London, Volume 6

Knight, Charles


CXXXIX.-The Stationers' Company.

CXXXIX.-The Stationers' Company.




The history of the Stationers' Company furnishes probably the most terse and forcible illustration of the progress of literature in England that can well be given. Let us merely glance at phases of the history. The takes us back to the days when our chief booksellers and publishers were men who what they sold, and with whom, of course, calligraphy was the best stock in trade for a young bookseller to commence business upon; and when the learning and literature of the country demanded, as their chief food, A B C's and Paternosters, Aves and Creeds, Graces and Amens, with portions of the Scriptures for the more ambitious, and occasionally for the very wealthy and very learned a chronicle history, or a copy of the Canterbury Tales. Such were the members of the Stationers' Company, such their avocations, prior to the century; and of which the names of , , and Ave-Maria Lane, are a perpetual testimony.

But as if the Divine voice had said for a time, Let there be lightprinting dawned upon the world, and the effect produced during the century of its operations is clearly exhibited in what we may call the phase of the Company's history. Just years after the introduction of the art into this country by Caxton, we find certain parties petitioning the Queen, Elizabeth, for the sole printing of ballads, damask paper, and books in prose or metre, a medley of objects that seems to imply a consciousness of the growing


national literature, with a delightful unconsciousness as to the definite state it might assume, and a tradesman's prudent caution not to risk too much upon such a speculation: poetry, philosophy, and education might do, but the damaskpaper would, at all events, be an excellent adjunct. A good idea, no doubt, for the time, but many a publisher of the present day, who can make damaskpaper sell the poetry, the philosophy, the--in short, whatever he likes to call it, by virtue of the semblance of rhyme or reason he causes to be impressed upon it, must smile at the inartistical character of those early trade arrangements. To the petitioners in question the Company of Stationers started up in reply, and its statement[n.209.1]  furnishes a most interesting and somewhat amusing view of English literature, just before the Shaksperes and Ben Jonsons, the Massingers, and Beaumont and Fletchers arose, to place it at its culminating point of splendour. We learn from it that the proposed privilege would have been the overthrow of a multitude of families, since it was by the printing of such books that the Company was then maintained. We learn also from it that literature was already growing too rich a thing, in a commercial sense, for the Stationers' Company to be left in quiet possession of; that slice after slice was cut off by its own members for their individual enjoyment; that it was, in other words, dividing itself into departments, each of such importance as to be made the object of special privilege from royalty, and therefore. of course, each worth the purchasing by a pretty round sum, the usual mode of obtaining privileges. It is important here to observe that, in exercising its power over the productions of the press, there was a general governmental motive of infinitely higher importance than the particular royal ones we have referred to, both which worked very harmoniously together.

On the


introduction of printing it was considered, as well in England as in other countries, to be a matter of state. The quick and extensive circulation of sentiments and opinions which that invaluable art introduced could not but fall under the gripe of governments, whose principal strength was built upon the ignorance of the people who were to submit to them. The press was therefore wholly under the coercion of the crown, and all printing, not only of public books containing ordinances, religious or civil, but every species of publication whatever, was regulated by the king's proclamations, prohibitions, charters of privilege, and finally by the decrees of the Star Chamber,

[n.209.2]  of which the Company of Stationers were said in the last century to be the

literary constables,

whose duty it was

to suppress all the science and information to which we owe our freedom.

The principal of these constables, during the reign of Elizabeth, were, it appears, John Jugge, the Queen's printer, who possessed the sole right of printing Bibles and Testaments; Richard Totthill that of printing law books; John Day, of A B C's and catechisms, who enjoyed also the sole right of selling those publications by


observes the Company,

of a commission;

James Roberts and Richard Watkins, of almanacs and prognostications; Thomas Marsh, of the Latin books used in the grammar-schools of the country; Thomas Vantroller, a stranger, of other Latin books, including the New Testament


in that language; Byrde, a singing man, of music-books, and who, by that means, claimed the printing of ruled paper; William Seres, of all psalters,

all manner of primers, English and Latin, and all manner of Prayer-books,

with the reversion of the same to his son; and Francis Flower, of

grammars and other things.

might do something with even the smallest of these privileges now. Aladdin's lamp pales in splendour, and the fortune of the builder of Fonthill seems to grow insignificant in comparison with the wealth that would pour in from such a source. All, or nearly all, these privileges had been possessed previously by the Company or by its members, that is, the trade generally. It is particularly mentioned that the right of printing Bibles and Testaments and law books had been common to the trade, that the right of printing the grammarschool Latin books belonged to the Company, whilst the A B C's and catechisms, the almanacs and prognostications, had formed the chief relief of the

poorer sort

of the fraternity. of the special grievances complained of in the reply from which we learn these facts, was that the last-named privilege, Francis Flower's, was possessed by who did not belong to the Company, but who coolly farmed out his right to of the Company's .nembers for a year, which, it was carefully stateit, was raised by enhancing the original prices. Not the least noticeable feature of this phase is the sudden accession of members to the Company during the reign of Elizabeth; of the whole of which it consisted in , no less than had taken up their freedoms subsequent to the Queen's accession.

