Grub Street: The Literary and the Literatory in Eighteenth-Century Britain
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What is a "Literatory"?

The image above, which was originally published in The Grub-Street Journal for October 30, 1732, depicts the "art and mystery" of printing in what it calls the "literatory" of one Edmund Curll, a notorious printer/publisher in the period, about whom we'll be learning much more this semester. By "literatory," it seems to mean a kind of factory for the production of texts, a workshop where literature is the product more of mechanism than inspiration. What follows is the Journal's detailed "explications"--more than one, as you'll see--of the image. After offering a number of extremely complex interpretations of the picture--each of which relies on the reader's intimate acquaintance with the politics and personalities of the moment--"Bavius" (a code name for one of the journal's editors) offers his own, more straightforward interpretation (highlighted in red) of the image, one that considers it to be a satire on the duplicity and venality of Edmund Curll, who is almost surely the "particular bookseller" referred to in the last line of the text.

In its vivid depiction of an eighteenth-century print shop inhabited by beasts who emblematize the kinds of base instincts that the press was imagined to exploit and foster and its multiple, coded, and to some degree still enigmatic explanations, this image is testimony to the richness of eighteenth-century print culture and the importance it held for contemporary considerations of politics and literature.


As the title of this picture professes to exhibit an emblem of the art and mystery of printing, the most obvious interpretation is that, which explains the figures in conformity to that art.

In the first part is represented a compositor at work on a Journal, having the head and ears of an ass; because the compositors are called asses by the press-men, by why of return for their calling them hogs and horses. The work, in which this compos'tor is concerned, seems to require long ears, that he may hear abundance of news, and likewise the tread of messengers before they come upon him, and so may have time to dispose of his work, and compose himself to give them a proper reception.

The middle part represents the work at the press: in which the first figure, with the face of a hog, is he who works with the balls; and the second, with the horse's face, he who draws the press. This action of drawing gave occasion to the fixing on him the name of horse, but why his companion is called a hog, does not so plainly appear: perhaps it may be, because the hardness of this work inclines the operators to eat and drink like hogs.

The third conspicuous figure is an underling sort of devil, called a fly; whose business is to take the news-papers off the press, when they are worked in great haste. The next figure, which has the face of a grey-hound, seems to denote a messenger, who carries that animal for his badge, and is kicking the Craftsman out of the chace. The fifth and last figure, with the head of a Janus, may very well represent the master printer, who is overlooking and hastening of the work: He has two different faces, answerable to the two different weekly papers, which he is supposed to print: but which was deigned for the whig face, and which for the tory, it is not easy to discover. One may fancy, that the latter was most probably intended by that, the nose of which is nearest to Fog's Journal: but this is only mere conjecture. The owl, perched upon the press, being the bird of Pallas, the goddess of arts and sciences, very properly presides over the whole work: but whether we suppose it an Athenian, or a Grub-streetian owl, there is no impropriety in either supposition.

The third division of the picture exhibits to view a lusty errand boy, in the shape of a devil, hanging upon the poles different papers, books, or pamplets to dry them.


From this explication it is evident, that all the figures are intended to represent characters, and not any particular persons: and consequently, that the figure with the double face is designed only to shew, that Printers in general do not scruple, in political and party controversies, or indeed in any other, to print on both sides. And since there is no person in the world, who ever was concerned in printing the two papers here distinctly specified, the application of that figure to any particular person, who either is at present, or has formerly been a printer, must be the effect of ignorance, or of malice, or of both.

But besides this satyrical explication of this figure, there is another, which is very probable, and which carries with it a tacit, but great commendation of the art of typography. For what statue can more properly be placed in a printing-house, than that of a Janus; to shew that the professors of this art retrieve the transactions of past ages, and transmit them safe, together with those of the present, down to the latest posterity? So that, as the elder face has a retrospect to all preceding, so the younger has a prospect towards all future generations.

But there is, I hear, a political interpretation, which is this; That by the person with the ass's head is signified an informer, seeming intent on some business, but listening at the same time with his long ass's ears to what passes behind him: that by the three figures with the heads of a dog, a horse, and a swine, the last of which has a glass bottle in each hand, some persons of quality are pointed at, who are censured by the vulgar, as delighting in punting, or horse-racing, or drinking, or whoring, or in all together: that by the gentleman with the head of a Janus a great states-man is intended, who could not be fit for that station, unless he had two faces; with one of which he grins in an angry manner at Fog's Journal, which his friend with the dog's face, tied wig, and sword, kicks at that of the Craftsman in great indignation: that the press represents the squeezing of the people: lastly, that the meaning of the owl, and one of the devils, is too plain to need any explication; and that the other is signified some old battered rake, who is a cuckold, and is at last exposed to all the world by a case of impotency.

