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BOOKS AND BOOK-MAKERS
THERE was no calling, no profession more reputable, more profitable in early colonial days than the trade of book-selling. President Dunster, of Harvard College, in his pursuance of that business, gave it the highest and best endorsement; and it must be remembered that all the book-sellers were publishers as well, books being printed for them at their expense. John Dunton, in his "Life and Errors," has given us a very distinct picture of Boston book-sellers and their trade toward the end of the seventeenth century. He landed at that port in 1686 with a large and expensive venture of books "suited to the genius of New England," and he says he was about as welcome to the resident book-sellers as "Sowr ale in Summer." Nevertheless they received him cordially and hospitably, and he in turn was an equally generous rival; for he drew eulogistically the picture of the four book-dealers which that city then boasted. Mr. Phillips was "very just, very thriving, young, witty, and the most Beautiful man in the town of Boston." Mr. Bruning, or Browning, was a "complete book-seller, generous and trustworthy." Dunton says:
"There are some men will run down the most elaborate peices only because they had none of their Midwifery to bring them into public View and yet shall give the greatest encomiums to the most Nauseous trash when they had the hap to be concerned in it."
But Browning would promote a good book whoever printed it. Mr. Campbell, the third book-dealer, was "very industrious, dresses All-a-mode and I am told a young lady of Great Fortune is fallen in love with him." Of Mr. Usher, the remaining book-trader, Dunton asserts:
"He makes the best figure in Boston. He is very rich, adventures much to sea, but has got his Estate by Book selling."
Usher was a book-maker, undertaker, and adventurer, doubtfully attractive or desirable appellations nowadays; but what higher praise could have been given in colonial tongue? He would have angrily resented being dubbed a publisher; that name was assigned to and monopolized by the town-crier. Usher died worth £20,000, a tidy sum for those days.
Happy, indeed, were all the Boston book-sellers; blessed of the gods! rich, witty, modish, beloved, beautiful! The colony was sixty years old, opulent, prosperous, and fashionable; but a book-seller cut the best figure. Surely the book trade had in Boston a glorious ushering in, a golden promise which has not yet deserted it.
Book-printing, too, was a highly honored calling.
The first machine for the craft and mystery of printing was set up at Cambridge in 1639, and for twenty-three years the president of Harvard College was responsible for its performances. Then official licensers were appointed to control its productions, and not till a decade of years before the Declaration of Independence were legal restraints removed from the colonial press.
The first printer in the colony, Steeven Daye, was about as bad a printer as ever lived, as his work in the Bay Psalm-Book proves; and he spent a term in Cambridge jail, and was altogether rather trying in his relations with the godly ministers who were associated with him in his printery. The second printer had to sleep in a cask after he landed, but he died with a fortune, a true forerunner of the self-made men of America. The third printer, Johnson, having a wife in England, was "brought up" and bound over before the court not to seduce the affections of the daughter of printer No. 2. The next Bostonians who tried their hands at the mechanical part of bookmaking the printing and binding were two of the most prominent citizens; Captain Green, a worthy man, the father of nineteen children by one wife and eleven by another, and rich, too, in spite of the thirty Green olive-branches; and Judge Sewall, also, as Cotton Mather said, "edified and beautified with many children" fourteen in all. Truly, book-making did prosper a man mightily both at home and abroad in colonial days.
In a book-printer's wife, the mother of the nineteen children, did Dunton find his ideal New England wife; in a book-printer did he find his most agreeable companion.
"To name his trade will convince the world he was a man of good sense and understanding. He was so facetious and obliging and his conversation such that I took a great delight in his company."
So it may be seen that the book-sellers were rivalled by the book-printers equally rich and witty though not so beautiful. To the credit of both callings, then and for a century to follow, redounds the fact that almost to a man they were deacons in the church. Mayhap their worldly and family prosperity was the reward of their piety. As nine-tenths of the authors were ministers, and the publishers all deacons, the church had at that time what might be called a monopoly of the book trade.
Dunton had a vast interest in the fair sex, owning plainly that he had a "heart of Wax, Soft, and Soon mellowing," though he was careful on every page to make everything seem perfectly straight and proper for the suspicious perusal of his English wife; but any nineteenth-century reader can read between the lines. His famous long-winded eulogies of the Boston virgin, the wife, the widow, "Madam Brick the flower of Boston," and the half widow "Parte per Pale, Madam Toy," whose husband was at sea; and his long rides with one or the other of them a-pillionback behind him, and his tedious conversations with them on platonics, the blisses of matrimony, and the chief causes of love, show plainly that he had a wandering eye." He had a deal to say also of his lady customers (who were much the same in olden times as nowadays) one simple soul who turned over his books rather vacantly till he asked her "in Joque" whether she wanted "Tom Thumb" (a penny chapbook). To his surprise she answered, "Yes;" and he said, still guying, "in Folio and with marginal notes? "and the dull creature replied, "Oh the best." Another hectored him by constantly changing her mind:
"Reach me that book, yet let it alone; but let me see it however, and yet its no great matter either."
