On Same As It Ever Was

July 10th, 2008 · 1 Comment
by Kassia Krozser

To get a sense of how market trends are affecting publishing, it’s important to understand how those trends break from, but also mirror, those of the past. In the 1700s, when booksellers came to replace the aristocracy as the primary patrons of the literary arts in England, writers such as Henry Fielding and the Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith decried the phenomenon as a “fatal revolution.”

Fielding wrote a dramatic satire on the subject called The Author’s Farce, and Goldsmith railed ceaselessly against book merchants even as he profited by them. To wit: “You cannot but be sensible, gentlemen, that a reformation in literature was never more necessary than at the present juncture, when wit is sold by the yard, and a journeyman-author paid like a journeyman-tailor.” Goldsmith argued that, while booksellers commissioned a greater number of works than did the aristocrats, the quality of writing was deeply compromised by the process of commercialization; literature was suffering a spiritual death as a result.

File Under: Quote of the Week

1 response so far ↓

  • Don Miles // Jul 11, 2008 at 9:35 am

    I agree that the quality of writing is deeply compromised by commercialization. At the Independent Publishers’ Assn. “PMA University” in the summer of 2007, I told a panel that my book, “Cinco de Mayo: What is Everybody Celebrating?” was doing well with academia, libraries and museums but not with mainstream bookstores. One panel member had the solution. “Just change the title,” he said, to “The Secret Diary of Anna Nicole Smith.”