- Makes a unique and fascinating contribution to eighteenth-century book history
- Includes the correspondence of major literary publishers and their writers
- Provides the only in-print edition of the correspondence of a publishing house in this period
The Tonsons were the pre-eminent literary publishers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It is difficult to estimate their contribution to the formation of English literature accurately. Nevertheless, it is clear that they carried Shakespeare into the eighteenth century and started the practice of modern editing of him. Without Rowe’s life and without the Pope-Theobald controversy, the history of Shakespeare studies would have been different, perhaps much less illustrious. The same is true of Milton, a figure who through his political sympathies was in disrepute, but on whom Jacob Tonson the elder (and his nephew after him) decided to lavish the care, eventually including illustration and annotation, usually reserved for the classics. Later they issued an edition of Spenser by John Hughes, thus creating the triumvirate who for many years were to dominate the study of English renaissance literature. It is not unreasonable to claim that the house of Tonson invented English literature as matter for repeated reading and study. In addition, of course, the Tonsons were Dryden’s main publisher, the first to publish Pope, and the consistent supporters of Addison and Steele and their early periodicals, while Jacob Tonson the elder had earlier shaped the miscellany, the translation of classical poetry into English, the pocket Elzevier series, and the luxury edition – practices carried on by the Tonson firm throughout the eighteenth century. They were at the forefront of the creation of a Whig literary culture and Jacob Tonson the elder was the founder of the famous Whig Kit-Cat Club which, it has been said, saved the nation.
This edition brings together the correspondences of the Tonsons for the first time and represents a major intervention in the field of the history of the book and literary production. It includes 158 letters, with translations where necessary, from major authors, politicians, and men and women of letters of the period, discussing their work and the role that the Tonsons played in getting literature to the press and the reading nation. The letters are accompanied by generous and insightful annotation, as well as brief biographies of each of the Tonsons, and special sections on publishing, patronage, and retirement.
Readership: Scholars of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature; historians with an interest in the history of the book, bookselling, and book publishing.