Another sedate Boston dame wished "The School of Venus," to which he reprovingly answered that he had best give her instead "The School of Virtue." Another, to whom he gave a sad setting off (more than hinting at a painted face, though she were a Puritan), wanted plays and romances and "Books of Gallantry." He adds:
"But she was a good Customer to me. Whilst I took her money I humoured her pride, and paid her (I blush to say it) a mighty observance."
He speaks plainly too of the men book-buyers. One Mr. Gouge, who was also "a Secret Friend to the Fair Sex," bought to give away two hundred copies of a book written by Parson Gouge, his father. Another "young beau who boasts more Villany than he ever committed bought a many of books;" hence Dunton tolerated the "Young Spark's" demoralising acquaintance. Mr. Thorncomb, another book-dealer from London, also bought of him, and, with the ever prevailing luck was "Acceptable to the Fair Sex, so extremely charming as makes 'em fond of being in his Company. However he is a virtuous person and deserved all the Respect they shewed him." Nor can I doubt, from the pervasive spirit of his books, that Dunton too found favor with the fair.
Though he spoke so warmly of individual purchasers and so positively of the wealth of his ilk in Boston, his own venture was not vastly prosperous. He took back to England but £400. He gave the Boston Yankees, too, rather a bad name in commercial transactions, saying:
"There is no trading for a stranger with them but with a Grecian Faith which is not to part with your own ware without ready Money; for they are generally very backward in their payments; great censors about other Mens manner but Extremely Careless about their own. When you are dealing with 'em you must look upon 'em as at cross purposes and read'em like Hebrew backward; for they seldom speak & mean the same thing but like the Watermen Look one way & row another."
Josselyn gave them no better name, saying:
"Their leading men are damnable rich, inexplicably covetous and proud; like Ethiopians, white in the teeth only; full of ludification and injurious dealing."
Of Dunton's patrons the majority were ministers, and I hope all the reverend gentlemen were as prompt payers as they were liberal purchasers. Since Dunton called ministers "the greatest benefactors to Booksellers," I think they were not included in his black list. Surely Cotton Mather was not, for he gave away one thousand books in one year, and I know he paid for them too. One Boston schoolmaster, however, bought £200 worth of books, and when we consider the excessively small pay of members of that calling at that time, we feel that he showed a liberal interest in promoting in every manner the spread of learning, and only trust that he paid the bill promptly.
In 1719 there was but one book-shop in New York, but of cultured Boston Neal wrote at that date: "The Exchange is surrounded with booksellers' shops which have a good trade. There are five Printing Presses." Succeeding years did not change the luck of the craft in Boston, nor dim its honors, still wealth and love poured in on its members. The names of Henchman and Hancock show the opulence; while Knox, in war and love alike prospered, winning the wealthy "belle of Massachusetts" for his bride, and winning equal glory with his sword in the Revolution. In other New England towns did book-publishing succeed, though Boston's earlier start, its leading position, and its more carefully preserved history give it place as a type of the whole province.
And now, what was the fruit of all this fairly garnished and richly nourished tree? What did these prosperous New England book-merchants bring forth in the first century of book-printing in the province?
What return did they make for all the romantic and material support given them? No love-poems or mild tales of gallantry, as you might expect from their alleged fascinating traits, but, instead, an almost unvaned production of dreary and dull funeral, execution, wedding, election, and baptismal sermons, and of psalm-books, with here and there a "two penny jeering gigge," or perhaps an anagram or acrostic or "pindarick," on some virtuous citizen or industrious dame, recently deceased. In business relations the deacon prevailed powerfully over the gallant. If, as Tyler says, the New England theocracy was a social structure resting on a book, that corner-stone was the Bay Psalm-Book and the walls above it were built of sermons. These sermons seem to us technical, sapless, and jejune, "as soporific as a bed of poppies," but they show the intelligence, energy, and assiduity of the writers just as plainly as they show the gloomy theology and sad earnestness of the time. And though no one now reads them, we profoundly respect them, for they have been conned by our honored forefathers with more studious and loving attention than falls to the lot of most modern books, no matter what their subject or who their author.
I have told at length the story of the publication of the Bay Psalm-Book and of other psalm-books printed and used in New England, in "The Sabbath in Puritan New England" and I need not dwell upon it here.
