Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. II


High Street.] CONSTABLES SHOP. 211 . Oxford ; Mr. Alexander Campbell, author of the (? History of Scottish Poetry ?; Dr. Alexander Murray, the famous self-taught philologist ; Dr. John Leyden, who died at Java; Mr. (afterwards Sir Walter) Scott ; Sir John Graham Dalzell ; and many others distinguished for a taste in Scottish literature and historical antiquities, including I)r. Jarnes Browne, author of the ?History of the Highland Clans,? and one of the chief contributors to Constable?s Edinburgh Magazine. The works of some of these named were among the first issued from Constable?s premises in the High Street, where his obliging manners, professional intelligence, personal activity, and prompt attention to the wishes of all, soon made him popular with a great literary circle ; but his actual reputation as a publisher may be said to have commenced with the appearance, in October, I 802, of the first number of the Edihburgh Rtwiew. His conduct towards the contributors of that famous quarterly was alike discreet and liberal, and to his business tact and straightforward deportment, next to the genius and talent of the projectors, much of its subsequent success must be attributed. In 1804 he admitted as a partner Mr. Hunter of Blackness, and the firm took the name of Constable and Co. ; and after various admissions, changes, and deaths, his sole partner in 1812 was Mr. Robert Cadell. In 1805 he started 2% Edinburgh Medical and Surgicd Journal, a work nrojected in concert with Dr. Andrew Duncan; and in the same year, in conjunction with Longman and Co., of London, he published ? The Lay of the Last Minstrel,? the first of that long series of romantic publications in poetry and prose which immortalised the name of Scott, to whom he gave LI,OOO for ?Marmion? before a line of it was written. In conjunction with Messrs. Millar and Murray, and after many important works, including the ? Encyclopzedia Britannica,? had issued from his establishment in 1814, he brought out the first of the ? Waverley Novels.? Constable?s shop ?? is situated in the High Street,? says Peter in his ?Letters to his Kinsfolk,? ?in the midst of the old town, where, indeed, the greater part of the Edinburgh booksellers are still to be found lingering (as the majority of their London brethren also do) in the neighbourhood of the same old haunts to which long custom has attached their predilections. On entering, one sees a place by no means answering, either in point of dimensions or in point of ornament, to the notion one might be apt to form of the shop from which so many mighty works are every day issuing -a low, dusky chamber, inhabited by a few clerks, ind lined with an assortment of unbound books and, stationery-entirely devoid of all those luxurious attractions of sofas and sofa-tables and books of prints, &c., which one meets with in the superb nursery of the Quarter+ Revim in Albemarle Street. The bookseller himself is seldom to be seen in this part of his premises ; he prefers to sit in a chamber immediately above, where he can proceed with his owo work without being disturbed by the incessant cackle of the young Whigs who lounge beiow ; and where few casual visitors are admitted to enter his presence, except the more important members of the great Whig Corporation -reviewers either in esse, or at least supposed to be so in posse-contributors to the supplement of the ?Encyclopxdia Britannica.? . . . . The bookseller is himself a good-looking man, apparently about forty, very fat in his person, with a face having good lines, and a fine healthy complexion. He is one of the most jolly-looking members of the trade I ever saw, and, moreover, one of the most pleasing and courtly in his address. One thing that is?remarkable about him, and, indeed, very distinguishingly so, is his total want of that sort of critical jabber of which most of his brethren are so profuse, and of which custom has rendered me rather fond than otherwise. Mr. Constable is too much of a bookseller to think it at all necessary that he should appear to be knowing in the merits of books. His business is to publish books ; he leaves the work of examining them before they are published, and criticising them afterwards, to others who have more leisure on their hands than he has.? In the same ?Letters? we are taken to the publishing establishment of Manners and Millar, on the opposite side of the High Street--(? the true lounging-place of the blue-stockings and literary beau monde of the Northern metropolis,? but long since extinct. Unlike Constable?s premises, there the anterooms were spacious and elegant, adorned with busts and prints, while the back shop was a veritable btjbu ; ?its walls covered with all the?most elegant books in fashionable request, arrayed in the most luxurious clothing of Turkey and Russia leather, red, blue, and green-and protected by glass folding doors from the intrusion even of the little dust which might be supposed to threaten a place kept so delicately trim. The grate exhibits a fine blazing fire, or in its place a fresh bush of hawthorn, stuck all over with roses and lilies, and gay as a maypole,? while paintings by Turner, Thomson, and Williams meet the eye on every?
Volume 2 Page 211
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