This, I am informed, is the malicious exposition of THE RESTORER OF ANCIENT ELOCUTION, in hopes of drawing a prosecution upon us; who adds, that if no more was intended by the person with the dog's face, than to ridicule one of his majesty's messengers, or even his principal rat-catcher, the design would be treasonable. But all this he has sayed in revenge for another interpretation, which has been put upon this picture by some ingenious conjecturers. These say, the figure in the first part represents one of his auditors, and perhaps particularly his clerk: that the Janus in the second shews him, either according to a former transaction of his, of which there is an account in the Dunciad, book iii. 195: "that he offered the service of his pen, in one morning, to two great men of opinions and interests directly opposite, but was unfortunately rejected by both: or else it represents him in his present two double capacities; in the one of whihc he appears with his theological or Sundays, and his satyrical or Wednesday's face, either as a Jack Presbyter, or a Jack Pudding: in the other he is represented as Orator and Hyp-Doctor. If we look upon him in the former character, we may suppose him to be teaching variety of action to three pupils in a private room: if in the latter, we may imagine him to be in a printing house, taking care that the printers do not print a greater number of his paper than he allows; it being a difficulty, among all those he has explained, which he cou'd never solve to his own satisfaction, How it comes to pass, that, notwithstanding he publishes so few of his paper, and so many daily puffs and advertisements to tell the world what it contains, they should be so stupid as to take so little notice of it, and leave so many upon his hands. The owl is the emblem of Athenian elocution, which this gentleman has for so many years laboured in vain to restore. As to the two devils, they say, it would be an affront to the understanding of every spectator to illustrate them, the meaning of them being as evident as the Cases of impotency, so conspicuous upon the peel of one of them.

There is another explication of some coffee-house wits, which, tho' not so probable, being farther fetched, I shall briefly mention. By this, the whole is applied to the charitable corporation. The poor wretch with the ass's head brings his goods to be pawn'd, and seems intently viewing some ring or jewel of value, and taking his last leave of it. The press stands for the scheme of project of the corporation: The double-faced gentleman may denote a director with his charitable and his cheating face, giving directions to his barbarous, ravenous under-workmen, to screw down and squeeze the poor to death in their engine of extortion and cruelty. The devil with the peel in his hand is their ware-house keeper, disposing and ranging in order the pawn'd goods; which, tho' appearing under the titles of news-papers and books, yet if read backward, as words ought to be where the devil is concerned, appear to be East-India goods. For instance, the bundle, upon which we see Examiner, is exactly like a bale of goods, and that word inverted makes Renimaxe, Free-Briton is Eerf-notirb, Cases of impotency is Secad so ycnetopmi, Hyp-Doctor is Pyh retcod, and all stranger than Caliatour, Areeq, Armozins, Bandanoes, Sologesies, Tangebs, Allibances, Salempouris, and Dourisses, names of East India goods, which we now and then read in the news-papers.

Tho' there are many other interpretations of single figures, yet it is not requisite to mention them, they explaining them so as to make them bear no conformity or relation at all to the other figures in the picture. I shall therefore conclude with giving my own conjecture on this occasion.

It is my opinion, that the printer had a double, or perhaps a treble design in this piece. The asinine figure, I think, does very well resemble an author in a musing posture, and perhaps composing a Grub-Street, or any other Journal, in a printing-house, and who is properly a compositor, tho' not a compos'tor. The grand figure I take to be a bookseller, who has as much occasion for two faces in the way of trade, as persons in any other business. To a customer, who asks him how such a book sells, it is proper to answer with a brisk countenance, Extremely well. But if the author asks the same question, he must look grave, shake his head, and say, Very indifferently. What was sayed in relation to the same printer's being concerned in printing weekly papers, pamphlets, or books, written in direct opposition to each other, is equally applicable to booksellers: Nay, they have frequently employed persons to write answers to books printed for themselves, in order to make them sell the better, and sometimes an author has been employed to answer himself. The same bookseller has frequently printed, at his own charge, religious and impious, godly and lewd books. This sufficiently justifies the application of the figure with two faces-- In the attitude in which he is placed, he may be supposed as giving his order to his slaves the printers, who work like horses, grunt like hogs, and fawn upon him like dogs. Or else he may be considered as giving directions to his authors, to write poetical, political, historical, theological, or bawdy books; which authors are properly represented by the gentlemen who have the heads of a dog, a horse, or a swine, and are accordingly treated by him like spaniels, hackneys, and hogs.--The devil in the last division of the picture, seems to denote a particular bookseller, stripped of all his false ornaments of puffs, advertisements, and title pages, and in propria persona, putting up his own and other peoples copies, books, some of pious devotions, and others of lewd diversion, in his literatory.

Bavius

Alexander Pope and the Grub-Street Journal

The Grub-Street Journal is an oddity in the history of eighteenth-century British journalism.
While it seems to be claiming to be a product of Grub Street, the low-rent home of the popular press in eighteenth-century London, it actually was a sustained satirical attack on Grub Street. Published from 1730 to 1737, The Grub-Street Journal continued the satire on popular journalism and hack-writing that Pope had conducted in The Dunciad; it's not surprising, then, to see that poem referred to here in the description of this image.

 


When the Grub-Street Journal first came out, in fact, many people believed that Pope was behind the whole venture, perhaps funding the journal, maybe even editing. And at one time, a lot of scholars agreed. But that idea has been discredited by more sophisticated research, which suggests that Pope might have made a few minor contributions, but no more than that. Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the journal was owned by a group of booksellers, and largely edited by Richard Russel and John Martyn. Russel was a clergyman who had to leave the Church when he refused to take the oaths of loyalty to the government in 1716 (months after the government was threatened by an uprising sponsored by the Jacobites, supporters of the exiled Stuart monarchy.) Martyn was actually a botanist who seems to have gotten into journalism as a sideline, probably through his acquaintance with Russel. These two men are responsible for much of the Journal's contents; neither seems to have a strong personal connection to Pope.

Still, The Grub-Street Journal, which was enormously popular, and, even better, notorious for its muckraking, its satires on all manner of hack writing, its mockery of pendantry, and so on, was very much in sympathy with the kind of critique Pope had mounted in The Dunciad. He may not have taken a leading role in the journal, but they were frequently invoking his spirit.


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