Choice 7: The Journal of the Printing Office
By Wilmarth S. Lewis
“The Journal of the first private press in England is a small quarto bound in green vellum with gilt tooling, a very special notebook for a very special use. Walpole wrote his name and ‘1757’ on the inside cover. Below the date he added, ‘Archbishop Parker kept in his house a Painter, Engraver, and Printer,’ and pasted a cutting from the Craftsman of 20 February 1731, that describes the printing press set up in St James’s House for the entertainment of the Duke of Cumberland, aged ten. These were exalted precedents for his own press at Strawberry Hill, which was to become more celebrated than either of them. He also pasted before the first leaf of the journal an impression of Maittaire’s Annales Typographici, 1719, with the portraits of Gutenberg, Faust, Coster, Aldus, and Froben engraved by Houbraken. At the end are pasted business letters and bills relating to the press. Mrs. Damer took the Journal in 1797. It was sold in the first Waller Sale in 1921, edited by Paget Toynbee, and published by the Clarendon Press in 1923. I bought it in 1933 from Maggs. Among the twenty-six choices it ranks high.
“Walpole set up his press to be independent of the London bookseller-publishers: he would print what he pleased in as many copies as he pleased and dispose of them as he saw fit, giving away most of them, but selling Gray’s Odes, Bentley’s edition of Lucan, and the Rev. Mr Hoyland’s Poems for the benefit of their authors. He also printed Joseph Spence’s Parallel of Magliabecci and Mr Hill, a tailor of Buckingham, to raise a little sum of money for the latter poor man. Six hundred copies were sold in a fortnight, and it was reprinted in London. ‘I am turned printer,’ he wrote Mann, ‘and have converted a little cottage here into a printing-office–My abbey is a perfect college or academy–I keep a painter in the house and a printer–not to mention Mr Bentley who is an academy himself. I send you two copies (one for Dr Cocchi) of a very honourable opening of my press–two amazing odes of Mr Gray–They are Greek, they are Pindaric, they are sublime–consequently I fear a little obscure–the second particularly by the confinement of the measure and the nature of prophetic vision is mysterious; I could not persuade him to add more notes; he says “whatever wants to be explained don’t deserve to be.”‘
“The opening of the Press was described to Chute: ‘On Monday next the Officina Arbuteana opens in form. The Stationers’ Company, that is Mr Dodsley, Mr Tonson, etc. are summoned to meet here on Sunday night. And with what do you think we open? Cedite, Romani Impressores–with nothing under Graii Carmina. I found him in town last week: he had brought his two Odes to be printed. I snatched them out of Dodsley’s hands, and they are to be the first-fruits of my press.’ Two thousand copies of the Odes, ‘The Bard,’ and ‘Progress of Poesy,’ were printed by the Press and were published by Dodsley, who, as I have said, paid Gray £42 for the copyright.
“The Press had several printers before Thomas Kirgate arrived in 1765. He stayed to the end, becoming Walpole’s secretary as well, taking his dictation when he couldn’t write, and annotating his books in a hand so similar to Walpole’s that it has misled many since. We shall come to him frequently.
“The Press’s authors range from Lucan to Hannah More, whose ‘Bishop Bonner’s Ghost‘ closed its list of books in 1789. Among its other publications are letters of Edward VI, a translation by Bentley of Paul Hentzner’s Journey to England in 1598, the first appearance of Lord Herbert of Cherbury‘s autobiography, Count Gramont’s Mémoires (discussed in Choice 18), and Charles Lord Whitworth’s Account of Russia . . . in . . . 1710. Fourteen of the Press’s thirty-four books are by Walpole himself; seven others have his Prefaces. Chief among his own books are A Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, 2 vols, Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose, Anecdotes of Painting in England and A Catalogue of Engravers, 5 vols, in two editions. The Mysterious Mother, a tragedy, and A Description of Strawberry Hill in two editions. Walpole’s copies of the last three are in Choices of their own.
Lewis continues the chapter with details about Walpole’s own texts published at the Press, and introduces the Miscellaneous Antiquities, an occasional monographic series that ran to two numbers during Walpole’s lifetime.*
“The runner-up to the Journal in this Choice is Walpole’s collection of ‘Detached Pieces’ that he pasted into a quarto notebook with marbled paper covers. Its spine has a label, one of the Press’s rarest productions, ‘Loose Pieces Printed at Strawberry-Hill.’ on a fly-leaf Walpole wrote, ‘This book is unique as there is no other compleat Set of all the Pieces preserved. H.W.,’ but it lacks the title-page to Bentley’s Designs for Strawberry Hill. Walpole showed his affection for this collection by printing a special title-page for it. ‘A/Collection/of all the/Loose Pieces/printed at Strawberry Hill.’ This is followed by the south front of Strawberry after Paul Sandby and a print of Kirgate annotated by Walpole. I owe this supreme collection of ‘Detached Pieces’ to the good offices of John Carter and John Hayward who in 1952 encouraged its then owner, the Dowager Marchioness of Crewe, who had inherited it from her father Lord Rosebery, to let the collection go to Farmington. Their petition came at a time when repairs were needed in the owner’s bathroom and were effected by letting the Detached Pieces cross the Atlantic, and instance of domestic benefit conferred by a collector.”
Lewis’s then discusses not only other pieces printed by the Press, but also Allen T. Hazen’s Bibliography of the Strawberry Hill Press. Lewis concludes with a look at the subject of Thomas Kirgate, his complaints, and the reprints and extra-illustrated copies he produced for sale both before and after Walpole’s death.
Lewis, Wilmarth S. Rescuing Horace Walpole. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978.
To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called Choice 7: The Journal of the Printing Office download or expand the link here:
*Lewis resumed the series in 1928, and the Lewis Walpole Library took it up again starting in 2004. Of particular interest for this post, the eighteenth volume is The Strawberry Hill Press & Its Printing House: An Account and an Iconography by Stephen Clarke. (New Haven, Conn.: The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, 2011).