Above centuries and a half have since passed, and the end may be said to be reached of which the beginning was foreshadowed in these continual parings down of the privileges of the Stationers' Company, and which parings, like so many parts of polypi cut off from the parent animal, ever in so doing started into a new and independent existence, rivalling the prosperity of the whole from which they had been derived, and themselves ready for a similar process. And what is that end? Let us step into , and from thence through the narrow court on the northern side, to the Hall shown on our page. The exterior seems to tell us nothing, to suggest nothing, unless it be that of a very common-place looking erection of the century, and therefore built after the fire which destroyed everything in this neighbourhood-; so we enter. Ha! here are signs of business. The Stationers' cannot, like so many of its municipal brethren, be called a dozing company; indeed it has a reputation for a quality of a somewhat opposite kind. All over the long tables that extend through the Hall, which is of considerable size, and piled up in tall heaps on the floor, are canvas bales or bags innumerable. This is the . The doors are locked as yet, but will be opened presently for a novel scene. The clock strikes, wide asunder start the gates, and in they come, a whole army of porters; darting hither and thither and seizing the said bags, in many instances as big as themselves. Before we can well understand what is the matter, men and bags have alike vanished--the Hall is clear; another hour or , and the contents of the latter will be flying along railways east, west, north, and south; yet another day and they will be dispersed through every city, and town, and parish, and hamlet of England; the curate will be glancing over the pages of his little book to see what promotions have taken place in the church, and sigh as


he thinks of rectories, and deaneries, and bishoprics; the sailor will be deep in the mysteries of tides and new moons that are learnedly expatiated upon in the pages of his; the believer in the stars will be finding new draughts made upon that Bank of Faith impossible to be broken or made bankrupt-his superstition, as he turns over the pages of his Moore-but we have let out our secret. Yes, they are all bags contained nothing but almanacs: Moore's and Partridge's, and Ladies' and Gentlemen's, and Goldsmiths', and Clerical, and White's celestial, or astronomical, and gardening almanacs--the last, by the way, a new of considerable promise, and we hardly know how many others. It is even so. The-at time-printers and publishers of everything, Bibles, Prayer Books, school books, religion, divinity, politics, poetry, philosophy, history, have become at last publishers only of these

almanacs and prognostications,

which once served but to eke out the small means of their poorer members. And even in almanacs they have no longer a monopoly. Hundreds of competitors are in the field. And, notwithstanding, the Stationers are a thriving Company. In the general progress of literature, the smallest and humblest of its departments has become so important as to support in vigorous prosperity, in spite of a most vigorous opposition, the Company in which all literature, in a trading sense, was at time centered and monopolised!

If the Stationers' Company thus possesses peculiar features of interest in connection with a larger subject, it has independent claims also of an unusually attractive character in connection with its almanac history. The exclusive right in publications of this kind was possessed, as we have seen, during the reign of Elizabeth, by individuals, who had obtained their right from the poor printers who previously enjoyed it, most probably just as it began to show that it would keep them poor no longer. A similar advance in popularity and sale led no doubt to the next change, which was the conferring the right on the Universities and the Stationers' Company jointly by James I., a junction characteristic of the royal pedant, who may have thought the would provide the learning whilst the should undertake the general management. It was a time of glorious promise for the speculation. As astrology had, in all probability, brought almanacs into existence, by making popular the study of the heavens, on which it was based; so, like a careful parent, to its honour be it said, it continued for centuries to support them when in being. And the Company was duly grateful. Whilst the Universities ingloriously accepted an annuity for their share from their former coadjutor, evidently desiderating no longer the acquaintance of the astrologers, whilst wits laughed at predictions and more serious men grew indignant at the deception practised upon those who believed them, the Company remained firm; nay, to this hour, Francis Moore and Partridge are honoured names in Stationers' Court, the almanac of the former heading the yearly trade list, a precedence that its sale no doubt entitles it to. We have heard it said that something like copies were among those bags before mentioned, from which, after making every allowance for the return of those unsold, a very handsome item must still remain. This, it must be confessed, reveals the philosophy of the Company's gratitude to astrology and astrologers. The Stationers' Company appears to have acted from a simple desire to give people that which would sell, whether astrological or not; and not from


any peculiar turn for prophecy inherent in the corporation. Thus even in they issued at the same time the usual predictions in almanac, and undisguised contempt of them in another; apparently to suit all tastes. The almanac of Allstree, published in the above-mentioned year, calls the supposed influence of the moon upon different parts of the body


and dissuades from astrology in the following lines, which make up in sense for their want of elegance and rhythm:--

Let every philomathy (i. e. mathematician)

Leave lying astrology

And write true Astronomy,

And I'll bear you company.

