British Fiction, 1800–1829: A Database of Production and Reception
Phase II Report: Advertisements for Novels in The Star
The records presented here comprise a listing of novels that were advertised in The Star, a London evening daily newspaper, during 1815 through 1824. These records represent only a relatively short and edited section of a much fuller listing of information compiled for the Database of British Fiction, 1800-1829. Nevertheless, even in this truncated form, they vividly convey an impression of the extensive advertising coverage that novels received in just one contemporary paper, and point to the critical role newspapers played in establishing and widening the audience for fiction. Newspapers and novels were in fact closely linked in the early nineteenth century not only because of trade connections between their publishers but also because of newspapers’ importance in fostering the desire for novels in the reading public. Advertisements, prominently displayed on the front pages of newspapers, brought the titles of forthcoming, new, and reprinted works to the fore of readers’ attention, and urged them to inquire for specific works at booksellers or circulating libraries. That publishers were willing to pay the substantial sums demanded for even the briefest notice in a newspaper is a telling sign of their belief that brisk sales could be directly correlated to widespread advertising coverage. Furthermore, surviving correspondence from authors to publishers shows that, for their part, authors took an active interest in the advertising that their works received, regarding the notices as a critical element in commercial and popular success. Thus, for example, in June 1818, James Hogg wrote to urge William Blackwood to push on his Brownie of Bodsbeck by extensive advertising before sales could be disrupted by the appearance of the next Scott novel, while, on 21 February 1821, John Galt complained that Blackwood did not advertise enough in the London press, for he had seen notices for The Earthquake ‘but seldom’.
Newspaper advertisements for novels are an important source for both the social history of novels and specific bibliographical information. They show publishers deliberately targeting particular audiences for a work, for example by grouping a selection of titles together, or by including information such as the name of an author or dedicatee, other titles by the same writer, epigraphs that hint at a book’s contents or moral outlook, and quotations from reviews. The advertisements are reminders that readers regularly encountered the names of novels and their authors amidst a heterogeneous grouping of other goods and services being offered for sale; in the mixed marketplace of The Star‘s front page, a novel featured as just another commodity vying for readers’ attention alongside patent medicines, servants wanting employment, or schools soliciting pupils. Publishers included additional information in the notices in order to make them stand out from the mass of surrounding material, or they advertised the same book repeatedly with a view to catching the attention of a newspaper’s occasional readers. At the core of each advertisement, however, is basic information about date of publication, price, number of volumes, and publishers. While these details served an obvious practical purpose in marketing novels to contemporary readers, they also make the advertisements invaluable to modern historians of the novel and bibliographers as an important source for identification not only of publication date and price, but also, in the case of rare novels, of other printing, publishing, or authorial details.
When The Star commenced publication on 3 May 1788, the imprint identified the editor as Peter Stuart, of 31 Exeter Street, Catherine Street, the Strand. Stuart had enlisted a number of important sponsors for his innovative plan to publish an evening daily. Chief among these were the publishers John Murray the elder and William Lane of the Minerva Press. The remaining ten associates were also probably drawn from the booktrade, and they all seem likely to have been induced to lend Stuart their financial backing by his specific targeting of the present state of advertising as a matter for concern. In the first number of The Star, Stuart inserted an address that laid out the problem and a proposed solution:
The Proprietors of this Paper formed their first idea of establishing it from the many abuses and inconveniences they sustained by the neglect and inattention of other Papers-many of their Advertisements were not inserted properly, others not at all, and others not till the procrastination rendered them of no use; this being the grievance of which they themselves have had reason to complain, it will not only be their duty, but their inclination to redress it in the present instance; in addition to which advantage, those who apply in time may have their advertisements drawn up gratis, by a gentleman properly qualified for the undertaking.
Star and Evening Advertiser 1 (3 May 1788): page 2, col. 1.
