Servant and Catalyst:The Printer in Wales
Servant and Catalyst: The Printer in Wales
Welsh biographical dictionaries do not abound with the names of printers. When printers are included, it is usually because they have achieved fame or notoriety in a context other than that of the printing trade. Printing is taken for granted and even now more attention is paid to predictions of its demise than to its crucial role in the history of civilisation. The telephone, radio, television, microfilm, microfiche, CD ROM, the computer, the Internet - all these have been regarded as threats to traditional printing. It is true that printers are fewer in number, but they survive, and so does the old-fashioned book.
Certain dates are drummed into most Welsh school children: 1066, the Norman Conquest, and 1282, the death of Llywelyn, the last native Prince of Wales. They are not taught to memorise dates that had as great an impact on our country's history: 1456, when Johann Gutenberg's experi- ments with moveable type resulted in a magnificent Bible; 1477, when William Caxton introduced printing to England; 1718, when Isaac Carter pioneered commercial printing in Wales.
One wonders whether Carter realised when he lifted the first sheet off his printing-press that he was changing the course of Welsh history. Probably not, although unlike most of his successors, he was spurred to set up a press by idealism rather than for profit. The full implications of the spread of literacy and the ramifications of a native printing industry with its ancillary trades would not be evident for over a century hence. When the implications did become obvious, there developed a tendency to idealise the printer, a tendency fostered by the reputation of the giants of Welsh printing, men of the calibre of Thomas Gee and William Spurrell. While not in any way denigrating the achievements of printers, it must be stressed that, like other tradesmen, they were primarily concerned with making a living. They printed whatever they were paid to print, usually regardless of content. They were the servants of the paying public, but in the course of providing those services they became catalysts, facilitating religious, political and social changes.
In 1546 a London printer, Edward Whitchurch, printed Yny Lbytryr hwnn for Sir John Price. Sir John Price was one of the many Welshmen who benefited from Tudor patronage and who served his monarch, King Henry VIII, well, not least in overseeing the Dissolution of the monasteries. Fortunately, he was a scholar as well as an administrator and he rescued for posterity some of the priceless treasures that had been housed in Welsh monastic libraries. As a fervent Protestant, he valued the Scriptures, and as a patriot, he wanted to give his monoglot fellow-countrymen access to them in their own tongue. Yny Lhryvyr hwnn (In this book - its opening words) is a modest little Welsh primer, of no aesthetic value, whose appearance by no means matches its significance. It was printed by Whitchurch of necessity, because it was he who held the printing monopoly for prayer- books. TheLondon printers cherished their monopolies and this suited the Crown and government well; it was far easier to keep an eye out for potential seditious material if the number of printers was restricted and if they were conveniently located nearby. Certain concessions were granted to the University presses ofOxford andCambridge, but until the Licensing Act lapsed in 1695, any printing undertaken outside these perimeters was clandestine and incurred severe penalties.
Yny lhyvyr hwnn was rapidly followed by more ambitious Welsh books, notably Bishop William Morgan's Welsh translation of the Bible in 1588. Protestantism was not the only potent force in Welsh book-production; scholars like William Sales bury were filled with the excitement of the Renaissance and diverted it to Welsh antiquarian studies, including language. Some scholars clung to the old faith and published their works in the Catholic countries where they lived as exiles. However, sixteenth-century Welsh book production had little immediate effect on the generality of people inWales, who were but slowly recovering from the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, exacerbated by periods of poor harvests and plague. Owen Glyndwr's dream of a university forWales had never materialised and so the country suffered what we now term 'a brain-drain'. Scholars went toOxford orCambridge; ambitious lawyers entered the Inns of Court inLondon; entrepreneurial tradesmen emigrated to English and European cities to seek fame and fortune.
During the Middle Ages, large areas ofWales, especially the towns, had been in the hands of the Crown or Anglo-Norman barons. The intonations of many languages could be heard - Latin, Norman-French, Flemish and English - but they had not dislodged the native language. Welsh was universally spoken, though admittedly in countless mutually incomprehensible dialects. Co-existing with the dialects was a common literary language, a written language, used by the bards, prose-writers and manuscript copyists, who had kept Welsh literature alive against all the odds. Although English and Latin were commonly used by scholars who wished to communicate with their counterparts outside Wales, this literary Welsh flourished within its limited circle, limited on account of the illiteracy of the majority of the population. It was destined for a new, vastly extended lease of life as the basis of the Welsh translation of the Bible by Bishop William Morgan, published inLondonin 1588. To all intents and purposes it became a template for writers, editors, compositors and proof- readers.