The first book or tract printed in Boston was in 1675 an execution sermon, by Increase Mather, "The Wicked Man's Portion." The first book printed in Connecticut was the "Saybrook Confession and Platform," in 1710. The first book of any considerable size printed in Rhode Island was "An Apology for the True Christian Divinity," issued in 1729.
There were a number of books for the Indians in the Indian tongue which no one but Hon. J. Hammond Trumbull could now read an he would; also a few histories of the Indian wars; and Thomas Prince published by subscription an exceedingly dull chronological History of New England. As he began his history with year 1, first month and sixth day and Adam, he had tired out even pious Bostonians by the time he reached New England; and subscriptions and subscribers languished till the book died unmourned just when the year 1633 had been caught up with. The "Simple Cobler of Agawam" made a vast sensation with his scurrilous bombs. There were a few volumes of poems printed; one by "the Tenth Muse," Anne Bradstreet, of whose songs pious and cautious John Norton said (and evidently believed what he said too) that if Virgil could have read them he would have condemned his own work to the flames. Michael Wigglesworth's "Day of Doom," that epic of hell-fire and damnation which fairly chokes us with its sulphurous fumes, was widely read and deeply venerated; in fact it was a great popular success. Fifteen hundred copies were sold in the first year, one copy to each thirty-five inhabitants of New England a proportion showing a commercial success unsurpassed in modern times. It was printed also on broadsides, in a cheap form, and hawked over the country by chapmen in order to further spread its lurid and baleful shadow. The dull but sympathetic "Meat out of the Eater" by the same author quickly went through five editions. "New England's Crisis," "A Posie from Old Mr. Dods Garden," "A Looking Glasse for New England," and "The Origin of the Whalebone Petdoost a Satyr," end the monotonous list of poetry. Fully three-quarters of the entire number of publications proceeded from the prolific Mather stock, and of course bore the pompous, verbose, Mather traits of authorship. Cotton Mather had the felicity of having published as his share of "New England's First Fruits" a list to make a modern author green with envy three hundred and eighty-two different works; three hundred of these may be seen in the library of the American Antiquarian Society; not all were brought out in America, however. His "Magnalia" was printed in England, and the exigences and vicissitudes of publication at that time are fully told in his diary; also the exalted and idealized view which he took of authorship. At the first definite plan which he formulated in his mind of his history of New England, he "cried mightily to God;" and he went through a series of fasts and vigils at intervals until the book was completed, when he held extended exercises of secret thanksgiving. Prostrate on his study floor, in the dust, he joyfully received full assurance in his heart from God that his work would be successful. But writing the book is not all the work, as any author knows; and he then had much distress and many troubled fasts over the best way of printing it, of transporting it to England; and when at last he placed his "elaborate composures" on shipboard, he prayed an entire day. No ascetic Papist ever observed fast days more vigorously than did Cotton Mather while his book was on its long sea-voyage and in England. He sent it in June in the year 1700, and did not hear from it till December. What a thrill of sympathy one feels for him! Then he learned that the printers were cold; the expense of publication would be £600, a goodly sum to venture; it was "clogged by the dispositions" of the man to whom it was sent; it was delayed and obstructed; he was left strangely in the dark about it; months passed without any news. Still his faith in God supported him. At last a sainted Christian came forward in London, a stranger, and offered to print the book at his own expense and give the author as many copies as he wished. That was in what Carlyle called "the Day of Dedications and Patrons, not of Bargains with Booksellers." In October, 1702, after two and a half long years of waiting, one copy of the wished-for volume arrived, and the author and his dearest friend, Mr. Bromfield, piously greeted it with a day of solemn fasting and praise.
Can the contrast of that day with the present, can the character of Cotton Mather be more plainly shown than by this story of the publication of the "Magnalia?" Many anxious days did he pass over other manuscripts. Some were lost in London for seven years. One book disappeared entirely from his ken, but was recovered by his heirs. His most important and largest work, the six folio volumes of his "Biblia Americana," pursued by "Strange Frowns of Heaven" could not find a publisher and still is unprinted. Cotton Mather survived his own era, his congenial atmosphere, and, whether he was conscious of it or not, was indeed, as Dexter called him, a literary dodo, an isolated relic of early fantastic methods of composition. His work was not, as Prince said, "agreeable to the Gust of his Age." Even the name of Mather, all-powerful in New England, could not place the "Biblia Americana" in the press.
There were no American novels in those early days. The first book deserving the appellation that was printed in New England was "intituled" "The Power of Sympathy, or the Triumph of Nature A Novel founded on truth and dedicated to the Young Ladies of America." It appeared in 1789. Four years later came "The Helpless Orphan, or The Innocent Victim of Revenge," and then "The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton."
