The First American Edition of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ (1767)

Recently acquired. The Michael Zinman copy of the first American edition of The Vicar of Wakefield. (2022-0031N). With contemporary signature ‘Sally Walker’ and later signature ‘S.W. Tarleton.’

How do we know that Princeton’s recently acquired Dublin ‘fourth edition’ is indeed the first American edition of The Vicar of Wakefield?

American bibliographer John Alden and Irish bibliographer Mary Pollard have studied this question closely and determined that despite the Dublin imprint, this edition of The Vicar of Wakefield was printed in Boston by the firm of Mein and Fleeming in 1767.  Their determination was based on several factors including: one, the font of type used to print the text; two, advertisements published by Mein and Fleming in various Boston newspapers; and three, paper stock.  Both have published convincing arguments for this determination.

In brief, the story begins early in 1810, when the patriot printer and printing historian Isaiah Thomas published in his History of Printing in America remarks on Mein’s bookselling practices

‘Some [of his stock] had a false imprint, and were palmed upon the public for London editions, because Mein apprehended that books printed in London, however executed, sold better than those which were printed in America, and, at that time, many purchasers sanctioned his opinion.’ (Thomas, Hist. of Printing in Amer., [Worcester, 1810), I, p.362).

Some 130 years later, bibliographer John Alden picked up on this statement  and examined closely, one by one, the imprints of Mein and Fleeming during the years of their partnership, 1767 to 1769. Alden first detailed his findings in a research paper prepared at the University of Michigan in 1940 and then published his work in 1942 in the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America.  In the 1980s, bibliographer Mary Pollard extended Alden’s work and using her knowledge of Irish printing, a topic in which she was an expert, she convincingly assigned the Vicar to the shop of Mein and Fleeming, based on typographic and other evidence. Rather than try to summarize further, I refer you to their respective articles listed at the end of this essay.

While the story of the identification of this false imprint is interesting, equally telling is the tale of the marketing and advertising of this edition of Vicar in Boston.  It is the story of a bookseller caught in the vortex of abruptly shifting consumer demands, caused by American reactions to punitive British Parliamentary commercial acts.

Marketing in times of shifting consumer demands –

The Edinburgh-native bookseller, John Mein, arrived in Boston in October 1764. At the time, Boston had about a fifteen printers and booksellers, serving a population of over 15,000. (New York and Philadelphia had larger populations by about 3 to 5,000 more.)

At first, Mein had a bookstall on Marlborough Street where he sold not only books and pamphlets but also Irish linens and “excellent bottl’d Bristol beer near two years old.” By October 1765, he took over the leading bookshop in Boston, the London Book-Store on King Street. Concurrently, he opened a commercial rental circulating library, the first such in Boston.  It offered a stock of 1,200 volumes ‘in most branches of polite Literature, Arts, and Sciences,’ at an annual subscription price of £1 8s or a quarterly subscription at 10s 6p.

While the rental circulating library appears not to have continued past May 1767, he maintained the London Book-Store, offering imported books to his Boston clientele. He even conducted an auction of ‘several libraries of curious and valuable books’ in late May and early June 1766. Moreover, he further extended his business by venturing out as a publisher.  He was not a printer, so he took a printer to partner for his projects, at first William M’Alpine and later John Fleeming.  M’Alpine printed an edition of Issac Watt’s Hymns for Mein in 1766 (ESTC W7723) and a few other works.  However, Mein’s partnership with Fleeming was more robust.  Together they issued more than 50 separate publications between 1766 and 1769.  These locally produced books were offered together with imported stock at Mein’s London Book-Store. Further, Mein and Fleming first began issuing a newspaper, the Boston Chronicle in December 1767.

Alden identified 16 false Mein and Fleeming imprints issued between 1766 and 1768.

How did Mein go about marketing these? We’ll take the case of the Vicar as a case in point.

We first encounter Mein offering the Vicar  in 11 September 1766 issue of Boston Evening Post. It appears in subsequent ads in Boston newspapers in following weeks.

But, on 6 July 1767 in the Boston Gazette, Mein steps up his efforts and publishes a long blurb and offers the book at 6s (previous advertisements did not give a price).   His ‘blurb’ is worth quoting in full

>> The Vicar of Wakefield.  A Tale. Supposed to be written by himself. (Price 6s,) Sperate miseri, cavete felices.

The Vicar unites in himself of the three greatest Characters upon Earth: he has a Priest, an Husbandman, and the Father of a Family. He is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey;  as simple in Affluence and majestic in adversity. Every reader must be delighted with him for his sincerity, his hospitality, his fervent and overflowing affections, his divine propensity to forgiveness and reconciliation, his unaffected magnanimity in deep affection, and his exemplary moderation when raised to affluence and joy. The Family of Wakefield, in which a kindred likeness prevails of minds as well as of persons, and the other characters introduced are well marked and properly supported, and there are interspersed much rational entertainment, genuine strokes of nature and humour, and pathetic pictures of domestic happiness and domestic distress,  drawn from Life, and directed to the heart.

This excellent novel does great honor to the author Dr. Goldsmith, for moral tendency; and for recommending and enforcing in the most exemplary matter, the great obligations of universal Benevolence: the most amiable quality that can possibly distinguish and adorn Human Nature.  <<

Mein’s publicity campaign appears to have taken a turn toward larger promotion of the Vicar.