The new paper proved a success, with the initial circulation figures evidently driving a demand for advertising space on its front page. Its popularity, as the first London evening daily, is shown in the proliferation of other newspapers that, within a short time, copied Stuart’s model. Despite a promising start, however, Stuart’s association with the founding group of twelve proprietors was to be short-lived: within a year they had fallen out over political differences to do with reporting the Regency debate during the illness of George III in the winter of 1788/89. As a result, Stuart was obliged to leave the enterprise and, on 13 February 1789, two newspapers both named The Star appeared-one printed by Stuart and the other by John Mayne, a Dumfriesshire printer and minor poet who had been invited to take over the Exeter Street office. Thereafter, Stuart’s paper was to enjoy only a brief and chequered career, while The Star under Mayne’s direction would survive until it was subsumed into The Albion in 1831. Details of the paper’s history after its origins and the break-up of the association with Stuart are difficult to ascertain, but the Dictionary of National Biography claims that Mayne was at various times assisted by two other Scotsmen: Andrew Macdonald and Alexander Tilloch. Macdonald was a writer of verse, drama, and fiction who could have been only briefly involved with The Star since he died in 1790. Tilloch is credited with having developed a method of stereotyping in 1784 while still in Scotland, and his association with The Star is said to have lasted from 1789-1821. It is even less clear how long Murray and Lane continued as proprietors. John Murray the elder died in 1793, and the House of Murray, under John Murray II, effectively ceased using the paper for advertising purposes in about 1803. This may have been an effect of Murray’s split with Samuel Highley who, when he established his own separate publishing concern, did advertise in The Star. In the absence of any clear documentary evidence, however, interpretations and conclusions must remain speculative, as they must too with regard to William Lane. In her history of the Minerva Press, Dorothy Blakey surmises that Lane probably ended his association with the newspaper in 1792. However, her conclusion is based solely on the absence from The Star of Minerva Press advertisements from June to December of that year; in fact Minerva novels were prominently and extensively advertised in The Star throughout the early 1800s, and this pattern continued after Lane’s retirement from business in 1808, at which time the Minerva Press was controlled by his partner Anthony King Newman. Although this may, of course, reflect merely the continued usefulness of the paper as an established medium for advertising Minerva novels rather than any enduring financial ties between the two concerns, the possibility of a closer connection cannot be entirely discounted. If, on present evidence, the paper’s ownership remains unverifiable, it is nevertheless interesting to note that, after the debacle with Stuart, the paper was known to be only mildly political-tending somewhat to favour the Whigs-in an age when political fervour was the norm and party sponsorship could substantially augment a newspaper’s revenue.
Exact circulation figures for The Star are not known, but such documentation as survives combined with the paper’s evident success in attracting advertisers indicates that they were respectable, although certainly below the large numbers attained by prominent morning papers such as the Morning Chronicle, Times, or Courier. At any rate, its circulation, like that of most other London papers, would have extended outside the capital. It should be remembered too that circulation figures are not a reliable guide to actual readership; estimates are that between ten and twenty individuals would have had reading access to each copy of a paper even if they did not pay the 6d to 7d required for purchase.
The prohibitively high cost of a single newspaper was a direct result of the government’s stamp duty, which was set at 3½d per sheet until 1815, when it increased to 4d a sheet. Since a newspaper like The Star used a single sheet of paper printed and folded into pages, stamp duty absorbed more than half of the 6d to 7d paid by customers. Under such circumstances, revenue from advertising had an obvious role to play in ensuring a newspaper’s survival. But advertisements were themselves costly since they were subject to an additional stamp duty amounting to 3s per advertisement of any length; this amount increased to 3s 6d in 1815. The Morning Chronicle, one of the few contemporary newspapers for which financial records, in the form of office copies, survive, charged advertisers 6s with additional charges of 6d a line when the notice exceeded a certain length; the charge increased to 7s in 1815, presumably reflecting the commensurate rise in stamp duty. Probably these charges were more or less standard throughout the newspaper industry, although they may have been affected to some degree by the promise of exposure to large numbers of potential buyers that came with large circulation figures. Although stamp duty was constant for any length of advertisement, additional charges for extra lines were at least partly justified by the extra printing costs incurred. However, such charges were also often the result of a deliberate editorial policy by newspapers wishing to encourage a miscellaneous display of numerous small notices that would attract the interest of a wide range of readers. The Star, unlike some other newspapers, did not specialize in advertising certain commodities. Neither-with the exception of auction notices-did it organise its advertisements into groupings of like items, and in this regard it was different from the Morning Chronicle which was praised by William Hazlitt in the Edinburgh Review of 1823 for avoiding what he regarded as the undignified incongruity that resulted from having notices for books set beside those for other commodities.
That placing advertisements for novels in newspapers was an important aspect of the publishing business is confirmed by correspondence between William Blackwood and his London associates, Cadell and Davies. Numerous letters contain specific directions for Thomas Cadell to place advertisements in a large and varied selection of daily and weekly papers; they identify how many times each is to appear, and give some idea of the required wording-one letter from Blackwood, for example, on 5 March 1822 noting that John Galt’s The Provost is to be advertised as ‘in a few days will be published’ at a time when, in fact, Blackwood had only just received the first portion of the manuscript from its author. Such advertisements represented a very significant element in the recorded expenses for publishing a novel; figures from the impression books of the House of Longman indicate an average expenditure from 1815 to 1824 of £25 to £35 per novel. Of novels advertised in The Star and elsewhere by Longmans, the firm paid out £35 for notices of the anonymous Varieties of Life (1815); £25 for Elizabeth Lester’s The Bachelor and the Married Man (1817); £25 for Anne Raikes Harding’s Correction (1818), with a further £26 paid for the second edition; £30 for Edward Harley’s The Veteran (1819); and £30 and £25 respectively for Barbara Hofland’s Decision and Patience (both 1824). For very popular novelists where a high rate of return on investment was expected, even larger amounts would be spent: £60 was paid out for advertising Anna Maria Porter’s The Knight of St John (1817), and £75 each for Jane Porter’s Duke Christian of Luneberg (1824) and Amelia Opie’s Tales of the Heart (1820). Faced with the perceived need for such substantial outlay on advertising, publishers no doubt struggled with the perennial difficulty of establishing a connection between advertising in a particular venue and good sales’ figures. Most publishers had their personal favourites among the papers, based perhaps on political affiliation and a well-honed sense for the particular audience likely to be attracted to their books; Blackwood, for one, insisted to Cadell that just a single advertisement in the ultra-Tory and short-lived weekly John Bull was worth many more in other papers. The canny businessman Henry Colburn noted another reason for selecting certain papers over others, claiming that by advertising heavily in selected papers he was able to prevent his novels receiving negative reviews in them since editors were unwilling to jeopardise the much-needed revenue they received for the notices. Although few publishers could lay claim to the financial influence that was an effect of Colburn’s dominance in the 1820s market for fiction, his comment serves as another reminder of just how deeply enmeshed and interdependent the two media were during the period.
