‘At the exchange’: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork.



From its construction in the first decade of the eighteenth century the new exchange in Castle Street became the focal point of the Cork book trade. The concentration of public buildings housing the legal and civil administration in the Main Street/Castle Street area created a demand for stationery, books and newspapers. Over thirty booksellers can be identified trading here during the eighteenth century, some succeeding others in the same premises. The exchange acted as a central point for dissemination of information in the legal and commercial world. Bills, proclamations and printed addresses were ‘put on the Post within the new exchange for public view’.[2] Throughout the eighteenth century all city council orders were ‘posted up on the exchange’.[3] Sales by public cant were held at the exchange, or in the taverns and coffee houses nearby. In February 1754 a pleasure boat was sold at the exchange for the benefit of the infirmary, and in October of the same year the ship Lucy of Cork was sold there.[4] The exchange accommodated the town clock, where previously the clock on the steeple of Christchurch acted in this capacity.[5] The exchange was the hub of commercial and civic life until the establishment of the commercial buildings on the South Mall in 1813. Having outlived its use, and being considered an obstruction to traffic jutting out into Main Street, it was demolished in 1837.

Situation and commercial importance:

The medieval core of Cork city was contained within the divided channels of the river Lee. Main Street followed the central ridge from north to south, ending with the towers of the city walls at North Gate and South Gate bridges. Castle Street was situated in the centre of the walled city, running east-west from Queen’s castle to Roche’s castle. In the medieval period it fronted onto a water channel, the medieval ‘key’ of Cork, the street occupying the northern quay. This waterway was able to accommodate ships, as shown on the Pecata Hibernia map of 1595. By the eighteenth century the channel was arched over and the water culverted beneath the street.[6] In 1760 the corporation ordered that the exchange slip, which had lately been covered in, be converted into a shop, allowing access to the water by a trap door, in case of accidental fire.[7] Castle Street joined Main Street to the west, splitting it into North Main and South Main Streets. At its eastern end it met Tuckey’s Quay (later Grand Parade) to the south, and Cornmarket/Coal Quay to the north, and from the early eighteenth century had its continuation eastwards into Paul Street. This situation gave Castle Street its commercial importance, forming as it did the cross-axis of the old city.

Castle Street retained its economic ascendancy throughout the eighteenth century. The fine new exchange, begun in 1708 and opened in May 1710, celebrated the dominance of trade in the capital of the south. Located at the south-western corner of Castle Street at Main Street, it was built on the foundation of the medieval Paradise tower, later Roche’s castle. In 1732 Edward Lloyd considered the exchange more beautiful than the Dublin one and ‘exceeding that in Bristol, or the changes in any city or port in England excepting the magnificent building of the Royal Exchange in London’.[8] In 1750 Smith described it as:

an handsome regular structure of hewn stone. The front consists of five arches, with three others next the passage to the street. The middle arch or principal entrance is adorned with columns of the Doric order, over which are fluted ones of the Ionic order; … On the top is an elegant cupola covered with lead; a gilt ball, cross and dragon.[9]


Engraving of The Exchange, Cork, from Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork, 1750.

The city court house was located south of the exchange, and the county court house south of King’s castle at the eastern end of Castle Street. Court Lane, running parallel to Castle Street, linked the two court houses. The exchange itself accommodated the council chamber on its upper floor and also provided space for the grand jury at the assizes and sessions, the mayor’s office, and an office for keeping the council records.[10] The grouping of offices dealing with city and county administration created demand for the services of bookseller, bookbinder, stationer and printer. Legal and administrative stationery and printed forms were staples of the trade. Information in book, pamphlet and newspaper form, was increasingly necessary for officials at all levels. Proclamations and notices were issued regularly, and local printers carried out these tasks for the corporation and the courts.

The concentrated central area continued to hold its commercial superiority until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the city was beginning to expand as the marshes to the east and west were drained and reclaimed, and the suburbs began to be developed.[11] Work continued in arching over the water channels, in the early 1780s the waterway at the Long Quay was covered and the new thoroughfare became St Patrick Street. At the same period the navigable channel at Tuckey’s Quay was covered in and Grand Parade formed. Newspaper advertising shows that the luxury trades were mainly located in the central areas of the city, first in the old core, and later in the eastern areas at George’s Street and Patrick Street: booksellers, stationers, confectioners, florists, perfumers, peruke makers, silversmiths, drapers, seed merchants, cabinet makers, cutlers and coach builders. In 1739 the mayor suggested that the post office be ‘kept near the exchange, being the centre of this city.’[12] William Flyn, printer and bookseller at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, pointed to the commercial advantages of the area when advertising his shop and apartments ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1775: ‘the situation for any kind of business is superior to most in the city’.[13] In the last two decades of the century bookselling businesses spread out from Castle Street, Main Street and Paul Street, into the newly formed Patrick Street, Grand Parade and Grattan Street.

From the early years of the century booksellers set up business in the vicinity of the exchange. From about 1715 Thomas Cotton, Andrew Welsh and John Redwood had bookshops in Castle Street, Welsh’s and Redwood’s located ‘near the exchange’. Thomas Pilkington was in Castle Street from 1729, succeeded by his widow, Martha, at the same address early in the 1740s. Cornelius Sullivan was ‘at the exchange coffee house’ in Castle Street in 1736. From the 1750s Castle Street was the address of Phineas and George Bagnell, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’; Timothy Cronin ‘under the English coffee house’;[14] George and James Knight, and later Henry and John Knight. Eugene Swiney was on Main Street ‘near the exchange’ from 1754, having moved from Paul Street. John Bardin was at the Bible, Castle Street, in 1763, advertising imported paper and merchants’ account books, moving to Paul Street, where he died in 1773. William Flyn was at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, from 1764 to 1775, when he moved to ‘south-side of the exchange’. George Busteed, printer of the Cork Chronicle, was in Castle Street in the 1760s, moving to Paul Street in 1766. John Busteed, printer of the Hibernian Morning Post, was in Castle Street ‘near the exchange’ in the early 1770s, having moved from Paul Street. Thomas Lord had his bookshop and circulating library in Castle Street ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1770.[15]

Mary Edwards opened her new bookshop at 3 Castle Street, ‘next door to the exchange coffee house’ in June 1770, where she proposed to stock the ‘greatest variety of modern books’ from London and Dublin, as well as paper and stationery. She particularly targeted country dealers, offering to supply them ‘on the lowest terms’.[16] Her son and successor, Anthony Edwards, was at the same address from 1781, ‘opposite the new merchant’s coffee house’, until he moved to 6 Castle Street, where he remained until 1815, trading as Edwards and Savage from about 1806. Thomas Saunders Knox spent two years in Castle Street from 1776 to 1778, publishing the Cork General Advertiser, before moving to Ennis. In 1773 Michael Matthews had his bookshop in Castle Street, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’, where he stocked books, pictures, stationery, ‘rare and curious pieces out of print and very scarce’.[17] From his bookshop and circulating library ‘under the exchange’ he offered the best prices for libraries and parcels of books in 1777.[18] In 1781 the bookshop in the ‘small house under part of the exchange’ was to be set by public cant.[19] Matthews continued to occupy the premises, paying an annual rent of £4.19s. until 1791, when his ‘shop and bulk’ was assigned to the trustees of the new coffee house, and he moved to North Main Street.[20]

Jeremiah Sullivan was ‘opposite the exchange’ from 1777. Thomas White carried on business at 55 the exchange, ‘opposite the west gate of the exchange’ on Main Street from 1770, occupying Eugene’s Swiney’s former bookshop, and moving to 4 Castle Street in 1793. Robert Dobbyn, printer of the Cork Weekly Journal, was at 9 Castle Street from 1779, moving to Bachelor’s Quay about 1787. The 1790s saw John Connor’s bookshop and circulating library established at 17 Castle Street, at the corner of Cornmarket, James Haly, son-in-law of William Flyn, at the King’s Arms, exchange, and Michael Harris at 6 Castle Street. In 1794 Thomas Boate’s ‘Stationary, music, map and print ware-house’ removed to 3 new buildings, Castle Street, under the Tontine coffee house. He advertised maps, prints, music and merchants’ account books, as well as children’s and school books, magazines and plays, and undertook ‘all manner of book-binding and printing work executed with neatness and dispatch’.[21] In 1797 Hugh Massey, bookbinder and stationer, conducted his business on Main Street ‘under the old mercantile coffee-house.’[22] In the first decade of the new century Castle Street accommodated the bookshops of William West, compiler of West’s Cork directory 1810, John Harris, at the Southern Reporter office, Jeremiah Geary at the Stanhope Press printing office, occupying Haly’s old premises at the King’s Arms, exchange, John Stephenson, printer of The Patriot, at 10 Castle Street, White and Shelborne, paper manufacturers, and Joseph and Robert McMullen, ‘at the exchange’.

Cork West

Castle Street, the bookshop of William West, printer, bookseller and stationer, and the shop of White and Company, paper manufacturers, near the exchange, c.1810.

Coffee houses and taverns clustered here also, frequented by the better-off citizens in search of news and gossip. At mid-century Cork had two coffee houses, the Exchange and English coffee houses, situated opposite each other on Castle Street, and a number of prominent taverns: the Cork Arms and Turk Head taverns in Castle Street, and the Raven opposite Christchurch. In 1750 Smith noted: ‘Here are only two coffee-houses, both near the exchange; they are much frequented, and besides the English news-papers, have most of the Dublin ones: the better sort are fond of news and politics, and are well versed in public affairs.’[23] By 1777 Thomas Campbell reported: ‘One of the coffee-houses is conducted somewhat like those in London. The taverns are pretty good, and very cheap…’[24] The merchant’s coffee house, situated at the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street, subscribed to Finn’s Leinster Journal from at least 1778.[25] In 1795 it was reopened by D. Manly, supplying newspapers from London and Dublin, three Cork papers, two each from Waterford and Limerick, Finn’s Leinster Journal, the Northern Star and Londonderry Chronicle.[26] The Tontine coffee house was opened in Castle Street in 1793, the charter to raise the fund for its establishment had among its shareholders two booksellers, Thomas White and Jeremiah Sullivan.[27]

Coffee houses traditionally occupied the first floor or parlour apartments, with shops or other commercial concerns at street level. In Cork, as in Dublin, there was a close relationship between coffee house and book trade, as both concerned themselves with the dissemination of information. A proposal to publish The mercantile assistant or, exchange pocket companion by subscription was advertised in 1781. This periodical was aimed at merchants and traders, giving lists of the imports and exports of the port of Cork, financial information from abroad, up-to-date prices of commodities, and accounts of trade hazards, such as seizure of ships by ‘the belligerent powers’ during the American war. The subscription cost of one-and-a-half guineas per annum was taken at the bar of both coffee houses. Likewise for subscribers to a new twice-weekly newspaper, the Cork Mercury, in March 1781, subscription books were available at the coffee houses.[28] When the Cork Herald, a loyalist newspaper, was established in 1798, subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Michael Harris, Anthony Edwards, James Haly and John Connor, all booksellers in Castle Street, and the bar of each coffee house.[29] A notice in the New Cork Evening Post from November 1793 informed its readers that the only copy of the Saturday issue of the London Gazette had been received at the Tontine coffee house, forcing the paper to give an abstract, instead of a full account, of the news.[30]

The book trade and the administration of the city:

In the early decades of the eighteenth century the legal and civil administration of the city accounted for the bulk of booksellers’ business. Printed forms, parchment for official records, printed proclamations and hand bills, advertising in newspapers, the supply of a range of newspaper titles for official information, stationery, copies of Statutes, Acts of parliament, law books and other relevant works, were the mainstay of the city’s book trade. Scriveners and copyists, as well as printers, were employed by official bodies. Loyal addresses from the corporation to the king, queen or lord lieutenant were engrossed on parchment.[31] Bookbinders found work binding and repairing official ledgers and manuscript record books for the courts and corporation, as well as binding for the retail book trade. For example, the corporation ordered payment in 1776 for veal skins to cover the Tholsel office books.[32] In 1732 Thomas Pilkington advertised books, merchants’ account books, shop books, paper and stationery by wholesale and retail. ‘He writes every month to London for the newest books to accommodate gentlemen with’.[33] William Flyn, at the Shakespeare, sold promissory notes, processes and parchment.[34] In the 1790s ‘processes, with printed copies’, ‘presentments for roads, bridges &c.’, hearth money certificates, magistrates’ warrants and summonses, and police certificates were advertised by Anthony Edwards.[35] Processes were also offered by Thomas White, with a range of paper, account books, message cards and stationery.[36]

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries official newspapers and parliamentary votes were ordered from London for the mayor and common council, while the coffee houses provided a more varied fare. Official papers included the London Gazette, a twice-weekly paper which was the most widely circulated official publication, the News Letter and Votes of parliament, which appeared daily during the parliamentary session and provided an outline of parliamentary proceedings. An extant ledger showing the distribution of newspapers by one London supplier, Charles Delafaye, covering the period 1710 to 1714, shows that he supplied newspapers to the mayor of Cork.[37] In 1704 the mayor paid £4.19s. to Mr De-laffa for the ‘public news’, and in January 1713/14 Delafay was paid £36 for six years newspapers, with the proviso that ‘he desist sending any more’.[38] In 1714 the corporation received the Postman, Flying Post, Evening Post and votes of parliament from London.[39] In 1715 the mayor sent for ‘the news from London at the cheapest rate he could agree for’ and by 1716/17 the corporation expended six guineas for ‘the English news, four papers and the votes of parliament’.[40] English and Irish newspapers and Votes of both English and Irish parliaments were supplied to the corporation by Walter Pallisser in the 1740s and 1750s and by Edmond Browning in the 1760s and 1770s.[41] In 1776 William Maturin, clerk of the Munster road at the General Post Office, Dublin, began to supply Irish and English newspapers.[42] Local booksellers supplied the Cork newspapers to the corporation.

The corporation’s own resolutions, proclamations, orders, public notices, advertisements and the ‘assize of bread’ were printed in the local newspapers, first in the Cork Intelligence and later in Bagnell’s Cork Evening Post, Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle, Knight’s New Cork Evening Post and the Cork Gazette. Extra printed copies were used as hand bills, to be posted on the exchange and around the city. Corporation lands and buildings for sale or lease, the publication of the city accounts, proposals for lighting, cleansing, repairing and paving the city streets, contracts for public works, notices offering rewards for the conviction of criminals, and notices of public meetings were regularly inserted in the papers. An advertisement for setting leases of stalls in the meat market was inserted in ‘Bagnall’s paper’ in 1772, and in addition 100 copies were printed to be posted up in the city.[43] The weekly assize of bread was published in the local papers and also posted up around the city. By giving the current price of wheat and the official weight and price of loaves, consumers were assured of the quality of this staple commodity; bread which did not meet the requirements was seized and the bakers fined. In 1738 the mayor issued a proclamation that the acts of parliament for weighing corn, potatoes and salt be put in force, George Bennett, alderman and one-time mayor of the city, got the contract to ‘print five quires of paper, in order said proclamation be duly published’.[44]

During a period of crisis in the spring of 1762, when the army regiments were withdrawn from the city, due to the continuing conflict of the seven years war, the corporation ordered arms to be distributed to the protestant inhabitants of the city. One thousand copies of the orders were printed, to be posted on the exchange, the north and south gates, the custom house, and distributed among the citizens.[45] The oath taken by citizens when becoming freemen was printed: in 1748 the council ordered ‘six quires’ of the oath to be printed for distribution, and in 1758 one thousand copies were printed.[46] The corporation ordered the printing of lists of the freemen at large from time to time.[47] An act of parliament concerning the city of Cork, passed in 1772, was ordered to be printed and thirty copies sent to the mayor.[48] William Flyn printed The by-laws of the city of Cork in 1776 by order of the council. In this way the regular business of the mayor and corporation required the expertise of local printers. This jobbing work was not complicated, nor large enough to tie up type for extended periods, probably just the kind of work that a printer found profitable.

