- The Nature and Uses of Eighteenth-Century Book Subscription Lists by Hugh Reid
This book severely disappoints. First, the Edward Mellen Press, which had been slowly moving away from its beginnings as a vanity press by producing interesting and worthy scholarly works, tumbles precipitously back into Vanity Fair’s slough of despond with this effort. The “book” is the length of a mid-size article, elongated by large type, generous leading, blank pages, and a useless Bibliography and Index. The price is outrageous.
Second, Mr. Reid has nothing to add to what is well known about publishing by subscription in the eighteenth century. The only slight point of contention with previous discussions is a quibble with Pat Rogers as to whether subscriptions were drawn from the upper classes or had a broader base; without doubt as the century moved on, the base expanded—no one, including Rogers, whose quite valid observation was based on earlier works and events that were exclusively directed toward the upper class, could disagree with the growing democratization of the practice.
A chapter on the eighteenth-century publishing world repeats the very general observations of Terry Belanger in Books and their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England (1982). A typical sentence: “Generally the larger the book, the more the copyright was worth, for example, folios were worth more than small duodecimos and good sized octavos worth more than duodecimos as well.” We also learn that all this “had an affect [sic] on the relatively new concept of publishing by subscription.” In addition to the very poor writing, typos abound. Hence, “there are some implications that was this common to all subscriptions” and “but they, who are you real Friends,” both in the same paragraph. The point of this chapter is that some abused the subscription process by taking money without any intent to produce a book—others just failed to do so; as Mr. Reid points out, borrowing his illustration from Fielding, via Thomas Lockwood’s useful essay on subscriptions, people began to fear authors since they were acting as “Stick Jobbers,” another obvious typo.
I belabor this book only because someone needs to be outraged that in these difficult economic times, academic librarians might be fooled into wasting $100 to purchase it. Let the section “Some sources for researching subscription lists” suffice to discourage them: we are told that Donald Greene’s Age of Exuberance is a good book for the eighteenth-century background—it is indeed, but surely Mr. Reid means for undergraduate students, not for those interested in the esoteric issues connected to publishing by subscription. For identification of subscribers, he suggests [End Page 277] the ODNB, an obvious choice, except that probably in any representative list, it might have one of twenty names (I speak from the experience of my twenty-year project to identify Sterne’s subscribers), and for members of Parliament, Pamela Judd’s Members of Parliament (Yale, 1955). Setting aside that the author is Gerrit Pamele Judd, not Pamela, one suspects that Namier and Brooke might be the more valuable source for information concerning subscribers. Or, in terms of Web sites, rather than the limited Collins peerage site, one might look at thepeerage.com, which combines Collins with all the other peerage sources available. More disturbing, Burney’s newspapers on line, ECCO, London Lives, are omitted from his list of useful Web sites—and probably a dozen more that trained researchers would immediately think of as useful. Above all, to simplify the dated advice here—and advice that will always be dated, reference works coming on line faster than we can write about them—if one wants identifications, one begins with Google and goes on from there.