Welsh publishing was a hazardous business. A potentially low readership meant that publishing costs could not be recouped in sales, and the costs were considerable. Welsh was treated as a 'foreign' language by English compositors, and although Welshmen had infiltrated theLondonbook trade (notably Thomas Salisbury), it was generally deemed necessary for Welsh authors to take up residence inLondonin order to proof-read.
Their costs were borne by affluent Welsh Londoners like Gabriel Goodman and Humphrey Toy. Patronage has always been an indispensable ingredient in Welsh publishing. Without it no Welsh books would have appeared in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, though the nature of patronage changed as the market for Welsh books slowly expanded. When it became no longer viable for a few individuals to sponsor publications, clergy and gentry of all denominations were persuaded by Thomas Gouge in 1674 to form the Welsh Trust. Its remit was setting up schools inWalesand providing them with Welsh books. In 1698 another society with similar aims was founded, this time under the aegis of the Church of England: the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, familiarly known as the S.P.C.K. Unlike the Welsh Trust, its activities were not confined toWales, but the interests of the Welsh were more than adequately served by Sir John Philipps,PictonCastle, and Sir John Vaughan, Cwrt Derllys, and their associates. The S.P.C.K. in addition to promoting Charity Schools and subsidising the publication of Welsh books also set up diocesan and clerical libraries in conjunction with the Associates of Dr Bray.
Schools and libraries, against a background of genuine religious fervour, succeeded in advancing the cause of literacy, which in turn led to a further demand for books, significantly for personal use. The large pulpit Welsh Bibles of 1588 and 1620 were supplemented by cheap, pocket size Bibles, largely on the initiative of Stephen Hughes, a seminal figure in the publication programme of the Welsh Trust. It was Stephen Hughes who was responsible for putting into print the most popular work of the time, Rees Prichard's Canwyll y Cymry, 'The Welshman's Candle'. No copy survives of the first edition of 1646 and few copies of subsequent are to be found, testimony to the fact that copies were handled to extinction
Canwyll y Cymry was easy to read, pleasureable as well asedifying. Thomas Jones, a Welsh tailor working inLondon, was astute enough to see that there was an opening for a bookseller and publisherspecialising in popular Welsh books. He was doing quite nicely in his new trade, but as soon as the Licensing Act lapsed in 1695, he left London (where he frequently complained about the printers) and set up his own house in Shrewsbury. His many publications included an unpretentious Welsh-English dictionary, an anthology of popular Welsh verse and the first Welsh almanack ' - material that was of educational value but w be read with enjoyment, by ordinary, non-scholarly people.
Shrewsbury has sometimes been called 'the capital of North Wales' and so it comes as no great surprise to learn that it dominated Welsh popular printing for nearly 100 years, even after printing had reached Wales and even though Bibles, polemical literature and scholarly works continued to flow from London, Oxford and Cambridge, with a trickle from other English towns, such as Chester and Bristol. Thomas Jones was rapidly followed inShrewsburyby Thomas Durston, John Rhydderch and John Rogers, and their publications were dispersed throughoutWalesby an embryonic distribution system, in which itinerant booksellers played an important role. Shrewsbury-printed books reached westWalesand proved an inspiration to two men, Isaac Carter and Nicholas Thomas.
Clandestine presses had been operated in Walesby beleaguered Catholics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but generally there had been little incentive for printers to operate in Walesand challenge the might of the Stationers' Company. Even when freed from the stranglehold of that august body, printers did not exactly stampede across Offa's Dyke. When commercial printing did begin in Wales, in 1718, it was a homespun enterprise. Isaac Carter of Trefhedyn (now called Adpar), near Newcastle Emlyn, was not a professional printer. He learned the rudiments of printing in Shrewsburyas a means to an end: his mission, like that of Stephen Hughes, was to aid the salvation of the souls of his countrymen through the provision of affordable edifying literature in their own tongue. His first publications were two little ballads (a far cry from Gutenberg's Bible!).2 At first sight, Trefhedyn appears an unlikely venue for such a momentous venture, but south Cardiganshire at that time was experiencing a literary and spiritual revival. Carter went on to print more substantial books, invariably poorly printed; he lacked the capital to invest in the best quality materials and his press-work remained amateurish. However, the aesthetics of book production were of secondary importance to a newly literate clientele. Most of Carter's publications were in Welsh, though he did print an English anthology of nearly 400 pages called Choice Collections in 1726. By then he had been inCarmarthen for a year. Idealist though he may have been, he developed enough business acumen to realize that location mattered and that printing needed the trade outlets of a market town in order to flourish.
