Thomas F. Bonnell, The Most Disreputable Trade: Publishing the Classics of English Poetry, 1765-1810. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.
It’s my habit to keep a book in the bathroom to read while cleaning my teeth… and doing other things… a book I don’t mind reading three and four pages at a time. By this means, I’ve learned a little about a large number of historical things. I seized on this particular book because of the interesting – dare I say alluring? – title, and because I’d read a history of the illegal book trade in prerevolutionary France that was quite frankly fascinating.
Well. Don’t judge a book by its title. Quite frankly, I expected something more… lascivious? Disreputable? Something more scandalous? But nope. No scandal! No disrepute! Not even any really juicy bookselling feuds, for crying out loud. It’s a fairly bland history of the creation of a publishing canon of English poetry by printers and booksellers in Britain. Apparently, the “most disreputable trade” part refers to what one London publisher thought would become of the publishing trade after a copyright decision went against them.
I was seduced by a misleading title, and now I know more than anyone really needs to about collections of English poetry in the late 18th century. Doubtless I will forget it all with great promptness, and remember only that there is a book in which information about it may be found.