As a paper that both avoided strong expressions of political sentiment and maintained a steady level of circulation, The Star proved an attractive venue for novel advertisements. Comparison of the number of records in the following list with the total number of new novels published in the years 1815 through 1824 shows that The Star included at least one main advertisement for some 65% of output. Moreover, actual coverage was in fact substantially larger; the figures available from the records as presented here are diminished by the elimination-partly for purposes of presentation and ease of reading-of supplementary information, such as the long lists of novels which appeared in some advertisements, especially those of the 1820s. This material will eventually be made available in its entirety in the Database of British Fiction, 1800-1829, but it may be instructive here to give just one example of what has been omitted. The notice of 17 July 1822 for Anna Maria Porter’s Roche-Blanche features in the actual advertisement as the first in a list headed ‘Popular Novels published during the present season by Longman’. Incorporating in all no fewer than twenty-seven additional fictional works, the list includes not only works by the Porter sisters but also James Hogg’s Three Perils of Man, and new editions of Amelia Opie’s Temper and Madeline. The increasing use during the 1820s by publishers of extensive lists of this kind suggests a growing acceptance of newspapers as the primary medium for disseminating information about available titles; it may also indicate something of a shift in policy from newspapers’ earlier preference for brief notices. Future research for the database will involve recording details of advertisements in a number of other contemporary newspapers, thereby making possible comparisons between newspaper and publisher practices.
Works Consulted and Further Reading
Anon. ‘The Advertising System’, Edinburgh Review 77 (1843), 1-43.
—. The Periodical Press of Great Britain and Ireland: Or an Inquiry into the State of the Public Journals, Chiefly as Regards their Moral and Political Influence (London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., 1824).
Andrews, Alexander. The History of British Journalism, 2 vols (London: Bentley, 1859).
Aspinall, A. Politics and the Press, c.1780-1850 (London: Home and Van Thal, 1949).
Asquith, Ivon. ‘Structure, Ownership, and Control of the Press, 1780-1855’, in Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day, ed. George Boyce, James Curran, and Pauline Wingate (London: Constable, 1978), pp. 98-116.
—. ‘Advertising and the Press in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: James Perry and the Morning Chronicle 1790-1821′, Historical Journal 18 (1975), 703-24.
Barker, Hannah. Newspapers, Politics, and Public Opinion in Late Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
—. Newspapers, Politics, and English Society 1695-1855 (Harlow and New York: Longman, 2000).
Black, Jeremy. ‘Continuity and Change in the British Press, 1750-1833’, Publishing History 36 (1994), 39-85.
Archives of William Blackwood and Son, in the National Library of Scotland.
Blakey, Dorothy. The Minerva Press 1790-1820 (London: Oxford University Press, 1939).
Bourne, H. R. Fox. English Newspapers: Chapters in the History of Journalism, 2 vols (1887; New York: Russell and Russell, 1966).
Ferdinand, Christine Y. ‘Constructing the Framework of Desire: How Newspapers Sold Books in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, Prose Studies 21 (1998), 157-75.
Griffiths, Dennis (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the British Press (London: Macmillan, 1992).
[Hazlitt, William.] ‘The Periodical Press’, Edinburgh Review 38 (1823), 349-78.
Knight, F. Knight. The Fourth Estate: Contributions towards a History of Newspapers, and of the Liberty of the Press (London: D. Bogue, 1850).
Longman Impression Books, Archives of the House of Longman, 1794-1914 (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, and Teaneck, NJ: Somerset House, 1978; 73 reels microfilm); with an Index compiled by Alison Ingram (c.1981).
Morison, Stanley. Some Account of the Physical Development of Journals Printed in London between 1622 and the Present Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932).
Nevett, Terry. ‘Advertising and Editorial Integrity in the Nineteenth Century’, The Press in English Society from the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries, ed. Michael Harris and Alan Lee (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986), pp. 149-67.
Savage, James. An Account of the London Daily Newspapers (London: For the Author, 1811).
Wadsworth, A. P. Newspaper Circulations, 1800-1954 (Manchester: [Manchester Statistical Society], 1955).
The Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals, 1800-1900 (Waterloo, Ontario: North Waterloo Academic Press, 1997).
Werkmeister, Lucyle. The London Daily Press 1772-1792 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1963).
Click on the link to open the newspaper advertisements checklist (print-optimised, 270KiB).