In addition to its paper, stationery and binding requirements in the day-to-day administration of the city, books, pamphlets and acts of parliament were purchased by the corporation on a regular basis. In the 1720s and 1730s George Bennett supplied acts of parliament, abridgements of the statutes and prayer books from his bookshop on Main Street, opposite Broad Lane.[49] In 1754 Timothy Cronin was paid £3.18s.7d. for law books.[50] The current statutes affecting the administration of the city were essential reference works for the mayor and council. Cornelius Sullivan, opposite the Main Guard, supplied Bolingbroke’s Abridgement of the statutes, and five appendices in 1766.[51] The nine volumes of Vesey’s Acts of parliament and the statutes passed from 1769 to 1771 were purchased in 1772, and two years later Bolingbroke’s Abridgement, Vesey’s Appendix and Blackstone’s Commentaries were bought for the mayor’s office. Bolingbroke’s Abridgement and Vesey’s Appendix were again required in 1784.[52] Mary Edwards supplied two sets of acts from the previous session, bound, in 1780/81, one for the mayor’s office and the other for the corporation.[53] Thomas White provided the statutes at large for the Mansion House in 1791, and Anthony Edwards Vesey’s Appendices for the town clerk’s office.[54]

In the first half of the century Bibles and prayer books were purchased in quantity by the corporation for institutions within its authority. In 1708/9 ‘four dozen Bibles, unbound’ were ordered for the use of St Stephen’s (or Blue Coat) Hospital.[55] In 1718 the corporation ordered 300 Bibles, published in Dublin, again for the Blue Coat Hospital.[56] It is not clear which printing of the Bible was purchased, most likely the folio edition of The Holy Bible printed in Dublin in 1714.[57] In 1723, 243 Bibles in sheets were received from Dublin, and the contract for binding was awarded to George Bennett.[58] The following year each member of the council was given discretion to distribute the Bibles ‘to such charitable uses as they think fit.’[59] In 1738 and again twenty years later, in 1758, the city gaol was supplied with a Common prayer book and a Bible ‘for the use of the poor prisoners’, at the corporation’s expense.[60] Prayer books were purchased for the use of council members at official church ceremonies. In 1727 George Bennett was contracted to supply ‘seven folio prayer-books for the use of the corporation in the churches, three whereof to be gilt for the mayor’s cushion and the others for the other seats’.[61] Again in 1741 Bennett was ordered to ‘furnish the mayor’s gallery with four large prayer books’.[62]

Not all relations between the book trade and the administration were amicable. In 1732 the ballad sheet ‘Cork association, or the clothiers garland’ was ordered to be suppressed and the printer bound over to appear at the quarter sessions.[63] Tensions came to the fore in the lead-up to the 1798 rebellion as printers in Cork, as elsewhere in Ireland, printed hand bills, ballads, newspapers and pamphlets not approved of by government. The Cork Gazette was suppressed in 1797 and its printer, Denis Driscol, charged with publishing seditious matter.[64] The Harp of Erin, a radical newspaper advocating reform, founded in March 1798 ‘on the principles of freedom’, was printed by John Daly in Patrick Street. Its opponents, considering that ‘for treason and rebellion [it] will far surpass the Press itself’, had it suppressed after a few issues.[65] The Hibernian Chronicle records the paper’s demise: ‘Last Saturday some magistrates, with a party of the army, searched several houses to discover where the Harp of Erin was printing; at last they found out the place to be Carey’s Lane, where they seized on all the papers, part of which were printed, threw out the forms, and carried the entire to the Mansion House.’[66] John Daly was sentenced to stand one hour on the pillory, to six months imprisonment and to give securities for his good behaviour for seven years.[67] In April 1798 Cork corporation offered 100 guineas reward for the conviction of the author of an inflammatory hand bill, addressed ‘To militia men’, and twenty guineas for the prosecution of the printer.[68]

The printing and stationery requirements of the military were substantial, several regiments being stationed in Cork at any one time. Anthony Edwards styled himself ‘military stationer’ from the 1790s, catering for the requirements of the army and militia. He carried a variety of army stationery, such as muster rolls, review returns, orderly and memorandum books.[69] In an advertisement of 1793 he offered to ‘gentlemen of the militia … all kinds of books and stationery, made use of by the army’.[70] He reprinted Instructions for the yeomanry of England ‘for the use of the county corps of Ireland’ in 1796. His military printing work included rules, regulations, standing orders, manuals of exercises, relevant acts of parliament, and printed forms.[71] In the early 1800s he printed certificates for families of militiamen to apply for financial allowances, with the blank date 180-.[72] In 1801 Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, married Osborne Savage, stationer.[73] From about 1806 Edwards and his son-in-law went into business as Edwards and Savage at 6 Castle Street. Trading as military stationers, printers and booksellers, they advertised their stock of ‘brigade, regimental, hospital, barrack and recruiting returns’.[74]

The governors of the several charitable institutions in the city needed the services of the book trade in the administration of their societies. Advertising, printing of hand bills, stationery, and the publication of reports and accounts provided regular work for printers. An account of the dispensary was printed by William Flyn in 1788. The Cork Society for the relief and discharge of persons confined for small debts produced proceedings of its annual meetings.[75] Accounts of the Society for bettering the condition and increasing the comforts of the poor were printed by Anthony Edwards in 1799 and John Connor in 1800. The annual report of the House of Recovery for 1802/3 was printed by James Haly, at the King’s Arms, exchange. Among the annual expenses of the institution were substantial amounts for printing, stationery, and advertising: £26.4s.5½d. in 1801/2 and £10.4s.0½d. in 1802/3.[76]

The general book trade:

The general book trade in Cork was wide-ranging and varied, catering for an extensive market made up of country gentry, city professionals and the rising urban middle classes.[77] In the first half of the century Cork’s patrician families, persons associated with the civil and legal administration, and those involved in the commercial life of the city, continued to live in the mansion houses on Main Street, in the lanes running east and west from it, and in the newly constructed houses on the quays. Smith notes the newly built brick houses, with balcony windows in Spanish fashion, to be seen along Main Street in 1750.[78] It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that professionals and merchants moved to the fine terraced houses being built east and west of the old walled city, and out to the suburbs at Sunday’s Well to the north and towards Blackrock to the south. The concentration of well-educated families within the city centre created a demand for information, professional and leisure reading. The country gentry came to town for the assizes, to do estate business, shopping, and to partake of the city’s assemblies, theatres and other entertainments. In 1781 William Flyn appealed to country gentlemen indebted to him for the Hibernian Chronicle, books and stationery, to settle their accounts at the assizes.[79]

Readers in the surrounding towns and villages, whose access to reading matter was likely to be more limited than city dwellers, nevertheless had remote access to the city bookshops through newspaper advertising and bookseller’s catalogues. From the second half of the century newspapers were distributed to the main towns in the county: Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Cobh, Passage, Rathcormack, Kilworth, Kinsale, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, and westwards to Macroom, Bandon, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Skibereen, Bantry, Berehaven and Skull.[80] Readers in these towns could keep up-to-date with the latest publications from newspaper advertising and could place orders for books and periodicals through the newspaper agents. When William Flyn published The modern monitor in 1770 he informed readers of the Hibernian Chronicle that it would be on sale ‘at all the country places where this paper is left.’[81] Catalogues, lists of books published in newspapers, and advertising leaves in local publications, helped inform a dispersed readership, some of whom may have been unable to visit the city bookshops.

Anthony Edwards issued a priced catalogue of his stock in 1785, and a supplementary short catalogue at the back of Edwards’s Cork remembrancer in 1792.[82] As well as books and periodicals in English and French, he stocked religious works, school books, plays, almanacs, directories, pocket ledgers, memorandum books, and ‘all public acts of parliament, as soon as printed’. School books included grammars and dictionaries in Greek, Latin, French, English, Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and for the young ‘Newbery and Burton books, for the amusement of children’. He carried a range of devotional works and prayer books, many intended for the wholesale market. He printed editions of The new week’s preparation from 1793.[83] His own publication, a new edition of Mann’s Catechism, sold at 4d. each, or £1.4s. per hundred. Prayer books in various sizes and bindings ranged in price from 1s.6d. to £2.5s.6d. His wide-ranging stock included musical instruments and ruled music books, maps, stationery, paper and patent medicines. His printing work, encompassing books, pamphlets, and a newspaper, The Cork Courier (1793-94), was probably largely taken up with jobbing work for businesses and the administration. He lists such items as ‘shop-bills, hand-bills, leases, brewers permits, landlords receipts, tithe notes, manor-court processes and decrees; Free-Masons summonses, magistrates informations, warrants, recognizances, commitals and supercedeses, promissory notes, freeman’s passes &c.’, almost certainly the bread-and-butter trade of a bookseller outside the metropolis.

Because of the diversity of the market specialisation within the trade was not economically viable, most booksellers carried on an extensive range of activities. In addition to the sale of new and secondhand books, periodicals and pamphlets, a bookseller could be printer, stationer, bookbinder, newspaper proprietor, papermaker or importer, circulating library proprietor, patent medicine dealer, lottery office keeper, musical instrument seller, purveyor of fancy goods, and agent for loans or the sale of lands. Subscription editions of Dublin-printed books had Cork booksellers as agents from the first decades of the century, and lasting partnerships were established between members of the Dublin and Cork trades. The book trade in Cork did not wholly depend on Dublin printers and wholesalers. Books, periodicals and newspapers were imported directly from London. An inter-regional trade was in operation between the towns and cities in Munster and South Leinster, especially with Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny, and to a lesser extent Clonmel, Ennis and Tralee. From the last quarter of the century some continental trading also occurred. In 1773 William Flyn imported foreign language books from Holland, where he had established a correspondence with ‘a principal bookseller’. Bookbuyers were offered ‘elegant and cheap editions’ in any language, which could be chosen from a catalogue.[84]

A cultured and sophisticated audience supported the summer theatre at Dunscomb’s Marsh, later George’s Street. The earliest theatrical performances took place in Cork from 1713, when players from the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin, and later from the Theatre Royal in Aungier Street, came south for a period in the summer to perform the season’s hit plays from London and Dublin.[85] Advertisements for performances and benefits were inserted in the local newspapers, and hand bills were printed and placed strategically around the city. A mild storm blew up in the summer of 1761 when the theatrical company posted its printed hand bills without asking the consent of the mayor, who then refused them permission to perform. The matter was resolved, though not without a certain rancour and the threat of legal proceedings on the part of the players.[86] Newspaper advertising was required to carry the unequivocal formula ‘by permission of the Right Worshipful …, mayor of Cork’.[87]

Plays were often locally printed to coincide with popular productions. Reprints of Dublin and London editions could be rushed out cheaply to satisfy demand. In 1741 George Harrison, at the corner of Meetinghouse Lane, printed a ballad opera which was in performance at the Theatre Royal, Dunscomb’s Marsh: A wonder, or, an honest Yorkshireman.[88] In the 1760s Eugene Swiney, and Phineas and George Bagnell, were prominent in reprinting popular plays, issuing such staples of the Cork theatre as The beggar’s opera (Gay), King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Venice preserv’d (Otway) and Conscious lovers (Steele) in 1761, Douglas (Home) and All in the wrong (Murphy) in 1762, and Othello in 1763. Jeremiah Sullivan was active in reprinting plays in the 1780s and 1790s, while Anthony Edwards, John Connor and Michael Harris printed them in the 1790s. William Preston’s controversial Democratic rage; or, Louis the unfortunate, was printed by Anthony Edwards in 1793, the same year it was performed in Cork.[89] A large selection of plays, printed in Dublin and London, formed part of any good bookshop’s regular stock. In July 1775 John Busteed advertised a list of forty-four plays and twelve farces to coincide with the summer season at the Theatre Royal in George’s Street.[90] These plays corresponded with performances during the 1775 season, but also included perennial favourites at the Cork theatre.[91]

The reading public had varying budgets for the purchase of books and other print media. Instead of the wealthy patrons of literature encountered in the metropolis, or more especially in London and other European capitals, Cork booksellers were supported by the professional and middle classes, country gentry, and persons of lesser means. Thus, stocks reflected the differing means of potential purchasers. Subscription editions of the works of local authors, or reprints of more celebrated authors, were regularly offered by Cork booksellers. Books published in parts, where the cost could be spread out, allowing buyers to invest in an expensive work, popular reprints of plays, political pamphlets and trials which could be produced and sold cheaply, monthly magazines, children’s and school books, formed an important segment of the market. Small format religious works, often sold in bulk, were intended for distribution to the poor. Ballad sheets, cheaply printed, and celebrating or satirising local persons and events, were within the price range of all but the very poor. The secondhand market was also buoyant, as booksellers offered ready money for libraries and parcels of books. The more renowned libraries, such as that of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, were put up for sale and priced catalogues issued.[92] Expensive editions from Dublin, London and the continent, were offered for sale side by side with the cheaper material.

Monthly periodicals, such as Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Exshaw’s Gentleman and London Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Town and Country Magazine, and Monthly Review, were advertised regularly and could be sent with their newspapers to subscribers in the nearby towns and in the countryside. At a cost of 6d. to one shilling per month the magazines provided a varied diet of literary, social and political content. Accompanied by engravings of prominent contemporary or historical figures, places of interest, military or naval actions, sentimental prints, needlework patterns, music, etc., and carrying advertising on their blue paper wrappers, these productions were good value for money for the less wealthy reader. In 1777 and 1778 a French-language periodical, the Magazin à la mode, was published in Dublin by William Whitestone. Compiled by Charles Praval, writer and teacher of French, it aimed to replicate the Anglophone periodicals, while promoting French language and literature. It circulated in Cork through the bookshops of Mary Edwards, Daniel Hood, Jeremiah Sullivan and Thomas White.[93] Throughout the century locally-produced literary and general periodicals were a feature of the market, with a flowering in the last decade. The Medley and the Serio-Jocular Medley were rival publications, printed in the 1730s. The Weekly Repository, begun in 1779, covered a broad range of topics: history, philosophy, mathematics, poetry, ‘with several curious and entertaining originals’. Lord’s Cork Weekly Magazine from 1790, the Quiz (1794), the Medler (1795), the Tickler (1795), the Rover (1795-96), the Museum (1796), the Monthly Miscellany (1796), and the Casket (1797-98) were all short-lived literary periodicals in the closing years of the eighteenth century.[94]

Books published in parts, and selling for the price of a monthly magazine, were frequently advertised. The Corke Journal carried advertisements for A new and complete dictionary of arts and sciences in 1754. Published in London by W. Owen in seventy-four weekly numbers, priced at a British 6d. each, and stitched in blue paper, the whole work was to contain 300 copper plates. A four-page prospectus was issued in 1754 and subscriptions were taken by Richard James in Dublin and Eugene Swiney in Paul Street, Cork. The finished work came to four volumes octavo, with over 3,500 pages and 302 plates, and the cost of £1.17s. was spread over a year and a half.[95] In 1770 A new description of England and Wales was sold in sixty numbers at 6½d. each, complete with 240 copper plates.[96] In 1775 The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Henry Brooke, was printed by subscription in ten numbers at 6½d. each, with John Busteed as Cork agent. The work was to come to one volume octavo of about 500 pages, costing 5s.5d. The only surviving edition was printed in Dublin by William Kidd in 1775, and contains a list of subscribers, and therefore is likely to have been the edition advertised.[97] A ‘new and improved edition’ of the Complete dictionary of arts and sciences was proposed in 1778. This would be a folio edition published in seventy-five weekly parts, costing one British shilling each. Subscribers could purchase the weekly parts, receive four numbers monthly to be delivered with their monthly magazines, receive each volume as published, or wait for the completed work in three volumes, ‘elegantly bound and lettered’. Booksellers in the main cities and towns around Ireland were agents for the publication, in Cork subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Mary Edwards and William Flyn.[98]

Local publications consisted of books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and ephemera such as song sheets. Book production was mainly made up of reprints, concentrating especially on social and political tracts, religious works including sermons and works of controversy, plays, novels, poetry, school books, history, travels and literary miscellanies. Original works by local authors were also published, consisting mainly of tracts relating to political issues of the day, school books, poetry and novels. James Solas Dodd, naval surgeon turned schoolmaster, contributed to the literary life of the city in the 1770s on a number of levels. He published his Essay on education in 1770, setting out in detail his plan for a new academy on Hammond’s Marsh. The venture was supported by some of Cork’s leading cultural figures: Henry Sheares, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Dr John Longfield and others. An advertisement was placed in the Hibernian Chronicle for the Essay, which could be purchased from booksellers in Cork, Waterford and Limerick.[99] Dodd’s Essays and poems were published by Eugene Swiney in the same year, the work attracting 255 subscribers. The last leaf carried proposals for printing by subscription Dodd’s Satyrical and moral lecture upon hearts.[100] When the theatre came to town in the summer of 1770 Dodd performed his Satirical and moral lecture in the Theatre Royal, George’s Street, on 7 August. It was accompanied by his Comical dissertation on noses, and his recitation of Garrick’s Ode in honour of Shakespeare, written for the Shakespeare jubilee in 1769. The night’s performance was ordered by the deputy grand master of masons of Munster. The Hibernian Chronicle carried the advertisement, which also announced that Essays and poems would be ready for subscribers by 4 August.[101]

