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Olaf Simons/ Anton Kirchhofer, a The Novel in Europe, 1670-1730 : Market Observations

2. The European market on which prose fiction had to develop

2.1 The European decades
2.2 The market of printed materials: quantities
2.3 "Literature" in our modern sense - a realm which was not yet formed
2.4 Prose fiction in Europe - trade patterns


The European decades

Looking back in the early 18th century, the 17th century appeared as a period marked by political catastrophes and by an astonishing turn of affairs. From 1618 to 1648 the continent had suffered the "Great German War", eventually redesignated as the "Thirty Years War": armies had wrecked the agricultural foundation of central Europe and destroyed cities at random. An international conference in Munster had finally settled the fundamental issues. But it took Central Europe decades to overcome the economic setback. And even though there was no direct connection between the events, Britain had had its own share of disastrous history in the middle of the century: civil wars, a revolution, and a king beheaded.

A more stable period began with the 1660s - though not a peaceful one either. France grew strong under Louis XIV. and suffered under his repressive regime. Louis lead his nation into a war against the Netherlands - the great international political event of the 1670s. The 1680s began with the Turks marching towards Vienna. The city was besieged in 1683, and with France supporting the "enemy of Christianity", Europe was far from unanimous action.

The turn of affairs for the better came around the same time. It came in England, the Netherlands, France and central Europe with the economic situation improving. The seafaring nations drew wealth from their colonies. London moved into a period of modern capitalism with venture capital waiting to be invested on ships and trading missions. The wounds of the Thirty Years War were healing. The reversal came most of all with the political situation changing rapidly in the 1680s. The Turks were defeated in 1683. The following decades saw a steady expansion of Habsburg's power over the Balkans. France had not been able to occupy the Netherlands, nor could it destabilise the Empire fighting the Turks. In 1685 it was responsible for an entirely new catastrophe that now came to be of unexpected use to Europe: Louis XIV. ended the tolerance previously granted to the protestant Huguenottes. "French refugees" sought new abodes in England, the Netherlands and the German territories. A peculiar paradox unfolded with the events: Europe became a political entity - it spoke French and it was mostly critical of France. French intellectuals had been using the Dutch francophone press over the past decades to reach the European market, but mostly to publish abroad what they could not publish at home - a production smuggled back into France to be sold there on the growing black market of forbidden books. French fashions had been sought for among the neighbouring nations since the middle ages - a desire mixed with a special sense of shortcomings as none of these other nations could produce a culture of similar international attractivity. The paradox of the 1680s was that the neighouring nations were suddenly able to suspend the miserable competition. One could adopt France's fashions freely with the anti-French Dutch market promoting them as an outstanding European fashion. "L'Europe galante" - the imaginary subject of the new fashion - spoke French, it loved French literature and it adopted the mode of conduct the French court had developed as the most natural and most refined behaviour. #?#It loved on the other hand its cultural diversity, its different tastes in music brought together in numerous pieces proved this again and again.#?# Critical political and religious thought flourished on this market - inspired by French authors who wrote against the repression they suffered at home, and were read all over Europe #?#as an expression of that special situation yet at the same time as a production one could hardly produce with equal freedom anywhere else#?#.

1688 finally saw the decisive step into this new Europe with the Glorious Revolution bringing the Dutch William of Orange onto the English throne. When France attacked the Palatine region in 1689 the situation was ready for the "Great Alliance" of Britain, the Netherlands and the Empire to stand against Louis XIV. France's aspirations found a powerful opponent, and Europe became an interesting political entity. For French intellectuals it was the market on which their writings sold. For intellectuals in London the Dutch press served as the model for the free press to be introduced in the 1690s. Intellectuals in the German territories read the French press produced in the Netherlands and portrayed Europe to their readers as a beneficial invention: The Alliance fought to establish a European balance from which the Empire could ultimately only profit.

The 17th century ended with the prospect of the War of the Spanish Succession as the next war to be fought against France by the Great Alliance - financed in London, using the Dutch market as its political platform, and helping the Empire to gain what could not be gained without foreign assistance. The situation grew twice as complex with the beginning of the Great Northern War in the new century. #?#The newspapers of the last decades had already lead through Europe. The decades 1700-1721 became, however, European decades which a later natonalistic period had to deny with Europe's diplomats meeting in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid, with Eurpe's armies moving across the whole European map.#?# Gibraltar became British in 1704, Sweden's Charles XII fled to the Turks after being defeated by Russia's Peter the Great in 1709. Battles were fought in places no one had ever heard of - "Newspaper Dictionaries" became bestsellers on the German market, enabling their users to locate all the places and offering all the technical terms mentioned in the papers.