Carmarthen was the prime town in southWalesand Carter's old acquaintance, Nicholas Thomas, had been printing books there since 1721. His standard of presswork was no better than Carter's, but he was more enterprising. He offered a bookbinding service, for example. His favoured system of publication was by subscription, a popular system inEnglandand one ideally suited toWales. The burden for gathering subscriptions lay with the author of the book, or the translator - because a goodly proportion of publications at this period were translations of popular authors like Bunyan. Subscribers paid half the cost beforehand and the remainder on receipt. When the work was a large one, as was increasingly the case by the end of the eighteenth century, it would be issued in 1/- parts. The printer needed a minimum number of orders to justify a print run; in the early days the figure could be as low as 300. Armed with foreknowledge and with the advance payment in hand, he could go ahead and buy paper, an expensive item because it was heavily taxed. Although the printer was spared the responsibility of touting for subscriptions, his help was invaluable in printing proposals, in inserting advertisements at the end of other works and in placing his distribution network at the service of his customers.
Literacy percolated steadily through all ranks of society during the eighteenth century, thanks to the establishment of Charity schools, Circulating schools and Sunday Schools. The grammar schools set up in Tudor times played their part, and Nonconformist academies sprang up for scholars who were denied access to Anglican colleges. Even so, the demand for books remained comparatively limited and printing was slow to spread.
Ventures inPontypool, Holyhead, and Bala were short-lived. With more success, printing houses were set up in Llandovery in 1770 and in Brecon in 1772, while in northWales, Wrexham acquired a press in 1773 and Trefriw three years later.Carmarthenwas the only town that had managed to sustain a continuous tradition of printing from 1721 onwards.
Carmarthenalso had the distinction of heralding a revolution in Welsh printing history. It came in 1762 in the guise of a Scotsman called John Ross. Ross had been properly apprenticed to the trade and had experience as overseer in aLondonprinting house. Overnight the standard of printing inWaleswas raised. John Ross in time learned Welsh and became a highly respected figure inCarmarthen. His output as a printer was prolific, but his most famous printing venture was the 1770 Welsh Bible, which was furnished with a commentary by Peter Williams in order to avoid infringing the lucrative Bible patent of the English printers. The first edition ran into an unprecedented 8600 copies and subsequent editions of this best-seller were on a similar scale. Peter Williams became a household name inWalesand his Bibles were treasured possessions, passed on from generation to generation. The name of John Ross is familiar to few and yet as a servant/catalyst his role was of immense importance. At least he has the accolade of a commemorative plaque inLammas Street,Carmarthen.
Ross's success and status proved that a skilled printer could make a comfortable living in Wales. Printing was brought into the mainstream of Welsh commercial life and by 1820 every town of note had at least one printing-house, the larger towns more than one. Moreover, the printers were professionals, men who had served an apprenticeship; the era of the amateur was over. This factor had a profound effect on book production in Wales. Whereas the early Welsh printers satisfied the needs of local ballad-writers, hymn-writers and authors/translators of religious tracts, they had generally failed to reach the standards required by scholars of repute, who had their works printed outside Wales. This was no longer necessary, because authors could turn with confidence to John Ross and his fellow professionals. William Higgs Barker could have books printed in Hebrew in Carmarthen.3 Dr William Turton had his multi-volumed translation of Linnaeus, A General System 0/ Nature, printed in Swansea by John Voss, Zecharias Bevan Morris and David Williams between 1800 and 1806. Philip Yorke of Erddig used John Painter of Wrexham for his fine edition of The Royal Tribes of Wales in 1799. The Welsh printer had entered the service of a prestigious clientele.
However, even with an expanding market for printed books, a printer could not survive solely on the profits of book work. In fact, book printing, though the most glamorous, was his least lucrative activity. What kept him solvent were jobbing printing and the sundry ancillary services of the book trade, bookselling (old and new books), bookbinding, the sale of stationery and sundry materials, insurance agencies, circulating libraries, book clubs and reading rooms. Such services affected the daily lives of people as much, if not more, than book production.