The last decade of the century saw a much increased level of literary activity in the city, and the publication of several original works. The locally-produced literary magazines, although short-lived, testify to this upsurge in literary interest. John Connor, James Haly and Michael Harris were to the fore in publishing original works of fiction and poetry, usually by subscription. Conor’s literary output was especially significant, publishing at least twenty-seven literary titles in the twenty year period from 1794, more than half of which were original works.[102] Women authors were prominent from the 1770s, when literary contributors of both sexes were encouraged by William Flyn and the Hibernian Chronicle.[103] A selection of pieces from the newspaper were published in a volume entitled The modern monitor, or Flyn’s speculations in 1770.[104] The contributors included Henry Sheares, Dr John Longfield, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Mrs Sheares, Mrs Elizabeth Gray, Mrs Stack, Miss Waterhouse and Mrs Therry. Flyn’s daughter, Eliza, who married James Haly in 1788, was a frequent contributor to the Hibernian Chronicle.[105] Anna Millikin’s novels and other writings began to be published in Cork from the 1790s. She and her brother Richard, lawyer and poet, founded the Casket, or Hesperian magazine, a literary periodical, in 1797, which lasted until the rebellion in 1798. Her first novel, Corfe castle, was published by James Haly in 1793, and later novels, Eva (1795), Plantagenet (1802), and The rival chiefs (1804) were published by John Connor. Her works attracted a popular audience as can be seen from the subscription lists, and in particular the number of copies taken by booksellers for resale.[106] As a teacher in the English academy for females in Cork, she also wrote textbooks ‘for the use of her pupils’.[107]

Circulating libraries catered for those wishing to read, rather than purchase or collect. In 1770 Thomas Lord’s new circulating library, ‘under the exchange coffee house’, was open to the public from six in the morning until nine at night, where he offered to lend ‘the most extensive variety of books’, including newly published books.[108] Michael Matthews ran his circulating library in conjunction with a secondhand and rare book trade. It is most likely, however, that only new and popular books were lent from the library.[109] Anthony Edwards announced his new circulating library in 1787, comprising 6,000 volumes from London and Dublin, with a promise to lend every new publication.[110] Not much is known about the actual operation of circulating libraries, it seems likely that books were chosen from catalogues or written lists, but readers may have taken pot luck, hoping to borrow whatever popular titles were available. A certain insight is forthcoming from a proposal to establish a circulating library ‘on a new and elegant plan’, carried in the Cork Gazette in February 1794. At a subscription fee of 11s.4½d. per year, the female proprietors targeted women and young persons, with the objective of blending amusement with instruction.[111] They intended to fit up the library in a neat manner for the reception of ladies, thus giving them an opportunity of ‘looking over the books’ instead of sending servants. This implies that it was the norm for library books to be chosen from catalogues, with readers not actually visiting the premises. It is not clear if the same conventions applied to male readers. John Connor’s circulating library at 17 Castle Street contained ‘upwards of 4,000 volumes’ in 1794 and he offered to hire out every new publication.[112] He imported new novels from London, ensuring that he carried the most up-to-date stock.[113] His own printing output was strong on novels, plays and poetry, as well as political pamphlets and trials. Dominick Jacotin, a teacher of French and Italian, embarked on a new venture at the end of the century, establishing a bookshop and circulating library for English, French and Italian books, in Patrick Street. The only remaining fragment of his 1803 catalogue lists a portion of his English novels, and gives no indication of his foreign language stock.[114]


Because of its situation and topography Cork retained its medieval contours until the eighteenth century, resulting in the dominance of the intra-mural core until well into the century. The expense and difficulty of draining the marshes and arching over the water channels ensured that expansion was slow. Thus prime sites were reserved for public buildings, mansion houses for affluent citizens, and up-market businesses. The exchange, arguably Cork’s finest public building, exerted a major influence in the city. The custom house, situated by the river, east of the walled city, while the hub of the port, accommodating the collector of Cork and the customs and excise, did not dominate the administration of the city to the same extent. The book trade established itself where it was most needed: in the heart of the commercial and administrative centre, and close to the homes of the wealthy.

Bookselling enterprises in the city were long-lived, many staying in business for some decades, with succession by family members or other booksellers a feature of the trade. This stability resulted from a guaranteed market for the goods and services offered. The range of business activities engaged in by booksellers was impressive, covering every aspect of production, distribution and marketing, and extending to ancillary profit-making concerns: conducting circulating libraries, acting as agents for the sale of patent medicines and lottery tickets, leasing lands and hiring servants. Expansion is evident from about mid-century when towns in the county were brought within the distribution network of the city booksellers, thanks to the contacts set up for newspaper sales and the supply of stationery. Booksellers catered for the luxury trade, creating an audience for their works among the population through extensive advertising. Their products and services had become essential in the practice of local government, legal and commercial affairs. Throughout the century the newspaper had become indispensable to corporate bodies for information, advertising and the publication of notices. The reading public, too, came to depend on the newspaper for news, advertising, and contact with the outside world.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] This article was published in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick eds, That woman! studies in Irish bibliography. A festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, The Lilliput Press for the Library Association of Ireland, Rare Books Group, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of the city of Cork (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1876), p. 343.

[3] Council book, pp 617, 644.

[4] Corke Journal, 14 January 1754; 21 October 1754.

[5] Council book, p. 296.

[6] Maurice Hurley, ‘Below sea-level in the city of Cork’, Howard B. Clarke ed., Irish cities (Cork, Mercier Press, 1995), p. 47.

[7] Council book, p. 734.

[8] Edward Lloyd, A description of the flourishing city of Corke (Cork, printed by Andrew Welsh, 1732), pp 5-6.

[9] Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1750), pp 401-2.

[10] Lloyd, Description of Corke, p. 6. Council book, pp 340, 497, 907.

[11] Maura Cronin, ‘From the “flat o’ the city” to the top of the hill: Cork since 1700’, Clarke, Irish Cities, pp 55-68. W. O’Sullivan, The economic history of Cork city, from the earliest times to the act of union (Cork, Cork University Press, 1937). For the county context in the 1790s see David Dickson, ‘The South Munster region in the 1790s’, John A. Murphy ed., The French are in the bay: the expedition to Bantry Bay 1796 (Cork, Mercier Press, 1997), pp 85-94.

[12] Council book, p. 588.

[13] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 August – 4 September 1775.

[14] Corke Journal, 22 August 1754.

[15] James de la Cour, A prospect of poetry (Cork, T. Lord, 1770), last leaf.

[16] Hibernian Chronicle, 28 June 1770, 30 August 1770.

[17] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773.

[18] Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[19] Council book, pp .968, 1066.

[20] Council book, pp 1066-7. The new Cork directory for the year 1795 (Cork, printed and sold by James Haly, 1795).

[21] Cork Gazette, 7 June 1794.

[22] Cork Gazette, 23 August 1797.

[23] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, p. 407.

[24] Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the south of Ireland (London, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777), p.184.

[25] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 December 1777-3 January 1778. Richard Lucas, The Cork directory for the year 1787 (Cork, printed for the author by J. Cronin, 1787).

[26] Cork Gazette, 31 October 1795.

[27] Copy of the deed or charter entered into by the associated society to raise a fund for erecting a coffee-house … in the city of Cork (Cork, printed by Anthony Edwards, 1794).

[28] Hibernian Chronicle, 1 March 1781, 5 March 1781.

[29] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85, no. 5, single sheet flyer.

[30] New Cork Evening Post, 28 November 1793.

[31] Council book, pp 287-8.

[32] Council book, p. 905.

[33] Lloyd, Description  of Corke, p. 12.

[34] Hibernian Chronicle, 8 March 1770; 2 August 1770.

[35] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793. Hibernian Chronicle, 8 August 1793.

[36] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793.

[37] Michael Harris, ‘Newspaper distribution during Queen Anne’s reign’ in Studies in the book trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975), pp 139-51.

[38] Council book, pp 306, 363.

[39] Council book, p  368.

[40] Council book, pp 379, 388.

[41] Council book, Walter Pallisser 1746-1760: pp 640, 648, 650, 666, 680, 684, 690, 697, 704, 719, 724, 740. Edmond Browning 1761-1774: pp 747, 764, 772, 791, 810, 819, 831, 839, 849, 860, 870, 885, 896.

[42] Council book, William Maturin 1776-1799: pp 911, 922, 933, 944, 949, 952, 956, 1000-1, 1091, 1132.

[43] Council book, p. 867.

[44] Council book, p. 579.

[45] Council book, p. 757.

[46] Council book, pp 649, 715.

[47] An exact list of the freemen, Cork, 1783, advertised in Volunteer Journal, 1 September 1783. List of the freemen at large, of the city of Cork (Cork, printed by James Haly, [1789]). A ‘correct list of the freemen at large’ was appended to The new Cork directory 1795.

[48] Council book, pp 869, 876.

[49] Council book, pp 477, 521, 581, 612, 616.

[50] Council book, p. 682.

[51] Council book, p. 812.

[52] Council book, pp 875, 893, 988.

[53] Council book, p. 962.

[54] Council book, pp 1071, 1080.

[55] Council book, p. 334.

[56] Council book, p. 404.

[57] The Holy Bible (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames for Eliphal Dobson and William Binauld, 1714).

[58] Council book, p. 433.

[59] Council book, p. 449.

[60] Council book, pp 575, 713.

[61] Council book, p. 474.

[62] Council book, p. 612.

[63] Council book, p. 520.

[64] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/32/136, three letters. Michael Durie, ‘Irish deism and Jefferson’s republic: Denis Driscol in Ireland and America 1793-1810, Éire-Ireland, xv, 4 (Winter 1990), pp 58-61.

[65] The Harp of Erin, 10 March 1798. National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85 (1) Letter from Nathaniel Massey to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Pelham, 30 January 1798.

[66] Hibernian Chronicle, 17 March 1798.

[67] National Library of Ireland: Seamus Ó Casaide, A history of the periodical literature of Cork from the beginning up to A.D. 1900, typescript, p.58, quoting from The Crown Book of Cork 1798 (Royal Irish Academy, Ms 12.I.4, pp 146-58.)

[68] Council book, p.1123.

[69] Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, by Anthony Edwards, printer, bookseller and stationer, Castle Street (Cork, 1792), final 5 leaves of bookseller’s advertising.

[70] New Cork Evening Post, 14 October 1793.

[71] Rules and regulations for the discipline of His Majesty’s forces (Cork, A. Edwards, 1797). Standing orders for His Majesty’s 30th regiment of foot (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1797). The manual and platoon exercises (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, military stationer, 1805).

[72] Certificate to apply for financial allowances for families of militiamen (Cork, A. Edwards, n.d.)

[73] Representative Church Body Library: 331/1/1 Parish register of Douglas, p. 74.

[74] Booksellers’ label pasted inside front cover of General regulations and orders (Cork, printed and sold by Edwards and Savage, military stationers, 1811).

[75] Surviving examples printed by William Flyn in 1774, 1777, 1784, 1787, 1797.

[76] Annual report of the House of Recovery of the city of Cork from November 8th 1802, to November 8th 1803 (Cork, James Haly, 1803), second appendix.

[77] For a discussion of book collecting in the Cork region see J.P. McCarthy, ‘In search of Cork’s collecting traditions: from Kilcrea’s library to the Boole library of today’, Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 100 (1995), pp 29-46.

[78] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, pp 407-8.

[79] Hibernian Chronicle, 9 April 1781.

[80] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88. Corke Journal, 8 April 1754. Hibernian Chronicle, 30 April 1770, 14 May 1770, 26 June 1770, 2 January 1772.

[81] Hibernian Chronicle, 20 August 1770.

[82] A catalogue of books in most branches of literature and music, now selling by Anthony Edwards, 3 Castle Street (Cork, 1785). Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, 1792, final 5 leaves.

[83] New Cork Evening Post, 7 October 1793. The new week’s preparation, 17th ed. (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, 1793); 18th ed. (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1801).

[84] Hibernian Chronicle, 25 October 1773.

[85] William Smith Clark, The Irish stage in the country towns 1720-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), pp 69-145.

[86] Council book, pp 747, 752.

[87] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 August 1770.

[88] Clark, Irish stage, p. 73.

[89] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 August 1793.

[90] Hibernian Morning Post, 24-27 July 1775; 21-24 August 1775.

[91] Clark, Irish stage, pp 293-347.

[92] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 August 1770.

[93] Máire Kennedy, ‘The distribution of a locally produced French periodical in provincial Ireland: the Magazin à la mode, 1777-1778’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 9 (1994), pp 83-98.

[94] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, pp 50-1.

[95] Corke Journal, 6 May 1754. English short title catalogue (ESTC) N32424; T138158. A British 6d. was equal to 6½d. Irish, and one British shilling to 1s.1d. Irish.

[96] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 July 1770.

[97] Hibernian Morning Post, 23-26 October 1775. ESTC T105810.

[98] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1778.

[99] J. S. Dodd, An essay on education. With a new plan of an academy (Cork, printed for the author by Eugene Swiney, [1770]). Hibernian Chronicle, 17 May 1770.

[100] J. S. Dodd, Essays and poems, satirical, moral, political and entertaining (Cork, printed by Eugene Swiney for the author, 1770).

[101] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 July 1770, 2 August 1770.

[102] Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, ‘John Connor: a maverick Cork publisher of literature’, 18th and 19th century Irish fiction newsletter, no. 5 (May 1998), pp 1-4.

[103] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[104] Hibernian Chronicle 30 July 1770.

[105] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, p.33.

[106] Máire Kennedy, ‘Women and reading in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy eds The experience of reading: Irish historical perspectives (Dublin, Economic and Social History Society / Rare Books Group (LAI), 1999, pp 78-98).

[107] Anna Millikin, An epitome of ancient history, designed for the use of her pupils (Cork, printed by Edwards and Savage, 1808).

[108] De la Cour, Prospect of poetry, last leaf.

[109] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773. Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[110] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 March 1787.

[111] Cork Gazette, 8 February 1794

[112] Edward Holland, Poetical miscellany (Cork, John Connor, 1794).

[113] Cork Gazette, 5 September 1795. Cork Advertiser, 3 May 1800.

[114] Catalogue of the English, French and Italian circulating library, St Patrick Street, Cork, where books are lent by D. Jacotin (Cork, 1803).

The Encyclopédie in Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

The eighteenth century was a period of considerable contact between Ireland and continental Europe. Well-to-do Catholic families sent their children to the continent to be educated. Catholics remained in Europe to join the church, or the continental armies, or returned to Ireland as doctors, or to take up a career in trade. Both Protestant and Catholic merchants had trade links with the continent, especially the Atlantic ports of France and Spain. Younger sons often joined an Irish trading house in one of these ports and daughters frequently went to the continent to be educated and to marry Irishmen there. Young men of fortune visited the continent on their Grand Tour, especially in the second half of the century. Intellectual currents were not slow to reach Ireland either as scholars throughout Europe corresponded with each other and shared news and information in their fields of interest.

Because of this contact with Europe Ireland became quite cosmopolitan in outlook, particularly from mid-century. French was the language of culture and scholarship in eighteenth-century Europe, replacing Latin as the lingua franca of educated people. The Mentor Universel of 1785 claimed that French was spoken: ‘de Volga à Dublin et des campagnes d’Enna aux glaces d’Islande’.[2] French was taught in schools in Ireland throughout the eighteenth century, and in 1776 Trinity College Dublin introduced university courses in French, German, Italian and Spanish. French books were imported into Ireland from the late seventeenth century, and those imports increased during the eighteenth century. Some titles in French were even printed in Ireland, mostly in Dublin, but also in Cork and Belfast, to cater for local demand.