The Thirty Years War had been a human catastrophe - the new wars were different even if they were fought on an entirely unprecedented European scale. Europe strangely profited from these new wars. New debates commented on them. "Journalists" observed the European press in London as they did in Leipzig and The Hague and attempted to translate the political climate they observed abroad so that readers at home could understand the decisions passed in the highest realms of politics.

The euphoria for Europe did not last long. The British public was moved by the Tories at the beginning of the 18th century to abandon the Alliance and to come to an agreement with France amid allegations that this war only only benefitted the ruling Whigs who imposed a heavy war taxation in order to enrich themselves secretly. Delarivier Manley's Atalantis was the most prominent of the scandalous publications brought forward against the Duke of Marlborough, the military leader of the Alliance. Internal strife - the Sacheverell controversy - added to the political turmoil of the years 1709 and 1710 which eventually paved the way for the peace of Utrecht, ending the War of the Spanish Succession in 1712. The Empire signed its part of the peace treaty two years later. A dissapointed Geman press commented on the events: a war one could have won had been lost on account of political reasons that had to be sought in London. It remained to be seen whether the Hanoverian George I. would become Britain's next king - he did so in 1714. A peculiar situation was the result: The Whigs returned to power, yet their cause was lost; the French king died in 1715 leaving a weak France on the stage; the Netherlands started losing their central position. This latter development became more marked in the 1720s after the Great Northern War had come to its own gloomy end: Charles XII. had died in battle and Peter the Great started to build up Russia militarily and economically. National discourses were sought and gained importance on the European market in the 1720s and 1730s, in a movement that culminated ultimately in the 19th century process of universal nation building.

The market of printed materials: quantities

It is difficult to give an estimate of the production of the printing presses at the beginning of the 18th century. Catalogues like the English Short Title Catalogue allow title counts, yet a pamphlet is to them a title as much as a thick book - whereas they regularily exclude newspapers even though these will have been the big business of the period with publishers in Edinburgh and Munich supplying their readers thrice a week with latest news from all over Europe.

A more accurate evaluation would not look at titles only but at the amount of paper used - paper being the precious commodity to be spent on those productions which sold with the biggest profit ranges. One might think of evaluations by combining the data already existing: Paper formats and page numbers are known with most of the titles. Print runs might be roughly estimated for different classes of materials to be specified. Specified information about the paper consumption would enable us to say which productions actually kept the presses busy.

The simple title-count allowed by the ESTC gives a unique picture for the English market. A production rising gradually and continuously suddenly turns into a production with sharp ups and downs in 1641/42. The revolution obviously marked the turning point. The ensuing press wars possibly led rather to a decline of the market. A new development, however, set in with the 1670s and continued on the English market into the early 1720s. The peak years are easily discernible, and they are the years of political turmoil: the Popish Plot in 1679, the Glorious Revolution in 1688/89, the Act of Settlement and the beginning of the Spanish Succession War in 1701, the political year 1710 in which the Tories took over, and finally with the turbulence after Queen Anne's death and the Jacobite rebellion 1714-1716.

English Titles 1600-1799 according to ESTC information

The market turned political and it grew as a political market from 1670 to 1720. Though the quieter Walpole era saw a drop in title numbers, production did not fall considerably. With the 1750s a third development seems to have begun: an exponential growth - the explosion of a market which gathered momentum with its growth. One would have to look into the materials published here to establish the factors behind the development. The market itself changed at the time with printers in the colonies and in the provinces now beginning to supply the growing readership. The "rise of literature" probably gathered its momentum only later, when the institutionalisation of fiction and poetry as "literature" had got underway.

It is difficult to sketch the parallel German development - the present library catalogues and the VD17 do not allow a comparable statistical analysis. The 17th and 18th century term catalogues are an alternative - they, however, concentrated on the national trade, leaving local productions and short living materials aside. One might guess that the production reached its own 2,000 to 3,000 titles per year and that it was less politically motivated, though possibly accustomed to a political exchange since the reformation. Theology and learning were the major market fields in the German term catalogues. Politics and history prospered mostly in the form of a growing market of journals and political pieces yet without the party-strife London produced.

The market of materials in French will probably have grown considerably in the second half of the 17th century with Dutch francophone publishers selling their production on a European scale - we would appreciate a revision of this paragraph by a specialist on the French book market, and concede we know little about the Spanish and Italian markets which seem to have declined rather than prospered, or about the Slavonic and Scandinavian markets which seem to have been underdeveloped compared to the French, Dutch, German and English markets. Did one read French in Warsaw and Stockholm in 1710? How far did the Dutch press reach? A European market history regrettably has not been written as yet.

