In 1697 a translation of a French book was published in England by John Dunton, of the Poultry, London, with the title A New Discovery of Terra Incognita Australis, or the Southern World, by James Sadeur, a Frenchman. The Frenchman told a story of thirty-five years' adventures in New Holland; but his tale was a lie from beginning to end.
For example, he gives us a short sketch of no less than 135 then living London booksellers in this style: 'Mr. Newton is full of kindness and good-nature. Most of the 135 booksellers were good men, according to Dunton, but not all. 'Mr. Lee in Lombard Street. Such a pirate, such a cormorant was never before. Copies, books, men, shops, all was one.
These gormandizers will eat you the very life out of a copy so soon as ever it appears, for as the times go, Original and Abridgement are almost reckoned as necessary as man and wife. The mischief to which Dunton refers was permitted by the stupidity of the judges, who refused to consider an abridgment of a book any interference with its copyright.
"Mrs Mostyn say anything to you 'bout the cedar?" "Yes; she said the broken stump was to be cut off to-morrow." "Then you'd better get the ladders and ropes ready first thing." "You mean we had better," said John Grange quietly. "No, I don't. I'm not going to break my neck for thirty shillings a week. Heard how Dunton is?" "Very bad. Doctor Manning was here again this evening."
It was the 'Life and Errors of John Dunton, Citizen of London, the eccentric record of a seventeenth-century dealer in books, who, like Daddy, had been a character and a vagrant. 'Och! Don't I know it by heart? said Daddy, with enthusiasm. 'Many a time it's sent me off tramping, when my poor Isabella thought she'd got me tied safe by the heels in the chimney corner.
The real John Dunton has not the boundless spirits of the fictitious John Buncle; but in their religious fervour, their passion for flirtation, their tireless egotism, and their love of character-sketching, they greatly resemble one another. It is this last characteristic that imparts real value to Dunton's book, and makes it, despite its verbiage and tortuosity, throb with human interest.
Truly, book-making did prosper a man mightily both at home and abroad in colonial days. In a book-printer's wife, the mother of the nineteen children, did Dunton find his ideal New England wife; in a book-printer did he find his most agreeable companion. "To name his trade will convince the world he was a man of good sense and understanding.
And so he had determined to go with them, trusting to some fortunate chance for his opportunity. But, sitting in the old "best room" in the dark, while the ladies were getting ready, and trying to devise a way by which he might get an opportunity to speak with Miss Dunton alone, it occurred to him that she was at that time in the sitting room waiting for his sister.
I will engage, on the other side, to paraphrase all the rogues and rascals in the Englishman, so as to bring them up exactly to his Lordship's style: But, for my own part, I much prefer the plain Billingsgate way of calling names, because it expresses our meaning full as well, and would save abundance of time which is lost by circumlocution; so, for instance, John Dunton, who is retained on the same side with the Bishop, calls my Lord-treasurer and Lord Bolingbroke, traitors, whoremasters, and Jacobites, which three words cost our right reverend author thrice as many lines to define them; and I hope his Lordship does not think there is any difference in point of morality, whether a man calls me traitor in one word, or says I am one "hired to betray my religion and sell my country."
Dunton had a vast interest in the fair sex, owning plainly that he had a "heart of Wax, Soft, and Soon mellowing," though he was careful on every page to make everything seem perfectly straight and proper for the suspicious perusal of his English wife; but any nineteenth-century reader can read between the lines.