The only book that was written by a woman and published in New England during the first century of New England printing, was a collection of the poems of Anne Bradstreet. A few very few pamphlets by women authors of that date are also known: "The Confession of Faith A Summary of Divinity drawn up by a young Gentlewoman in the 25th year of her Age;" Mrs. Mizabeth Cotton's "Peculiar Treasure of the Almighty King Opened;" Elisabeth White's "Experience;" Mary Rowlandson's pathetic account of her captivity these are all. Hannah Adams was the first New England woman to adopt literature as a profession.
Doubtless many Puritans shared Governor Winthrop's opinion of literary women, which that tolerant and gentle man expressed thus:
"The Governor of Hartford upon Connecticut came to Boston, and brought his wife with him (a godly young woman and of special parts) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason which had been growing upon her divers years by, occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her; but he saw his error when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her."
I know of no illustrated books printed New England in the seventeenth century, nor any with frontispieces or portraits. In 1723 a portrait of Increase Mather appeared in his Life, which was written by monopolizing Cotton Mather. It was a poor thing, being engraved in London by John Sturt. When Peter Pelham came to Boston about 1725 and started as a portrait engraver, and married the Widow Copley with her thriving tobacco shop, he engraved and published many likenesses of authors and ministers, some of which were bound with their books, others sold singly by subscription. The mezzotint of Cotton Mather, made in 1727, sold for two shillings. Hubbard's Narrative had a map in 1677; and in 1713 the lives of Dr. Faustus, Friar Bacon, Conjurors Bungay and Vanderwart were printed conjointly in a volume "with cuts" perhaps the earliest illustrated New England book, unless we except the New England Primer. "The Prodigal Daughter, or the Disobedient Lady Reclaimed" had "curious cuts;" so also did the "Parents Gift" in 1741, and "A Present for a Servant Maid." "Pilgrim's Progress" was printed in Boston in an illustrated edition in 1744. But for any handsomely illustrated books American readers sent, until Revolutionary times, to England.
There were, however, at a later date, some few books printed with special elegance, with broad margins. The "Discourse on the United Submission to Higher Powers" had some copies that were printed on pages ten inches by seven and a quarter inches in size, while the regular edition was only six by six and a half inches. A letter is in existence of Governor Trumbull's ordering that some copies of the funeral sermon preached at his wife's death be printed on heavy writing paper. Copies of the first edition of the "Magnalia" also were issued on large paper and owned in New England, but of course that work was done in London.
The printing of the earliest books was generally poor, showing the work of inexperienced and unaccustomed hands; but the paper was good, sometimes of fine quality, and always strong. The type was fairly good and clear until Revolutionary times, when paper, ink, and type, being made by new workmen out of the poorest materials, were bad beyond belief, producing, in fact, an almost unreadable page. Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century the books printed in New England compared favorably with the ones imported from England at that date, and in the special case of the "Poetical Oblation" a fine quarto, offered by Harvard College to George III. on his accession to the throne, the typography is exquisite. For the early binding but one word can be said that of praise. All these old books had Charles Lamb's desideratum of a volume, were "strong backed and neat bound." Well dressed was the morocco, the leather, the vellum, parchment, or basil, firmly was it glued in place, well-sewed were the leaves loudly can we sing the goodness and true worth of colonial bookbinding.
In many New England libraries and collections may be seen specimens of colonial printing and binding; the library of the American Antiquarian Society is particularly rich in such ancient treasures. Some of the books from Cotton Mather's library may there be found, that library which Dunton called the glory of New England, and which he said was the largest privately owned collection of books that he had ever seen; but many of them were burned in the sacking of Boston by the British. It consisted of over seven thousand printed volumes and many manuscripts, and its estimated value was £8,000. The majority of these volumes was naturally upon divinity.
We can also form an idea of a New England library at a somewhat earlier date, for the list of books in Elder Brewster's library has been preserved. They numbered four hundred. Of these books, sixty-two were in Latin and three hundred in English. There were forty-eight folios and one hundred and twenty-one octavos. This was quite a bulky and heavy library for transportation to and through that new country. All were not imported at one time, as the succession of dates shows. Brewster purchased from time to time the best books brought out in England on subjects which interested him, until it was really a rich exegetical collection, and may possibly have been used as a circulating one. Nearly all the number were religious, theological, or historical books; fourteen were in rhyme. Among the poems were "A Turncoat of the Times," Spenser's "Prosopopeis," "The Scyrge of Drunkenness," a "Description of a Good Wife," the ballad of "The Maunding Soldier," and Wither's works. One might have been a tragedy, "Messalina," but there were no other dramatic works.
