The Market Place of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England.
The first major problem encountered in this fascinating study of pamphlets and their circulation in early modern England is essentially one of definition. What is a pamphlet and can any single set of defining bibliographical terminologies be used to categorize its various forms? While a political tract, a miscellany of ballads, tales of remarkable events, or a polemical contribution to a current social debate might all reasonably fall under the modern library classification of 'pamphlet', rarely would the term be applied to, say, a published sermon or a quarto edition of a court masque. Furthermore, at the very period when some of England's major libraries were first being assembled, some influential individuals Thomas Bodley being the most notable example - considered pamphlets to be beneath the attention of serious readers and systematically sought to exclude them from their collections. While the categorization of pamphlets as specific commodities (rather than by their authors, titles, or subject matter) distinguishes them from other forms of small format publications, there are still no clear and stable distinctions to be drawn between a pamphlet, a small book, or even a miscellaneous document too short to be called a book and too long to fit into a single-sheet broadside format. Inevitably, pamphlets have sometimes come to be regarded by modern critics as something of a marginal form in terms of the central business of Elizabethan and Jacobean stationers. And yet, as easily producible and quickly saleable commodities - capable of being set up and run off between larger print jobs - the pamphlet became an essential staple for the profit margins of many of those involved in the booktrade at varying levels of seniority and prosperity. Furthermore, through their very centrality to the financial status of their authors, printers, and sellers, pamphlets became an important focus for the various preoccupations and anxieties of a period still coming to terms with the impact of print culture on the economical and social marketplace.
In this intelligently structured study Alexandra Halasz wisely avoids any attempt to consider the whole range of pamphlets produced within the period and instead selects a small, closely knit groups of texts, all written between 1592 and 1600, to form the major focus of her investigations. Beginning with an informative overview of the production and circulation of English pamphlets at the end of the sixteenth century (supported by a clear historical and theoretical contextualizing of the prevailing social and economic conditions), she then moves on to consider in detail a single pamphlet, Kind-Hartes Dreame, penned by an experienced member of the Stationers' Company, Henry Chettle. As someone who had already been actively involved in the printing trade for some fifteen years by the time of this publication, as well as being an occasional writer for the stage, Chettle and his pamphlet offer a valuable insight into the multiplicity of collaborative interests and positions involved in a discursive production such as Kind-Hartes Dreame. This text also provides a representative indication of the longevity of some of these ephemeral productions, since twenty-two years after the publication of Chettle's pamphlet Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair was still able to invoke in its induction the memory of Kind-hart as a populist icon. Subsequent chapters concentrate upon such figures as the university-educated Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey and the ballad books and historical fictions written by Thomas Deloney, originally by profession a silk weaver. In the fifth chapter Halasz's focus widens to consider the ways in which early-seventeenth-century pamphlets may be taken as representative of the broader functioning of the market-place and the relations between literary production and consumption.
Although this book offers an authoritative and, it could be argued, a definitive assessment of the significance of literary pamphleteering during a crucial period in the development of England's print culture, it should also be noted that its various studies of individual authors are of no less importance in themselves. In a sub-section (entitled 'The entrepreneurial pamphlet') of her final chapter, Halasz explores the thematics of surplus and loss articulated in pamphlets by the prolific so-called 'hack' writer, John Taylor the Water-Poet. Taylor, renowned to his readers as an adventurous traveller and wry social commentator, penned some 200 pamphlets between 1612 and 1653 on whatever topics took his fancy. Sometimes usefully defined as a proto-journalist, Taylor provides a fascinating example of how such ephemeral works as Kicksey-Winsey: or a Lerry come-twang (1619) and A shilling, or travailes of twelve-pence (1612) came to be published, whether by subscription, direct monetary exchange between writer or reader, or by the more conventional means of a stationer and bookseller promulgating the literary wares of a highly saleable and 'populist' writer. While, in one sense, simply providing a concluding section to an important reassessment of the production, dissemination, and cultural value of pamphlets in Early Modern England, Halasz's survey of Taylor's activities as a pamphleteer also offers a valuable and original response to him as an individual writer and poet. The same comment might also be made of her pioneering work in this study on Nashe, Deloney, and Gabriel Harvey. In each case, The Marketplace of Print enhances our perception of not only the forms in which these authors chose to write but also of the significance of their individual careers as literary artisans and craftsmen.
MICHAEL O. BRENNAN The University of Leeds
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|Author:||Brennan, Michael G.|
|Publication:||Notes and Queries|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1998|
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