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

[5]
The Heyday of Scottish
Enlightenment Publishing

THE HOUSE OF STRAHAN AND CADELL

Visions of Empire

On 15 March 1785 Thomas Cadell told a parliamentary committee investigating illegal importation of books from Ireland that “in the House of Strahan and Cadell above £39,000 have been paid, in 18 Years, to Authors for Copy Right.”1 Coming less than four months before Strahan's death on 9 July, this statement represents one important measure (but only one, for we have seen that publishers did not always purchase copyrights) of the scale of operations of the publishing partnership between William Strahan (fig. 5.1) and Thomas Cadell (fig. 5.2). It was a spectacular accomplishment, especially when one considers that the books in question included so many major works by the leading writers of the age. Although several of their most distinguished authors were English, such as Edward Gibbon, Samuel Johnson, and Sir William Blackstone, a disproportionate number of them were Scots. The House of Strahan and Cadell was the preeminent publisher of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Strictly speaking, it wasn't a “house” at all, because no legal partnership is known to have existed between the bookselling business that Thomas Cadell took over from Andrew Millar and the printing firm founded by Strahan. The bond between them was a shared sense of mutual benefit, cooperation, and trust that fostered dozens of individual book publishing arrangements. A sensible division of labor lay at its core: Strahan did the printing and Cadell did the bookselling.2 Yet the relationship quickly

1. Lambert, Sessional Papers, 52:359.

2. Harlan, “William Strahan,” 168, calculates that Cadell expended about £15.000
on printing by Strahan between 1771 and 1785.

-327-

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