In the early years of the century the main French language imports were literary works of French Classicism, scholarly works in literature and the sciences, Protestant religious works, French language periodical works, and newspapers. As authors of the French Enlightenment began to publish, their works found a market in Ireland, as elsewhere in Europe. The most widely owned authors of the French Enlightenment among Irish readers were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Crébillon fils, Marmontel, Raynal and Mercier.[3] To cater for this growing demand Irish booksellers increased their stocks of foreign language works. Several Dublin booksellers specialized in continental imports, establishing contacts in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and even going abroad in person to fulfill orders.[4] By the 1780s an extensive entrepreneurial wholesale trade was carried on by Dublin booksellers with publishing centres in Europe, and their imports were distributed to booksellers in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, and other major towns.

Among the most notable importations of French books to Ireland from the 1750s were the various editions of the Encyclopédie, the quintessential work of the French Enlightenment, an expensive multi-volume set which could only be acquired by the prosperous reader. The first Encyclopédie was inspired by Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, published in London in 1728. Initially the Encyclopédie was intended to be a translation of Chambers, but under the editorship of Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert it became a forum for the leading intellectuals of the French Enlightenment to rethink their world rationally. The original plan was for a shorter, and less expensive work, amounting to 10 volumes folio, including plates. The plates published in Chambers’ Cyclopaedia were considered too few, and their quality too poor, by the French editors, who decided to include up to 600 copper-plate engravings to illustrate the techniques and processes described in the text.[5] The resulting volumes of plates contained engravings derived from Chambers and from published technical works, which were verified and corrected before publication.

Volume one of the Encyclopédie appeared on 1 July 1751, preceded by a Discours préliminaire by d’Alembert. An Irish literary journal, The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived, carried news of its publication in the issue of January-February 1752, noting that it: ‘is now in the press and is to consist of 10 volumes folio’.[6] Irish readers were thus aware of the publication from its earliest days. The folio editions were luxurious works aimed at the wealthy reader, and were well outside the range of most book buyers of the period. In the 1770s and 1780s, however, cut-price editions were published outside the borders of France. Folio editions were issued from Geneva in Switzerland (1771-1776), Lucca (1758-1776) and Leghorn (1770-1779) in Italy. Smaller format quarto editions were published in Geneva (1777-1779), Neuchâtel (1778-1779), and Yverdon (1770-1780) in Switzerland, and octavo editions were published by the Sociétés typographiques of Lausanne and Berne in partnership (1778-1782).[7] The sets produced outside the frontiers of France were not only cheaper editions, but the texts were substantially changed. The Italian editions needed to appease the Vatican, while the Swiss editions sought to give an orthodox Protestant view, both eschewing the heretical tendencies of the original. The Yverdon quarto edition, in particular, is significantly different in content and tone to be considered less a reprint, and more an independent reworking based on the original Paris edition.[8]

Plates from the Encyclopédie showing the processes of composing type and printing.

When the first volume of the Encyclopédie appeared in 1751 it inspired a group of London booksellers to publish a pirated reprint in London in quarto format, which could be sold for half the price of the Paris edition. It was reprinted verbatim from the Paris edition and was offered for sale at 18 shillings in half binding. Their reprinting of the remaining projected nine volumes was dependent on the reception of the first, and no subsequent volumes appear to have been issued.[9]  As there is no surviving copy of the London reprint its existence has often been doubted, however, contemporary notices appeared for it in the Gentleman’s Magazine of January 1752 and the London Magazine of April 1752 .[10] The London Magazine names ‘Innys &c.’ as the source of the volume. William Innys, of St Paul’s Churchyard, was in business until at least 1756; he had been master of the Stationers’ Company in 1747-8.[11] He may have been one of a group of London booksellers responsible for the reprinting; Lough suggests that Nourse and Vaillant were also possibly associated with the project.[12]

To date there is evidence for the importation of different editions of the Encyclopédie by five separate Dublin booksellers, John Smith prior to 1758; William Watson from 1769-1780; Laurence Flin in 1770; William Wilson in March 1779 and Luke White in 1779/80. John Smith (1719-1758), printer and bookseller on the Blind Quay, Dublin, with his cousin William Bruce, had been an importer of French books since 1726, when he established contacts in Amsterdam through his uncle, William Smith. Smith and Bruce issued catalogues of their imported material in 1726 and 1728.[13] The 1726 Catalogue comprises 78 pages, of these 28 list books in Latin,  and 17 list books in French. The range of books listed in the 1728 catalogue is very similar; the French books occupying 20 of the 86 pages. 1728 also saw the publication by Smith and Bruce of a French language book, Gaspar Caillard’s Sermons sur divers textes.[14] John Smith, whose ‘Shop and Warehouse are furnished with an excellent Collection of Foreign Books, in most Languages and Faculties’,[15] continued in business until 1758 when he retired and his stock was auctioned. Two copies of the first volume of the Diderot and d’Alembert Encyclopédie were auctioned as part of his bookstock.[16] They were copies of the 1752 London pirated edition in quarto, showing that volume one was published, as indicated by contemporary accounts, and for sale in bookshops.

William Watson (1768-1801) was bookseller and printer at the Poet’s Head in Capel Street, Dublin, and printer to Trinity College. There is little evidence to show that he had a particular specialization in imported foreign literature, but like many other Dublin booksellers he reprinted translations of French works. In November 1769, however, he advertised in French for the forthcoming Encyclopédie of Yverdon.[17] The Encyclopédie: ou dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances humaines was published by Fortuné-Barthélemy de Félice at Yverdon in Switzerland between 1770 and 1780. This was a quarto edition of the Encyclopédie, completely rewritten to conform with Protestant views, with contributions from savants all over Europe. It had a good reputation in the eighteenth century, especially in Protestant states, and even among the intellectual community it was considered a superior text to the original. The projected set was to amount to 34 volumes of text and 6 volumes of plates. Irish subscribers to the work would receive the volumes as they were printed. Watson held the prospectus which was available free to intending purchasers. The set finally came to 48 volumes of text and 10 volumes of plates, in all 58 volumes against the 40 volumes originally advertised. One subscriber to the set was the Hon. Thomas Conolly of Castletown House, County Kildare, whose household accounts show that Watson was paid £2.14s.2d. in March 1779 for volumes 6 and 7 of the plates and £4.1s.3d. in July 1780 for volumes 8, 9 and 10.[18] The cost amounted to £1.7s.1d. per volume of plates, although the volumes of text would have been cheaper. The cost to the original subscribers was 12 French livres per letterpress volume, and 24 livres per volume of plates.[19]

Laurence Flin (1754-1771) was bookbinder, bookseller and publisher at the Bible in Castle Street, Dublin. From 1758 he held auctions at the Golden Ball on College Green. In 1759 he published an edition of The new testament in Irish, using roman letter. During the 1760s he issued annual catalogues of his imported stock; this method of sale by yearly or twice yearly priced catalogue was employed by many booksellers, especially those who wished to appeal to a dispersed clientele. Flin issued his main catalogue in October or November of the year with a supplementary volume in January; the sale of stock from the catalogue covered the period November to May. The titles were in English, Latin and Greek, French, Italian and a small number in Dutch; the works in English included translations of continental works. His catalogue of 1770 offered L’Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences in 2 volumes quarto (London 1761) for £1.2s.9d.[20] This was almost certainly the Encyclopédie françoise, a down-market imitation of the Encyclopédie, which was printed at Lyons in a 2 volume quarto edition in 1761, using London as a false imprint.[21]

William Wilson (1768-1801), of Dame Street, Dublin, was the son of Peter Wilson, whose wide-ranging activities in the book trade included the publication of Wilson’s Dublin directory from 1751. Peter Wilson retired in 1771, handing the entire business over to his son. William, however, went bankrupt in 1781, but was rescued by his father who declared that William ‘was possessed of a spirit beyond his income, and of abilities superior to the common ranks of tradesmen’.[22] Peter Wilson had published editions of Les aventures de Télémaque c.1747 and in 1756,[23] as well as translations of French authors. William published another edition of Les avantures de Télémaque in 1775, followed by Raynal’s Révolutions de l’Amérique in 1781.[24] He was one of four publishers undertaking Madame de Genlis’ Théâtre de société in 1783. In March 1779 he advertised 44 French titles ‘importé et vendue par Guill. Wilson’.[25] From this list he offered 55 volumes of de Félice’s Encyclopédie of Yverdon, in quarto including plates at £34.2s.6d. sewed, noting that: ‘Toutes les Livres sont bien relié, excepte l’Encyclopédie qui n’est que broché’.

Luke White (1776-1803), bookseller, printer and importer of foreign language books at 86 Dame Street, Dublin, was listed in the Dublin directories as a wholesale bookseller from 1793 to 1803, when he appears to have given up retail bookselling.[26] He printed many popular French language books, especially those of Madame de Genlis. His earliest title printed in French is from 1777, Les lettres de Mademoiselle Ninon de l’Enclos au Marquis de Sévigné, in two volumes duodecimo. He imported foreign language literature from at least 1777, when he informed the nobility and gentry that: ‘he will be regularly supplied with the new publications from France, Italy and London’.[27] By 1784 he could claim to be: ‘constantly supplied with every Book of Merit in the English, French and Italian Languages’.[28] He issued an annual sale catalogue, concentrating on French and Italian literature. White began trading with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) late in 1779.[29] That year he was supplied with the 39 volume quarto edition of the Encyclopédie by the STN, availing himself of the Société’s offer of a 25% price reduction on the set. He subscribed to 12 copies which entitled him to a 13th copy free. The STN reprinted the Encyclopédie in quarto format from 1777 to 1779, the set consisting of 36 volumes of text, and 3 volumes of plates. The Encyclopédies were shipped from Ostend in 1779/80 with works by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Buffon, and copies of La vie privée de Louis XV.[30] They took eight months to arrive as the shippers were forced to wait for a safe neutral ship to transport them, due to French involvement in the American War of Independence. White may have had subscribers for some of the sets, but he seems to have ordered at least some for stock, as a set was advertised in his sale catalogue of 1784, priced at £30.[31]

Several editions of the Encyclopédie were present in Irish libraries, but it is not known if they were purchased from Irish booksellers or imported especially for the library. To date thirty-one sets of the Encyclopédie have been traced to contemporary purchasers, twenty-nine in private libraries, one in the Dublin Library Society and one in Trinity College Dublin. This figure must be regarded as a minimum level. Fourteen sets of the Yverdon quarto edition have been traced, making it the most popular edition in Irish libraries. Seven sets of the first Paris folio edition, five sets of the Encyclopédie méthodique, three sets of the Geneva quarto edition in 39 volumes, and two unidentified sets have also been traced. None of the thirteen sets of the Neuchâtel quarto edition imported by Luke White has been located in contemporary collections.[32]

Sets of the quarto editions of the Encyclopédie cost from £30 to £35, making it available only to a minority of readers. In the 1770s, when the Encyclopédie was offered for sale, the penny loaf weighed six or seven ounces; butter was selling at 32s. to 40s. per hundredweight and beef at 17s. to 20s. per hundredweight.[33] Book prices can be best compared with other luxury items where the scales are comparable; tea was priced from 2s.2d. to 12s. per pound, brandy from 5s.to 6s.6d. per gallon and claret from 14s. to 22s.9d. per dozen.[34] In the late 1770s and early 1780s when the Conollys of Castletown House paid £2.14s.2d. for two volumes of plates for the Encyclopédie, they expended £2.5s.6d. for eight dancing lessons, and £2.5s.6d. to the tutor for writing, accounts and geography for one month.[35] For the thirtieth anniversary performance of Handel’s Messiah held in the Smock Alley theatre in April 1772 places in the boxes and lattices were 5s.5d., in the pit 3s.3d., in the middle gallery 2s.2d. and the upper gallery 1s.1d.; corresponding to a small format book in plain binding priced at 2s.2d. to 3s.3d., or to one issue of a monthly periodical at 1s.1d.[36] In 1784 when Luke White was charging £30 for the Neuchâtel quarto edition of the Encyclopédie the yearly rent on a house in Grafton Street was £27.6s.[37] These comparable prices show the luxury nature of the books acquired for some of the country’s finest libraries. It is not surprising that the market was limited for such works.

The Irish purchasers of the Encyclopédie correspond to their continental counterparts, as identified by Darnton. The folio editions appealed to the luxury market in Paris and Versailles, while the quarto editions fell more within the range of provincial book buyers. In France it was the administrators, lawyers and professionals who subscribed to the Encyclopédie, with clergy and businessmen also significant.[38] In Ireland the higher level Anglican clergy [8 examples], represented by such figures as Dr William Newcome (1729-1800), Archbishop of Armagh; Dr William Knox (1762-1831), Bishop of Derry; Dr William Hales (1747-1831) and Dr Richard Murray (1727-1799), both of Trinity College Dublin; and those in the administrative and parliamentary professions [8], such as William Burton Conyngham (1733-1796), antiquarian and officer of the Treasury Department; Judge Robert Hellen (1725-1792); and Andrew Caldwell (1733-1808), barrister and one of the Wide Streets Commissioners, formed the main categories of buyer for the Encyclopédie.[39] They were followed by aristocracy and landowners [6], represented by Lord Charlemont (1728-1799); the Marquess of Downshire (1718-1793), Benjamin Franklin’s host in Ireland; and Thomas Wogan Browne (d.1812); intellectuals and scholars [5], such as Horace Hone (1756-1825), the portrait painter, who moved to London after the Union; and Richard Kirwan (1733-1812), the chemist.[40] A preference for the Yverdon quarto edition was shown by the clergy, and for the Paris folio by the landowners. Three individuals each possessed two sets of the Encyclopédie. Rev. Dr Thomas Wilson (1727-1799), Fellow of Trinity College and professor of Natural Philosophy, owned 7 volumes of the first Paris folio edition and the 39 volume Geneva quarto edition.[41] John Claudius Beresford (1766->1832), banker, M.P., alderman and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1814), held the 58 volume Yverdon quarto edition and 20 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[42] Horace Hone held the 39 volumes Geneva quarto edition, and 178 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[43]

In 1759 the Encyclopédie was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum and Catholics were warned to have it burned by a priest, or face excommunication. Nevertheless Catholics purchased the various editions of the Encyclopédie in France and elsewhere. In Ireland evidence for book ownership among Catholics is slight before the end of the eighteenth century due to the low profile adopted by well-off Catholics because of the Penal laws. Two of the Encyclopédie owners were practising Catholics, and a number of others had Catholic backgrounds, but they or their families had conformed to the established church during the eighteenth century in order to retain their status and lands, or to advance in their careers. Richard Kirwan, the renowned chemist, exemplifies this situation. He was born a Catholic and educated for the priesthood at the Jesuit novitiate at St Omer. When his brother was killed in a duel he succeeded to the family estates, and converted in order to retain them. Kirwan held 94 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[44] The two Catholic purchasers were Dr John Fergus (1700-1761) and Christopher Dillon Bellew (fl.1790-1815). Dr John Fergus was considered ‘the most eminent Roman Catholic Physician in Dublin in his time and a great collector of books and manuscripts’. He was a patron of Gaelic scribal work and possessed a celebrated collection of Irish language manuscripts. His library and that of his only son, Dr Macarius Fergus (d.1763), were sold by auction in 1766; the catalogue lists the first seven volumes of the Paris folio Encyclopédie.[45] The Bellews were one of the few Catholic gentry families to retain their lands during the eighteenth century. Christopher and his brothers were educated in France, and the family fortunes were maintained through trade, especially flour milling. From about 1790 Bellew began to build up the library at Mount Bellew in Galway. In an inventory of 1813 the ten volumes of plates to the Yverdon Encyclopédie were present in the library, but there is no mention of the volumes of text.[46]

Two of Ireland’s most celebrated book collectors held sets of the first Paris folio edition, Lord Charlemont and the Hon. Denis Daly. Charlemont’s library at Charlemont House in Dublin was one of the sights to be seen by visitors to Dublin; it was also frequented by scholars and other interested readers.[47] The Hon. Denis Daly was M.P. for Galway; he lived at Athenry, County Galway and in Dublin. His library was famous throughout Ireland and Britain; when it was put up for auction in 1792 catalogues were available from booksellers in Ireland, Britain and the continent.[48]

At the highest social level there was no distinction between metropolitan and provincial in Ireland; those who could afford to do so had a house in Dublin and an estate in the country. At least part of each year was spent in Dublin, for the parliamentary season and the social life connected with it, for the sessions of court, university terms etc. Travel abroad to London, Bath and the continent was also a feature of life at this level. Several of those in the parliamentary and other professions divided their time between Ireland and London. Most of the Encyclopédie owners belonged to this privileged group, with a townhouse and a country estate, or in the case of the clergy a townhouse and a residence in their diocese. The counties in which they had their seats include Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and Longford in Leinster; Armagh, Down, Tyrone, Derry, Donegal and Cavan in Ulster; Cork and Waterford in Munster; and Galway in Connacht. The spread of ownership was countrywide, but all purchases of the Encyclopédie would have been made in Dublin, if not imported personally from London. The audience for the Encyclopédie in Ireland was a conservative one, limited to the wealthy book buyer with an interest in current, fashionable works of the Enlightenment. These readers formed part of the mainstream cosmopolitan European elite of the eighteenth century.

