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British Fiction, 1800–1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception

Guide to Newspaper Advertisements

The material presented in the Newspaper Advertisements section comprises a listing of novels that were advertised in two London daily newspapers—The Morning Chronicle and The Star—and one Edinburgh paper published thrice weekly—The Edinburgh Evening Courant. Although advertising books in newspapers had always been a common practice, it was during the period under view that advertising novels became especially important and the records presented in the database document a remarkable rise in the number and the prominence of such advertisements particularly in the 1820s. While advertisements have often been used as a source for bibliographical information or to pinpoint the actual day on which a book first appeared, the entries here make it clear that they are also an important resource for the social and cultural context. They show publishers targeting particular audiences for a novel; document competition between publishers, owners of libraries, and book-sellers; and record the increasing use of extracts from reviews as a marketing device. The advertisements also detail exchanges between publishers such as the one excited by the publication of the ‘new’—or spurious—Tales of my Landlord, containing Pontefract Castle, or, more unexpectedly, serve as a medium for publishers to communicate with their sometimes indigent authors.

The three newspapers examined were chosen as representative, with The Morning Chronicle having the widest circulation and a strongly Whig political bias; The Star being an innovative evening paper whose founder, Peter Stuart, identified the state of advertising as a matter for concern at the paper’s commencement in 1788; and The Edinburgh Evening Courant being a Scottish paper that reflects the rise to prominence of Edinburgh publishers in the 1820s fiction market. The advertisements usually—although not always—appeared on the front page of the newspapers, where they competed for readers’ attention with notices for patent medicines, servants, lost dogs, and a range of commodities. Then as now, advertisements were a significant source of revenue for newspapers, and the cost charged to advertisers included stamp duty set at 3s. for an advertisement of any length; this amount increased to 3s. 6d. in 1815. Newspapers passed on this tax to their customers and charged approximately 6s. for an insertion of an advertisement of about 10–12 lines, with additional charges of about 6d. for each line over that length. Advertising was, therefore, a significant element in the total cost of publishing a novel, as can be seen in the contextual entries under Publishing Papers. That publishers were willing to meet such charges—which, in the case of some novels, increased costs very substantially—is a telling sign of the belief, on the part of publishers and authors alike, that advertising was rewarded with a commensurate rise in sales. Of a possible total of 2,272, records are included here for 1,734 novels, these ranging from the briefest of notices in a single newspaper to multiple, lengthy advertisements from all three newspapers examined. As can be readily seen, there is little correlation between the extent of advertising (and sales) of a novel and its presumed critical interest today.

The Morning Chronicle, as William Hazlitt noted in an essay for the Edinburgh Review (1823), was unique in organizing its book notices in a column headed ‘Books published this day’. The paper commenced grouping the novels in this way in June 1808, during James Perry’s editorship (1789–1819). From 1819, the editor was John Black, and during his tenure the newspaper was sold (August 1823) for an astounding £40,000, a sum that surely reflected not only its widespread circulation but also its substantial advertising revenue. Click here to go to the top of the page.The paper favoured the Whigs and it took the queen’s side during the ‘Queen Caroline affair’ of 1818–20 when the press and, indeed, the country were polarized. However, the paper also ran a daily ‘Mirror of Fashion’ column with news and gossip about fashionable and court life; it also appealed to women readers by including information about dress fashions for each month.

While the greatest number of advertisements recorded here is collected from The Morning Chronicle, The Star was also a prominent advertiser and, as the first London evening newspaper, opened up a promising new market for advertising. At its inception, the newspaper had ties with both William Lane of the Minerva Press and John Murray I. Editors of the paper during the period under view include John Mayne, Alexander Tilloch, and Andrew Macdonald—all Scotsmen. The paper was known to be only mildly political—tending to side with the Whigs—at a time when strong partisanship was the norm.

The Edinburgh Evening Courant presents an interesting contrast with the two London newspapers, and not only because, unlike them, it was not a daily. Although the paper evidently aimed to record all news items of interest to its readers, it retained a strongly local bias, reporting on crimes committed in the Edinburgh closes or on other local events alongside news of more national significance. The advertisements for novels were usually placed by the Edinburgh publishers—most prominently, Constable & Co, William Blackwood, Bell & Bradfute, and Oliver & Boyd. The exponential rise in the rate of advertising in the 1820s directly reflects an increasing domination of the fiction market by these publishers in the wake of Walter Scott’s Waverley and also of popular works by such women writers as Mary Brunton and Susan Ferrier.

In presenting the entries, every attempt has been made to reproduce as nearly as possible the exact wording of the newspaper advertisements as they appeared. The first line of each entry gives the date, and the placement of the advertisement in the newspaper in the form (page, column, item). The item number is derived by counting down from the top of the page. The second line gives the header; that is, the eye-catching top line of the advertisement. The entries for The Morning Chronicle show where indicated that items appear in the ‘Books published this day’ column, but in cases where advertisements are in this column but also had another individual header (for example, ‘Soon to be published’ or ‘In the press’) this is given in the header field, while the overall header for the column is given in square brackets in the Notes. The second line of each entry also gives the number of volumes, format, and price, if these are given. The Notes field indicates other material of interest, including epigraphs, dedications, quotations from reviews, information about edition number, and the names of other novels or works listed along with the main item being advertised. As nearly as possible, the latter are recorded as they appeared in the advertisement and have not been standardised. Advertisements have not been cross-referenced to these additional novels; entries appear only under the novel title which is the main item advertised. Although novels were sometimes advertised in lists supplemental to other, non-fiction works, it has not been possible to record these. The Notes field also includes, for example, such details as the publisher Joseph Johnson’s indignant disclaimer with respect to advertisements for Tales of Real Life (EN2 1810: 18) as a sequel to Maria Edgeworth’s Tales of Fashionable Life. Where extracts from reviews have been included in advertisements—a practice initiated by the canny businessman Henry Colburn and imitated by other publishers—these have in general been given in full in each of the entries with the aim of creating a visual impression of both the extent and length of advertisements for some novels especially in the latter part of the period under view.

 © 2004 Project Director: Professor Peter Garside;
 Research Associates: Dr Jacqueline Belanger, Dr Sharon Ragaz;
 Database/Website Developer: Dr Anthony Mandal
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