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Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain
Joad Raymond
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
£50.00, 403 pages, 41 plates, ISBN 0-521-81901-6 (hardback).

Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille
Université de Rouen


Joad Raymond's brilliant history of the pamphlet in early modern Britain comes as the third volume of a trilogy that includes a fascinating anthology of revolutionary newsbooks and a study on the invention of the newspaper [1]. Raymond's new book traces the evolution of pamphleteering and its essential role in fashioning "a public sphere" of opinion. It investigates the making of pamphlets, their format and distribution, showing that the booktrade and the material culture of the book cannot be separated from contemporary politics and from "the practice of literature and writing as a means of communication" (380). By concentrating mainly on anonymous works, Raymond revisits traditional studies that have underestimated the literary, historical, political and social importance of pamphleteering. Of course, such relative neglect has been partly corrected by recent scholarship that has explored the links between literature and history in early modern pamphlets [2]. However, Raymond's book is unique in so far as it proposes an overview that usefully synthesises studies that have tended to concentrate only on short periods, on a single issue, or on one particular author. His book, structured around eight chapters and based on clear theses, succeeds in making sense of a polymorphous, fragmented and often elusive production. Abounding in bibliographical references (primary as well as secondary sources), it reveals the author's astounding knowledge of the field and gives many suggestions for further reading. Besides offering a consistent history of the pamphlet (the first of its kind), the book also provides historians and students with ground-breaking analyses.

Raymond's history of the pamphlet starts with an unexpected prologue, written in the present tense, which plunges the reader into Saint Paul's Church yard—where most books and pamphlets were sold in early modern London—in 1580, 1642 and 1688, three emblematic dates corresponding to the emergence of the pamphlet, its golden age, and its decline. The first chapter raises the question implicit in any study which deals with pamphlets: "what is a pamphlet?" The term refers to a small book, generally printed in quarto format, consisting of between eight and ninety-six pages. It is a short, cheap, vernacular work, often engaged in controversial issues. It is supposedly scurrilous, unreliable, disposable and a waste of time. But these characteristics are not sufficient to circumscribe such a shifting notion. It should be added that the pamphlet was gradually moulded by propaganda, news, and moralistic fictions, and emerged from manuscript circulation. More importantly, "the pamphlet is a form that requires a complex and historically relative definition […], a definition that attends to generic and rhetorical elements, to its political and polemical uses, to material form and to the circuits of production and consumption" (25).

After this important introduction which presents the book's main contentions, chapter 2 is chronological and focuses on the first major religious war of words, the Marprelate controversy (1588-89), which divided the godly over issues of church government. The mysterious Martin Marprelate (whose complex voice is the result of a collective enterprise) attacked bishops, resorting to plain style, satirical devices and offensive anecdotes in order to mock his adversaries' pompous theological writings. Martin's lively prose undoubtedly marked prose controversy for a long time (including the writings of such authors as Milton, Marvell, Defoe or Swift). This controversy can be regarded as a "useful marker for the arrival of the pamphlet as a potent mode of communication" (36). It can also be most effectively used to anatomise the early modern pamphlet form: the Marprelate tracts were insolently short, written in the vernacular, had satirical titles and imprints, fake lists of errata and comic marginal annotations.

Chapter 3 looks at the material circumstances and practices that shaped pamphlets and describes the different agents involved in their manufacture and in the booktrade. It gives an excellent account of the circuit of communication that includes authors, publishers, printers, compositors, shippers, booksellers, hawkers and readers, and underlines the role of the Stationers' Company which was in charge of the licensing and registration of books and tracts until 1640. Raymond also reveals such useful details as the cost of a pamphlet (ink and paper), its format, the choice of type, the print-run, the work of the printer, before going on to discuss the distribution of pamphlets, which was the basis of commercial success, and a major concern for authorities engaged in controlling the booktrade. The question of readership is not evaded either. Quantitatively, the number of pamphlet readers rose as literacy spread down the social scale in the seventeenth century. Qualitatively Raymond demonstrates how authors anticipated the reader's expectations and conversely how the reader could impinge on the way pamphlets were written. To quote the book again, "the pamphlet was a public stage on which a speaker addressed a listener before a silent but all-important audience" (96).