Considering the diffusion of the Encyclopédie outside France, Darnton has shown that the European market was supplied mainly by the first two folio editions and the octavo edition from Paris, while the other editions had a more concentrated market in certain areas. The Encyclopédie d’Yverdon, which current evidence indicates was the most widely owned edition in Ireland, sold mainly in the Low Countries; the bookseller Pierre Gosse of The Hague purchased most of the edition from de Félice in the 1770s.[49] This distributive pattern is significant, as the Irish book trade was supplied with a large percentage of its continental works from Amsterdam, The Hague and other centres in the Netherlands. It is very likely that these Encyclopédies were imported by Dublin booksellers from their suppliers in the Netherlands. Given the nature of Irish ownership for the Encyclopédie, wealthy, largely Anglican, and upholders of the status quo, the more conservative approach of the Encyclopédie of Yverdon, compared with the original Paris folio, was of greater appeal, and it was perhaps a more toned-down Enlightenment with a distinctly Protestant viewpoint, which was supported by this readership.

[1] An earlier version of this article was published in The Book Collector, 45, no. 2 (Summer 1996), pp 201-13.

[2] Le Mentor Universel, 4 (1785), p.61.

[3] Máire Kennedy, ‘The Top 20 French authors in eighteenth-century Irish private libraries’, Linen Hall Review, 12, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp 4-8.

[4] Gough, Hugh ‘Book imports from continental Europe in late eighteenth-century Ireland: Luke White and the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel’, Long Room, 38 (1993), pp 35-48. Máire Kennedy, ‘The domestic and international trade of an eighteenth-century Dublin bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no. 2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105.

[5] Lael Ely Bradshaw, ‘Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia’ in Frank A. Kafker, ed. Notable encyclopedias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: nine predecessors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1981), pp 123-40.

[6] The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived (Dublin: printed by S. Powell and sold by J. Leathley, G. and A. Ewing, W. Smith, J. Smith, G. Faulkner and H. Bradley, Booksellers, Jan.-Feb. 1752), pp 178-9.

[7] Robert Darnton, The business of Enlightenment: a publishing history of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1797). Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The Yverdon Encyclopédie’ in Frank A. Kafker, Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1994), pp 85-116; Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The quarto and octavo editions of the Encyclopédie’ in Kafker (1994), op. cit., pp 117-42.

[8] John Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968), pp 48-51.

[9] Monthly Review, VII (July 1752), pp 69-70. Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

[10] John Lough, The Encyclopédie in eighteenth-century England and other studies (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oriel Press, 1970), pp 3-6; Gentleman’s Magazine, XXII (Jan. 1752), pp 46-7; London Magazine, 48 (Apr. 1752), p.194.

[11] H.R. Plomer et al. A dictionary of the printers and booksellers who were at work in England Scotland and Ireland from 1726 to 1775 (Oxford, Printed for the Bibliographical Society at the Oxford University Press, 1932 (for 1930)). D.F. McKenzie, ed., Stationers’ Company apprentices 1701-1800 (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1978).

[12] Lough (1970), op. cit., pp 4-5.

[13] A catalogue of books newly arrived from England, Holland and France. To be sold by Smiths and Bruce (Dublin, printed by S. Powell, 1726). A catalogue of books. Sold by John Smith and William Bruce (Dublin, Printed by S. Powell, 1728).

[14] Gaspar Caillard, Sermons sur divers textes de l’Ecriture Sainte (Dublin, pour J. Smith and W. Bruce, 1728).

[15] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 1 March 1755.

[16] Catalogue of books being the bound stock of John Smith, bookseller on the Blind-Quay, which will begin to be sold by auction by William Ross at the Rt Hon. the Lord’s Coffee-Room in the Parliament House on Thursday 13 April 1758. Remainder of the stock of John Smith will be sold by auction at his late house on the Blind-Quay by William Ross, 7 Dec. 1758. Lot 2092 in the catalogue of April 1758 and lots 1031       and 1320 in the catalogue of December 1758, ‘remainder of stock, left-overs from the first sale’. Universal Advertiser, 16-19 December 1758.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 November 1769.

[18] Trinity College Dublin: Ms. 3939-3940, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly, 2 volumes (1778-1795).

[19] Doig, loc. cit., p. 91.

[20] Flin’s sale catalogue for the year 1770, the sale begins on Wednesday 1st November 1769, lot 3722.

[21] Encyclopédie françoise, latine et angloise, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences françois (Londres: et se trouve à Lyon chez Jean-Marie Bruyset, imprimeur-libraire, 1761).

[22] Wilson’s Dublin directory 1802, p.4.

[23] There is no surviving copy of the earlier edition, but it was advertised in 1747. Dublin Courant, 21-24 November 1747.

[24] Freeman’s Journal, 28-30 August 1781. His ordinary edition was published at 2s.2d. or 2s.8½d. bound, but ‘some copies were printed in superfine paper, large octavo, to match the Author’s other works’.

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 20-23 March 1779.

[26] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1793-1803.

[27] Independent Chronicle, 3-5 November 1777.

[28] Volunteer’s Journal, 4 October 1784.

[29] Gough, loc. cit.

[30] Darnton, op. cit., p. 309; Appendix B, p. 592.

[31] General Evening Post, 15 July 1784.

[32] Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, SVEC – 7, July 2001). A sample of 193 catalogues of Irish private libraries, dating from 1715 to 1830 has been used to assess ownership of French language books. The catalogues were mainly issued as auction catalogues for the sale of libraries, though in some cases an inventory of a library was made by the owner. Only catalogues of named private owners were used. As the catalogues are mainly of libraries which were auctioned after the owner’s death, this indicates a certain value accorded to the collection.

[33] Darnton uses the price of bread to give an indication of the price range of the Encyclopédies. Calculating at 8 sous for a four-pound loaf, a first folio was worth 2,450 loaves, a quarto 960 loaves, and an octavo 563 loaves; the folio equaling 4 years’ bread supply for a labourer and his family. Darnton, op. cit., p. 275. In Ireland a four-pound loaf would have cost about 8d., in equivalent terms this makes the cost of the Yverdon quarto edition the same as 900 to 1,050 four-pound loaves of bread.

[34] Prices are taken from contemporary newspaper advertisements.

[35] Trinity College Dublin: Ms 3939, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly (1778-1785).

[36] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 April 1772.

[37] Dublin Public Libraries Gilbert Collection: Ms lease, William and Mary Rainsford to Thomas Williams, 29 September 1782.

[38] Darnton, op. cit., pp 295-8.

[39] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Most Rev. Dr William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland (Dublin, James Vallance, 31 March 1800), lot 2679. Catalogue of a choice and extensive collection of books forming the library of the late Hon and Right Rev William Knox, Bishop of Derry (Dublin, Edward Maguire, 11 April 1832), lot 2341. Catalogue of a valuable and select collection of books, forming the Library of Rev. Dr Hales, deceased, Rector of Killeshandra (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 1 February 1826; 2 June 1831), lot 413. Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. Richard Murray, D.D., Provost of T.C.D. (Dublin, Richard Edward Mercier & Co, 26 May 1800), lot 2483. Catalogue of the extensive and valuable collection of books, antiquities, books of prints and manuscripts, being the family library of a gentleman of distinction, deceased, [Burton Conyngham] (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 16 April 1810), lot 1833. Catalogue of books, prints and drawings, being the collection of the late Hon. Judge Hellen (Dublin, James Vallance, 10 February 1794), lot 368. Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Andrew Caldwell, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 May 1809), lot 1055.

[40] Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 12.R.8, Catalogue of the important, extensive and valuable library of a deceased nobleman, of great literary and artistic taste, [Lord Charlemont] (11 August 1865; 27 September 1865), lot 896. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: Ms. D.671/A38/1A, Catalogue of the library at Hillsborough [c.1800]. Bibliotheca Browniana. Catalogue of the valuable and extensive library of the late Wogan Browne Esq., of Castle Browne, in the County of Kildare (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 August 1812), lot 856. Catalogue of books, prints, drawings, mathematical and philosophical Instruments &c., being the collections of two gentlemen and H. Hone Esq., miniature painter to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, going to reside in England (Dublin, James Vallance, [1798]), lots 671 and 672. Catalogue of a large and valuable collection of miscellaneous books, the library of the celebrated Richard Kirwan, Esq., deceased, LLD, FRS, PRIA and member of most of the Literary Societies of Europe (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 12 April 1813), lot 1778.

[41] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Rev. Dr Wilson (Dublin, James Vallance, 27 October 1800), lots 1105 and 1177.

[42] Catalogue of a valuable and excellent collection of miscellaneous books and capital books of prints, the library of John Claudius Beresford, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 28 February 1811), lots 764 and 765.

[43] Catalogue of … H. Hone, op. cit., lots 671 and 672.

[44] Catalogue of … Richard Kirwan, op. cit. Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 3.A.6., Catalogue of books bequeathed to the Royal Irish Academy by Richard Kirwan, 1813.

[45] Catalogue of the library of John Fergus M.D. and his son [Macarius Fergus] (Dublin, L. Flin, 3 February 1766), lot 162. Diarmaid Ó Catháin, ‘John Fergus MD eighteenth-century doctor, book collector and Irish scholar’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), pp 139-62.

[46] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 5514, Catalogue of the library of Mount Bellew (Galway, printed by Geo. Conolly, 1813). Karen J. Harvey, ‘The family experience: the Bellews of Mount Bellew’ in T.P. Power, and Kevin Whelan, eds., Endurance and emergence: Catholics in Ireland in the eighteenth century (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1990), pp 171-97.

[47] Maurice James Craig, The Volunteer Earl: being the life and times of James Caulfeild, First Earl of Charlemont (London, The Cresset Press, 1958), pp 198-223.

[48] Catalogue of the library of the late Rt Hon. Denis Daly which will be sold by auction by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 (Dublin, printed for the proprietors John Archer and William Jones, 1792), lot 684. Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792. Thomas U. Sadleir, ‘An eighteenth-century Irish gentleman’s library’, Book Collector, 2 (1953), pp 173-6.

[49] Darnton, op. cit., pp 299-300; Doig, loc. cit., pp 88-91.


Spreading the word in the Irish midlands: bookselling and printing in the late eighteenth century.

The main centres of printing and book production outside Dublin in the eighteenth century and earlier tended to be the major ports: Cork, Belfast, Waterford, Limerick and Derry, with Kilkenny on the river Nore also an important centre. Surprisingly Galway, a major port from medieval times, was slow to develop a printing and bookselling trade.[2] For book distribution too the seaport towns had the advantage of better channels of communication, both overseas and inland. The raw materials for book and newspaper production were more easily available in the ports. News to form the content of newspapers arrived on packets from abroad or via the Post Office network linking Dublin with the major cities and towns. Books, paper, leather for binding, and stationery from Great Britain and the continent were imported directly through the secondary ports although Dublin continued to monopolise book imports throughout the century. Inland towns had greater costs in production and distribution, as transport costs eroded profit margins. Edmund Finn of Kilkenny must have been prepared to accept lesser profits when he advertised books ‘at Dublin prices’.[3]

There has been very little research into the book trade and readership in the Irish midlands. In the early decades of this century some important, but piecemeal, work was carried out in identifying printers working in the area in the eighteenth and particularly in the nineteenth centuries. In this paper I propose to draw together earlier work on bookselling and printing in the region during the eighteenth century, expanding it with new research.

Recent studies show that increased literacy in English created a demand for reading matter in the cities and towns from at least mid-century. Schoolbooks were printed in large quantities and distributed widely. The aristocracy and gentry ordered their books from Dublin booksellers or alternatively purchased them while staying at their Dublin houses, or while on visits to London or the continent. Bishop Edward Synge ordered books from William Ross and George Ewing in Dublin for his townhouse in Kevin Street, Dublin, and for the bishop’s palace at Elphin, County Roscommon.[4] Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, County Roscommon, received many of his books through George Faulkner in Dublin.[5] The Edgeworth family from County Longford purchased books from John Archer, bookseller in Dame Street, in 1802.[6]

Readers from outside elite circles were more dependant on local supply. Local shops stocked books from the early years of the eighteenth century, but in many towns they were not specialist bookshops, but shops which stocked luxury imported goods such as stationery, musical instruments, patent medicines, groceries, teas, wines etc. The absence of specialist bookshops in the provincial towns until well into the nineteenth century is not an indication of the unavailability of reading matter, although some nineteenth-century travellers drew this conclusion, as the situation differed from that pertaining in England and elsewhere.


Richard Brookes, The general gazetteer: or, compendious geographical dictionary (Dublin, printed by P. Wogan, 1791). Image courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

The midlands, centred on counties Westmeath, Longford and Offaly, and extending into Cavan, Roscommon, South Leitrim, Meath, Laois and North Tipperary, form a cohesive block. Sufficiently far from Dublin not to be part of its hinterland, and yet not so remote as to form a different world, the midland towns were connected by stage coach and postal networks to the capital from the first half of the eighteenth century. By 1775 stage coaches linked Dublin with Cootehill, Cavan, Athlone (2 coaches), Mullingar (2 coaches), Birr, Roscrea and Banagher.[7] The presence of shops or agents selling books or willing to order them from Dublin allowed a localised readership to develop. By the last quarter of the century local printing became viable in Birr, Mullingar, Athlone, Cavan and Roscrea, and regional newspapers were published to serve local readership.

It is difficult to estimate the percentage of reading ability in the late eighteenth century. The earliest indication of literacy levels among the whole population is from the 1841 census. The figures point to high levels of illiteracy in the region: 43% in Offaly, 45% in Longford and 46% in Westmeath. Even among those who were able to read, or to read and write, their proficiency in reading and familiarity with printed texts may have been slight. The reading public, those who wished to have access to books and periodicals, was well under 50% of the whole population of the midlands in the late eighteenth century.

Although printing did not commence in the midlands until the last quarter of the century the ordinary reading public did have access to books, periodicals and newspapers through local suppliers. As well as the shops which stocked a range of luxury items supplied from Dublin or imported from abroad, local printers also acted as outlets for Dublin-printed and imported books. For example, in 1787 and again in 1795 and 1796, William Kidd of Mullingar advertised his own publications and a selection of titles which he stocked, as well as paper, stationery, account books, music books and fiddle strings.[8] In addition, chapmen and pedlars carried a range of cheaper reading material in their packs which they purveyed through the countryside and at fairs, the assizes and other public assemblies. In 1787 William Kidd was supplying country chapmen with ‘small books on the best terms’.[9] Maria Edgeworth mentions a blind bookseller, a pedlar, in 1796, who got books for her.[10]

A number of individual booksellers are known, but the extent of their trade, their customers, and whether they dealt exclusively in books remains unknown. Book subscription lists are a valuable source for the book trade and they also give an indication of readership. Subscription agents are often named in newspaper advertisements. These individuals acted as local agents to take in subscriptions for the publisher and to supply subscribers with the published book; they often held a sample of the printed sheets to show intending purchasers what the finished article would look like. Subscription agents also existed for newspapers, taking names of intending subscribers, taking in advertisements, gathering monies due and acting as supply points for a local area. Caution is required here, however, as these persons were not always fully part of the book trade, but may have been recruited to act only for a single book subscription list.