[n.212.1]  But the men addressed declined doing any such thing, and so a very entertaining and instructive chapter in the annals of human credulity was left for our enjoyment and guidance; and for which we may refer the reader to a former number of our publication.[n.212.2]  If, however, the astrologers could not be induced to quit their profitable occupation by this, or by any appeals, they could be made uncomfortable in it, and the eyes of the public to a certain extent opened at the same time as to their true character and value. And this our writers did with considerable alacrity. It must be acknowledged the subject was a tempting ; especially worthy, for instance, the powers of a Butler-hence the following masterly portraiture of Lilly, the greatest of the astrologers of the period, from the reign of Charles I. to that of Charles II.

He had been long tow'rds mathematics,

Optics, philosophy, and statics,

Magic, horoscopy, astrology,

And was old dog at physiology.

But, as a dog that turns the spit

Bestirs himself, and plies his feet

To climb the wheel, but all in vain,

His own weight brings him down again,

And still he's in the self-same place

Where at his setting out he was;

So in the circle of the arts

Did he advance his natural parts,

Till falling back still for retreat

He fell to juggle, cant, and cheat.

For, as those fowls that live in water

Are never wet, he did but smatter.

Whate'er he labour'd to appear

His understanding still was clear.

He'd read Dee's prefaces before,

The devil and Euclid o'er and o'er.

He with the moon was more familiar

Than e'er was almanack well willer;

Her secrets understood so clear

That some believed he had been there:

Knew when she was in fittest mood

For cutting corns and letting blood;

He knew whatever's to be known,

But much more than he knew would own.



That the subject of this eulogy was not unworthy of it, a few notices of his life will show. Lilly seems to have had a good education, having been sent early to a grammar-school at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, although his parents were too poor to do anything for him when he reached manhood; accordingly we find him in London filling at the situation of servant to a mantua-maker. In or years he extricated himself from this position, and became a kind of assistant to the Master of the Salters' Company, who, being an illiterate man, employed Lilly to keep his accounts. From that time fortune almost constantly smiled upon him. His employer died in , and Lilly married the widow, receiving at the same time a marriage portion of The death of this lady in a few years, and a marriage, brought him more. In he began the study of astrology under a fitting master, Evans, a clergyman who had been expelled from the Church for his fraudulent doings, under colour of the science; and of whom Lilly proved a most apt scholar. In a short time the name of the new astrologer was in every 's mouth. A striking evidence of his popularity, and of the state of public feeling, in , is furnished by an incident that then took place. Some wiseacres had got it into their heads that vast treasures were buried beneath the cloisters of ; so Lilly was applied to in order that, by the use of the mosaical or miner's rods, he might decide the question. Not the least amusing part of the story is the behaviour of the Dean; when his permission was asked, he granted it, but only on the condition of a share in whatever might be discovered. The scene in the cloisters, during the experiment, must have been of an extraordinary character. Lilly was accompanied by gentlemen, each carrying a hazel rod, and the time was night. A few coffins were disinterred, and the rods again and again applied without any satisfactory'result, when, suddenly, a violent storm broke out, which so alarmed the whole body of nocturnal explorers that they ran off as fast as their legs could carry them. So popular a man was not likely to remain unconnected with the Stationers' Company. Prophecies had long been in Lilly's way. He had been bold enough in to publish the horoscope of the monarch himself, when Charles was crowned King of Scotland; and the latter, so far from resenting the boldness, took the prophet into his favour, and was, it is well known, in the frequent habit of consulting him from that time. In Lilly condescended to prophesy for subjects as well as kings, in public as well as in private. In that year he published his almanac, under the name of Merlinus Anglicus, junior, and although the licenser took considerable liberties with it prior to publication, the entire edition disappeared in a few days. A curious circumstance followed the promulgation of of Lilly's prognostications in his treatise, the Starry Messenger; the Commissioners of Excise caused him to be arrested on the grounds that they had been personally insulted,

by having their cloaks pulled on Change,

and that the had been burnt, both, they believed, being in consequence of his predictions. It was proved, however, that the publication had followed the events and not the events the publication. The idea of making astrologers responsible for such of their predictions as tended to fulfil themselves was not a bad ; for it is most likely that, apart from the mischief it was thus in their power to do whensoever they pleased, no inconsiderable portion of the public faith in their skill was obtained by the same proceeding. At


all events it was a decided improvement on the plan of Pope Calixtus III., who caused prayers and anathemas to be offered up against a comet, which had, according to the astrologers, predicted, and thereby, according to the Pope, assisted in, the success of the Turks against the Christians. But we fear the comet treated the matter with entire unconcern, we may say disrespect; not even a quivering of its tail, as it retired in unseemly fashion from the Papal eyes, betokening that it was in the slightest degree touched with fear or remorse. There is no doubt that Lilly, like many other astrologers, owed more to cunning and shrewdness, perhaps even occasionally to really superior knowledge, than to astrology. The powers so ludicrously assigned to astrologers by Butler, in the following lines, had, no doubt, often some foundation, though the influences by which they were obtained were very different from the ostensible ones:--

They'll search a planet's house to know

Who broke and robb'd a house below:

Examine Venus and the Moon

Who stole a thimble, who a spoon;

And though they nothing will confess,

Yet by their very looks can guess

And tell what guilty aspect bodes,

Who stole and who received the goods.

