The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period

The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period

by William St Clair



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The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Henry_Berry More than 1 year ago
St. Clair's voluminous book is important in the inter-related fields of publishing history, history of the book, and history of reading on two grounds--its methodology and its detailed data. St. Clair's commentaries are informative, and his deductions will likely be regarded as bases for further studies. But it is the methodology and the unprecedented details on book publishing and many individual titles contained in 13 appendices of more than 250 pages which will especially draw the attention of many readers, historians, professors, and others in this area. For the appendices somewhat schematically indicate the methodology and present the data for the deductions. The author's painstaking efforts and publisher's equally meticulous efforts to accurately record, classify, and arrange the novel data in smaller type with footnotes account for the high price of the book. Focusing on publishing and reading--the sociology of reading it might be called--of the Romantic period in England, St. Clair at first exposes the errors of presumptions and perspectives that are commonly taken for granted in understandings and in other studies of his subject. Rather than the historian's or literary critic's approach, St. Clair adopts basically that of the statistician determined to get at the truth about the presence, distribution, and effects of books in society as far as this can be found. An example of the effects on print runs of the 1774 decisions [as to number of copies printing]; The main old-canon poets printed in the tiniest of formats, the cheapest achievably at the limits of manufacturing technology; Novels published at author's expense, are but three of the hundreds of specialized categories of the volume of data in the appendices. As St. Clair rightly notes, the common presumptions and perspectives are not founded on empirical evidence such as numbers of copies printed, subsequent printings, the timing of publication, etc.; nor are they capable of uncovering and properly weighing such empirical evidence. The old presumptions and perspectives reflected the literary temperaments and sentiments about literature of such historians and others. St. Clair uncompromisingly brings an economist's and statistician's requirements of evidence and conservative assessments of it to his magisterial study of publishing, books, readers, and the society and economy they were a part of. 'How to assess influence is among the most difficult of all the methodological challenges that historians face in attempting to understand the diffusionary rise and fall of ideas' is but one of the author's remarks exemplifying his questioning of the accepted knowledge in the field and setting out his own clear, though not dogmatic, premises. A former high official in the British Treasury, St. Clair is now a Senior Research Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University. The author, with his great respect for simple logic and plain facts along with his innate conservativism in putting forth his new views, has not cast a rock against the house of embedded ideas about publishing, books, and readers. Rather, he has put out a lodestone which is likely to reformulate the study of books and related subjects.