According to an Act of Parliament of 1799 presses had to be licensed and printers had to keep for six months one copy (at least) of every paper printed, together with the name and address of whoever had ordered the item or pay a penalty of £20. The traditional method of filing the copies was by 'stabbing' on a piece of wire. In the National Library of Wales is the file kept by Isaac and Margaret Thomas of Cardigan, covering the period 1826 to 1865, with the items displaying holes where the wire had pierced. The file covers the vast range of ephemeral printed matter that was needed to keep the wheels of commerce and social life turning in a country town. Jobbing printing falls into two categories: items commissioned on a regular basis and ad hoc material. Regular orders were placed for annual reports, membership lists and notices for societies, churches and chapels, organisations and institutions; for legal and administrative forms; for documents relating to the administration of estates; for labels, headed notepaper, and billheads used by tradesmen and hoteliers. Ad hoc material includes notices of sales and auctions of property and stock; in the maritime counties such as Cardiganshire there were also auctions of shares in ships. Posters and tickets were needed for theatres, concerts and balls. Specific projects (especially the building or rebuilding of churches and chapels) required maximum publicity. National and local elections, especially if hotly contested, were a printer's bonanza. A printer would cheerfully print propaganda material for opposing candidates. Private and public libraries were growing apace, and the serious collector wanted his own book-plate. Bidding letters were still in vogue, to be distributed on the occasion of a marriage, when friends, relatives and neighbours were 'bid' to come with presents for the happy couple to set up home. Items that make entertaining reading are recantations, public retractions of statements made with more haste than discretion.
Ironically, jobbing printing was often more imaginative than book printing, though generally falling short of true artistry. By 1820 the leading Welsh printing houses had copper-plate presses, which meant that copper engravings could be added to the existing woodcut and wood-engraved letterpress illustrations. Printers tended to use gimmicks such as 'Printing in Gold, Silver, and Flock'. Election addresses and theatre bills were often printed on silk, a material so fragile that few examples have survived. Posters and items like broadside ballads became increasingly more flamboyant. There were frequent occasions when the illustrations had more to do with the printer's stock of wood-blocks and copper-plates than on any relevance to the text, but the end-product was eye-catching and that was what mattered.
The sales books of several printers have survived, including that of Samuel Williams of Aberystwyth and his successors, covering the period 1816-40.4 In them we find references to services linked with jobbing work. The phrase 'posting up' indicates that, for a fee, posters or notices would be displayed on hoardings, doors or in shop windows. Deliveries were charged for: Samuel Williams records that for a shilling W. E. Powell of Nanteos had his 100 'Letters for Vote at the Election' delivered to Nanteos by a man in 1816. A translation service might be offered; in fact, Titus Evans of Machynlleth advertised in an imprint that anything could be translated from English into Welsh with care at a reasonable price.5 Amongst the Cardiganshire Quarter Sessions Records is an account of the disbursements of Herbert Lloyd, Clerk of the Peace, in connection with a 'special order concerning Robberies and Burglaries' in 1786. In addition to paying John Ross £2 for printing two hundred in English and £2 for printing two hundred in Welsh, he gave Ross £1 'for having such translated into Welsh'. 6
The advantages of having a jobbing printer near at hand were incalculable. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how people had managed in the past. Ephemeral though the material may be, it was essential at the time and it was usually required at short notice. Supplementing this category was a formidable array of general stationery. John Ross's advertisement for stationery in 1787 included:
Writing paper, plain, gilt, or black-edged, vellum, parchment, cyphering and copy books, shop-books, Champante's best sealing-wax, wafers, ink-pots, slates, &c. A neat assortment of Ladies and Gentlemen's pocket books from the Maker, in Turky and other bindings, with or without instruments. Maps and prints, plain and coloured, drawing-books, watch-papers, copies and black lines for writing, Gilbert's pencils, &c. Also sells, liquid Japan ink, Walkden's fine British ink powder for records, Bailey's Patent Blacking Cakes, fine scented Pomatum, Durham Flour of Mustard, patent smelling bottles, pasteboards for binders, fine mill'd boards for clothiers, camel hair pencils and water colours in shells, &c &c. And all the patent medicines.
The link between selling books and patent medicines was one of long standing, though few stocked patent medicines on the scale of John Daniel, the Carmarthenprinter, whose advertisements contained almost as many medicines as books. One can only speculate as to whether he was servant or catalyst in this particular field! It was not uncommon for printers to serve as Insurance agents. Less common was for a printer to cater for tourists, not only by compiling a guidebook, but also to offer as Richard Jones did in 1820 'Comfortable Lodgings at the Gomerian Printing-Office in Dolgelley'r"
Every printer was a bookseller, though bookselling rapidly developed as a separate trade as well. Books had been available inWaleslong before the advent of printers, often as part of a mercer's stock, but by the end of the eighteenth century, bookselling was organised on a more professional basis, with trade discounts offered as a matter of course. Samuel Williams's sales book for the period 1816-1820 records transactions with fifty-eight identi- fiable booksellers, drawn from north and southWales.