Abraham Fynla in Cavan and John Webster in Longford were subscription agents in 1710 for the Dublin edition of The tryal of Doctor Henry Sacheverell.[11] This volume, bound in calf, was selling to subscribers at 6s. or to non-subscribers at 7s. Specimen pages of the work, showing the quality of paper and print, could be inspected at the places of subscription. Mr Giles of the Leap, Co. Offaly, acted as agent for Increase Mather’s Sixteen sermons in 1720.[12] In 1738 four agents in the midlands are named for the sale of Fénelon’s Dissertation on pure love: Erasmus Jackson in Moate, John Atkinson in Edenderry, George Pope in Mountrath and William Ridgway in Mountmellick.[13]

The London Magazine, a monthly periodical reprinted from the English edition with some material of Irish interest included, was widely distributed throughout the country. In the 1740s a number of sales agents were named for the midlands: Mr J. Brogan, Athlone (1746-47), Mr M. Bruen, Boyle, Co. Roscommon (1746-47), Mr Thomas Cuff (or Guff), Roscommon (1746-48), Mr D. Mahan, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon (1746-47), Mrs Ursula Mason, Maryborough (1747-48) and Mr Roe in Mountmellick (1746-50).[14] During the same period Mrs Roe of Mountmellick and Thomas Guff of Roscommon were subscription agents for A new life of William III, indicating more than a passing trade in books.[15] This work was sold to subscribers as a part book, issued in 12 parts from the autumn of 1746 to late February 1747. Costing one British 6d. per part, the whole volume came to 6s. This method of sale was common for country booksellers, where subscribers could acquire the book by spreading the cost over six months. In 1757 James Connor termed himself bookseller in Mullingar in the subscription list to Robert Manning’s A single combat; he subscribed to 50 copies of the book.[16]

John Wilkinson, an apothecary in Birr, was agent for the Limerick Chronicle in 1769. Five years later, in 1774, he was still involved in the book trade, when he was the subscription agent for Bowen’s Spelling book, published by John Ferrar, printer of the Limerick Chronicle.[17] In 1775 Patrick Brenan of Maryborough collected subscriptions for a pamphlet entitled A vindication of the new oath of allegiance, and the following year for Edward Ledwich’s Report on the sturdy beggars in the Queen’s County.[18] Nathaniel Jackson of Mountmellick was sales agent for Grant’s Almanack for 1775.[19] A ladies’ magazine in French, the Magazin à la mode, had as sales agent in Athlone in 1777 and 1778, one Mr Pennington.[20]

Finn’s Leinster Journal, published in Kilkenny, was distributed throughout the south midlands in the late 1760s and 1770s. It was delivered twice weekly to Bryan Cassin, Mountrath, from 1769 to 1773, James Duigan, Maryborough, in 1772 and 1773, Edward Fox, Roscrea, and Thomas Lee, Mountmellick in 1773, for subscribers in these areas.[21] A New Historical Map of England, published by subscription in 1779, was sold by Thomas Russell in Mountmellick, Joseph Menliff in Tullamore, Ephraim Proctor in Athlone, and Robert Atkinson in Edenderry, presumably a relative of John Atkinson who was in business in 1738.[22] In 1793 and 1794 Mr Hunter and Mr La Cam in Portarlington and Sylvester Nolan in Athlone were agents for the sale of the Anthologia Hibernica, a periodical devoted to Irish literary and historical topics.[23] Mrs Ryan was the agent in Birr and Edward Dudley the agent in Roscrea for the first issue of the Roscrea Southern Star in 1795.[24] While all of these newspaper and book subscription agents may not have carried on a regular trade in books it is likely that most of them did so. The presence of a bookbinder in Portarlington in 1773, James Tomlin, suggests that he had enough business to make a living.[25]

Dublin and London newspapers and monthly periodicals [Hibernian Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Gentleman’s and London Magazine] could be ordered through the Post Office. By the 1770s it is known that quantities of Faulkner’s Dublin Journal and the Freeman’s Journal were distributed throughout the country.[26] The Post Office clerks of the four roads, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster, administered the distribution of periodicals. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the office of the Connaught, or west road, serving the midlands, was held successively by Thomas Lee, Thomas Jones and Henry Harrison.[27] In February 1777, giving his address as Newgate [prison], presumably as a bankrupt, Thomas Lee ‘late of the Post Office’ requested payment of his newspaper accounts ‘as he is in the greatest Want of Money to pay his Lawyers’.[28] In 1793 Henry Harrison complained in the Connaught Journal of the difficulty of collecting his newspaper money from subscribers and he decided that in future all newspapers were to be paid for in advance.[29] The collection of debts was a perennial problem for each of the Post Office clerks.

From as early as the 1770s and 1780s a number of printers were at work in Birr, Athlone, Mullingar, Cavan and Roscrea.[30] They mainly provided the reading public with newspapers, religious and educational works and ephemeral items such as notices, broadsheets, visiting cards etc. The newspapers produced locally were The Westmeath Journal (William Kidd), possibly from as early as 1773, but certainly from 1780-81 to about 1834, The Athlone Herald (Denis Daly) from 1785 to 1802, The Athlone Chronicle (Ephraim Proctor) possibly from as early as 1770 to about 1793,[31] and The Roscrea Southern Star (William and Thomas Henry Lord) from 1795. Local newspaper publishing was commercially viable in several Irish towns from mid-century, yet it was a precarious business demanding a capital outlay and depending on subscribers and advertising to make it a success.[32] Eighteenth-century local newspapers were often short-lived and because of the poor survival rate of issues it can be difficult to determine the frequency and the life of a title. In this way while it is known that Alex M’Cullogh gave a Crown Bond to pay stamp duty for the Birr Weekly Journal in 1774 it is not certain if the paper actually appeared.[33]

Three of the midlands printers of this period had been in business elsewhere before setting up in the area. Alex M’Cullogh had a printing office in Dublin from 1754, first at Skinner Row and later in Henry Street where he printed a number of different newspapers. His book production consisted mainly of pamphlets, reprints of London publications, comic operas for Smock Alley Theatre, in English and Italian parallel texts, and mathematical treatises. In 1772 he set up as printer in New Bridge Street, Birr, where he seems to have remained until about 1785. During this time he continued to pay his guild dues and he is listed in the records as being ‘in the country’.[34] His only known book printed in Birr, The young arithmetician’s guide, was printed by subscription in 1775.

Secondly William Kidd produced several books from his shop at 29 Skinner Row, Dublin, between 1771 and 1779 before transferring his trade to Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the early 1780s. Here he remained in business until the early nineteenth century and was succeeded by William Thomas Kidd and Francis Kidd, probably sons.[35] Kidd published about 15 titles from his printing offices in the Main Street, Mullingar, near the Post Office. These books were chiefly religious: what E.R. McClintock Dix referred to as ‘Puritan theology’.[36] Kidd’s work also included broadsides and jobbing work such as A list of the poll for 1800 and Co. Meath abstract of presentments (1803).[37] Kidd remained in contact with the Dublin book trade and he took subscriptions for Dublin publications such as Guthrie’s Modern geography in 1788, and Kennicott’s Family Bible in 1793-5, and in 1803 he printed a work by William Penn for John Gough of Dublin.[38] It was common for members of the book trade to sell patent medicines, many of which were distributed by the well-known Newbery booksellers from London. Provincial networks for printed materials and patent medicines were shared throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. In 1820 Kidd in Mullingar was agent for a range of medicines imported from London.[39]

T107873_Mary-Wells-ECCOImage from ECCO

Thirdly Thomas Lord, a roving printer in the Munster region in the 1770s and 1780s when he set up printing presses successively in Cork, Cashel, Youghal, Clonmel, Carlow and  Waterford, finally settled in Roscrea about 1790. The Roscrea Southern Star was begun by William and Thomas Henry Lord in 1795, probably sons of Thomas. In 1798 the Roscrea Star Printing Office in Limerick Street was destroyed by the Birr Yeomanry Corps on suspicion of printing seditious ballads.[40]

Ephraim Proctor, proprietor of the Athlone Chronicle was apprenticed to Samuel Powell in Dublin in 1743, but did not complete his service.[41] He became Athlone’s first printer about 1770. He issued a single sheet notice for letting lands for Thomas Mahon of Strokestown in 1778,[42] and is likely to have carried out other work of a similar nature. Henry Ireland was printing in Cavan in 1790. His only surviving item from the eighteenth century, a pamphlet entitled A list of the several baronies and parishes, in the County of Cavan, is of local appeal and was not meant for wider circulation. J. Hennessey is listed as a printer in Birr in the subscription list to James Hendrick’s System of natural philosophy in 1795.[43]

In all, the examples of printing from the midlands in the late eighteenth century that have survived, point to the supply of local needs, with an emphasis on local newspaper production, jobbing work, school books and religious works. Several of the larger items were printed by subscription; in this way the printer offset the initial cost of production and had an assured market for the book. The quality of presswork was not of a very high standard generally. At a time when many Dublin printers, such as James Williams, were priding themselves on the quality of production, the aspirations of provincial printers were more modest.[44]

Who were the readers in the midlands in the last quarter of the eighteenth century? Aristocratic and gentry families ordered their books from Dublin or London, and many fine libraries were established by families such as the Edgeworths at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, the Pakenhams at Pakenham Hall (now Tullynally Castle), County Westmeath, Charles O’Conor at Belanagare, County Roscommon, the Mahons at Strokestown, County Roscommon, the Earls of Rosse at Birr Castle, County Offaly, Lord Dunsany at Dunsany Castle, County Meath, Lord and Lady Portarlington at Dawson’s Court, County Laois, the Coote family at Bellamont Forest, County Cavan, and Lord Trimlestown at Trimlestown Castle, County Meath. These families were sufficiently wealthy and possessed a degree of cultivation which ensured the presence of a library in their homes. The existence of these ‘big house’ libraries gave neighbouring families and friends the opportunity of reading borrowed books, or being read to in company, thereby extending their access to books. It is known from the Edgeworth letters that the borrowing and lending of books was a common occurrence, and reading aloud from books was a regular pastime at Edgeworthstown.

Ordinary readers who might have assembled a small personal collection of books in their lifetime, are  harder to identify. Their libraries have not survived in physical form, or in printed catalogues, and most traces of book purchase and use are obliterated. Household inventories often point to the presence of a family Bible or prayer book. For example, when William Collins, a farmer from Shinrone, Co. Offaly, died in 1749 he left a Bible valued at 2s.8d.[45] These sources, however, are not complete and offer only glimpses of book ownership.

During the eighteenth century books were frequently published by subscription. When this method of publication was used and the subscription list printed as part of the book we are able to get a window on a certain segment of the book-buying public. Publishing by subscription indicates an uncertainty about the market, either on the part of author or publisher, whichever was financing the production. The gathering of a set of interested buyers ensures the viability of a publication. Readers/purchasers supported an author not only by subscribing to the book themselves, but by encouraging others to do so as well. A subscription list, therefore, is not just a list of persons interested in a particular work, but also a network of friends, acquaintances, people from the area, or linked together by some element, which may or may not be known to a modern researcher. In this way the subscription list to Mary Barber’s Poems on several occasions, published in London in 1734, reflects the wide acquaintance in Ireland and England of Dr Jonathan Swift, who was the prime activist in the subscription campaign.[46]

Subscription lists vary considerably in the amount of information which they provide. The most useful furnish full name, occupation and address. Some give only the surname, with or without an initial for the first name, and title (Mr, Mrs, Lord, Lady &c.). In the case of books published in Dublin addresses may be given only for those from outside Dublin. However, there is no consistency in the format of these lists. In general the printing of a subscription list was done with less care than the body of a work and mistakes are common.

To identify bookbuyers in the midlands a small number of books published by subscription in the last quarter of the eighteenth century can be used. Three of William Kidd’s publications are important in this regard: one published in Dublin in 1775 and two in Mullingar, in 1787 and 1796. Alex M’Culloh, in Birr, published a volume by subscription in 1775 which found a market in the region. In addition a number of Dublin-printed books also found support in the midlands at this period.

In 1775 William Kidd, while still in Dublin, published Thomas Digby Brooke’s translation from the French of The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion.[47] A subscription list of 126 names provided 61 addresses. A surprising number of addresses were in the midlands: 41 from Athlone, two from Moate and one from Mullingar. To those may be added Mr John Black from Lessyvallen (near Athlone), Mrs Letitia Drew of Hyde Park (Kilucan), Revd. Dean Handcock, Willbrook (3 miles from Athlone), Samuel Owens Esq. of Dundermott, near Roscommon, Mr Thomas Pearson of Glassin (north of Athlone), as well as many others whose addresses are not given, such as Mrs Fetherston, from a Westmeath family.

Thomas Digby Brooke, the translator, was a cousin of Henry Brooke, poet and dramatist, and of Charlotte Brooke, author of The reliques of Irish poetry (1789).[48] Brooke would have had a network of family and friends in the midlands who encouraged others to support the work. His marriage to Susannah (or Agnes) Kirchhoffer of Marlborough Street, Dublin, in June 1769 ensured the support of Mr Francis Kirckhoffer, his wife’s relative, and possibly others of his acquaintance.[49] William Kidd may also have had contacts in the area at this period before his move to Mullingar. One of the subscribers is Ephraim Proctor, printer of Athlone, mentioned earlier, who may have intended the volume for resale.

From his Mullingar base William Kidd produced a subscription edition of A treatise on health and long life by George Cheyne in 1787. It attracted 95 names but only 6 addresses are supplied. However, several well-known local families can be identified.[50] The National Library’s copy of the book was the property of Alexander Murray Esq., Mount Murray, Co. Westmeath; he is listed in the volume as a subscriber and we know that he subscribed to books from the 1770s.[51] In 1796 Kidd again published a volume by subscription, Mary Wells’ The Triumph of Faith. One of the National Library’s copies of this work was also owned by Alexander Murray of Mount Murray. No addresses are given in this list, but once again representatives of local families can be identified.[52]

Alex M’Culloh issued one book by subscription in Birr in 1775, The young arithmetician’s guide by James Parr and Thomas Walsh.[53] It has a subscription list of 133 names, revealing a strong local support. Birr is given as the address in 23 cases, with at least a further 5 names from Co. Offaly. One person from Athlone, Bart. Whiskins, subscribed to both this work and William Kidd’s Lady Guion. One subscriber is listed with an address in Mullingar, while Cork [21], Dublin [19] and Galway [10] are well represented.

From an examination of a range of books published by subscription in Dublin in the last quarter of the century a pattern emerges of the regular subscribers from the midlands who were certainly forming libraries at this period. Inevitably the well-known county families are to the fore in supporting local publications. However, many other bookbuyers are also in evidence, some of whom may never be fully identified. The aristocracy and higher clergy come as no surprise: the Earls of Bective, Belvedere, Bellamont, Farnham, Granard, Lanesborough, Portarlington, Rosse, and Westmeath; Lords Longford and Trimlestown, and their respective wives, the Church of Ireland bishops of Elphin, Kilmore and Meath.[54] Of more interest are the individuals who appear in several lists and are therefore making a collection of books for their own intellectual and cultural needs: Henry Brooke, George Rochfort, William Steuart, M.P. of Bailieborough, County Cavan, Robert Hodson of Westmeath (this family was connected to the Goldsmiths by marriage), Dr Donnelly of Ballymahon, county Longford, Arthur French of Roscommon, Charles Henry Coote, M.P. for Maryborough, Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, Richard Levinge and Cuthbert Fetherston of Westmeath, Daniel Bagot of Offaly, Dean Richard Handcock of Willbrook, Dr Edward Naghten of Mullingar, Revd. Daniel Augustus Beaufort, Revd. Robert Bligh, Dean of Elphin, Dean Dudley-Charles Ryder of Longford, and Revd. William Digby, Dean of Clonfert.

In conclusion: The midlands supported a moderate trade in books in the second half of the eighteenth century, with printers in the main towns catering for local needs by the production of newspapers, a small range of books, mainly of local interest, and an amount of jobbing work. The region’s readers, however, were not confined to the output from these printing houses. Books, periodicals and newspapers could be got from Dublin and from abroad. Readers could get their supply of books while in Dublin or London, or they could ask friends to bring them. Reading matter could be purchased locally from shops stocking a range of luxury items. Specialist bookshops, however, were not the norm either in the midlands or elsewhere in the country outside the major cities and towns. The distribution of printed matter was small-scale, but it was able to penetrate deeply into the countryside, giving readers much greater access to the printed word than has previously been supposed. Cheaper books, pamphlets and song sheets could be obtained from travelling chapmen, or at local fairs. Monthly magazines and newspapers could be ordered through the Post Office by applying to the clerk of the Connaught Road. Books could be borrowed from friends and acquaintances. Guests were entertained in country houses by the reading aloud of books and plays by a member of the company.

