chapter  5
Commercial Texts
Pages 28

Historians of publishing and bibliography both love and hate Henry Colburn (1784/5-1855). His publishing practices and use of blatant commercialism shaped the modern literary marketplace and can be seen as both ‘innovative’ and ‘unethical’, causing some critics – in the nineteenth century and today – to question Colburn’s place within publishing history. For example, in his account of the Bentley Archives, Royal Gettman assumes a negative stance with regard to Colburn, citing his ‘mercantile attitude toward the world of letters’ and perspective on literary talent, writing that Colburn ‘crassly assumed that he could contrive it [talent] or purchase it’.2 John Strachan o ers a more tempered position in his work on Romantic satire, noting that Colburn ‘provoked some unease among poets and essayists, notably in a feeling that books were being marketed in the same way as more mundane products such as blacking, hair oil or lottery tickets’.3 Publishing historian John Sutherland o ers a still more positive view: ‘As regards his more extravagant feats of “pu ng” (what is now called “hype”), Colburn’s main o ence was to be ahead of his time’.4 Regardless of individual persuasion, a few facts remain objective. Colburn made his mark on the literary scene as a publisher of novels and periodicals, having begun his career working for a bookseller and a circulating library, and he also, Sutherland writes, ‘was clearly in uential in the 1820s in xing the standard rst-form of issue for ction as the threevolume, 31s 6d novel, designed to sell to libraries rather than direct to the reading public’.5 Colburn started some of the most in uential periodicals of the period, including New Monthly Magazine (1814), Literary Gazette (1817) and Court Journal (1829), and he had a partial interest in the Athenaeum and Th e Times for a period. As a book publisher, he published a variety of non- ction works, including travelogues, diaries and letters, biographies and memoirs, but he was best known for novels. In 1807, Colburn began publishing ction, and he would publish 996 new works over the course of his career, including some or all of the works of many silver fork novelists, such as Lady Charlotte Bury, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Plumer Ward, Catherine Gore, Lady Cath-

erine Stepney, T. H. Lister, eodore Hook and C. D. Burdett. It was in the space between periodical publication and ction publication, however, that Colburn’s talents became most apparent in the advertising and marketing of his works.