Other benefactors of booksellers had good libraries. Parson Hooker left behind him £300 worth of books in an estate of £1,886. Parson Wareham had £82 worth in an estate of £1,200. Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton left, in 1717, books which made one thousand lots in an auction, for which the first book catalogue ever compiled in New England was printed. Even by 1723 the library of Harvard College contained none of the works of Addison, Bolingbroke, Young, Swift, Prior, Steele, Dryden, or Pope. In 1734, the catalogue of T. Cox, a prominent Boston bookseller, did not contain the "Spectator" nor the works of Shakespeare or Milton. The literary revival of the time of Queen Anne was evidently but little felt in New England during its inception. The facile and constant quotation from the ancient classics show how constantly and thoroughly the latter were studied.
Among early New England publications we must not fail to speak of the omnipresent almanac. Ere there was a New England Psalm-Book there was a New England Almanac, and succeeding years brought new ones forth in flocks. Though Charles Lamb included almanacs in his catalogue of "books which are no books," and the founder of the Bodleian Library would not admit that they were books and excluded them from the shelves of his library, when New England philomaths and philodespots numbered such honored names as Mather, Dudley, Sewall, Chauncey, Brattle, Ames, and Holyoke, New England Puritans must have deemed almanacs to be books, and so do we. In many a colonial household where the Bible and psalm-book formed the sole standing library, the almanac was the only annual book-comer that crossed the threshold and lodged under the roof-tree. On a nail by the side of the great fireplace hung proudly and prominently the Family Almanac, the Ephemeris.
This Family Almanac was a guide, counsellor, and friend; a magazine, cyclopζdia, and jest-book; was even a spelling-book. It was consulted by every member of the household on every subject, save possibly religion for that they had the best of all books. The planters learned from it meteorological, astronomical, thaumaturgical, botanical, and agricultural facts or rather what the editor stated as facts. Social customs and peculiarities and ethics were also touched upon in a manner suited to the requirements and capacity of the reader; medical and hygienic advice were given for man and beast, ending with the quaint warning to use before and after taking that unfashionable medicine, prayer. Wit, history, romance, poetry, all contributed to the almanac. The printer turned an extra penny by advertising various articles that he had for sale, from negro slaves to garden seeds. So, in addition to what the original readers learned, we now find an almanac a most suggestive record of the olden times.
As with many colonial books, the most attractive part of an almanac is not always the printed contents, but the interlined comments of the original owner. He kept frequently an account of his scanty and sparse purchases; from them we gain a knowledge of the price of commodities in his time. We learn also upon how little a New England planter could live, how little money he spent. He kept a record of the births, weights, and measures of his family; he entered the purchase and number of his lottery tickets (but I never found the proud and happy statement of a lottery prize). He wrote therein Greek verse, as did John Cotton. He entered wig-making and hairdressing accounts, as did Thomas Prince. He kept the amount of beer and cider he made and drank, and the sad statement of deaths in the neighborhood; such grim entries are seen as these made by old Ezra Stiles: "This day Ethan Allen died and went to Hell." "This day died Joseph Bellamy and went to Heaven, where he can dictate and domineer no longer." President Stiles did not foresee that his great-grandson would be Joseph Bellamy's also, and would plan a social reform more vast in its changes than the really sensible scheme he thought out, of "uniting and cementing his offspring by transfusing to distant generations certain influential principles," and of benefiting the growing population of the New World by carefully planned and wide-spread marriages with virtuous and pious Stileses.
Of course the almanac-owner kept account of the weather a brave record through January and February and March; then, lessening his zeal as spring-planting began, the hard-working summer months have clean pages; while a remorseful energy in November and December ofttimes made him renew in the smoke-dried almanac his crabbed entries. Hence from contemporary evidence does old New England life seem all winter, all bitter cold and fierce rains and harsh winds; yet there were surely some warm summer days and cheerful sunshine, so smoothly serene as to gain no record.
The relations between book-publishers and authors, between book-publishers and the public, were from earliest days most friendly. There was much polite exchange of compliments; the intelligence of the public was always mightily flattered and shown up in a very civil fashion in such manner as this:
"A New Edition of the really beautiful & sentimental Novel Armine and Elvira Is this day published price 9d sewed in blue paper. To the Ladies in particular and others the lovers of Sentiment and Poetick Numbers this Novel is recommended, to them it will afford a delightful Repast. To others it is not an object."
"For the pleasing entertainment of the Polite Part of Mankind I have printed the most beautiful Poems of Mr. Stephen Duck the famous Wiltshire Poet. It is a full Demonstration to me that the People of New England have a fine Taste for good Sense and polite Learning having already sold 1200 of these Poems."
Though Stephen Duck appealed to polite and literate New Englanders just as he became the rage in old England, his name is now almost forgotten.
