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

4
Forging the London—Edinburgh
Publishing Axis

Readers and consumers of books, in the eighteenth century as well as today, are often cognizant of where and by whom a book has been published, and this information may affect not only whether they buy or read it, but also how they categorize it in their own minds. Publishers' catalogues and printed advertisements (and today also Web sites) add to this effect by providing a link between books and their makers. The name of the publisher, like that of the author, may take on the role of a brand name, influencing perceptions of the “product” and patterns of consumption in profound ways. As Michael Suarez has asked rhetorically, by way of example: “Is a book published by Gypsy Lane Press likely to be accorded the same reception as a work produced and marketed by Viking Penguin?”1

In examining the relationship of this “publisher function” to the “author function,” we must take into account the effect of time on our perceptions of the printed word. As time passes, publishers often drop out of the consciousness of readers, leaving authors alone as the sole standard for ordering texts. Consider how the makers of Scottish Enlightenment books were represented in the Dictionary of National Biography, the classic record of Victorian perceptions of personal merit and distinction in British history. The DNB contains entries for every one of the 115 Scottish authors in table 1, but only sixteen of the many individuals who produced the books in table 2 have separate entries in the DNB, and some of them were included for reasons other than their contributions to publishing

1. Suarez, “Business of Literature,” 131.

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