Monday, 22 January 2018

On Dust Jackets and Literary Damnation in 1785

Below is a short, satiric and amusing account of the often-ironic fate of books and pamphlets in the late eighteenth century. (Remnant, “On Literary Damnation,” The Rambler’s Magazine, 3, no. 10 (October 1785): 383a–b.) Since waste paper had a myriad of uses, any piece of paper not valued for what was printed or written on it was likely to end up as being reused: as pie-bases, wrapping paper or even toilet-paper.

The ignominious fate of the works of unpopular writers was a critical commonplace, as was the destruction of books by the unlettered and ignorant (see, for example, William Blades, The Enemies of Books (1880), here), but two things make this contribution to The Rambler’s Magazine unusual: [1] it mentions scandalous, risqué and erotic works; and [2] it mentions the distribution of unbound books, wrapped in printed wastepaper.


The Adventures of an Irish Smock (1782), is a particularly-interesting erotic work: it was discussed by me in posts in July and November 2017 (here and here); and is also now the subject of an article I have co-written with Tania Marlowe for Notes and Queries, which is due to be published in July of this year. (Tania was the one who found the present article, and sent it to me for this reason. Thanks Tania.) The Adventures of an Irish Smock was not often mentioned in print (probably because no copy survives in the English-speaking world, and no copy was known until I located one last year), so it is nice to be able to add a contemporary reference, indicating its currency … in certain circles.

Of course, The Rambler’s Magazine was—as the full title suggests—a periodical written for rakes and midnight ramblers (The Rambler’s Magazine; or, The Annals of Gallantry, Glee, Pleasure, and the Bon Tot: Calculated for the Entertainment of the Polite World and to furnish the Man of Pleasure with a Most delicious banquet of Amorous, Baccanalian, Whimsical, Humourous, theatrical and Polite Entertainment).

This magazine was published by the same person who published The Adventures of an Irish Smock: G. Lister. Lister also published The Rover’s magazine, the crim. con. trials of Lady Maria Bayntun, Mrs. Ann Nisbett, Lady Ann Foley and Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, Dr Graham’s Eccentric Lecture On The Art Of Propagating The Human Species, and an edition of The History of Fanny Hill. And so, it is not very surprising that Lister, or his contributor, included a reference to an erotic work he had recently published, and such a well-known risqué title from the 1720s as Callipædia: or, the art of getting beautiful children. A poem, in four books. Written in Latin by Claudius Quillet. Made English by N. Rowe, Esq;.


The second thing that makes this contribution to The Rambler’s Magazine unusual, is the following: “Remnant” writes, that “on sending to my bookseller for the two volumes of the Irish Smock, I received them inclosed in a sheet of Hints on the Existence of a middle State; and I know a lady who has Fordyce’s Sermons to a Young Woman sent to her in some leaves of begetting Beautiful Children”. Very droll.

In his Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets, Mark R. Godburn explains that the unbound sheets of books and pamphlets were (sometimes? often?) wrapped in waste-paper by the printer or binder, and that these ad hoc “enclosures” or "envelopes" were a precursor of the earliest dust-jackets now known: i.e., the enclosure-style jackets found on annuals in the 1820s. The Wikipedia entry on “Dust jacket” suggests only that “Some collections of loose prints were issued at this period in printed paper wrappings” (emphasis added; see here).

Godburn provides details of only one surviving example of these ad hoc, proto-dust-jackets, which dates from the eighteenth-century, but does not quote any contemporary descriptions or accounts of them. The one he mentions (25) is a wrapping made up of two (folio) bifolia from the Rev. T. Johnson's History of Adam and Eve (1740) which are wrapped around "a set of sheets" for the second volume of John Taylor's Hebrew-English Concordance (1757), which survives in the library at Bickling-Hall, Norfolk. (Neither are recorded on ESTC under N8856 (the wrapper; only 3 copies recorded) and T148434 (the concordance; 90 copies)). The wrapping is hand-labeled in ink: "Taylors Hebrew [and] English Concordance Vol.2 Sheets".

Godburn mentions two more-formal wrappings (27), one is a sheet, with a printed, 115-word presentation letter, dated 1791 and signed by the author, which survives wrapped around a set of stab-sewn sheets for John de Brahm's Time: An Apparition of Eternity (1791); the other, "printed on its front with the title, author, publisher, illustrator and other information" survives on a set of sheets for Daniel Chodowiecki's Clarissens Schiksale (1796).

This 1785 reference to ad hoc, precursor dust-jackets is later than Godburn's surviving exemplar from 1757, and pre-dates the formal wrappers of the 1790s, allowing us to narrow somewhat the change in practice from ad-hoc to more formal wrappers for sheets. I don’t recall seeing any other reference similar to this one in The Rambler’s Magazine; and I have had no luck finding any others using the key words in this passage, so I am guessing that such references are very uncommon. It would be nice to see more; but even if other references are not located, the combination of Godburn’s examples of survivers and this satire establishes the practice.

* * * * *

For the Rambler’s Magazine. On Literary Damnation.

It may be a pleasing and whimsical consideration to such of your female readers as are acquainted with the manufacture of paper, that their old linen may at some future period return to their fair hands in the shape of an amorous epistle, and that their lovers may have had the honour of taking up their shifts, without being one degree nearer the point of happiness.
 But how very different must be the state of an unlucky author, who finds the offspring of his brain, (which had cost him paternal throes to bring forth) after passing through the purgatory of a pasty cook’s shop, returned to him at the bottom of a raspberry-tart, or a mutton-pie? To what strange uses may things come at last! Many a well-printed sheet of poetry have I seen containing a pound of butter; and twelfth-cake supported by abridgements of the statutes;—I have met with a stitch of bacon covered snugly over with the works of a Jew rabbi; and a pound of snuff wrapped in a Defence against Popery; I once received a dose of physick in Considerations upon our later End; and on sending to my bookseller for the two volumes of the Irish Smock, I received them inclosed in a sheet of Hints on the Existence of a middle State; and I know a lady who has Fordyce’s Sermons to a Young Woman sent to her in some leaves of begetting Beautiful Children. Many pieces of works of merit have I rescued from my hair-dresser, when he was trying the heat of his curling irons; and I seldom go into the necessary without redeeming some favourite performance from an untimely end.
 To enumerate all the instances of this kind would be endless, and too much for my tender nerves, who am uncertain when I next ask for tobacco, whether I may not have this very paper given me to light my pipe.—But there is no helping it.

Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew, the dog will have his day.

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