The intellectual life indicated by the presence of large and important libraries in country houses at one end of the scale, and the popular interest in chapbooks, song sheets and religious works sold by the chapmen who visited local fairs, show that the midlands region had an expanding print-based culture from at least mid-century. Thus we can observe a pattern of cultural energy in the region in the second half of the eighteenth century. In this climate writers such as Charles O’Conor, Henry and Charlotte Brooke and Maria Edgeworth were able to develop and flourish. Their historical and literary interests should be seen as part of a more widespread intellectual activity in their milieu and not as emerging from a cultural vacuum.

Towns in the Irish midlands connected to the book trade:

County Cavan: Cavan

County Laois (Queen’s County): Maryborough (Portlaoise); Mountmellick; Mountrath; Portarlington.

County Offaly (King’s County): Birr (Parsonstown); Edenderry; Tullamore.

County Roscommon: Boyle; Strokestown.

County Tipperary: Roscrea.

County Westmeath: Athlone; Moate; Mullingar.

[1] An earlier version of this paper was read at the joint conference of the Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society and the Goldsmith Summer School, Ballymahon, Co. Longford, 29-31 May 1998. ‘Spreading the word in the Irish midlands: bookselling and printing in the late eighteenth century’, Long Room, 43 (1998), pp 29-37.

[2] Vincent Kinane, ‘The early book trades in Galway’ in Gerard Long, ed., Books Beyond the Pale: aspects of the provincial book trade in Ireland before 1850 (Dublin, Rare Books Group of the Library Association of Ireland, 1996), pp 51-73.

[3] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 9-13 July 1768.

[4] Marie-Louise Legg, ed., The Synge letters: Bishop Edward Synge to his daughter Alicia Roscommon to Dublin 1746-1752 (Dublin, The Lilliput Press, 1996).

[5] Robert E. Ward, Prince of Dublin printers: the letters of George Faulkner (Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1972). Catherine Coogan Ward, and Robert E. Ward, eds., The letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, 2 volumes (Ann Arbor, University Microfilms International, 1980).

[6] F.V. Barry, Maria Edgeworth: chosen letters (London, Cape, 1931), p.108.

[7] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1775, p.41.

[8] George Cheyne, A treatise on health and long life (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1787). Richard Baxter, A call to the unconverted to turn and live (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1795). Mary Wells, The triumph of faith over the world, the flesh and the devil (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1796).

[9] Cheyne, op. cit., final advertisement leaf.

[10] Augustus J.C. Hare, The life and letters of Maria Edgeworth, 2 volumes (London, Edward Arnold, 1894), 1, p.43.

[11] Dublin Intelligence, 24 June 1710. The tryal of Doctor Henry Sacheverell, before the House of Peers, for high crimes and misdemeanors (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames and F. Dickson, for E. Dobson [and 6 other booksellers], 1710).

[12] Dublin Courant, 4 July 1720.

[13] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 30 September – 3 October 1738.

[14] The London Magazine (Dublin, printed by Edward and John Exshaw, 1746-1750).

[15] Dublin Courant, 30 December 1746-3 January 1746/7; 10-13 January 1746/7; 20-24 January 1746/7; 3-7 February 1746/7; 17-21 February 1746/7.

[16] Robert Manning, A single combat, or personal dispute between Mr Trapp and his anonymous antagonist (Dublin, printed for Philip Bowes, 1757).

[17] Limerick Chronicle, 13 March 1769; 5 September 1774.

[18] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 15-18 November 1775; 27-31 July 1776.

[19] Nicholas Grant, An almanack for the year 1775 (Dublin, printed for the Author by R. Jackson, 1775).

[20] Charles Praval, Magazin à la mode (Dublin, William Whitestone, 1777-78).

[21] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 16-19 August 1769; 4-7 November 1772; 15-19 May 1773; 27-30 October 1773.

[22] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 18-22 September 1779.

[23] Anthologia Hibernica, 4 volumes (Dublin, R.E. Mercier & Co., 1793-94).

[24] Henry Bradshaw, A catalogue of the Bradshaw collection of Irish books in the University Library Cambridge, 3 volumes (Cambridge, printed for the University Library, 1916), ii, p. 892.

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 29 June – 1 July 1773. A provincial bookbinder’s main income would come from binding account books, ledgers, registers, etc. as well as books.

[26] Freeman’s Journal, 2-5 April 1774.

[27] Thomas Lee 1768-1776; Thomas Jones 1777-1781; Henry Harrison 1782-1800. Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1768-1800.

[28] Freeman’s Journal, 13-15 February 1777.

[29] Connaught Journal, 25 July 1793.

[30] Séamus Ó Casaide, A typographical gazetteer of Ireland (Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, 1923).

[31] The survival rate for this newspaper is very poor, Dix saw an issue of 1788 in Lord Iveagh’s Library, Farmleigh, which was numbered Vol 19, no. 56. E.R. McClintock Dix, ‘Earliest printing in Athlone’, Irish Book Lover, 2, no. 6 (January 1911), pp 84-5.

[32] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88.

[33] O Casaide, op. cit. Robert Munter, A dictionary of the print trade in Ireland 1550-1775 (New York, Fordham University Press, 1988).

[34] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 12,125 ‘Journal of Proceedings of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist’, V (1766-1785). Ms. 12,132 ‘Quarterage Accounts 1787-1841’, 30 October 1787.

[35] William Kidd married Miss Kitty Parker of Limerick in 1773. Finn’s Leinster Journal, 4-8 September 1773.

[36] E.R. McClintock Dix, ‘Printing in Mullingar, 1773-1825’, Irish Book Lover, 2, no. 8 (1911), pp 120-2.

[37] Patk. Murphy Vs. Robt. Cooke, a broadside (William Kidd, 1788). At a meeting of the masters of the different Orange lodges [of] the province of Ulster … resolutions, single sheet (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1797). A list of the poll (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1800). Co. Meath abstract of presentments (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1803).

[38] M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000). Dublin Chronicle, 16 December 1788.

[39] Freeman’s Journal, 3 November 1820.

[40] William P. Burke, History of Clonmel (Waterford, printed by N. Harvey & Co. for the Clonmel Library Committee, 1907), p.359.

[41] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 12,131, ‘List of apprentices of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist 1740-1830’, p.9. Munter, op. cit. Pollard, Dictionary, op. cit.

[42] Co. Roscommon To be let … lands, part of the estate of Thomas Mahon, Esq of Strokestown (Athlone, Printed by Ephraim Proctor, [1778]).

[43] E.R. McClintock Dix. ‘Printing in Birr, or Parsonstown, 1775-1825’, Irish Book Lover, 3 (June 1912), pp 177-9.

[44] James Williams issued Oliver Goldsmith’s An history of the earth and animated nature, in 8 volumes, by subscription in 1776. Great pains were taken with its production to make it an example of the art of fine printing, using the best type, ink and paper. Williams claimed that his principal desire was to put ‘a work of merit, beautifully printed, into every one’s hands’. Oliver Goldsmith, An history of the earth and animated nature, 8 volumes (Dublin, James Williams, 1776-7), ‘Advertisement by the Printer of the Irish Edition of Goldsmith’s History of the Earth, to the Public’.

[45] British Museum: Add. Mss .31,882 ‘Killaloe Court Book’, given in Irish Ancestor, 4, no. 2, (1972), pp 104-5.

[46] Mary Barber, Poems on several occasions (London, printed for C. Rivington, 1734).

[47] The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Thomas Digby Brooke (Dublin, William Kidd, 1775).

[48] D.J. O’Donoghue, The poets of Ireland (Dublin, Hodges Figgis & Co., 1912).

[49] Freeman’s Journal, 24-27 June 1769.

[50] Among the subscribers are the Countess of Longford and Lady Longford, and also from Longford Revd. Samuel Achmuty of Ballymahon and John Achmuty Esq., Mr Thomas Coffy of Brianstown and Mr James Hagarty. Co. Westmeath is represented by Francis D’Arcy, Robert Hodson, William Judge, Lady Dowager Levinge, John Lyons from Lady’s Town, near Kilpatrick, William Lennon of Great Down, Mrs Berry of Middleton, Kilbeggan, John Meares, Sir James Nugent, the Honourable Miss Pakenham, Dr Edward Naghten from Mullingar, Mrs Purdon from Curristown and George Rochfort. Mrs Low from Newtown, Co. Offaly, and Mr James Fleming from Co. Cavan, also subscribed.

[51] He subscribed to Taylor and Skinner’s Maps of the roads of Ireland (London, 1778) ten years before.

[52] Subscribers included George and Gustavus Rochfort, Samuel Handy of Kilbeggan, Peter Longworth, Mrs Meachum, Richard Handcock, Edward Purdon, all from Westmeath families, George Beatty of a Longford family, and George Moore of Cavan.

[53] James Parr and Thomas Walsh, The young arithmetician’s guide, being a course of practical arithmetick, both vulgar and decimal (Birr, Alex. M’Culloh, 1775).

[54] The Church of Ireland bishops of this period were: Elphin, Dr Jemmett Browne 1772-75; Dr Charles Dodgson 1775-95; Dr John Law 1795-1810. Kilmore, Dr George Lewis Jones 1774-90; Dr William Foster 1790-95; Hon. Dr Charles Broderick 1795-1800. Meath, Hon. Dr Henry Maxwell 1766-1798. Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1772-1800.


The Top 20 French Authors in Eighteenth-Century Irish Private Libraries.

Throughout Europe in the eighteenth century French began to replace Latin as the scholarly and cultural language of the educated. Ireland was no exception to this general trend. From the late seventeenth century French was a significant language among certain sections of the population, most notably the scholarly community and the upper levels of the Catholic and Protestant aristocracies. From the middle of the eighteenth century the use of the French language as a cultural, and indeed fashionable, accomplishment, was spreading to the metropolitan and provincial middle classes. French was taught in private schools and academies to both boys and girls, not only as a social accomplishment, but as a desirable skill for business, the army and navy.

French language books were imported into Ireland from the late seventeenth century. Importation of continental literature in French from Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague and London characterized the foreign language book market in Ireland. French language titles were printed in Dublin and other Irish cities also. In the early decades of the eighteenth century they were mainly produced for the Huguenot population in Dublin, Portarlington, Lisburn, Cork, and other areas of settlement. In the last three decades of the century French language reprints of more popular works for a general audience were issued by Dublin booksellers.

Specialization in the foreign language booktrade in the last quarter of the century provides evidence of a sufficient demand for such literature among bookbuyers. It also points to the diversity on offer to the Irish reading public as booksellers sought to import the latest and best publications from the continent. Expanded importation from printing centres in Europe, through personal and business contacts, was initiated by Dublin wholesale booksellers, who in turn distributed their imports to centres around the country. Thus the importation of French language books developed from the direct importation by major booksellers for their own clientele, to a more streamlined entrepreneurial wholesale trade by the 1780s. Luke White had an account with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel, while R.E. Mercier traded with Wild and Altheer at Utrecht, and John Archer and Antoine Gerna travelled abroad to purchase books and negotiate terms in person.[2]

A sample of 193 catalogues of Irish private libraries has been used to compile the Top 20 list.[3] The catalogues date from 1715 to 1830. They were mainly issued as auction catalogues for the sale of the library, though in some cases a listing of a library was made as an inventory by the owner. Only catalogues of named private owners were used, as anonymous sale catalogues do not necessarily represent the holdings of a single individual library. The readers represented by the book sale catalogues are the nobility and landowners, clergy and professionals, whose libraries were mainly auctioned after the owner’s death, thus indicating a certain value accorded to the collection. Full coverage of all relevant readers is not possible in this situation, as the less well off segment of the population is not represented. All inferences concerning the diffusion of books drawn from auction catalogues must be tempered by the knowledge that the source is limited, unevenly representative, and weighted in favour of the more prestigious collections. By their nature book sale catalogues are oriented in their descriptions towards saleable books, lots of lesser value are often not described or itemized. Thus, bundles of pamphlets or plays, schoolbooks and cheap quality books are not included in the sale, or else are sold together as a lot. This results in a gap in our knowledge of ephemeral or cheap material and an over-emphasis on special editions and fine bindings.

Top-20-tableThe level of education of readers is significant for the ownership of foreign language books. Only those with a good level of post-elementary education, or those privately educated to a certain standard could read French or Italian. 40% of the library owners in the sample were educated at Trinity College Dublin or the King’s Inns in Dublin, and a further 6% at Oxford or Cambridge. The 16% with a continental education comprised Catholic clergy trained in the Irish colleges in France, Spain and Italy; doctors and Catholic gentry educated in continental universities. Several of the library owners, especially the nobility, did not attend university, but were privately educated by tutors and often went on the Grand Tour to complete their education. The readership under consideration therefore is that of the higher socio-economic groups, the educated segment of the population, those who were highly literate and had the financial means necessary to assemble a collection of books.he French books most widely held in the private libraries examined were French Dictionaries, in 73% of libraries, and French Grammars, in 64% of libraries. They were written and compiled by a wide range of authors, and published in France, the Netherlands, London or Dublin. In the majority of cases French was an acquired and not a native language for book purchasers in Ireland, especially in the second half of the century, therefore dictionaries and grammars were not discarded, but retained as working tools in a library. Similarly, many of the most frequently occurring French titles were those chosen by readers wishing to perfect their French by reading works renowned for the style and quality of the language or for their appeal to younger readers. Henry Joy McCracken, the United Irishman, and his family learned French from an old weaver, a native French speaker in Belfast. Henry’s French however must never have been perfected, as his sister, Mary Ann, advises him in a letter: ‘Do not neglect the use of your French dictionary and grammar – John Templeton keeps his always either in his hand or in his pocket’. While in jail in Dublin he read Fénélon’s Les Avantures de Télémaque but he had to receive assistance from a French prisoner, arrested for spying.[4] Mrs Mary Delany of Delville, in a letter to her niece Mary Dewes, in September 1760, advised: ‘I shall be very glad to receive your French performances, and if you write or translate but six lines every day it will improve you very much, and at least keep what you have learnt’.[5]

The Top 20 list shows a strong preference on the part of library owners for French Classicism. The French language gained prestige across Europe during the reign of Louis XIV, both for the style of the language and its literature, and this reputation persisted into the eighteenth century. Works of French Classicism were present in private libraries throughout the century. These works were not superseded by Enlightenment authors in the course of the century, but retained their popularity, and co-existed with them. The reading of Enlightenment literature did not occur in Ireland as a new radical introduction, it developed and grew out of the existing tradition of reading French authors. French texts found in Jonathan Swift’s library of 1715 remained an integral part of a cultured library of the 1790s.

The four works of literature most in evidence in the sample examined were the Oeuvres of Boileau in 81 collections, the Oeuvres of Molière in 80 collections, Les avantures de Télémaque by Fénélon in 78 collections, and Les avantures de Gil Blas de Santillane by Le Sage in 55 collections. Boileau was among the great representatives of French Classicism, who published widely as a poet. Eighty five of the libraries examined held at least one work by him, and many held several. Copies of the Oeuvres were beautifully illustrated by Picart or Moreau, and in fine bindings. Henry Grattan’s copy of the Oeuvres in four volumes, (Amsterdam 1729), was awarded to him by Trinity College Dublin as a premium in 1765.

Molière became famous for his comedies of manners, the style of his writing was esteemed and considered worth imitating in speech and reading. Extracts from his plays appeared in anthologies and in textbooks. His plays were not printed in French in Ireland but were imported from the continent and from London. In September 1782 Le medecin malgré lui was one of six French language plays performed at a public reading in the Exhibition Room in William Street, Dublin.[6] The Oeuvres were present in handsome and costly editions in Irish libraries with plates after Boucher (Paris 1734), Coypel (Paris 1734), and Moreau (Paris 1773).

The two individual titles most notably present in libraries throughout the century were Fénélon’s Les avantures de Télémaque, (1699), and Le Sage’s Les avantures de Gil Blas de Santillane, (1715-35). Both books were used as readers by those learning French, and both appear in multiple copies in private libraries. Fénélon, Archbishop of Cambray, was well known for his spiritual writings, but in Irish libraries his importance lies primarily in the authorship of Les avantures de Télémaque. It was favoured reading in most European countries and was the standard text for teaching manners and language. It worked for readers on several levels, closely paralleling Virgil’s Aeneid and fulfilling readers’ classical expectations in its imitation of the ancients; the fineness of the writing also appealed to those improving or perfecting their French. Its appeal spanned the denominational divisions in Ireland, appearing in both Protestant and Catholic libraries. It remained popular until the end of the century, being published in a parallel text in Cork in 1800.

