what’s the matter?
Pray lay down your pen, and chain up your satire.
Wit is scarce now a-days; you must take it for granted
To give something more, for what’s so much wanted.
The last happy age, abounding in treasure,
Dealt it out very cheap, with special good measure.
But now, times are hard; they cannot afford it
So cheap by three fourths, and yet they don’t hoard it.
Your dealers in this kind of food, let me tell ye,
Though their stock is but small, are quite willing to sell ye;
And lest their dear country should perish for hunger,
Unripe as it is, they will keep it no longer.
How generous this! Then be not too nice;
Take what you can get, tho’ you pay double price.
In short, wit is scarce, he that has it may boast on’t,
And they who have little—must e’en make the most on’t.
*Pronounced mult’in parv’in.
My gentleman did not like to recognize his sentiments, when they seemed to be the subject of ridicule; and degenerating into the ceremonious complaisance of the truly Polite, upon the verge of a quarrel, we took a formal leave of each other.
The truths uttered by our Bibliopolist, have had, however, such weight with me who desire at all times to be open to conviction, that I have resolved to approach nearer to the modern mode of publication than was originally intended—‘If a handsomer fee, (thought I) will either give greater efficacy to my prescriptions, or render them more extensively useful—Well, be it so. Let Benevolence forbid any little foolish scruples of mine from being prejudicial to mankind.’
[For Chapter 1, see here]