Indispensable to the book chain were the itinerant booksellers, fifteen of whom were listed as agents for John Evans, the Carmarthenprinter, in 1822. For their services in gathering subscriptions and distributing books, they received free copies, which they sold on their travels and at markets and fairs. Markets and fairs were attended by the book trade as by other trades. Indeed, an important fair day might be earmarked as a publication date and as a convenient venue for settling accounts. The relationship between the Wrexham printer, John Painter, and the author, Walter Davies, 'Gwallter Mechain', was such that Painter in 1802 offered Mr and Mrs Davies a bed at his house for the duration of W rexham fair. 8
Itinerant booksellers carried stocks of ballads, chapbooks and almanacks, items of little literary merit maybe but which were nevertheless a vibrant element in popular culture. It was a hard life. Travel by road was uncomfortable, to say the least, and was not without its hazards. Surprisingly, it did not deter intrepid women, for in Samuel Williams's sales book may be found references to two women travelling booksellers, Sarah Thomas and Gwenni Ellis.
Trade links among Welsh printers and booksellers, however meaningful, were insufficient in themselves. To build up a respectable book stock, contact with counterparts in English towns likeShrewsbury,Chester,BristolandLondonwas necessary. North West Wales had the advantage of being close toDublin, by sea. Until the coming of the railway, transport by sea was far more practical than transport by land. Ships may have been at the mercy of bad weather, but then so were roads. Sea transport was cheaper andWaleshad dozens of small ports in addition to the big ports likeCarmarthenand Holyhead. Incidentally, the 23,000 Thomas Phillips books destined for Lampeter's Library (now the Founders' Library) came by sea toCarmarthenin sixty consignments.
Links with English cities, especially London, were two-way and brought Waleswithin the orbit of the mainstream booktrade. Supplies of books from London seem to have arrived with little hassle, and printers like David Jenkin of Swansea could advertise in The Cambrian in September 1810 to the effect that 'having established a regular correspondence with Booksellers in London' he 'begs to inform Ladies and Gentlemen, that their orders for any description of books will be executed with the greatest expedition'. The Cambrian, established inSwansea in 1804, was the first newspaper printed inWales.London andBristol booksellers found it worth their while to advertise their catalogues in its pages, and this was a pattern which continued throughout the nineteenth century. But, as already stated, traffic was two-way. The names ofLondon booksellers appear in Welsh imprints with increasing frequency from 1800 onwards. Some of them were of Welsh origin, for example, William Davies of Cadell and Davies; Vaughan Griffiths; Evan and Thomas Williams, two Cardiganshire brothers whoseLondon bookshop specialised in books of Welsh interest. Owen Rees was a valued member of Longman, Rees, Hurst and Orme. His Unitarian background evidently did not inhibit his conviviality; his farewell party when he retired from the firm must have been exceptional because it receives honourable mention in his obituaries.
The more enterprising nineteenth-century Welsh printers benefited from working withLondonfirms. William Spurrell of Carrnarthen spent some time with Bradbury and Evans, Whitefriars; Thomas Gee of Denbigh gained experience with both Eyre and Spottiswoode and Gilbert & Co., while Charles Hughes of W rexham went to Simpkin Marshall. Hughes of Wrexham, a familiar Welsh imprint, in fact contracted out an unexpected amount of printing to firms inLondonandEdinburgh.
The Cambrian was the first of many regional newspapers in Wales. In 1814 the first Welsh language weekly appeared, Seren Gomer, also printed in Swansea. Seren Gomer was discontinued as a newspaper after nineteen months, whereas The Cambrian survived until 1930. Venturing into newspapers was a challenge for both proprietor and printer. The printer had to invest in new equipment, cylinder presses, and he had to refine his distribution system to ensure that copies were delivered on time. Welsh newspapers, like their English counterparts, were handicapped by taxes and duties. Fortunately, a new era opened with the repeal of the duty on newspaper advertisements in 1853, the abolition of the Newspaper Stamp Duty in 1855 and the revocation of import and excise duties on paper in 1861. Both English-language and Welsh-language newspapers could be published at a price that brought them well within the budget of the working man.