The fourth chapter is concerned with occasional and periodical news pamphlets, which both fascinated and aroused suspicion, especially among members of the intellectual élite. News pamphlets only developed after 1580. Most of them reported foreign events, such as the Thirty Years Wars on the Continent; on the other hand, domestic news was covered cautiously before the Civil War. These news pamphlets were not published on a regular basis; the concept of serial publication only emerged in 1592 in England, with real newspapers in quarto format (called newsbooks) not appearing before1641. For the first time they dealt with domestic news—parliamentary debates, military campaigns, or church matters. Many occasional news pamphlets (which addressed both élite and popular readers) were sensational accounts of witchcraft, executions, apparitions, monstrous births, etc. Needless to say they were part of a commercial project, but also an opportunity to moralise the reader and at the same time to titillate his imagination. When the Civil War broke out, those wonder pamphlets became increasingly subject to ideological polarisation and were supposed to teach the reader the ways of Providence. By 1660, a culture of news had been established. Unlike his father, Charles II was not hostile to the press and thought it was an important element of statecraft. Although publications were tightly controlled, they continued to flourish during his reign.

In chapter 5, Raymond focuses on a crucial moment in the history of the pamphlet: the "explosion" of print that occurred in 1641-1642, when censorship broke down and when the division between King and Parliament eventually turned into a civil war. The statistics (neatly presented in charts) suggest a soaring number of publications, a move away from long octavos and folios towards shorter quartos and broadsides, a rise in anonymous titles and unlicensed items. He gives an alternative analysis of this watershed, claiming that such an "explosion" should not be understood in political terms as a direct consequence of the relaxation of censorship, but rather as the result of changing conditions of trade which where shaped by politics and ideology; in that sense, "the pamphlet was influencing the means by which the politics was conducted and the new voices that found expression in the 1640s were supported by the commercial press" (170). Raymond also sets the "explosion" of print in a European context and traces its origins in Edinburgh in the summer of 1637, when the covenanters started to use propaganda to rebel against Laud's introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in the Scottish Church. Although publication was limited quantitatively, the anti-episcopal Scottish pamphlets were efficaciously distributed in godly communities throughout England. Raymond's conclusion is much in keeping with recent historiography [3] when he maintains that "the 'explosion' of print in London in the summer of 1641, like the conflict between Charles and his Parliament, was a continuation of events begun in Scotland" (187). He completes this alternative reading of the 1641 conflagration by reassessing the representativeness of the Thomason Collection, which betrays its collector's ideological choices and sympathies. Chapter six looks more closely at the war of words that raged in Britain during the English Revolution. Although there were many continuities in rhetoric and practice, the flood of pamphlets in the revolutionary decades wrought major changes in the nature and scale of communication. Not only did pamphlets multiply, but they also engaged in dialogue and were obviously meant to influence public opinion. At the same time, the boundaries between polemic writing and reportage became permeable, while many pamphlets re-worked traditional genres such as the epistle, the dialogue, the Theophrastan character, the sermon (which was frequently turned into a mock-sermon). The radicals wrote massively to spread their ideas; they used many different forms, ranging from the petition to the manifesto, the declaration or the appeal. Richard Overton, who was the most innovative writer among the Levellers, resorted to drama and fiction in his religious and political tracts. Similar devices were used in fierce attacks against radicals. In the early 1650, scandalous rumours circulated about the Ranters (whose existence as a group is still debated today). In any case, an ideal of public communication emerged from this exchange of pamphlets, all the more so as radicals believed that the liberty of the press served the cause of truth.

