The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Books of the English 1500 to 1800 Part 6

The important works of Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon inaugurated a new era in historical study; and the numerous works dealing with local history and antiquities gave occasion for the production of some fine books illustrated with engravings. At the other end of the scale are the children's books, the Tommy Prudent, Goody Two Shoes, and other 'improving' stories, which have rendered famous their publisher and originator, John Newbery, the busy bookseller and patent-medicine vendor of St Paul's Churchyard.

The right of an author to property in his work was recognized for the first time by the law of the land in the Copyright Act of 1709. As a rule, however, authors continued to sell their work outright to publishers, and in the eighteenth century the professional writer was to a great extent the employee of the bookseller-publisher. The leading publisher at the opening of the century was Jacob Tonson, of the' Shakespear Head,' who published for Dryden. A little later came Bernard Lintot, whose name is connected with that of Pope. Robert Dodsley, himself a poet and playwright, published works by Samuel Johnson, Gray, Goldsmith, and others of his large circle of friends. The energetic Andrew Millar carried through the arrangements for bringing out Johnson's Dictionary (1755), and his successors Thomas Cadell and William Strahan were in their turn important personages in the publishing world.

For two hundred years the ordinary sizes for English books had continued to be the folio, measuring about twelve by seven-and-a-half inches, and the quarto, of about seven-and-a-half by six inches. These two main sizes were varied by a larger folio for more important works, and an octavo about six inches high, for the smaller books. In the eighteenth century there is a greater variety of sizes and a larger paper is in general use. The folio is still used, more especially for topographical works with illustrations, but for ordinary books it gives way to the quarto: not the small square book of the preceding century, but a more imposing volume, measuring some ten by eight inches, in which there is space, as occasion may demand, either for packing much matter, or for the luxury of large type and wide margins. For everyday literature the convenient octavo size and also a large duodecimo (seven by four inches) came into general use. The standard of printing, as a whole, shews a considerable improvement upon the dark days of the Commonwealth period, though, with some exceptions, the craftsmanship is mediocre and the appearance of the books quite undistinguished. In general, the paper is indifferent in quality and too brown in colour, while the ink lacks sufficient blackness to make a good contrast, and this gives an appearance of weakness to the printed page.