For the most part, the political and religious affiliations of newspapers owed more to the views of proprietors than to those of the printers, though there were striking exceptions. Thomas Gee, champion of Liberal Non-conformity, was entirely in accord with the policies of his Baner Cymru, established in 1857. John Gibson, later Sir John, was the charismatic editor/printer of The Cambrian News. His reforming zeal led to his effigy being paraded in the streets of Aberystwyth and burnt on the beach, but his leading articles were quoted throughout the country. Henry Tobit Evans was an interesting character. Originally a schoolmaster, he turned journalist and taught himself printing. He was a staunch Conservative and his newspaper, Y Brython Cymreig, was printed in Lampeter from 1892 to 1899. It lasted a further two years after his departure to become editor of The Carmarthen Journal, far longer than a previous Lampeter newspaper; Jenkin Davis's Lampeter Recorder and Cardiganshire General Advertiser appeared only in 1870.
When considering how influential the press is even nowadays, despite competition from radio, television and the Internet, little imagination is needed to appreciate its impact in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. From the beginning, newspapers had contained British and foreign news. In fact, for some time, pages covering the latest news were syndicated fromLondon. Ordinary people were being put in touch with the wide world; they no longer had to rely on slanted or garbled accounts embodied in ballads, chapbooks and almanacks, or on the vagaries of the jungle telegraph.
Newspapers were not the only vehicles of current ideas. The nineteenth-century printers were kept busy with orders for periodicals, in Welsh and in English, on a previously unimaginable scale. Religious and political controversies were fed by a plethora of journals; opinions were polarised by the fervour of contributors. There were journals for the lovers of literature and for those interested in music. Children were catered for and so, for the first time, were women. Many of the periodicals were short-lived, which is hardly surprising in view of the problems of cost and distribution. What is surprising is that several survived into the twentieth century. While accepting that for the most part the initiative for publishing a periodical may not have come from the printer, without his expertise and his trade outlets, publication could not even be contemplated.
Newspapers, periodicals and books of every shape, size and description rolled off the presses. To modern taste, the subject matter often appears turgid and dated, but that does not lessen its importance. All printed material reflects contemporary thought, and in order to formulate a comprehensive picture of society, one has to look beyond literary masterpieces and mainstream history to the minor publications. The latter were, after all, read by a great many people, whose minds and lives were influenced by their content. Maybe our greatest debt to the Welsh printer is that in undertaking the printing of minor works, he gave form and permanence to voices that would otherwise have remained unheard.
Printers, being primarily businessmen, had to shift their wares. Blank pages at the end of publications were used to advertise forthcoming publications of the author or printer, as were the wrappers of part issues and unbound sheets. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the lists evolved into full-scale catalogues. They make interesting reading, because they not only indicate how large a stock was held, but they also reveal the steady expansion of trade contacts. Although the itinerant bookseller and ballad monger retained a role in the trade, by the latter half of the nineteenth century the big firms were employing their own travelling salesmen.
Bookshops stocked second-hand as well as new books from the outset. A common addenda to many an advertisement was a phrase such as that used by Thomas Ridd of Cardiffin The Cambrian in 1811, 'Libraries or parcels of second-hand books bought or taken in exchange'. Printers supplemented their second-hand stock by attending auction sales, which were duly advertised in newspapers. An annotated sale catalogue of the Peterwell estate, 1791, shows John Ross buying £25 worth of books."9
The Peterwell Library, Cardiganshire, was but one of several country house libraries in Wales. From the sixteenth century onwards, gentlemen in Walesas elsewhere in Britaincollected books and manuscripts for the pleasure of reading and for the thrill of acquisition, and in due course their heirs treasured and augmented the family collection. By the eighteenth century, it was customary for rooms to be designated as libraries or for libraries to be purpose-built, notably those at Hafod and PictonCastle. Book collecting was not confined to the gentry; the literati (the Morris brothers ofAnglesey, Evan Evans, 'Ieuan Brydydd Hir'; David Jones of Trefriw, etc.) were amassing collections. The gentry allowed access to their libraries by accredited persons, and generally there seemed to be good will about lending books.
The latter half of the eighteenth century witnessed the birth of subscription libraries, and there followed a rapid growth of book clubs, book societies, reading rooms and reading societies, in villages as well as towns. It is difficult to tell from the titles whether a society or club had a permanent collection or whether the books were auctioned off at the end of the year. Permanent, indeed formidable, collections were certainly accumulated from the 1830s onwards in literary institutions, mechanics' institutes and working men's clubs. Meanwhile, assembly rooms included reading rooms and circulating libraries amongst their facilities. For the acquisition of new books and for the dispersal of books in annual auctions, the trade links of the printer/booksellers were vital. In addition, the printer/booksellers often ran their own circulating libraries and had done so from the mid eighteenth century.
