Monday, August 13, 2012

Henry Lemoine: The Last of the Walking Booksellers

by Alastair Johnston

The world of books has smaller worlds within it. In the already stifling cupboard of books about books there is a subset of books about printing (or the making of books) of which I am an asphyxionado. 

Of the many works in English on printing, most simply cribbed the text about the origin of the art preservative from earlier writers, particularly (before the eighteenth century) books written in German, Latin or Dutch. Those in English, like Moxon's Mechanick Exercises (London, 1683), were undecided about the origin of printing in Europe. Three centuries later, we are still unsure of what Gutenberg actually did to make his Bible.

Henry Lemoine's Typographical Antiquities, or History of the Art of Printing (London, 1797) contains a history of the origins, as well as a chronological list of the printers of England, Scotland, and Ireland, an account of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Press ("The institution of a printing-office at Lord Orford's seat at Strawberry Hill, is a worthy example to the nobility; and reflects more honour on the founder, than studs of horses bred from the most exact genealogy." p. 91), an essay on literary property, a checklist of English Bibles, an essay on paper and so on. Lemoine was also a printer and he dismisses the Dutch claims to the origin of printing by stating Laurence Coster printed from woodblocks, and he is confident in awarding the laurels to Gutenberg for casting moveable type. 

In his lifetime, Lemoine (1756-1812) was known as a compiler of tracts, with which London abounded at one time, and a frequent contributor of poetical pieces to the Gentleman's Magazine. He and his wife Ann were prolific. Roy Bearden White has compiled a bibliography of them both which will greatly aid further investigations, though many of Lemoine's journalistic efforts were unsigned. Lemoine published many narratives of voyage and adventure from Baron Munchausen to Fletcher Christian. He produced an edition of Fanny Hill after Cleland's death, but one of his biggest successes was with an anonymous pamphlet, The Cuckold's Chronicle, compiled from court records of trials for ravishment, imbecility, adultery, and the case of the missing testicles.

A friend, John McVey, stumbled upon a biographical sketch of Lemoine in John Davidson's Sentences and Paragraphs (London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1893, pp. 64–70). First Davidson describes the used book dealers who walk around in shabby greasy-looking broadcloth overcoats with oversize top hats and a black sack, "the last of the walking booksellers." The king of these anomalous dealers in "mouldy sheepskin, vellum and black-letter" is Henry Lemoine. Born to French immigrant parents who were Huguenots, he had been a writer, playwright, journalist, a baker, and a French teacher. He in fact passed himself off as a Frenchman in order to get a job teaching French but once he was found out was sacked -- with a good character. (So perhaps we should add "actor" to his accomplishments.) On receiving an inheritance he opened a bookstall and also dealt in medicines such as "bug-water" (DNB).

His lack of thrift -- "improvident and of too convivial habits"-- meant he was soon reduced to walking the streets of Holborn peddling books which he bought at one stall for sale at another. "With his long drooping nose, black sack, and slouching gait, he was often derided as a Jew old-clothes man." This is indeed how he appears in an engraving published in The New Wonderful Museum and Extraordinary Magazine, 1802.

Nevertheless, Lemoine was one of the best judges of an old book in England and was indeed something of a Hebrew scholar. He translated Lavater's Physiognomy, collaborated on a new edition of Culpeper's Herbal and edited three successive magazines, The Conjuror's Magazine, the Wonderful Magazine, and the Eccentric Magazine. The Conjuror's Magazine, or, Magical and Physiognomical Mirror, which ran from 1791 to 1793, took advantage of a parliamentary repeal of a law forbidding occult publications. It reprinted the plates from Lavater (pointing out to readers that if they continued buying the magazine they would eventually get the entire book "free" which otherwise would cost them several guineas), and included sections on astrology, apparitions & palmistry. 

He spun off some of his pieces into a book titled Visits from the World of Spirits (London, L. Wayland, 1791). The journal was succeeded in 1793 by The Wonderful Magazine, and Marvellous Chronicle of Extraordinary Productions, Events, and Occurrences, in Nature and Art -- a fantastic news magazine that ran for 60 weeks until 1795, "consisting entirely of such curious matters as come under the denominations of miraculous queer odd strange supernatural whimsical absurd out of the way and unaccountable." Again each number contained engraved plates, probably printed by Lemoine himself. The Eccentric Magazine ran for 2 volumes from 1812 and contained "Lives and Portraits of Remarkable Characters," but Lemoine died before the first issue appeared. As Davidson said, "He studied in the street and produced his copy in public-houses."