Le Sage drew his inspiration from the Spanish picaresque novel, adapting it to mirror the manners of the French society of his day. Gil Blas earned him his fame, it was considered suitable for the instruction of children in the French language, though later in the century it was thought a little too colourful. Its success in Ireland can be measured by the number of local printings in French, several Dublin editions of 1763 and later, and a Belfast edition of 1798. Le Sage’s other novels also had a following, especially Le Diable boiteux, (1707), but none had the mass appeal of Gil Blas.

Racine and Pierre Corneille, writers of tragedies, are often considered the precursors of Classicism. Their works are derived from classical models, but they were in advance of the main age of Classicism, which reached its apogee during the personal reign of Louis XIV (1661-1715). Racine achieved success as a tragic poet with his plays Andromaque (1667), Iphigenie (1674), and Phèdre (1677). Maria Edgeworth went to a performance of Andromaque in Brussels in 1802, with Madame and Monsieur Talma in the leading roles, she writes: ‘we read the play in the morning, an excellent precaution otherwise the novelty of the French mode of declamation would have set my comprehension at defiance’.[7]

Pierre Corneille, the elder of the Corneille brothers, was more prolific and achieved greater success than Thomas, and his works were more numerous in Irish libraries. Though he began his career by writing comedies, it is as a tragic poet that he was best known, with plays in the classical style such as Medée (1635), Le Cid (1636-7), and Polyeucte (1642). Henry Grattan’s son writes that Grattan:

‘laid aside the cultivation of the language [French] for a considerable time, but in the latter part of his life he amused himself translating into French Miss Edgeworth’s Tales and other light works. He admired Racine and Corneille, and used to read them with much pleasure’.[8]

La Bruyère’s Les caractères de Théophraste (1688-1696), originally translated from the Greek of Theophrastus, mirrored the foibles and vanities of his own time, with portraits of many living people, under disguised names. It was popular in England, having been translated into English in 1699. It retained its popularity in Ireland throughout the eighteenth century, and was printed in French by William and Henry Whitestone in 1778, to supply their extensive wholesale market in Dublin and the provinces.

The Abbé Vertot, the French historian, is probably best known for his History of the Knights of Malta. His main works present in the libraries examined were Les révolutions de la république romaine (1719), Histoire des révolutions de Suède (1696), and Histoire des révolutions de Portugal (1689).

La Fontaine made his reputation with his Fables, the first collection of which appeared in 1668, and his Contes et nouvelles en vers, (1664-1666), based on the tales of Boccaccio and Ariosto. Even though La Fontaine produced a great variety of work it is the Fables and Contes that were purchased and produced in very many editions, often beautifully illustrated. One of the most lavish editions was the 4 volume set of Fables with 246 plates by Oudry offered to the public by Luke White in 1777 at the remaindered price of £9.2.6. The presence of so many luxury editions, illustrated and in fine bindings, in the private libraries examined, points to the perception that these works were of lasting quality, to be read and re-read, given as gifts and school premiums.

The French Enlightenment is well represented in the libraries in the sample. Irish printers responded to the demand for Enlightenment literature in the last quarter of the century by the domestic printing of some of the more popular titles. The catalogues, however, show that a great number of Enlightenment works were imported from the early years of the century. Continental imprints, led by Paris and Amsterdam as centres of publication, were by far the most numerous.

Two of the authors on the list mark the early phase of the Enlightenment, Bayle and Fontenelle. Bayle, with his critical and scientific approach, a belief in reason, political reform and religious toleration, is considered one of the earliest exponents of the philosophical writing which characterized the French Enlightenment. His Dictionnaire historique et critique, (1695-1697), was the most widely held in Irish libraries, but his Oeuvres were also present. Fontenelle’s Oeuvres were the most commonly held, followed by Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes, (1686), a popular non-specialist introduction to astronomy, and Dialogues des morts, (1683), an attack on preconceived ideas.

Voltaire was the most owned author in Irish libraries, but no one single work predominated. Several editions of Oeuvres and Oeuvres complètes were present in 35 collections, many of them illustrated and in costly editions. One of the most prized sets was the 70 volume octavo edition of the Oeuvres complètes, published at Kehl in 1785-89 by the playwright Beaumarchais, using the printing equipment purchased especially for the purpose from the widow of John Baskerville, the celebrated English typographer. This work was also printed in a 90 volume duodecimo edition by Beaumarchais. Several editions of Voltaire’s works, sold in sets or in separate volumes, were on sale in Dublin from the late 1770s. Voltaire’s epic La Henriade, first published in Rouen in 1723 under the title La ligue, began to be published under the new title in 1728. The French language London edition of 1728 was published by subscription, and in December 1727 Voltaire wrote to Jonathan Swift from London requesting him to solicit subscriptions in Ireland:

‘In the mean time can j make bold to intreat you to make some use of yr interest in irland about some subscriptions for the henriade, which is almost ready and does not come out yet for want of little help the subscriptions will be but one guinea in hand’.[9]

After its publication in March 1728 Voltaire wrote that he had sent ‘a cargo of French dulness (sic.)’ to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret. Swift retained a copy of La Henriade in his library, and it appears in the sale catalogue of his library in 1745.

Candide ou l’optimisme by Dr Ralph was first published surreptitiously in Geneva in January 1759. In February 1759 Voltaire wrote to Gabriel Cramer, his Genevan publisher, informing him that: ‘il s’est vendu six mille Candide’. By mid March it was available in French in London from John Nourse, and two weeks later the English translation appeared. English booksellers, such as Nourse, would purchase a holding edition in French of a book likely to be popular and reprint it in England, as this was cheaper than importing in bulk. This was the case with Candide which was immediately reprinted in French in London. For all its popularity at the time of publication Candide was held as an individual title in only five of the libraries, though it was also present in most Oeuvres and in the Romans et contes. Individual titles by Voltaire and Rousseau, known to have been purchased, are present in very small numbers and are greatly outnumbered by sets of Oeuvres. This can be attributed to the more lasting quality of a set of Oeuvres, but also to the saleability factor in an auction catalogue.

Three titles by Voltaire were printed in French in Dublin, La Tragédie de Sémiramis in 1750, Lettres curieuses et intéressantes de M. de Voltaire in 1781, and Mémoires de M. de Voltaire écrites par lui même in 1785, and very many appeared in translation. While these three titles were printed for the home market there is little evidence for them in the private libraries examined. Voltaire’s works were present in private libraries of both Anglican and Catholic owners and clergy of both denominations. However, it is clear that the historical and dramatic works were often held when the anti-religious works were absent, and a number of those works which denounced his anti-religious beliefs occur in the libraries. For instance, both Les erreurs de Voltaire, written by the Abbé Nonotte, and Lettres de quelques Juifs à M. de Voltaire, attributed to the Abbé Guenée, were held in Irish libraries, and a subscription edition of Claude Duplain’s La réligion vengée des blasphèmes de Voltaire was published in Dublin in 1783, attracting 154 subscribers.

Montesquieu was well represented in Irish libraries, with four of his works occurring frequently in the sample. De l’esprit des lois (1748), was the most widely owned of his works, followed by sets of Oeuvres, Les causes de la grandeur des Romains (1734), and Lettres Persanes (1721). In De l’esprit des lois Montesquieu examined the nature of human and natural laws in the widest sense including different forms of government, questions of major interest to eighteenth-century thinkers. This broad philosophical treatment appealed to a wide readership, and De l’esprit des lois was translated into English as The spirit of laws and published in Dublin in 1751 and later years. Henry Grattan owned a copy in French which he received as a premium from Trinity College Dublin in 1765. De l’esprit des lois was the most widely owned of the French language works on jurisprudence. Significant reading for professional career purposes is of particular interest as it shows that the reading of works in French was not simply a fashionable pastime for the dilettante, but also a serious activity necessary for those wishing to be to the fore in their professional knowledge.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel La Nouvelle Heloïse (1761), is considered by Robert Darnton to have been the ‘biggest best-seller’ of the century:

‘the demand for copies outran the supply so badly that booksellers rented it out by the day and even by the hour, charging twelve sous for the sixty minutes with one volume, according to L-S Mercier. At least seventy editions were published before 1800 – probably more than for any other novel in the previous history of publishing’.[10]

In Irish libraries La nouvelle Heloïse was marginally more popular than Émile ou l’éducation (1762), while 67% of readers of Rousseau had a set of Oeuvres. There was no Irish edition in French of either title, however, suggesting that they were not so popular in Ireland. Rousseau was very much admired by certain circles in Ireland, in fact most of his readers held several titles by him. Emily, Duchess of Leinster, and her family were among his readers. In her library at Carton, however, only the Collection complète des oeuvres in the four volume London edition of 1774, with 2 plates after Moreau, remained, while initially individual copies of the separate titles were present. Émile had been purchased in London from Mrs Dunoyer in 1762 and read immediately.

The works of Crébillon fils are far more evident in Irish libraries than those of his dramatist father, the latter represented only by his Oeuvres. The erotic novel had immense popularity during the eighteenth century, and Crébillon fils was one of the most successful writers in this genre. His novel Le Sopha, a licentious tale which satirized contemporary manners and morals, was much imitated in his day. His Oeuvres were most commonly found in the Irish libraries examined, followed by Les égarements du coeur et de l’esprit, ou Mémoires de M. de Meilcour (1736), L’écumoire ou Tanzaï et Néaderné, histoire japonaise (1734), and Le sopha, conte moral (1740).

Marmontel’s Contes moraux (1761), and Nouveau contes moraux (1789-92), first published individually in the Mercure, were the most popular of his works in Irish libraries, followed by Bélisaire (1766), and Les Incas (1777). One of his tragedies, Aristomène, was published in French in Dublin in 1750. His moral tales were sufficiently popular to be reprinted in translation in the Freeman’s Journal in the spring and early summer of 1788.

The Abbé Raynal is best known for his Histoire philosophique et politique des deux Indes (1770), which was very successful when it was first published, and went into several editions during the eighteenth century. It is Raynal’s most frequently occurring title in Irish libraries, although his other works are also present, most notably La révolution de l’Amérique (1781), and Anecdotes historiques, militaires et politiques de l’Europe (1753). La révolution de l’Amérique was printed in French in Dublin in 1781. Several translations of The philosophical and political history appeared from Dublin printers, and a copy in French was possibly also printed, but there are no extant copies.

Evidence of reading in the realm of literature is extremely difficult to determine, the use of correspondence and diaries is valuable but it only gives evidence of reading among certain groups and anecdotal information is not transferable to the wider reading public. The correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster, Maria Edgeworth, Jonathan Swift, and Mrs Mary Delany, in which they discuss books and reading gives a clue as to the books read by those in their circle and their opinions on authors read. This perspective is by its nature narrow and weighted in favour of certain groups, who may not be at all representative. However, it does show that the French books present in Irish private libraries could be read by their owners, and in some cases at least, were read, understood, discussed and quoted. Evidence exists for reading in French among professional and middle class readers, showing that it was not confined to the more rarified Carton-Castletown circle. The provenance of surviving eighteenth-century editions of French books shows signatures or bookplates of readers who were not major collectors, and for whom we have no evidence of a private library. Contemporary signatures on French language books also indicate readership among women, which is not reflected in the book sale catalogues. This points to a more widespread diffusion among the general reading public which is suggested by the booksellers’ stocks.

The later years of the eighteenth century saw a movement away from the dominance of religious works in private libraries. The large number of clerical libraries in the sample, (30.5%), however, ensured the popularity of a wide range of religious works, and it can be seen that throughout the century a place, albeit less prominent, was given to religious material in all private libraries. A number of authors had cross-denominational appeal while others appealed only to their co-religionists. Huguenot exiles in Ireland carried on their public worship in the French language until the early nineteenth century, Protestant religious works in French were to be found in Irish bookshops, and were published by Irish printers for this market. Among the wider Anglican educated readership too the works of Protestant religious writers were owned in French. Up to 1795 Catholic clergy were trained on the continent, books of continental origin in Latin, French, Italian and Spanish were a prominent feature of these clerical libraries, especially in the areas of divinity and Catholic devotional literature. Copies of La Sainte Bible and separate editions of Le Nouveau Testament were present in 81 of the libraries in the sample. Both Protestant and Catholic Bibles and Nouveau Testaments were present, the Protestant Bibles were more common, Martin’s, Diodati’s, Ostervald’s and Des Marets’; while the Catholic versions, the Vulgate and De Carrière’s Bible were less common. Most of the Protestant Bibles in Irish libraries originated in Amsterdam and most Catholic Bibles in Paris.

Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux and preceptor to the Dauphin, was probably the most celebrated pulpit orator of his time. In Ireland his books were owned by all denominations, though as a theologian his doctrinaire Catholic views did not endear him to Protestants. However, his works such as Discours sur l’histoire universelle (1681), written for the instruction of the Dauphin, gained a wide readership, 62% of readers of Bossuet in Ireland. He was appreciated for his Sermons and especially for his Oraisons funèbres. Also present were his Histoire des variations des églises protestantes (1688), and Exposition de la doctrine de l’église catholique (1671).

Blaise Pascal, who also wrote under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte, is most widely represented by his literary works. Other than his scientific and mathematical works his main published work during his lifetime consisted of a series of 18 letters, supposedly written to a friend in the provinces, Les Lettres provinciales (1656-7). At the time of his death he was working on a defence of the Catholic religion entitled Apologie de la religion catholique. It was not far enough advanced, however, to be fit for publication, but his fragmentary notes were published under the title Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion (1670). Voltaire dates the commencement of the modern French language to the prose style of Les provinciales. Pascal’s works were held by all denominations in Ireland, Les lettres provinciales was the most widely held, in 40 libraries, while Les pensées was held in 36 libraries.

The book sale catalogues reveal a fairly homogeneous, cultured, well-educated segment of the population, comprising Protestant and Catholic readers of the middle and higher socio-economic levels. This is clearly a very limited profile, denying the complexities and variety of the multi-layered society that was eighteenth-century Ireland. Yet, as the most comprehensive source available to the researcher of the history of the book in Ireland, the evidence they produce has to be considered seriously, while acknowledging the major deficiencies which they present.

The bulk of French language reading matter evident in the catalogues is imported, Paris provides the greatest frequency of imprints, closely followed by Amsterdam, with London and The Hague also significant. Ireland’s situation on the periphery of western Europe allowed its book importers a choice of several centres of production. Centres in the Netherlands rivalled those in France for cost and availability of titles, and London and Dublin printers also figured in the reprint trade. The catalogues point to an interest in French Classicism among private library owners, developing to include works of the French Enlightenment as they were published. By the end of the century works of Classicism and the Enlightenment shared an important place in Irish libraries. The French Enlightenment in Ireland was represented not just by the publications issued with a privilege from Paris, but by the broader cosmopolitan publications of the philosophes scattered across Europe, purveying a more diverse Enlightenment. Religious works were evident in all libraries examined, and one of the most noteworthy features of these works was the cross-denominational appeal of many religious authors.

All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] This article was first published in Linen Hall Review, 12, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp 4-8.

[2] Máire Kennedy, ‘The domestic and international trade of an eighteenth-century Dublin bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no.2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105. Also available as a post on WordPress.com.

[3] See Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2001) for the complete list of catalogues.

[4] Mary McNeill, The life and times of Mary Ann McCracken 1770-1866: a Belfast panorama (Dublin, Allen Figgis & Company Ltd, 1960), pp 40, 128, 139.

[5] Mary Delany, Letters from Georgian Ireland: the correspondence of Mary Delany, 1731-1768, ed. by Angélique Day (Belfast, The Friar’s Bush Press, 1991), p.285.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 5-7 September 1782; 12-14 September 1782; 19-21 September 1782.

[7] F.V. Barry, Maria Edgeworth: chosen letters (London, Jonathan Cape, 1931), pp 103-4.

[8] Henry Grattan, Memoirs of the life and times of the Rt. Hon. Henry Grattan. By his son Henry Grattan, Esq., M.P. 2 vols (London, Henry Colburn, 1839), i, p.248.

[9] Harold Williams, ed. The correspondence of Jonathan Swift, 5 vols (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963).

[10] Robert Darnton, ‘Readers Respond to Rousseau: the fabrication of Romantic sensitivity’ in The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1985), pp 209-49.