Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 15. George Wither’s evidence

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 15. George Wither’s evidence

Booksellers seem to have got the upper hand of printers as well as of authors; and Christopher Barker, in his report of 1582, complains that booksellers were able to drive such good bargains that printers were mostly but small gainers and ofttimes losers. George Wither cannot be cited as an impartial witness, since his embittered controversy with the stationers, about the privilege which he obtained in 1623 ordering his Hymns and Songs of the Church to be appended to every copy of the Psalms in metre, no doubt surcharged his ink with gall. He himself says that he goes not about to lay a general imputation upon all stationers, but there is no reason to question the general truth of the statement which he makes in his Schollers Purgatory, when he says that

  • the Bookeseller hath not onely made the Printer, the Binder, and the Claspmaker a slave to him: but hath brought Authors, yea the whole Commonwealth, and all the liberall Sciences into bondage.
  • And in his description of “A meere Stationer” in the same work, after castigating the printer and the bookbinder, he says of the publishing bookseller that
  • He makes no scruple to put out the right Authors Name, and insert another in the second edition of a Booke; And when the impression of some pamphlet lyes upon his hands, to imprint new Titles for yt, (and so take mens moneyes twice or thrice, for the same matter under diverse names) is no injury in his opinion. If he get any written Coppy into his powre, likely to be vendible; whether the Author be willing or no, he will publish it: And it shallbe contrived and named alsoe, according to his owne pleasure: which is the reason, so many good Bookes come forth imperfect, and with foolish titles—
  • with much more in the same vein.

    But the publisher of that day was not necessarily a mere profit seeker, and many of the larger works published in the period between the incorporation of the company and the establishment of the Commonwealth must have involved substantial risk, and are evidence of public spirit and some taste for letters in those who undertook their production.