The International "Commerce of Genius" : Foreign Books in Romantic-Period London

Part of : Γράμμα : περιοδικό θεωρίας και κριτικής ; Vol.21, 2013, pages 51-61

This essay addresses the question of the presence and availability of foreign books in London between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After considering the difficulties related to obtaining foreign volumes from private libraries, such as that of Holland House, it turns to examine the role played by periodicals in reviewing foreign titles and advertising the lists and catalogues of those booksellers who stocked and sold foreign works. Focusing on some of the most successful among them (such as Boosey, Treuttel and Würtz, Deboffe and Dulau), the essay sketches out a map of their businesses in London, the languages they covered, their different groups of customers, as well as the commercial and political risks to which they were exposed. As this preliminary investigation makes clear, this multifaceted phenomenon has not yet been the object of detailed explorations and reconstructions. Accordingly, this essay traces the outline of, and advocates, a comprehensive study of the history of the trade in foreign publications in London and Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. By filling a major gap in our knowledge of the history of the book, this reconstruction may also offer invaluable new insights into the international coordinates of the literary field in the Romantic era, and particularly in the years after Waterloo, when the cross-currents of an international "commerce of genius" (as the Literary Gazette called it in 1817) became an intrinsic feature of an increasingly cosmopolitan cultural milieu.
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