But to return to his Typographical Antiquities. Origin & History of the Art of Printing. There are several dramatically written paragraphs in Lemoine's account worth rereading today, viz:

"Some writers relate, that Faustus having printed off a considerable number of copies of the Bible, to imitate those which were commonly sold in MS. Fust undertook the sale of them at Paris, where the art of Printing was then unknown. As he sold his printed copies for 60 crowns, while the scribes demanded 500, this created universal astonishment; but when he produced copies as fast as they were wanted, and lowered the price to 30 crowns, all Paris was agitated. The uniformity of the copies increased the wonder; informations were given to the police against him as a magician; his lodgings were searched; and a great number of copies being found, they were seized: the red ink with which they were embellished, was said to be his blood; it was seriously adjudged that he was in league with the devil; and if he had not fled, most probably he would have shared the fate of those whom ignorant and superstitious judges condemned, in those days, for witchcraft; from thence arose the origin of the story of the Devil and Dr. Faustus" (page 7).

On page 100 Lemoine -- despite his last name -- brings up the superstitious priesthood again: 

"Before the invention of this DIVINE ART, Mankind were absorbed in the grossest ignorance, and oppressed under the most abject despotism of tyranny. The clergy, who before this aera held the key of all the learning in Europe, were themselves ignorant, though proud, presumptuous, arrogant, and artful; their devices were soon detected through the invention of Typography. Many of them, as it may naturally be imagined, were very averse to the progress of this invention; as well as the brief-men or writers, who lived by their manuscripts for the laity. They went so far as to attribute this blessed invention to the Devil; and some of them warned their hearers from using such diabolical books as were written with the blood of the victims who devoted themselves to Hell for the profit or fame of instructing others."

Bigmore and Wyman thought "the notices of contemporary printers worthy of perusal." They also cite his "Account of the Louvre Press" and "State of Printing in America" (reprinted in Chicago by D. C. McMurtrie in 1929) from the Gentleman's Magazine.

As we've seen, Lemoine was something of a newspaper man, suggesting his Typographical Antiquities was a compendium of some of his articles, including the histories of paper, engraving and etching. The second printing of 1813 drops the article on "the Adjudication of Literary Property," but the book is not from the same type-setting as the first printing (as Bigmore and Wyman assert). The first 110 pages are numbered in roman but after cx the typesetters switch to arabic numerals. Even more dramatic is a switch from old-face type with the long "s" to a modern typeface without it between pages 112 and 113:

As a coda, Lemoine included a poem on the "Invention of Letters," reprinted from an anonymous source in an American newspaper (which had no doubt lain tucked in a book for 40 years). The poem, dedicated to printer/author Samuel Richardson, had been written in 1758 by someone who knew Pope and had suggested to the great man "that it was peculiarly ungrateful in him, not to celebrate such a subject as the Invention of Letters, or to suffer it to be disgraced by a meaner hand." In short that is a warning of what we are about to get: the disgraceful effort of that meaner hand. The style is imitation Pope and the best parts are the footnotes by Lemoine which give us a crash course in the history of paper and parchment, and trivia such as (according to him) the words book and bark are the same in Latin (see pp. 150-1).

Lemoine lets the author have his say about Koster:

Ah! let not Faustus rob great Koster's name;
Like him* who since usurp'd Columbus' fame.

* The "him," in case you hadn't guest, is Americus Vesputius. (Lemoine corrects the author on Koster in another footnote.) Of course, Lemoine allows the poet free rein to bash the (Catholic) clergy:

Thus Mexico's plum'd envoys sent to court,
Of strange invaders a portray'd report,
But mental speculations so convey'd
Were wrapt in ambiguity and shade.
Such representatives, to meaning strain'd,
Complex conceptions, but in part explain'd;
Part by analogy was known, part guest,
And venal priests interpreted the rest.

Ultimately some of us will need a footnote to understand:
Now num'rous moons th'Italic tube descries,
Peoples the planets, and reveals the Skies.

-- "th'Italic Tube" refers to Galileo's telescope.

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