Libraries were much appreciated by the visitors who flocked to Wales. The continental wars of the eighteenth century had deprived the English gentleman of his traditional European 'Grand Tour', but in Waleshe discovered an ideal alternative. Its distinctive customs and language lent it a 'foreign' air, and its romantic scenery, ruined castles and abbeys thrilled the artist and antiquary. Other travellers came in search of cures for their ills, imagined and otherwise, at seaside and spa resorts. After the 1850s, railways brought holiday-makers by the train load. The book trade received a tremendous boost in satisfying requests for maps, guidebooks, drawing and writing materials and copies of the inevitable travellers' tales. Charles Heath of Monmouth compiled and printed several guidebooks on the attractions of Monmouthshire, and reference has already been made to Richard Jones of Dolgellau's Cambrian Mirror. Libraries offered special terms for visitors and the stock was suitably augmented during the summer season. The more prestigious hotels had their own libraries for guests. John Bates, based in the sea-port of Holyhead, displayed commendable business acumen in the 1790s, recognising that the 'new and entertaining books' it his circulating library would 'prove a very agreeable resource to passenger: [toIreland] when detained by contrary winds'.
Access to free public libraries has dimmed our appreciation of libraries. One cannot overemphasise the importance of libraries in the nineteenth century, prior to the Public Library Act. Access to an infinite variety of books affected people's lives as fundamentally as the Education Acts. For the average worker who could not afford to buy books but who could afford a subscription, it was an avenue of escape to a wider world. In his History of Monmouthshire (1796), David Williams makes a revealing observation: 'Circulating Libraries, of little treatises on agriculture, would be of more service to the country, than those which furnish political pamphlets to embroil the men, or novels to enervate and inflame the imaginations of the women, destined for sober and domestic duties'. In a way, his apprehensions were justified; men were influenced by what they read, and knowledge gave them the confidence to challenge injustice and corruption. Likewise, albeit more slowly, the aspirations of women were affected by material they found in circulating libraries. There is a dialogue in Sheridan's The Rivals between Sir Anthony Absolute and Mrs Malaprop, in which Sir Anthony expresses his consternation at observing her niece's maid coming forth from a circulating library, holding in each hand half- bound volumes, with marble covers. 'From that moment,' he thunders, 'I guessed how full of duty I should see her mistress! ... Madam, a circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! It blossoms through the year! - And depend on it, Mrs Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves, will long for the fruit at last.' Women who faced a lifetime of drudgery or who were little more than bargaining counters in the marriage stakes found in novels the romance denied them in real life. Novels, incidentally, were also serialised in periodicals and in some local newspapers. Did these tales of romance sow seeds of dissatisfaction? Reference has already been made to the fact that women now had their own periodicals, and as the nineteenth century progressed, so did the radical thoughts that eventually culminated in women's suffrage. The printer and his book trade associates played an unlauded role in these momentous developments.
But not all members of the book trade languish in obscurity. The nineteenth century saw some remarkable printers, men who were movers and shakers, not just servants and catalysts. William Rees of Llandovery printed a fine edition of Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of theMabinogion and an edition of Rees Prichard's Canwyll y Cymry. Hugh Humphreys of Caernarfon pioneered a series of cheap booklets at 1d and 6d. Charles Hughes of Wrexham printed popular reference works and a series of contemporary poets priced at 1/- apiece. He also printed that most handsome of journals, Owen M. Edwards's Wales. Thomas Gee the younger has the distinction of being the only printer to be included in J. Vyrnwy Morgan's Welsh political and educational leaders 0/ the Victorian era, and little wonder. Amongst Gee's many achievements were two editions of a Welsh encyclopaedia, Y Gwyddionadur Cymreig. His newspaper Y Faner and journal Y Traethodydd were the most influential of their kind. William Spurrell of Carmarthen is immortalised in Spurrell's Welsh-English Dictionary and his History o/Carmarthen and its neighbourhood was recently reprinted.
