(Roughly) Daily

“Words cannot do justice to the pleasures of a good bookshop. Ironically.”*…


Today, few people are likely to remember James Lackington (1746-1815) and his once-famous London bookshop, The Temple of the Muses, but if, as a customer, you’ve ever bought a remaindered book at deep discount, or wandered thoughtfully through the over-stocked shelves of a cavernous bookstore, or spent an afternoon lounging in the reading area of a bookshop (without buying anything!) then you’ve already experienced some of the ways that Lackington revolutionized bookselling in the late 18th century. And if you’re a bookseller, then the chances are that you’ve encountered marketing strategies and competitive pressures that trace their origins to Lackington’s shop. In the 21st-century marketplace, there is sometimes a longing for an earlier, simpler age, but the uneasy tension between giant and small retailers seems to have been a constant since the beginning. The Temple of the Muses, which was one of the first modern bookstores, was a mammoth enterprise, by far the largest bookstore in England, boasting an inventory of over 500,000 volumes, annual sales of 100,000 books, and yearly revenues of £5,000 (roughly $700,000 today). All of this made Lackington a very wealthy man—admired by some and despised by others—but London’s greatest bookseller began his career inauspiciously as an illiterate shoemaker…

The remarkable story of “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World”– and the birth of the modern bookshop: “The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It.”

* Waterstones, Trafalgar Square (a descendent of The Temple of the Muses)


As we inhale the blissful scent of ink and paper, we might spare a thought for Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton; he died on this date in 1873.  A novelist, poet, playwright, and politician, he was immensely popular with the reading public in his day and wrote a stream of bestselling novels, which earned him a considerable fortune.  He coined the phrases “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and “dweller on the threshold.”

But he may be best remembered as the inspiration for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, held annually by the English Department of San Jose State University.  Inspired by Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal “It was a dark and stormy night…”** (the opening line of his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford), entrants are invited “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels” – that is, deliberately bad.

** The full opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”



Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

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