They'll feel the pulses of the stars

To find out agues, coughs, catarrhs,

And tell what crisis does divine

The rot in sheep, and mange in swine.

But Lilly could do more than all this. He was really a keen reader of the signs of the times, talked so much about in astrological publications, but then it was by carefully looking about him on the earth, and studying the character of men, rather than by poring over the skies, and inquiring into the aspects of gods; we may rest assured that Lilly placed a great deal more reliance on the movements of Pym, and Hampden, and Cromwell in the parliamentary, than Jupiter, Mars, and Venus in the heavenly, houses. Up to Lilly was a cavalier, from thence up to the Restoration a decided Parliamentarian (he was a member, for instance, of the close commission that sat to consult upon the King's execution), after the Restoration, most loyal of king's men once more. But this time the change failed of the usual success; the astrologer's stars were unpropitious: all his applications for employment were answered by mortifying refusals; so he comforted himself, as well as he could, in his snug retreat at Walton-uponThames, where he had adopted a tailor as his son, christened him Merlin Junior, and by will bequeathed him his almanac. Lilly died in To this picture of him, who, in point of time and skill, is the most important of the old astrologers connected with the Stationers' Company, we need only add Aubrey's illustration of the method of almanac-making:

Most of the hieroglyphics contained in this [Lilly's] work were stolen from old monkish manuscripts. Moore, the almanacmaker, has stolen them from him, and doubtless some future almanac-maker will steal them from Moore.

After Butler's, the most formidable attack upon the astrologers was that made upon Partridge and his almanac, by Swift in , which had the rare effect of making the prophet cease to prophesy; though the Company, not the less, issued


at the usual time a Partridge's Almanac, and, though that was discontinued during the following years, it again rose then, and flourishes to this day. Swift knew well enough that it was the system that supported the men, rather than any particular men the system; so, though he worried poor Partridge almost to death by predicting he was dead, he tool care to extend his attacks to the thing which alone made Partridge of importance. To those who may yet believe in Moore and Partridge, the following passage is full of instruction:

Then for their observations and predictions, they are such as will equally suit any age or country in the world.

This month a certain great person will be threatened with death or sickness.

This the newspaper will tell them; for there we find at the end of the year, that no month passes without the death of some person of note; and it would be hard if it were otherwise, when there are at least

two thousand

persons of note in this kingdom, many of them old, and the almanacmaker has the liberty of choosing the sickliest season of the year, where he may fix his prediction. Again,

This month an eminent clergyman will be preferred;

of which there may be many hundreds, half of them with


foot in the grave. Then,

Such a planet in such a house, shows great machinations, plots, and conspiracies, that may in time be brought to light.

After which if we hear of any discovery, the astrologer gets the honour; if not, his predictions will stand good. And at last,

God preserve King William from all his open and secret enemies, Amen.

When, if the King should have happened to have died, the astrologer plainly foretold it; otherwise it passes for but the pious ejaculation of a loyal subject: though it unluckily happened in some of their almanacs, that poor King William was prayed for many months after he was dead, because it fell out that he died about the beginning of the year.

If dullness, and credulity, and superstition were not wit-proof, such shafts must have penetrated, and the almanacmakers have speedily found that their occupation was gone; but we see little evidence that the Company found any effect produced where they would have felt it, that is in their ledger. But toward the close of the century, a new adversary sprang up, whom they could understand perfectly, as their proceedings against him testify. There was then living in , a bookseller of the name of Thomas Carnan, who very unaccountably got a notion in his head that he had as good a right to publish almanacs as the Company; and, worse still, actually published an almanac on the strength of the notion. The Company, however, determined to settle the matter very speedily, and, after a preliminary flourish about counterfeits, threw him into prison. Strange to say, however, Carnan was still not satisfied, and tried again the year, was again thrown into prison,--a year, and the like result followed. These issuings forth from of the almanacs, and the entrances into gaol of their proprietor became so regular a thing of course, that

there is a tradition in his family that he always kept a clean shirt in his pocket, ready for a decent appearance before the magistrates and the keepers of his Majesty's gaol at Newgate.

[n.215.1]  All this was very annoying to a respectable company; but Carnan's impertinence rising with every fresh effort to put him down, he at last, in , brought the case legally before the judges of the Common Pleas, when, to the unutterable indignation of the Company, it was decided that in effect


Carnan was quite right, that the professed patent of monopoly was worthless. The grounds of this decision were of higher importance than the subject that called it forth, and must not therefore be passed without explanation.