Chapter 7 returns to the late sixteenth century and encompasses the whole seventeenth century in order to assess women's involvement in pamphleteering. Much has been said on women's writings and authorship in recent years, but a study of women's connections with the pamphlet form was still missing. In the context of a patriarchal social order with a firm distinction between the private and the public, women rarely had access to print and preferred manuscript circulation to publication. The pamphlet was, by definition, a public medium that was not part of a domestic and feminine culture. It is no wonder then that women authors were marginal. However, they tentatively entered the world of controversy during the Querelle des femmes, the debate around Joseph Swetnam's pamphlet, The Arraignment of Lewde, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615) and the Hic Mulier controversy. Moreover, throughout this period, they participated in the production and distribution of books and pamphlets. But the first woman who truly deserves the title of pamphleteer is Lady Eleanor Davis (1590-1652), a singular prophetess who was imprisoned for her scandalous tracts against monarchy and episcopacy. The significant increase in women's printed writings (mostly pamphlets) coincides with the overall rise in publication of the early 1640s. In some ways, the pamphlet form—although it was quintessentially public—suited their choice of a plain and modest style, their desire for anonymity, but also their intention to intervene in the forum during those tumultuous years. Women's petitions, whether individual or collective, are emblematic of this subversive foray into the masculine world of politics. For instance, when women petitioned and demonstrated for peace in 1643, they were violently turned away and ridiculed in mock petitions. Female prophecies (which made up an important proportion of women's pamphlets) were sometimes tolerated by the authorities in the revolutionary decades, because they were scripturally sanctioned and because women presented themselves as the passive vehicles for God's messages. More often than not, they were regarded with suspicion because they questioned the established government. Women's role in the periodical press is problematic. Although they participated in the polemics of their time from 1640s onwards, none was in charge of a newspaper in the seventeenth century, but some may have written the odd article, and their activities were frequently commented on by male journalists. Nevertheless, until the end of the seventeenth century, they did not write as women but associated themselves with men who supported their political or religious opinions.

The book ends chronologically with a final chapter on the Restoration. Pamphlets, celebrating the monarchy and stigmatising republicans, played an important part in Charles II's return to the British throne in 1660. Despite the special link between pamphlets and radicalism in the 1640s, the printed word and the press were then implicitly recognised as powerful means of swaying public opinion. Although the British monarchy implemented a much tighter control on publication (cf. the 1662 Printing Act), the press specialised, stationers with clear ideological commitments multiplied, coffee-houses (where newspapers and gazettes were read, discussed, and advertised) appeared, postal services were improved, more periodicals and occasional writings adopted the folio format which was then commonly used on the Continent. But the best evidence of the importance of pamphlets in the Restoration is their role in the Popish Plot of 1678-83. Mixing facts and fiction, the hundreds of pamphlets generated by the Plot can be held responsible for influencing public opinion. Raymond goes even further, persuasively demonstrating how pamphlets literally fabricated the plot, reviving the pamphletary modes of the 1640s and 1650s. He also interestingly points out how pamphlets around the year 1680 rewrote past events, for instance drawing parallels between the Civil War and the Plot. In the later years of the Restoration, pamphlet culture became more sophisticated, in its attention to form and also in the methods by which pamphlets were produced and distributed. Poetry and political writings were also influenced by this culture, and through the example of Dryden's Absalom and Architopel and Locke's Two Treatises, Raymond shows that literature (in the broadest sense of the term) "had not only been politicised and polemicised but also pamphletised"(380). Finally the epilogue emphasises how pamphlets informed and cultivated public opinion in early modern Britain. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the newspaper as we know it appeared. The link between quarto format and controversy gradually dissolved and the controversial pamphlet declined.

Showing that pamphleteering has a coherence and a history of its own, this book will undoubtedly become a reference point for all those interested in the genesis of public opinion as well as in the history of print. It will also give an excellent background to students and more advanced scholars who are interested in early modern history and literature.


[1] Joad Raymond, ed., Making the News: An Anthology of the Newsbooks of Revolutionary England, 1641-1660 (Gloucestershire: the Windrush P, 1993) and The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641-1649 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996). See also Joad Raymond, ed., News, Newspapers, and Society in Early Modern Britain (London: F. Cass, 1999) and Graham Parry and Joad Raymond, eds., Milton and the Terms of Liberty (Cambridge: Brewer, 2002)

[2] See for instance Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution (New Haven: Yale UP, 1994) and Lois Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writing: Royalist Literature 1641-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 1989).

[3] See Anne Hughes, The Causes of the English Civil War, 2nd edition (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998) 10-77.

 


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