These men were visionaries, but their dreams of fulfilling the potential of Welsh publishing could not be realised. The problem was the perennial one of economics. The book buying public had increased dramatically, but it remained limited. The spread of literacy helped in one way but not in another; more people could read, but with education being mainly through the medium of English, the use of Welsh declined. An influx of non-Welsh speakers attracted by the industrial boom, especially in south Wales, hastened the decline and, after all, printing in Welsh had been the local printers' trump card.
Trade generated by the institutes of higher education, teacher training colleges and the constituent colleges of theUniversityofWaleshelped, but that was not enough to counteract the effects of not only Anglicization but also the gradual secularization of society, which led to a further loss of revenue from the activities relating to church and chapel. The University of Wales, through the Guild of Graduates and later the University of Wales Press did sterling work in promoting and raising the standard of Welsh printing, but the story of twentieth-century Welsh publishing is one of steady decline.
During the last twenty years, long established printing firms have gone out of business. Printing houses have been replaced by photocopying firms. Much of the work formerly done by a jobbing printer can now be set at home on a personal computer and the required number of copies produced on a photocopier. Computer typesetting means that disks can be sent anywhere in the world for printing and they are, whenever it is found cost- effective to do so. Another nail in the printer's coffin is the growing tendency for research papers to be circulated electronically. The advantages for scientific and medical research are self-evident. Increasingly, reference works that benefit from updating are available on-line instead of on paper. Advanced technology may have made the process of printing easier and quicker than ever, but as the demand for printed material declines, so printing costs rise. Welsh-language printing relies heavily on subsidies, and it is unlikely that even the more prestigious English-language volumes would be viable without Welsh Arts Council grants.
For centuries our printers were loyal and useful servants. This account could be accused of giving undue attention to the early printers inWales. There is some justification; whereas all Welsh printers faced difficulties of various kinds, the early printers overcame what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. Without their courage and their services, our forebears would have been handicapped in all spheres of life. Printers helped preserve our language and our popular culture, and they oiled the wheels of society with sundry other services. They contributed to the economy by providing employment for a range of people: compositors, pressmen, salesmen, book- binders, shop assistants, librarians. Wales would be greatly impoverished without its printers, which is why every support should be given to the few printers that are still in business, firms like Gwasg Gomer of Llandysul, which celebrated its centenary in 1992, and the Dinefwr Press in Llandybie, which carries of the fine tradition of Carmarthenshire printing.
It is sad that the press at the National Library of Wales has been discarded. The press inherited standards set by the original Gregynog Press, the finest pressWaleshas ever seen. Two of the National Library's former employees, Idris Jones, Printer, and John Bowen, Bookbinder, were apprenticed in Gregynog and passed down their standards to the staff of the departments they headed. With certain exceptions, notably the volumes printed by Jarvis & Foster ofBangorin the early years of the twentieth century, commercial printing inWaleswas not aesthetically earth-shattering, but the Gregynog Press drewWalesfirmly into the realms of fine printing. Had the National Library had the freedom to forego economics in the interests of culture by retaining its press, who knows what it might have achieved.
Economics - the key to printing inWalesas elsewhere. Under the circumstances, it is little short of miraculous that Welsh printers survived as well as they did. Whenever a bibliophile comes across a scruffy little pamphlet in a second-hand bookshop, it behoves him to look at the imprint and pay silent tribute to a member of that fraternity who invariably signed his letters, 'Your humble servant'
Y Gymraeg yn ei disgleirdeb (Llundain, 1688); Carolau a dyriau duwiol ( Almanac am y flwyddyn 1681 (Llundain, 1681).Can osenn iw hen feistr tobacco (Tre-hedyn, 1718); Can ar fesur triban (Tre-hedyn, 1718).William Higgs Barker, A Plain grammar of the Hebrew language (Carmarthen: John Ross,
1773); second edn (Carmarthen: John Evans, 1814); William Higgs Barker, The Hebrew
and English lexicon improved (Carmarthen: John Ross, 1776).Aberysrwyth, National Library ofWales, NLW ADD. MS 2844E.T. Collier, Enwaediad a bedydd (Machynlleth, 1790).NLW, Cards/QS/08/4/1788-1800.Richard Jones, The Cambrian Mirror (Dolgelley, c. 1820.NLW ADD. MSS 1807E, 1035.Acct. of silver plate, books, china, pewter ... late the property of Jno Adams of Peterwell Esqr. Sold by auction at Carmarthen ... 1781. NL W, Gogerddan papers.
From: Readers, Printers, Churchmen, and Travellers:
Essays in Honour of David Selwyn
Edited by William Marx and Janet Burton
Trivium Volume 35 , 2004