Self publishing is by no means a new phenomenon. While there has been some great and famous literature which began as an independently or ‘privately printed’ endeavor (this happened a lot during the Victorian era to works which had scandalous content that couldn’t be accepted by an established publisher), there were also–much like today–some books that couldn’t find a publisher because they were just crap.
The below is about one of the latter types of works. The original story can be found in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 1 January 1813.
“The Annals of Literature, fertile in curiosities and calamities, have preserved few anecdotes more remarkable than that of our own times, which we are about to record: The Rev. William Davy, curate of Lustleigh in Devonshire, finished in the year 1807, a work of which the title will be a sufficient sample:
“A System of Divinity, in a course of sermons on the First Institutions of religion; on the Being and Attributes of God; on some of the most important Articles of the Christian Religion in connection; and on the several Virtues and Vices of Mankind, with occasional discourses. Being a compilation from the best sentiments of the polite writers and eminent sound divines, both ancient and modern, on the same subjects, properly connected, with improvements; particularly adapted for the use of chief families, and students in divinity, for church and for the benefit of mankind in general“.
Snappy title. Why publishers weren’t fighting over this work is beyond me. The article continues:
“The history of this work, which extends to 26 volumes, is a surprising and mournful case of wasted perseverance. Mr. Davy attempted to publish his collection by subscription: this he found did not answer; so he stopped short, and resolved to print it himself – that is, with his own hands. He was poor, and for a reason which is sufficiently apparent, his theological labours could obtain no patronage; but his ardour and invincible patience overcame all difficulties. He purchased many worn out and cast-off types from a country printing-office as sufficed him to set up two pages; the outlay could not be more than the value of the metal, and he made a press for himself.
“With these materials he went to work in the year 1795: performing every operation himself, and working off page by page, he struck off 40 copies of the first 300 pages; 26 of which he distributed among the universities, the bishops, the Royal Society and the reviews, hoping, no doubt, to receive from some of those quarters the encouragement which he thought himself entitled.
“Disappointed in this, he resolved to spare himself any further expense of paper upon those before whom he had thrown his pearls in vain; and as he had reserved only 14 copies of the 40 with which commenced he continued to print, and at the end of 12 years of unremitting toil, finished the whole 26 volumes. This is a tale which excites respect for the amazing perseverance of the patient labourer, as well as compassion for its misdirection”.
OUCH. If the general disinterest in his book didn’t hurt his feelings, this snide report surely did.