It must have inclined the public most favorably to a book to be told that the volume is "intended only for the highly virtuous;" that "the glowing pen of the author brought this token into life solely from Admiration of a community fitted by amazing Intelligence to receive it:" that
"'Tis said with truth by a secret but ingenious New England minister that no town is so worthy the vendue of this pleasing book as these polite gentlemen and gentlewomen to whom it will be on Friday offered."
Authors, if not authoresses, were treated with much respect and encouragement. Indeed, they were urged to write. Books printed by subscription were the rule, and, as an inducement, the names of subscribers were printed in a list at the end of the book, and an extra copy was given for every six numbers subscribed for. The "undertakers" did not always trouble themselves to deliver the book when printed. A notice was posted, or printed in a newspaper, advising subscribers pretty sharply that their copies (which had apparently been paid for in advance) must be sent for within a certain time or the books would be "sold to others desiring." One American poet, the author of "War An Heroic Poem," a work which has been lost to us, threatened to prosecute his patrons for not taking his book. Sometimes the printer of the book also seized the opportunity of the large circulation to drum up delinquent citizens who had not paid him at previous dates for News Letters, sermons, funeral verses, etc. One of the first books printed in Hartford was paid for largely by a man who ran a woollen mill in the vicinity. He took the convenient occasion to thriftily forward his own trade by having printed and bound with the poems, and thus distributing to sheep-farmers and farmwives in the surrounding towns, full instructions about preparing the wool to be sent to him.
Frequently the notices in the newspapers bore, in quaint wording, warm testimony to the popularity of a book. "The above book is advertised by the desire of numbers who have read and admired it." "If to raise the soul to heights of honourable pride is not unworthy so great a mind, praise of this book may be given, though needless, since many request it." "Many curious gentlemen formerly buying their books in London now wish to buy only in New England where so acute a manner of composure is found" "For the polite and inquisitive part of Mankind in New England these poetick fancies are highly conformed as many residents testify by their frequent perusal and approval."
Public encouragement to aspiring authors was not lacking; this advertisement in the New England Weekly Journal of March, 1728, is indeed delightful:
"There is now preparing for the Press, and may upon Suitable Encouragement be communicated to the Publick, a Miscellany of Poems of Severall Hands and upon severall occasions some of which have already been Published and received the Approbation of the best Judges with many more very late performances of equal if not superior Beauty which have never yet seen the Light; if therefore any Ingenious Gentlemen are disposed to contribute towards the erecting of a Poetickal Monument for the Honour of This Country Either by their Generous Subscriptions or Composures, they are desired to convey them to Mr. Daniel Henchman or the Publisher of this Paper by whom they will be received with Candour and Thankfulness."
Just fancy the effect of a similar advertisement in a prominent newspaper of to-day! How composures would flow in from the ingenious gentlemen who love to see themselves in print! What a poetical monument could be reared to the very sky! I have never seen in any colonial newspaper any subsequent references to this proposed collection or miscellany of composures, and I know of no book that was published at that time which could answer the description, so I suspect the well-laid plan came to naught. The specimens of local and ephemeral poetry that were printed in the colonial press in succeeding years make it easy to comprehend the failure of the project: the villanously rhymed effusions fairly imposthumate all the ribald vulgarity of the times; coarseness and dulness of subject and thought being rivalled only by the super-coarseness of the verbiage. I do not say that the newspapers provoked these stupid rhymes, which are about as much poetry as is a game of crambo; but I do not find them until "newspaper-time," and fear the extra circulation through the weekly press may be held partly responsible.
A book called "A Collection of Poems by Several Hands" apparently was gathered by methods similar to the one shown by the advertisement just quoted. It was printed in 1744, and was a puerile and banal collection containing but few good verses, and was apparently made expressly to show off the literary accomplishments of Mather Byles, who was what Carlyle would call an intellectual dapperling.
Book-auctions, held first in England in 1676, formed one of the rare diversions in the provinces, and were apparently largely attended by "sentimentalists," as one book-dealer called book-buyers. The business of book-auctioneering was called, in the bombastic language of the times, "the sublimest Auxiliary which Science Commerce and Arts either has or perhaps ever will possess," while the bookseller was called "Provedore to the Sentimentalists and Professor of Book Auctioneering." These sales or vendues were frequently held at taverns.
At a very early day intelligent and progressive Bostonians established a public library. By the year 1673 bequests had been made to such an institution, and consignments deemed suitable for it had been sent to Boston by London booksellers. All these books were properly sober and pious. The Prince library, that first large American book collection, which was conceived and started by Thomas Prince in 1703, was nobly planned and nobly carried out, and deserved more gratitude and more care than it received at modern hands.