We have before seen that the crown exercised despotic power over the press almost from the very period of its introduction into England, and that the Stationers' Company were the instruments. Thus by their charter, received from Philip and Mary, it was declared that no persons, except members of the Company, should print or sell books; and they were at the same time empowered to seize and destroy all books prohibited by acts of parliament or by proclamation. In the reign of Elizabeth we find the Company, while pointing out to her Majesty what a very poor company they were, and begging for the privilege of printing the Latin Accidence and Grammar, enforcing their petition by a vaunt of their deserts in searching for and suppressing popish and seditious books. We need only give illustration more, and that is from the reign of Charles I. On the , a decreewas issued from the Star Chamber, restricting the number of printers to , besides the King's printer and the printer to the universities. When the Star Chamber fell, this jurisdiction fell too; but, unfortunately for the consistency of the men who overthrew both, the same odious restrictions were revived during the Commonwealth. can hardly lament such an occurrence now, seeing the memorable event that sprang from it-the publication of Milton's

Areopagitica, a speech for unlicensed printing,

which, if it did not move those to whom it was more especially addressed, did something still more extraordinary, namely, induced the licenser, Mabbott, to resign. At the Restoration similar powers were annexed to the crown, and, in a more solemn manner, by acts of parliament, which only expired in the reign of William and Mary, through the refusal of the legislature to continue them any longer,--a period that, as Erskine observes,

formed the great era of the liberty of the press in this country.

The only reservation was that of publishing religious or civil institutions, in other words, the ordinances

by which the subject is to live and to be governed. These always did, and, from the very nature of civil government, always ought to, belong to the sovereign, and hence have gained the title of prerogative copies. When, therefore, the Stationers' Company claimed the exclusive right of printing almanacs under a charter of King James I., and applied to the Court of Exchequer for an injunction against the petitioner at your bar, the question submitted by the barons to the learned judges of the Common Pleas, namely, Whether the crown could grant such exclusive right? was neither more nor less than the question; Whether almanacs were such public ordinances, such matters of state, as belonged to the King by his prerogative, so as to enable him to communicate an exclusive right of printing them to a grantee of the crown? For the press being thrown open by the expiration of the licensing acts, nothing could remain exclusively to such grantees but the printing of such books as, upon solid constitutional grounds, belonged to the superintendence of the crown, as matters of authority and state. The question, thus submitted, was twice solemnly argued in the Court of Common Pleas, when the judges unanimously certified

that the crown had no such power


But rich companies never want powerful friends: the minister, Lord North, who, it is said, wished for loyal prophecies to bolster up the American war, now brought a bill into parliament to


give the Stationers that which the judges had decided they had not; and the universities, feeling, no doubt, they should do something for their annuity, if not in gratitude for the past, why then as security for the future, lent all their influence to carry the measure through parliament. But the despised Carnan had also a friend in the House, Erskine, who fought the battle against the monopolists in a spirit and manner worthy of his reputation, and the result was a signal defeat for the minister, the Company, and the universities. We have already transcribed from Erskine's speech an account of the question that had been raised and decided in the courts of law, namely, whether or no the monopoly was legal :it remained now to'determine whether such a monopoly was right. points in Erskine's speech challenge especial notice: the is that in which he deals with the mischievous effects of the proposed measure as regarding literature and knowledge generally :--

If almanacs,

he observes,

are held to be such matter of public consequence as to be revised by authority, and confined by a monopoly, surely the various departments of science may, on much stronger principles, be parcelled out among the different officers of state, as they were at the


introduction of printing. There is no telling to what such precedents may lead; the public welfare was the burthen of the preambles to the licensing acts; the most tyrannical laws in the most absolute governments speak a kind, parental language to the abject wretches who groan under their crushing and humiliating weight; resisting, therefore, a regulation and supervision of the press, beyond the rules of the common law, I lose sight of my client, and feel that I am speaking for myself, for every man in England. With such a legislature as I have now the honour to address, I confess the evil is imaginary; but who can look into the future? This precedent (trifling as it may seem) may hereafter afford a plausible inlet to much mischief; the protection of the


may be a pretence for a monopoly in all books on


subjects; the safety of the


may require the suppression of


and political writings. Even Philosophy herself may become once more the slave of the schoolmen, and Religion fall again under the iron fetters of the church.

The other point to which we referred bears upon the particular question, whether it was expedient to confer on the Company the sole right of issuing almanacs. To determine this, Erskine inquired into the state of such publications under the Company's supervision, and the result was startling:--

But the correctness and decency of these publications are, it seems, the great objects in reviving and confirming this monopoly, which the preamble asserts to have been hitherto attained by it; since it states,

that such monopoly has been found to be convenient and expedient.

