Charles Elliot’s Medical Publications
and the International Book Trade1
This chapter tells how Charles Elliot, a leading Edinburgh bookseller of the 1780s, encouraged the physician and surgeon authors of the city into print, and it opens up a hitherto unexplored area, namely the interaction between Edinburgh and Europe in the bookselling and publishing of the Scottish Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century. It describes the networks through which information about science and medicine moved, and how the Enlightenment was exported to America.
In considering the place of books and the role of book history in the Scottish Enlightenment more generally, Richard Sher has recently observed: ‘We are learning that books were made by the book trade as well as by their authors, and that understanding the nature of the roles played by the most important members of the trade is one of the keys that unlocks the secrets of the Enlightenment intellectual culture. In this sense, the leading publishers … were among the primary enablers of the Scottish Enlightenment’.2 In this chapter, I too have tried to place Charles Elliot and his books in wider context. Book history is enjoying something of a renaissance in contemporary scholarship: works on the culture of print, the nature of the book, and on the sciences and book history testify to this claim.3 In an earlier groundbreaking work on the history of print culture, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin described the early spread of printing as ‘the geography of the book’.4 My attention here to the geographical nature of Elliot’s work in the book trade is concerned less with the distributional sense of the geography of the book, and more with what Robert Darntonin 1982 described as the ‘communications circuit’ through which printed books pass from the author to the publisher (if the bookseller does not assume that role), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller and the reader. With the reader, the circuit is complete since it is the reader, Darnton argues, who influences the author both before and after the act of composition. In these terms, what follows on Elliot’s medical texts is an examination of only a part of any such communications circuit since I am less concerned with either the readership for Elliot’s books or how questions of readership affected the authorship of the books for which Elliot was publisher and bookseller. My concern is not with what others have considered as the ‘geographies of reading’, as scientific texts were differently engaged with by different audiences but, rather, with what Adrian Johns has seen as the connections between printing, publishing, propriety and property: we must, after all,