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Furious Booksellers: The “American Copy” of the Waverley Novels and the Language of the Book Trade


This essay explores the trans-Atlantic book trade through a case study on the publication of Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. The Waverley novels were printed in Edinburgh but distributed mostly in London, where publishers from Philadelphia initially acquired them for reprinting and sale in the United States. Mathew Carey and his son Henry became Scott’s most important American publishers by establishing a direct agreement with his Edinburgh publisher, Archibald Constable. Their agreement involved purchasing advance sheets of the novels before official publication. This essay demonstrates that the power and pressures of the London marketplace for books affected the transmission of the “American Copy” of the Waverley novels, and that the trans-Atlantic publication of Scott was a heated emotional business full of volatile misunderstandings between booksellers and startling anomalies in the printing process itself. This essay reconstructs this story, and it argues that the language of the book trade—as employed in written correspondence, public prints, and the Waverley novels themselves—must be closely analyzed to understand the challenges of provincial publishing in the period.