The Stationers' Company: A History, 1403-1959

The Stationers' Company: A History, 1403-1959

The Stationers' Company: A History, 1403-1959

The Stationers' Company: A History, 1403-1959

Excerpt

The Stationers' Company has had a corporate existence, under one name or another, for over five hundred and fifty years. At some periods in its life it was of importance only to its own members; at others it played parts of some consequence in the history of the City of London and even in the history of England. For some periods the records of its activities do not exist; for others the records are almost embarrassingly full. Certain of its archives, particularly those dealing with copyright ownership in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, have been combed with great thoroughness by scholars who have published their findings; other records, like the Court Books of the early nineteenth century, have scarcely been looked at and never written about.

Variations in quantities of evidence and in degrees of a subject's importance present the historian of any corporation with one of the problems of balance; but the variation in the weight of past attention-- by the printing of documents or by the publication of monographs-- poses a special problem of balance for the historian of the Stationers' Company. I have been able to give to the first 150 years a mere 20 pages because there is evidence for no more. To the century from 1557--admittedly the most important in the life of the Company--I have chosen to allot only 120 pages because the material already in print is considerable; but the next 150 years--roughly from 1660 to 1810--receive almost as much space because they have hitherto attracted little notice. To the last 150 years of waning power I have devoted only 30 pages.

The harmonizing of narrative with analysis poses another problem of balance, for analysis presupposes the breaking down of the whole into its components. The separate parts of the organism must be studied at different stages of development and in their changing relationships with all the other parts; yet sight must not be lost of the complete body and of the alterations in its general character as one century succeeds another. Even such an apparently self-contained aspect of a corporation's activities as the management of property . . .

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