"Literature" in our modern sense - a realm which was not yet formed
[DIVINITY.] 71 37%
REPRINTED. 3 2% 70%
POETRY. 3 2%
191 100%



The English Easter Term Catalogue for 1711 listed the production London's publishers were trying to sell, arranged under the headings "Divinity" (50%), "History and Politicks" (20%), "Mathematical Sciences", "Physical and Natural Philosophy" (9.5%), "Philology" (11.6%), "Poetry" (5.3%) and "Miscellanies" (18.9%). Most of the categories were subdivided further into new books and reprinted materials. In the fields of "Divinity" and "History and Politicks", this served to mark out those publications which potentially made contributions to current debates - 56% of the production #?# constituted to the current affairs in the fields where public discourses prevailed#?#. Novels could appear under "Poetry" - if they were among the classics of the field. More generally, however, they ranked under "History and Politicks" though without finding a unfied space there.

The German term catalogue for easter 1711 was different. Instead of stressing the demarcation between new and old materials it stressed the line between the truly academic production in Latin and the growing production in the vernacular (45%). Instead of opening with the fields of public discourse the German term catalogue laid its emphasis on the production of the academic world: Theology (45%), Law (11%) and Medicine (6%) came first. "History and Philosophy" followed only then - including poetry and prose fiction without any subcategorisation in the field of "German historical and philosophical books" - "German" referring to the language one read, not to the fact that these productions were actually of German origin. link

Neither the English nor the German market showed the national traditions modern historians of literature carefully observe. Literature in our modern sense - a field of prose fiction, drama and poetry did not exist on the early 18th century book market, the scattered production preceding the modern literary production amounted to a few percent. Theology and "literature" in the early 18th century sense (of academic learning) dominated the production. History and politics added to the output of the printing presses, a field able to outweigh both learned productions if one included newspapers and journals.

Poetry and prose fiction made up less than ten percent of the market throughout Europe. The main reason for this was that the field did not function in any way as literature functions in our modern societies. The nations did not have compulsory education systems with state schools teaching the plays, novels, and poems of the greatest national authors. The media did not review these materials nor were they part of the commercial market flourishing through the interaction of the publishers, literary critics, #notorious# illustrious authors, state ministries concerned with the national canon of "literature", and Nobel Prize Commitees deciding whom to number among the leading literary voices of the world.

Poetry and fiction made up a few percent of the book market, but on the other hand, in a manner quite incomprehensible today, they pervaded both the most serious discourses and every day life. Poets wrote for funerals, weddings, jubilees - not only to praise monarchs. Regular citizens ordered their services to see a hundred copies of a funeral cantata printed for the occasion. Serious books would open with prefatory poems. Critics complained about the ominpresence of versified language produced by professional poets who prostituted what would otherwise have been an art. Prose fiction stood outside - poetry was mainly language in verse - yet it pervaded the market in its own way with curious stories told by sober historians to entertain their audiences, if necessary, in the midst of the driest accounts. A line between true history and fiction was especially difficult to draw, for inventions were cropping up in the most elegant contemporary histories wherever authors felt they might save their necks by introducing them - so as to be able later to claim that the whole piece was fiction, sheer "romance", full of inventions, hardly worth the scandal it created.

The markets of poetry and prose ficton were overtly scandalous. The opera was perceived as the realm where poetry reached its utmost beauty, the very harmony inviting music. The opera houses were at the same time a realm of scandalous court- and city-life with a cult of European opera stars ravishing the public and the rulers of Europe. Prose fiction was scandalous, if seen as a tissue of lies. It was even more scandalous, if seen as a reformed practice which had now #?#entered# the European Chronique scandaleuse as a fully accepted field of modern history, necessary to be written wherever things could not be said in more direct terms.

Literary critics had often called for better poetry to be written - without success. The situation changed in the 1730s and 1750s with learned journals now becoming a platform on which poetry and ficton, the "belles lettres", could be sold if the productions refrained from scandal and if they aimed at truly artful fictions. What we today read as literature was constructed in the mid 18th century in an attempt to come to terms with the scandalous market the late 17th and early 18th centuries had produced.

The situation in the early 18th century is the situation shortly before the rise of "literature" in the new sense of the word. It offered poetry and prose fiction mostly produced by authors who celebrated their anonymity and their lack of responsibility as a form of "gallantry" to be displayed. The development would ultimately lead into a reform movement producing authors who became representatives of the nation's literary life, yet only few authors anticipated this development at the beginning of the 18th century.

Bearing these differences in mind one might understand why early 18th century novelists felt at home in the field of "history and politics" rather than in the field of "literature" on which our modern histories of literature focus. Many of these novels include songs and operas - poetry in the early 18th century sense. With the exception of a few works we have learned in retrospect to discuss, all these works are still hardly ready to be discussed. They appear strangely superficial where we expect deeper meanings to be decoded and assessed. The early 18th century produced its own vast array of reviews and discussions dealing with literature - they dealt with "literature" in the old sense of the word: with theology, law, medicince, philology and history and scarcely touched a work of poesy or fiction. Those who wrote poetry and fiction, on the other hand, for the moment did very little to change this situation and to attract substantial criticism. They rejoiced in a freedom their market was about to lose, and cared particularly little about aestehics and the national traditions we would like to investigate.