But, Sir, is it seriously proposed by this bill to attain these moral objects by vesting, or rather legalizing, the usurped monopoly in the Universities, under episcopal revision, as formerly? Is it imagined that our almanacs are to come to us in future, in the classical arrangement of Oxford, fraught with the mathematics and astronomy of Cambridge, printed with the correct type of the Stationers' Company,

and sanctified by the blessings of the bishops

? I beg pardon, Sir, but the idea is perfectly ludicrous; it is notorious that the Universities sell their right to the Stationers' Company for a fixed annual sum, and that this act is to enable them to continue to do so. Ad it is equally notorious that the Stationers' Company make a scandalous job of the bargain; and, to increase the sale of almanacs among the vulgar,

publish, under the auspices of religion and learning, the most senseless absurdities. I should really have been glad to have cited some sentences from the

one hundred and thirteenth

edition of

Poor Robin's Almanac,

published under the revision of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London; but I am prevented from doing it by a just respect for the House. Indeed, I know no house, but a brothel, that could suffer the quotation. The worst part of Rochester is ladies' reading when compared with them.

The utility of the almanacs in other respects, it seems, had been on a par with their decency and sense. The must have enjoyed amazingly Erskine's quiet wit in reviewing their claims to correctness and scientific learning :--

They are equally indebted,

he says,

to the calculations of their astronomer, which seem, however, to be made for a more


meridian than London.-Plow Monday falls out on a Saturday, and Hilary term ends on Septuagesima Sunday. In short, Sir, these almanacs have been, as everything else that is monopolised must be, uniform and obstinate in mistake and error, for want of the necessary rivalry. It is not worth their while to unset the press to correct mistakes, however gross and palpable, because they cannot affect the sale. If the moon is made to rise in the west, she may continue to rise there for ever.

After such an exposure of what the Company's almanacs had been, it was idle to talk of what they yet would be, on the same system. The House decided against the monopoly by a majority of . The Company was, however, relieved from the payment of their annuity, and the Universities received parliamentary compensation. And thus, as every concluded, was the monopoly of the Company destroyed for ever. It was a great mistake. Almanacs from different quarters, of a better kind, came forth as expected, but some magic seemed at work with them; they disappeared in such unaccountable fashion. Even Carnan's did not last many years. The fact was, the Company was now buying up all such publications as fast as they appeared, or as fast as it could convince the proprietors of the prudence of selling them, which, with the Company's influence over the entire machinery of book-selling, was by no means difficult. The consequence was, that Poor Robin still revelled in the obscenity which he had learned in the days of Charles II.; Moore, and Partridge, and Wing, became as reckless as ever in their insults upon the common sense of the nation in their astrological predictions; and, during the French Revolution, a new coadjutor was brought into the field, who surpassed all his rivals and predecessors in the mystical wonder of hieroglyphics, and the almost sublime daring with which he settled beforehand the events of that most eventful time. would have thought that the men of that age had supped full of natural horrors; but when Francis gave them his supernatural wonders into the bargain, they found their error. The sale of his publication was, of course, enormousunparalleled.

The course of this history, it must be acknowledged, is not flattering to the Company; but in looking at its conduct we must not overlook the extenuating circumstances in its favour. Baily has told us that the members did once make an endeavour to reform their publications-and commenced by omitting from Moore the column showing the moon's influence on the parts of the human body; the consequence of that single omission was the return of the greater part of the


copies. The question, therefore, of improvement or no improvement did certainly resolve itself into that of little or no revenue, or a large . And although there can be no doubt as to what a spirited and honourable corporation should have done in such a position, there is something to be pleaded for the Stationers' Company in not so doing. The evils that existed they found, and did not create; and the time was not so very remote since they had been esteemed anything but evils. We must not forget that some of our most eminent philosophers have been astrologers; and that the belief in astrology is not even yet entirely extinct. Within the last years a book on astrology, in volumes, quarto, and with elaborate tables, bearing unequivocal marks of genuine faith on the part of the author, has been published. But how was such a state of things to be terminated, the Company not having the least taste for selfsacrifice--no ambition higher than the breeches' pocket? In S, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge stepped quietly forward, and answered the question by the publication of the British Almanac; and the result showed, as history had a times shown before, that the error of under-rating the public taste and knowledge is at least as frequent as that of over-rating, and infinitely more mischievous. And here, again, a certain amount of credit belongs to the Company. It did not disdain to learn, though a rival offered the lesson. It made honourable its next year's history by a -fold movement: in direction it banished a great deal of their astrology, and the whole of their indecency, from the almanacs;--Poor Robin was extinguished altogether-your very aged libertine is always irreclaimable; in another it published a new almanac of a very superior character in all respects, namely, the Englishman's. In the preface to the last the writers stated that

their own older and established publications they modify from time to time, as the diffusion of taste and knowledge may require;

and we believe there is nothing in the present management of the Company's business to contradict the principle thus publicly promulgated.

