Andrew Millar: An Introduction

My first task as a research assistant was to go through the microfilm of the Records of the Worshipful Company of Stationers (1554-1920) and find all of the publications that Andrew Millar owned copyright to, and create a spreadsheet with the information from that combined with information available on the English Short Title Catalogue, the difinitive source for books published in the British Isles and North America from 1473-1800. The spreadsheet was to contain such information as the name of the publication, the date of copyright, physical description of the book, author, price (if available), co-publishers… the list goes on but gets dreadfully boring for the non-initiate… hmm… It just occurred to me that I should probably introduce Andrew Millar and a couple of the overarching themes of the project before I begin talking about the nitty-gritty of the research I’m undertaking.

So, in this post let’s have an introduction to our hero, Andrew Millar: Bookseller (1705-1768).

Andrew Millar was born in the town of Port Glasgow in Renfrewshire County, Scotland in 1705. Here’s a map of Scotland, dated 1708, three years after Millar’s birth and just one year after the Act of Union that drew Scotland and England together in the formation of Great Britain.

A map of Scotland, dated 1707, on which I have indicated Port Glasgow by a red mark.

A map of Scotland, dated 1707, on which I’ve indicated Port Glasgow by a red mark.*

 

Millar, the son of a Reverend in the Church of Scotland, grew up the third of fourteen children, in comfortable circumstances western Scotland (i.e.: his family was at least relatively well-off and had relatives that were Ayrshire gentry). In 1720, at the age of 15, he was apprenticed to the London-based Edinburgh bookseller James McEwan, and eight years later, in 1728 and at the tender age of 23, he took over McEwan’s business. Two years after that, in 1730 and at the age of 25, he married Jane Johnston, and though they had three children none lived past childhood. As such, perhaps, he took his apprentices on with particular care, and groomed his favourite, Thomas Cadell, to take his place when he died, which Cadell did in 1768. Millar had a long (40 years) and lucrative career, and held copyrights to such luminous works as David Hume’s History of England, Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, and Dr. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. Despite his success he never shed the ‘rough’ manners of a Scotsman, and was teased by his literary friends for clinging to such peculiarly Scottish traits as extreme thrift (despite the fact that he was uncommonly wealthy later in life), near constant yet ever personable drunkenness, and his propensity for the company of other Scots even though he lived most of his life in London. According to Boswell, another literary giant of the eighteenth century, Millar never did lose the ‘dross of the bookseller,’ and dressed in well-mended but nonetheless somewhat shabby clothes. It seems that these traits, however, did not cast a shadow on his good name and over the course of his career he owned copyrights on 116 books and one map, and the list of books he sold but did not own copyrights to was extensive indeed. He was credited by the likes of Dr Johnson for raising the price of literature, thereby raising the status of literature and the income of writers of the eighteenth century, which I believe set the stage for the flourishing world of books that we live in today.

All in all, Andrew Millar is a fascinating man to devote so much research to.

 

*For map reference see: EmersonKent.com

Amory, Hugh. “Millar, Andrew (1705–1768).” Hugh Amory In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, January 2008. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18714 (accessed May 13, 2014)

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