But many towns had no public library, hence much friendly exchange and lending of books took place between book-owners and neighbors, sometimes apparently without the owner's consent or knowledge. The newspapers, among their sparse advertisements, have many such as this simply naive one in the Boston News Letter of July 7, 1712:
"A certain Person having lent two Books viz; Rushworths Collections & Fullers Holy War & forgotten unto whom; These are desiring the Borrower to be so kind as to return said Books unto Owner."
Or this sarcastic request in the Connecticut Courrant.
"The gentleman who took the second volume of Bacons Abridgment from Mr. David Balls bedroom on the 18th of November would do well to return it to the owner whose name he will find on the 15th Page. If he choose rather to keep it the owner wishes him to call and take the rest of the set."
Another Connecticut man is meekly asked to "return the 3rd Vol of Don Quixote & take the 4th instead if he chuse."
Connecticut folk seemed to be particularly given to this slipshod fashion of promiscuous and unlicensed book-borrowing, if we can trust the apparent proof given by Connecticut newspapers in their many advertisements of lost books. In some notices it is darkly hinted that "specifications of books long lent have been given" (to the sheriff perhaps); and again, a meek suggestion that the owner wishes to read a long missing volume and would be grateful for an opportunity to do so. One ungallant soul advertised for "the she-person that borrowed Mr. Thos. Browns Works from a gentleman she is well acquainted with."
There was not the redeeming excuse for non-return sometimes given by like "desuming deadheads" nowadays, that the owner's name had been forgotten, for the inscription "Perley Morse, His Book," or "Catey Bradford, Her Book," or whatever the name might be, was quickly and repeatedly written by each colonial owner as soon as the book was acquired.
Frequently also the dates and places of residence appear. Even the very dates of ownership and the quaint old names are interesting. Bathsheba Spalding, Noca Emmons, Elam Noyes, Titherming Layton, Engrossed Bump, Sally Box, Tilly Minching, Zerushaddi Key, Comfort Vine these are a few of the odd signatures I have found in old books.
Readers also had a pleasant habit of leaving a sign-manual on the last page of a book, thus: "Timothy Pitkin perlegit A.D. 1765," "Cotton Smith perlegit 1740." A clear-speaking lesson are such records to this generation a lesson of patience and diligence. How we venerate, with what awe we regard the name of Timothy Pitkin, and know that he lived to read through that vast folio the first ever printed in America the "Complete Body of Divinity," a folio of over nine hundred double-columned, compactly printed pages! And yet, why should not Timothy Pitkin live through reading it when Samuel Willard lived through writing it? Entries of dates in old Bibles frequently show that those sainted old Christians had read entirely through that holy book ten times in regular order.
The handwriting in all these ancient books is very different from our modern penmanship, invariably bearing an appearance not exactly of much labor, but of much care, as if the writer did not use a pen every day did not become too familiar with that weighty implement, and hence had a vast respect for it when he did take it in hand. Every t is crossed, every i is dotted, every a and o perfectly rounded, every tail of every g and y and z is precisely twisted in colonial script. I think the very trouble and preparation incident to writing conduced to the finish and elegance of the penmanship. No stylographic pens were used in those days, but instead, a carefully prepared quill; and the ink was made of ink-cake or ink-powder dissolved in water; or, more troublesome still, homemade ink, tediously prepared with nutgalls, walnut or swamp maple bark, or iron filings steeped in vinegar and water, or copperas.
Special pains were taken in writing a name in a book. Penmanship was almost a fine art in colonial days, the one indispensable accomplishment of a school teacher; and he was often hired to exercise it in writing a name "perspicuously" in a book. Sometimes the owner's name is seen drawn with much care in a little wreath or circle of ornamentation. This may be what Judge Sewall refers to with so much pride when he speaks of "writing a name" in a gift-book, or it may be what was known as "conceits" or "fine knotting."
The colonists had a very reprehensible habit, which (save for the pains taken in writing) might be called book-scribbling. Rude rhymes and sentiments are often found with the past owner's name, and form a title-page lore which, ill-spelt and simple as the verses are, have an interest to the antiquary of which the writer never dreamed. They consist chiefly of adjurations to honesty, specially with regard to the special volume thus inscribed:
"Steal not this book my honest friend,
For fear the gallows will be your End."
"If you dare to steal this Book
The Devil will catch you on his Hook."
This was accompanied by the outline of a very spirited "personal devil" with a pitchfork and an enormous gridiron.
Still another appealed to terrors:
"This is Hanah Moxon Her book
You may just within it Look
You had better not do more
For old black Satan's at the Door
And will snatch at stealing hands
Look behind you! There He Stands."
This had a tail-piece of an open door with a very black forked tail thrust out of it.