Some idea of the extent of the business now done, and of those who enjoy its profits, may be here usefully given. The Company, be it known to all who are not familiar with the subject, is a kind of Janus corporation- head being ever busily occupied in eating municipal dinners and transacting municipal business, the other in making almanacs to sell, and in disposing of the proceeds when sold. And if you believe what each of the heads will not hesitate to tell you, when a corporation commissioner, for instance, is standing by, the common street announcement would be very applicable--no connection with the head next door; but then it is evident to all that the same body supports both :--it is truly a perplexing matter. It seems, however, to be thus explained. The Master and Keepers (or Wardens) of the mystery or art of a Stationer, as, to observe civic etiquette, the title must be given, were, of course, from the time of Henry IV., the farthest period to which their knowledge of themselves extends, all members of the same, or closely connected trades, in this agreeing with municipal fraternities generally; but whilst the last gradually ceased to have any important duties connected with, or control over, their respective occupations, and therefore grew careless as to what trade their new member might be-since all of every trade could certainly eat a good dinner, the most important part of


metropolitan municipal constitutions in modern times; the , on the contrary, through the operation of the influences already pointed out, remained, and remains, a prosperous and thriving trade corporation, and is exceedingly careful as to the matter of admission. Their principle is very simple, and perfectly just. Whoever has a right to be a member of the Company through patrimony or servitude is admitted, whatever his business, but those alone can purchase admittance, or have it conferred on them by gift, who are members of the bookselling, stationery, printing, bookbinding, printselling, or engraving trades or professions; and then with regard to the election of the former class to the-livery, such freemen must disclaim any participation in the Company's business as stationers. The effect, therefore, is, that the Company at this moment retains more completely than almost any other London corporation the features of its original character. The number of freemen is between and , of the livery of about . As the business of the Company is managed by its regularly paid servants, those who form the proprietary body have little else to do than to invest their money when permitted, and receive the very handsome per centage it returns- per cent. some years ago, and now, we believe, considerably more. The entire capital invested is upwards of , under the denomination of English Stock, a title derived from the time when the Company had a very respectable Latin stock also, now dwindled away to the trifling sum invested in the publication of a Latin Gradus, the only work at present published by the Company in addition to their almanacs. This is divided into between or shares, varying in value, through a regularly increasing double sequence, from and to and each. The mode of distribution is, we believe, perfectly fair, and so arranged that the oldest members receive the greatest benefit. The shares being fewer in number than the Livery, there are, of course, always vacancies, which are filled up nominally by election, but virtually by order of seniority. A share may be bequeathed to a widow, but no farther. In the municipal character of the Company there is nothing worthy of particular notice. The receipts and expenditure are given in the Corporation Commissioners' Report for the years - at the respective sums of . and ; items which, it is almost unnecessary to state, have nothing to do with the trading business of the Company.

The Hall is chiefly noticeable for its pictures, since it has no architectural pretensions, and exhibits little of that sumptuous magnificence which glows and sparkles in the apartments of Goldsmiths' Hall. The Court Room is handsome, certainly, and delightfully comfortable when its lustres are lighted up, a cheerful fire blazing in the grate, the screen placed against the door, and the inmates sitting down on their well-stuffed chairs to hear the amount of the last year's dividend on their stock. At such times the arched and stuccoed ceiling seems to expand and grow more elaborately rich; no then doubts that the extraordinary carvings of fruit and flowers over the chimney-piece are by Gibbons's own hands; West's picture, facing us in the little boudoir-like place at the extremity of the room, and of which we get some such glimpse of the principal figures as is here shown, through the pair of stately columns that divide the apartments, surpasses a Titian in colouring--a Michael Angelo in grandeur; nay, we question even whether the story in all its marvellous features, which gave rise to the picture,


would not be received implicitly, as the old chroniclers related it; of whom says of Alfred,

Upon a time, when his company had departed from him in search of victuals to eat, and for pastime was reading in a book, a poor pilgrim came to him, and asked him aims in God's name. The King lifted up his hands to heaven, and said,

I thank God of his grace that he visiteth his poor man this day by another poor man, and vouchsafeth to ask of me that which he hath given me.

Then the King arose, and called his servant, that had but


loaf and a very little wine, and bade him give the half thereof unto the poor man, who received it thankfully, and suddenly vanished from his sight, so that no step of him was seen on the fen or moor he passed over; and also, what was given to him by the King, was left there, even as it had been given unto him. Shortly after the company returned to their master, and brought with them great plenty of fish that they had then taken. The night following, when the King was at his rest, there appeared to him


in a bishop's weed, and charged him that he should love God, and keep justice, and be merciful to the poor men, and reverence priests; and said, moreover,

Alfred! Christ knoweth thy will and conscience, and now will make an end of thy sorrow and care; for to-morrow strong helpers shall come to thee, by whose help thou shalt subdue thine enemies.