Prose fiction in Europe - trade patterns

The market of novels - if we leave aside the low realm of chap bookslink - was highly fashionable. The yearly production of the two dozen titles in English and German had to sell mostly, so it seems, within the first year. German booksellers frequently removed title pages from remaining copies of a year's production and prefixed new ones bearing the new date to be able to sell the remaining books once again as entirely new. English publishers were less rash with the removal of title pages, and if they removed title pages after five years, they proclaimed misleadingly they now sold a "second edition". This was probably due mostly to the fact that they did not sell primarily their books to colleagues at the annual fairs. They supplied the London market, and here their books remained on display if necessary for a couple of years to come. London and Amsterdam were cities where lovers of prose fiction could probably choose among 500 to 1.000 titles of the last years. German readers eager to read novels were by contrast well advised to have their local booksellers buy the complete current production for them at the fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt. These books were otherwise lost. Only a few shops in Leipzig and Nuremberg would have had a greater variety of recent and older titles on display. Those who retrospectively diagnosed a crisis of prose fiction in England before Robinson Crusoe, the crisis of the old fashioned romances before the advent of the first modern "novel", have been most certainly mislead: the London market of prose fiction was - according to all contemporary voices - one of the finest in Europe, it abounded with "novels" even before Robinson Crusoe appeared in 1719, and it actually rediscovered the old production of "romances", carefully deliberating whether time had not come for a reevaluation of the old genre - for rereading it as a historical production in editions commenting on the progress which prose fiction had made, over the last century, through becoming a medium of current exchange.

Europe Novels Amsterdam Augspurg Belfast Berlin Braunschweig Bremen Breßlau Bury St. Edmond Christian Erlang Cölln, Colgne Copenhagen Dantzig Dresden Dublin Edingburgh Franckfurt am Main Freyburg Glasgow Haag Halle Hamburg Jena Leipzig London Lübeck Newcastle Nürnberg Nottingham Paris Regenspurg Rostock Stade Stamford Stockholm Ulm Weißenfels Wien

Readers who followed the ongoing production in Germany remained up to date if they bought their choice of these books as soon as they appeared. They bought in this case to a good extent the very production currently consumed by up-to-date readers in The Hague and London. And this is an aspect later historians of German literature have been very prone to discount in consequence of an exclusive focus on a carefully defined national tradition and a corresponding neglect of that which was on offer in translation.

About a third of the titles in German or in English were translations - and often translations of the same international titles which were currently en vogue. Translators in London or Breslau followed the production of the Dutch publishers and translated with tremendous speed. Fénelon's Telemaquelink appeared with its first volume in The Hague in 1699. Rumour had spread that the instructor of the royal princes had written a roman à clef he could not possibly publish in Paris. The History of the Works of the Learned reviewed the first part of the English translationlink in October 1699 attempting attempt to decode the political novel before the second part of the original had appeared in The Hague - and ran into difficulty, since the second part did not bear out its reading. The German translator August Bohse waited with his edition until he could present the whole set. His translation appeared in April 1700 a few month after the second volume had come out in the Netherlands. This speed was typical of the political market on which novels and all kinds of histories sold at the moment.

Constantin de Renneville's French Inquisitionlink appeared in Amsterdam in 1715. The Germanlink and the Englishlink translations appeared the same year. A Dutch translation followed in 1717. Robinson Crusoelink and Moll Flanders became European titles with similar immediacy, appearing nearly simultaneously in Amsterdam, London and Hamburg.

The simultaneity reached in this market was most of all an achievement of the francophone books selling via The Hague and Amsterdam. The connection, however, was not exclusive. Corelli and Vivaldi sent their musical scores to the very same Etienne Roger in Amsterdam, with whom Renneville published his book against the French tyranny. Holberg published his Danish tales in the Netherlands as Dutch publishers provided readers in Copenhagen, Madrid and Venice beating local publishers in all these cities with the power the international trade created.

Local productions rivalled the international production. If French ladies could become famous on the European market with the gossip of Paris and Versailles, why should ex-students from Halle and Jena not become famous on a more local scale with indiscretions touching these cities. Students boasted of their love lives in Leipzig, Halle, Jena and all the cities they moved to. Young ladies in London published insinuations about affairs they had. Urban gossip entered the market of novels - publishers were ready to sell, whatever sold, The public had yet to find out how far this development could go.


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