In a leather-bound Bible was seen this rhyme:
"Evert Jonson His book
God Give him Grass thair in to look
not only to looke but to understand
that Larning is better than Hous or Land
When Land is Gon & Gold is spent
then larning is most Axelant
When I am dead & Rotton
If this you see Remember me
Though others is forgotton."
Different portions of this script have been seen in many books.
Four rhymes seem to be specially the property of schoolboys, being found in Accidences, Spellers, "Logick" Primers, and other school-books, down even to the present day.
"This book is one thing, My fist's another,
If you touch the one thing, You'll feel the other."
"Hic fiber est meus
And that I will show
Si aliquis capit
I'll give him a blow."
"This book is mine
By Law Divine
And if it runs astray
I'll call you kind
My desk to find
And put it safe away."
"Hic liber est meus Deny it who can
Zenas Graves Junior An honest man."
There also appears a practical warning which may be read with attention and profit by the public now a days:
"If thou art borrowed by a friend
Right welcome shall he be
To read, to study, not to lend
But to return to me.
"Not that imparted knowledge doth
Diminish Learnings Store
But books I find if often lent
Return to me no more."
"Read Slowly Pause Frequently Think Seriously Finger Lightly Keep Cleanly Return Duly with the Corners of the Leaves NOT TURNED DOWN."
The fashion of using book-plates was by no means so general among New England Puritans as among rich Virginians and New Yorkers and Pennsylvanian Quakers. Mr. Lichtenstein, writing in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1886, says he has seen no New England book-plates of earlier date than 1735. At later dates the Holyokes, Dudleys, Boylstons, and Phillips, all used bookplates. The plates most familiar to students in old libraries in New England are those of the Vaughans and of Isaiah Thomas.
Another, a living interest is found in these old, dusty, leather-bound volumes, which is not in the inscriptions and not, alas, in the printed words. They are the chosen home of a race of pigmy spiderlings who love musty theology with an affection found in no one else nowadays. In these dingy homes they live and rear their hideous little progeny: for in the cold light of a microscope these tiny brown book-dwellers are not beautiful; they are flat, crab-like, goggle-eyed, hairy; and they zigzag across the page on their ugly crooked legs in a sprawling, drunken fashion. They do not eat the books; they live apparently on air; yet if you crush them between the pages they leave a stain of vivid scarlet to reproach you in future readings for your needless cruelty. I cannot kill them; though flaming is their blood's rebuke, it is aristocratically as well as theologically blue. In their veins runs the ichor arachuidian though it be that came over in the Mayflower; yes, doubly honored, came over in the special stateroom of an Ainsworth's Psalm-Book or a Genevan Bible. No degrading alliances, no admixtures through foreign emigration, have crossed that pure inbred strain; my book-spiders are of real Pilgrim stock they are true New England Brahmins.
Any one who turns over with attention the books of an old New England library must be struck with a sense of the affection with which these books have been treasured, the care with which they have been read, and, in case of accident, with which they have been repaired. One psalm-book, nibbled by mice, has had every page neatly mended by the insertion of thin sheets of paper to replace the lost bits; and some painstaking and pious New Englander, with a pen and skill worthy the illuminating monks of another faith, has minutely printed the missing letters on both sides of the inserted slip in a text no larger than the surrounding print. Another book, a Bible, burnt in round holes by a slow-burning coal from the pipe of a sleepy reader, has been mended in the same careful manner. I have seen Bibles that have been read and turned over till the margins of the pages at the lower corner and outer edge were worn off down to the print by loving daily use. In one such the margins had been neatly replaced by pasted slips of paper. In more than one book I have found a minutely written home-made index on the blank pages at the end of the volume, showing a personal interest and love for a book which can hardly be equalled.
Careful notes and references and postils also show a patient and appreciative perusal.
Though books were so closely cherished, so seemly bekept in colonial days, they were subject to one indignity with which now they are unmenaced and undegraded they were sometimes sentenced to be burned by the public hangman. In 1654 the writings of John Reeves and Ludowick Muggleton, who set up to be prophets, were burned by that abhorred public functionary in Boston market-place; and two years later Quaker books were similarly destroyed. William Pyncheon's book was burned, in 1650, in Boston Market. In 1707 a "libel on the Governor" was hanged by the hangman. In 1754 a pamphlet called "The Monster of Monsters," a sharp political criticism on the Massachusetts Court, was thus burned in King Street, Boston. From the Connecticut Gazette of November 29th, 1755, we learn that another offending publication was sentenced to be "publickly whipt according to Moses Law with 40 stripes save one, then Burnt." How a true book-lover winces at the thought of the public hangman placing his blood-stained hand on any book, no matter how much a "monster."