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Original Prices of Some Famous Hooks.

The first folio edition of Shakespeare, published by his fellow-actors Heminges and Condell in 1623, was sold for 20s; the priopi of a Copy nowadays depends) of course; upon its condition. A perfect eftariiple is pus of tho greatest bibliographical rarities. Wdmplete copies fetch from between LIOO and L2OO to LSOO ; but a fine copy, now in the possession of tho Baroness BurdettCoutts, was sold for L 714; and not long ago Mr Quaritch, in one of his catalogues, described a first folio—"genuine, sound, fine, and very large "—which he would not part with for less than L 1,200. These prices Seem enormous, but it should be remembered that not only wa3 this the first collection, with any pretensions to authority or completeness, of Shakespeare's plays, but that no less than twenty of them_ had never previously been published. It is impossible to state precisely what the tiny, roughlyfinished quarto editions of the separate plays, many of which now bring high prices, cost their original purchasers; but in the Epistle to the Reader, prefixed to the surreptitiously printed quarto of 'Troilus and Cressida,' 1609, the buyer is expected to think his "testerne well bestow'd." "Tester," in those days, as now, meant sixpenoe, and this was probably the common selling price of separate plays. The «Venus and Adonis,' whioh Shakespeare dedicated, in 1593, with such humility to Lord Southampton, was originally sold for something less than Is, for in an old manuscript diary, quoted by Malone, there is the entry under date June 12, 1593, of the purchase of Shakespeare's poem with another book for " xiid." It is not often, comparatively speaking, that very great bargains can be picked up on bookstalls or in book'boxe3, but Mr Halliwell-Phillips has placed cm record the success of one collector, who some fifty years ago bought, at Manchester, a volume of tracts, which contained the ' Venus and Adonis' of 1594, for the magnificent sum of Is 3d. In 1609 appeared one of the most interesting and curious books in English literature, 'Shakespeare's Sonnets, never before Imprinted,' a small quarto of forty leaves, which was sold for sd.

The first folio edition of Spenser's 'Faerie Queen,' 1609, was published at one guinea. The next great English epic, the ' Paradise Lost,' appeared in 1667 in small quarto, plainly and neatly bound, as advertised, at the modest price of 3s. Milton's remuneration was in proportion. He received an immediate payment of L 5, and stipulated with the printer for further sums of L 5 each, to be paid when 1,300 of the first edition should have been sold, and again after the sale_ of tho same number of the second and third editions respectively. Each edition was to be limited to 1,500 copies. Milton lived for seven years after the publication of his immortal poem, but only received one additional L 5. At the sale of Dr Laing's library in j1879 a copy of the first edition fetched LI2 ss, but at a .'nore recent sale Ll6 16a was the successful bid.

Another famous seventeenth-century book, Walton's ' Compleat Angler,' was first published at Is 6d—a price at which the " contemplative man " of a later day may shake his head with a sigh of regret.

A few years after Walton's book came the first part of Butler's ' Hudibras,' which was sold for 2s 6d. Mr Popys, on December 26, 1662, duly chronicles in his ' Diary' the fact that he had spent that sum on the new satire, but, he says, " when I camo to read it, it is so silly an abuse of the Presbyter Knight going to the warrs that I am ashamed of it; and by-and-by meeting at Mr Townaend's at dinner, I sold it to Mm for 18d." One of the most celebrated of eighteenth-century poem 3, Gray's ' Elegy,' made its first public appearance in the shape of a hurriedlyprinted pamphlet, which was sold for sixpence. This publication was the result of a curious race for priority. Gray completed the poem some time in 1750, but had no immediate intention of publishing it. A copy, however, found its way into the hands of a Mr Owen, the publisher and proprietor of the 'Magazine of Magazines,' a recentlyestablished periodical, and he wrote to the poet stating his intention of printing it in his magazine, and asking his co-operation. The proposal was not at all agreeable to Gray, but seeing that publication was inevitable, he wrote at once to Horace Walpole explaining the circumstances, and asking him to get Dodsley to print it immediately, but without the author's name. Walpole handed the poem to Dodsley on February 12,1751, and on the 20th a copy was in Gray's hands at Cambridge, so that it was probably published in London on the 18th or 19th. Several "original" copies of the 'Elegy' in the poet's writing are in existence. One, which was sold for L 230 at Sotheby's in 1875, was specially interesting from the number of corrections and erasures made by the author's hand. In this MS. Gray had substituted " Cromwell" and "Milton" for " Ciesar " and "Tully," as he had originally written. His friend, Mason, is said to have suggested this alteration, as well as the title of the poem, which Gray at first simply called ' Stanzas.'