Wif-art thou?

said the King.

I am Saint Cuthbert,

said he,

the poor pilgrim that yesterday was here with thee, to whom thou gavest both bread and wine. I am busy for thee and thine; wherefore have thou mind hereof when it is well with thee.

Then Alfred after this vision was well comforted, and shewed himself more at large.

West's picture of this touching incident, divested of its supernal accompaniments, forms the most important of the pictorial treasures of the Stationers' Company. It was given by the excellent Boydell, who was Master of the Company, and of whom there is here a portrait, in his robes as Lord Mayor, which .is amusing for its allegorical absurdities. The artist, Graham, wanted to say that Boydell was just and intelligent in his office, that he promoted Industry and Commerce as a tradesman, and that he did good service to the memory of Shakspere, by his famous gallery and the publication to which it led. So we have Boydell in the city chair, with figures of Justice holding the balance and the city sword on his right; Prudence, with her looking-glass and the emblem of penetrating wisdom, on his left; Industry, with a sun-burnt complexion and a bee-hive on his head, behind; and lastly, Commerce, in front, reclining on a cornucopia, with the compass in hand, whilst with the other she points to the outpouring contents of her horn, and touchingly appeals to the Lord Mayor to know whether he won't taste of the good things he has done so much to create. No wonder, after all this, the artist's invention slackened its pace a little, and so told the remainder of the story, by putting the bust of Shakspere on a table with the city mace. The other noticeable pictures, mostly portraits, are in the stock-room, where we have Tycho Wing, the astrologer, with his right hand on a celestial sphere; Prior, the poet, with animated features, habited in a cap and crimson gown, a capital portrait; Steele, with his handsome dark speaking eyes, and corpulent-looking body;--both these last pictures given by Mr. Nicholls;--Bunyan, a recent acquisition, and looking like a genuine portrait of the author of the

Pilgrim's Progress,

the gift of Mr. Hobbs, whose vocal powers have so often solaced the fraternity; Bishop Hoadley, a half-length, in his robes of the Order of the Garter; and Bowyer, a bust, with a brass-plate and inscription written by himself, and too honourable to the memory of the writer and to the Company to be passed without special notice. In it he returns his

gratitude to the Company of Stationers and other numerous benefactors, who, when a calamitous fire,

June 30th, 1712



, had in


night destroyed the effects of William Bowyer, printer, repaired the loss with unparallelled humanity.

And such a fact is the best possible testimony to the character and public services of the

last of the learned printers.

The charities of the Company are numerous, consisting chiefly of pensions varying in value from per annum downwards. Among the benefactors Guy stands conspicuous. He took up his freedom as a member of the Company in , and commenced business as a printer in the house that, till of late years, formed the angle between and . There he laid the foundation of his mighty fortune, by contracting with the universities for the printing of Bibles. Honours in Stationers' Court kept pace with the guineas in ; he became a liverymatn, and member of the Court of Assistants. The buying up of seamen's tickets during Anne's wars, and the South Sea Stock, now presented opportunities for the investment of money, which Guy turned to extraordinary account. From the last, with characteristic tact, he drew off in time with his gains, and was of the few whom that gigantic fraud and folly


benefited. It was time now to make himself comfortable, to grow domestic, have little ones playing about the knee, to whom those almost inexhaustible stores should descend. He determined to marry his servant-maid. On such an occasion Guy thought some little preparations necessary in a household characterised by economy much more than by comfort or completeness. They were set about. Guy would be lavish once in a life-time; he would even have the pavement before his door mended. With his own hands he marked out how far the masons were to go. Unhappily for the bride there was a little spot beyond, which she thought the men might as well do. But they answered that Mr. Guy had directed them not to go so far.


says the maiden innocently, and little dreaming what thousands hung upon every word--

Tell him I bade you, and I know he will not be angry.

The mending of that stone broke the marriage. Guy built hospitals with the main body of his fortune; from the remainder the Stationers' Company to this day derive some yearly for its poor.

The entering of the titles of all new publications on the books of the Stationers' Company is a custom of considerable antiquity, and we owe to it many important facts, illustrative of the order and the date of the writings of our great poets, more particularly Shakspere's. The recent Copyright Act has subjected the Company to the additional duty of registering all assignments of copyrights; so that it is still destined, in all probability, to a long career of public usefulness, a difference between itself and its less fortunate municipal brethren, of which it may be reasonably proud.


[n.209.1] As given by Nicholls in his account of the Company; of which he was a highly respected member: see Literary Anecdotes, vol. iii.

[n.209.2] Lord Erskine's speech in the cause of the Stationers' Company against Carnan, of which we shall have occasion to speak in another page.

[n.212.1] Penny Cyclopmedia, article Almanac.

[n.212.2] London Astrologers, No. LXVI.

[n.215.1] London Magazine. See an excellent article on Almanacs in the volume for 1828, and to which we must express our obligations.