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I sent a person to the author of the above
pama phlet, to desire him to give me a sight of the original of the preceding letters; but he returned for answer, that he had sent them back to the persons to whom they were written; so that I cannot be certain as to their authenticity.
I am, dear friend, yours.
“ Passion, 'tis true, may hurry us along ;
VOLTAIRE by Francklin..
DEAR Friend, My new wife's attachment to books was a very fortunate circumstance for us both, not only as it was a perpetual source of rational amusement, but also as it tended to promote my trade : her extreme love for books made her delight to be in the shop, so that she soon became perfectly acquainted with every part of it, and (as my stock increased) with other rooms where I kept books, and could readily get any article that was asked for. Accordingly, when I was out on business my shop was well attended. This constant attention and good usage procured me many customers, and I soon perceived that I could sell double and treble the quantity of books if I had a larger stock. But how to enlarge it I knew not, except by slow degrees, as my profits should enable me; for as I was almost a stranger in London, I had but few acquaintances, and these few were not of the opulent sort. I also saw that the town abounded with cheats, swindlers, &c., who obtained money and other pro
perty under false pretences, of which the credulous were defrauded, which often prevented me from endeavouring to borrow, lest I should be suspected of having the same bad designs.
I was several times so hard put to it for cash to purchase parcels of books which were offered to me, that I more than once pawned my watch and a suit of clothes, and twice I pawned some books for money to purchase others.
Soon after I commenced bookseller I became acquainted with what Pope calls “the noblest work of God," an honest man. This was Mr John Dennis, an oilman in Cannon street (father of the present John Dennis, bookseller.) This gentleman had often visited me during my long illness, and having seen me tranquil and serene when on the very point of death, he formed a favourable conclusion that I too must be an honest man, as I had so quiet a conscience at such an awful period. Having retained these ideas of me after my recovery, and being perfectly well acquainted with my circumstances, he one day offered to become a partner in my business, and to advance money in proportion to my stock. This confidential offer I soon accepted : early in 1778 he became partner; and we very soon laid out his money in second-hand books, which increased the stock at once to double.
I soon after this proposed printing a sale catalogue, to which, after making a few objections, Mr Dennis consented. This catalogue of twelve thousand volumes (such as they were) was published in 1779. My partner's name was not in the title-page, the address was only “J. Lackington and Co., No. 46, Chiswell street." This our first publication produced very opposite effects on those who perused it in some it excited much mirth, in others an equal proportion of anger. The major part of it was written by me, but Mr Dennis wrote many pages of it; and as his own private library consisted of scarce,
old, mystical and alchymical books, printed above a century ago, many of them in bad condition, this led him to insert neat in the catalogue to many articles, which were only neat when compared with such as were in very bad condition ; so that when we produced such books as were called neat in our catalogue, we often got ourselves laughed at, and sometimes our neat articles were heartily damned. We had also a deal of trouble on another score: Mr Dennis inserted a number of articles without the authors' names, and assured me that the books were well known, and to mention the authors was often useless. The fact was, Mr Dennis knew who wrote those articles; but was soon convinced that many others did not, as we were often obliged to produce them merely to let our customers see who were the authors. We however took twenty pounds the first week the books were on sale, which we thought a large sum. The increase of our stock augmented our customers in proportion, so that Mr Dennis, finding that his money turned to a better account in bookselling than in the funds, very soon lent the stock near two hundred pounds, which I still turned to a good account. We went on very friendly and prosperously for little more than two years; when one night Mr Dennis hinted that he thought I was mak. ing purchases too fast, on which I grew warm, and reminded him of an article in our partnership agreement, by which I was to be sole purchaser, and was at liberty to make what purchases I should judge proper. I also reminded him of the profits which my purchases produced, and he reminded me of his having more money in the trade than I had.' We were indeed both very warm; and on my saying, that if he was displeased with any part of my conduct, he was ạt liberty to quit the partnership, he in great warinth replied that he would. The above passed at Mr Dennis's house in Hoxton square ; I then bade him good night. When Mr Dennis called at the shop the
next day, he asked me if I continued in the same mind I was in the preceding night? I assured him that I did. He then demanded of me whether I in. sisted on his keeping his word to quit the partnership? I replied, I did not insist on it, as I had taken him a partner for three years, nearly one third part of which time was unexpired; but I added, that as I had always found him strictly a man of his word, I supposed he would prove himself so in the present instance, and not assert one thing at night and another in the morning. On which he observed, that as he was not provided with a shop, he must take some time to look for one. I told him that he might take as long a time as he thought necessary. This was in March 1780. He appointed the twentieth of May following. On that day we accordingly dissolved the partnership; and, as he had more money in the trade than myself, he took my notes for what I was deficient, which was a great favour done to me. We parted in great friendship, which continued to the day of his death; he generally called every morning to see us, and learn our concerns, and we constantly informed him of all that had passed the preceding day; as how much cash we had taken, what were the profits, what purchases we had made, what bills we had to pay, &c., and he sometimes lent me money to help to рау. them.
At his death he left behind him in his private library the best collection of scarce valuable mystical and alchymical books that ever was collected by one person. In his lifetime he prized these kind of books above everything ; in collecting
them he never cared what price he paid for them. This led him to think, after he became a bookseller, that other book-collectors should pay their money as freely as he had done his, which was often a subject of debate be. tween him and me, as I was for selling everything cheap, in order to secure those customers, already obtained, as well as increase their numbers.
In Selden's Table Talk is the following odd passage: “The giving a bookseller his price for his books has this advantage : he that will do so shall have the refusal of whatsoever comes to his hand, and so by that means get many things which otherwise he never should have seen." He adds, “ So it is in giving a bawd her own price.”. But I hope he did not mean to compare the booksellers to old bawds. Different professions are oddly jumbled together in the following lines :
“ No surgeon will extract a tooth,
No strumpet exercise her trade,
Where not a sixpence can be made.” Mr Dennis was, at the time of his death, about fifty years of age. He informed me that in his childhood and youth he was weakly to an extreme, so that no one who knew him ever thought he could live to. be twenty years of age ; however, he enjoyed an uninterrupted state of health for nearly the last forty years of his life; this he ascribed to his strictly adhering to the rules laid down by Cornaro and Tryon in their books on Health, Long Life, and Happiness. His unexpected death was in consequence of a fever caught by sitting in a cold damp room.
“ O'er the sad reliques of each friend sincere,
I am, dear friend, yours.