The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America

By Richard B. Sher | Go to book overview

Preface

My favorite definition of the word “publish” appears in Samuel Johnson's famous dictionary of 1755: “To put forth a book into the world.” Granted, the word “book” is somewhat limiting, since magazines, journals, and pamphlets are also published. But this work happens to be about the publication of books, and Johnson's definition draws our attention to the prominence of that medium during the eighteenth century. It also suggests the expansive nature of book publishing, which is at once an act of production and dissemination. According to this view, the publisher— “one who puts out a book into the world,” in Johnson's corresponding definition—is a kind of global broadcaster. Johnson of all people knew that every new book required an author, defined in his dictionary as “the first writer of anything” (as opposed to a translator or an editor), or “a writer in general.” Yet precisely because he was a professional author, deeply enmeshed in the practices of London print culture, Johnson understood that the move from author/text to book was a complicated, creative, and contingent process in which the book trade, and above all publishers, had a large role to play.

This volume explores how the books of the Scottish Enlightenment were put forth into the world during the second half of the eighteenth century. Although lengthy and occasionally technical, it has been written for a general readership and therefore contains some basic information about book history and the Scottish Enlightenment, which I hope specialists in those fields will excuse. In an earlier book, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment, I located the institutional and ideological core

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