The original prices of most of Goldsmith's publications are easily ascertainable. His 'Bee' papers appeared in 1759 in weekly numbers, stitched in blue covers, at 3d each. Only eight were published, and when complete these were issued in a half-crown volume. The famous letters known under the title of« The Citizen of the World' were first published in 1761, in Newbery's' Public Ledger,' a daily paper selling at 2Ad. For each letter Goldsmith was paid a gmnea % Three years afterwards came « The Traveller,' price Is 6d. At this time Goldsmith was still occasionally practising medicine, so on the title page his name appears with the dignity of M.B. attached. It was in this year, 1764, that' The Vicar of Wakefield' wab written, but it did not appear until 1766, when its publication was announced in 'St. James's Chronicle':— " In a few days will bo published in 2 vols., twelves, price 6s bound, or 53 sewed, * The Vicar of Wakefield.' A tale supposed to be written by himself. Printed for P. Newbery at the Crown in Paternoster Row." In 1770 appeared 'The Deserted Village,' at the modest price of 2a. The first edition of Robert Burns's collected • Poems' was published at Kilmarnock in 1786, and was sold in a month. The price of each copy was 33, and the poet cleared twenty guineas. Copies of this first edition have in recent years brought very high prices. The market value of the book so late as 1832 was only a guinea, but since that date its value has gradually risen, as shown by the sums paid for it at auctions, to Ll7 in 1871, L3B 10s in 1876, and to L6B in 18S7. But this is not tho highest figure, for in the following year, when the library of a Greenock gentleman was sold in London, a copy i called LBG. These prices seem extraordinary when it is remembered that the original edition consisted of 612 copies, and was published only 100 years ago. A later poem of Burns's, the famous 'Jolly Beggars,' originally appeared as one of a series of 2d tracks published in Glasgow in 1799. With the commencement of the present century the original prices of books naturally cease to present so many points of interest as in tho case of our older literature. But a word may perhaps be allowed with reference to the phenomenal sales at high prices of two of Sir Walter Scott's poems. The enormous success of his novels was perhaps hardly bo surprising. The original edition of his second poem, ' Marmion,' published in 1808, consisted of 2,000 copies at a guinea and a half, and was sold in less than a month. Between 1808 and 1825 twelve octavo editions carried the total number of copies sold to, upwards of 30,000. It was then included in the collected edition of his poetry published by Scott in 1830. * The Lady of the Lake' appeared in 1809 in quarto, at 2 guineas. Four ootavo editions followed within twelve monthß, making a total sale in that short of 20,000 copies. Soon after the publication of this poem, when all the world was thronging to the shores of Loch Katrino, and Scott's name and fame were on every tongue, James Ballantyne, the printer, happened one day to find the poet's young daughter alone in her father's library, and asked her: "Well, Miss Sophia, how do you like «The Lady of the Lake'?" "Oh, thave not read it," replied the young lady. " Papa says there's nothing so bad for young people as reading bad poetry."—' Graphic.'

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18891024.2.37

Bibliographic details

Original Prices of Some Famous Hooks., Issue 8046, 24 October 1889

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Original Prices of Some Famous Hooks. Issue 8046, 24 October 1889

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