Another of Mein’s false imprints, his edition of Tissot’s Advice to the People … with Regard to their Health, according to Alden, showed a similar pattern of publicity – first just brief statements (in July 1767), then in October 1767, two columns of advertisement. Alden concludes that the earlier ads were for imported editions, but the October 1767 ad is for a new edition, Mein’s own edition with a false London imprint.

It’s entirely possible that Mein’s promotion of the Vicar followed a similar path.  The earlier ads (September 1766 ff) were for imported editions, while that fulsomely announced in July 1767 is Mein’s own edition with the false Dublin imprint.

 

‘Hath Just Imported’ – p. 183 in issue for 2 May 1768 of Mein’s Boston Chronicle. (ExOV 0921.201 v.1)

In Mein’s own newspaper the Boston Chronicle, he continued to advertise the Vicar. For example, in the 2 May 1768 issue of the Boston Chronicle, he prints an entire full page of advertising  (3 columns, more than 2600 words) detailing that he ‘Hath Just Imported’ more than  100 separately published titles, falling into the following categories: general interest (52 titles), psalmody (5), law (14),  new novels (19), school books and classics (20).  He further supplemented his individually named offerings by adding that also on offer were ‘all the lawbooks most in use,’ and ‘also a numerous collection of the best novels and books of entertainment in the English language.’ And among the novels, is listed: ‘Vicar of Wakefield. 2 vols. Moral, entertaining, and pathetic.’ Also in the May 9 supplement, he printed a long excerpt from the Vicar, viz. Chap. 10 of Vol. 2.

He continued to advertise it in his twice weekly newspaper during subsequent weeks.  The last ‘Hath Just Imported’ ad ran in the issue of the Boston Chronicle for August 29, 1768.

As a book importer, Mein had much to gain by holding fast to the status quo for bringing in British goods into Boston. However, local merchants in reaction to the recent Townsend Acts restricting trade, pivoted in their preferences and started what was called the Non-importation movement.  Their insistence was on now on goods made in America.

Change in consumer preference –

Within 13 months, by the fall of 1769, circumstances had radically changed. Despite his own preferences, Mein overhauled his messaging about his stock, and on 26 October 1769 in the Boston Chronicle, he issued a new book stock advertisement, this time headed ‘Printed in America.’

Of the 20, titles in that stocklist, all were books in high demand, each for their own reasons. There were books popular as practical texts (Dilworth’s spelling book, Tissot’s Advice on Health, McKenzie’s Art of preserving health) and books conforming to preferred religious sentiment (Orton’s Memoir of Dr Doddridge, Dr. Fordyce’s Sermons, Tate and Brady’s Psalm book). Others picked up on the political sentiments, such as Dulany’s Considerations on taxes or the pro-American Sermons to Asses, alleged to have been written by Benjamin Franklin. Some were popular entertainment such as Garrick and Colman’s Clandestine Marriage. And there were children’s books, such as Tommy Thumb’s Little Storybook.

And, added to this mix of steady sellers, were editions of Sterne’s Sentimental Journey and Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, both false imprints but at least contextually declaring themselves to be American imprints.

Likely because of loyalist political sentiments, Mein left Boston by 1770 as stated by Isaiah Thomas, or perhaps in the later part of 1769, according to other scholarship.

But, that’s not the end of the marketing of Mein’s ‘Dublin’ edition of Vicar.  When one looks closely at Mein’s ad ‘Printed in America’ (including his edition of Vicar) one sees a linked gathering of Mein books, all now claimed to have been ‘Printed in America’ and some with false imprints.  The linked network includes Tissot’s Advice, Garrick and Colman’s Clandestine Marriage,  Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, Fordyce’s Sermons, ‘Franklin’s Sermon on Asses, etc.

In April 1772, this same linked network of books is advertised by the English booksellers Edward Cox and Edward Berry in the Boston News Letter (April 9), for sale ‘cheaper than can be bought at any Shop in Town.’ In this ad you will find, along with the Vicar, Tissot’s Advice, Garrick and Colman’s Clandestine Marriage,  Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, Fordyce’s Sermons, ‘Franklin’s Sermon on Asses, etc.

Clearly, this linked network of stock had been remaindered to these booksellers, who also advertised the Vicar in their stock catalogue of 1772.

Based on available evidence, this is the end of tale of the marketing of Mein’s edition of the Vicar, for within a few years, with the outbreak of war, Cox and Berry resettled in New York, soon to be occupied by the British by the summer of 1776.

Chap. X of Vicar laid side by side with excerpt of the same chapter published in Mein’s Boston Chronicle, Supplement for issue Monday May 9, 1768. (ExOV 0921.201 v.1 and 2022-0031N)

Bibliography

John Eliot Alden, ‘Notes towards a bibliography of Mein Imprints’ (University of Michigan, June 1940) https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/003242614

John Eliot Alden, ‘John Mein, publisher: an essay in bibliographic detection,’ Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 36 (1942), 199-214. https://doi.org/10.1086/pbsa.36.3.24293527

Mary Pollard, ‘The First American Edition of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield,’’ in Peter Fox (ed.) Treasures of the Library, Trinity College Dublin (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1986) 123-130

 

 

 

 

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