John Taylor and Henry Walker, part 5: conclusion

by Nick

In my previous post I looked at the publishers behind Taylor’s pamphlets – Francis Coules, Thomas Banks and Thomas Bates. I ended by posing a question about the extent to which they had a role in engineering or prolonging Taylor’s battle with Walker.

We can find the answer to this by exploring the publishers’ backgrounds. Earlier in his career, Coules had been a junior member of a partnership of booksellers who had gradually bought up the copyright to popular broadside ballads.

As these ballad partners consolidated ballad copyrights, they also developed their strategy for marketing them. During the sixteenth century, woodcut illustration was unusual: only one fifth of surviving ballads were illustrated. The ballad partners and their contemporaries began to reverse this trend: five sixths of surviving ballads from 1600-1640 were illustrated, with much more effort made to match the picture to the content. At around the same time, the ballad partners also developed a specialist trade in small editions of books other than broadside ballads. Through his association with the ballad partners, Coules would have been well acquainted with the need to develop and maintain new markets for cheap print, and with the tactics for doing so.

The role of the partners in Taylor and Walker’s dispute needs to be seen in this context. The spring of 1641 saw a significant rise in the number of books being printed. Thereafter, pamphlets branched out into a wide range of literary styles and genres. With the declining influence of the Stationers’ Company, which regulated printing, publishers were now able to meet and drive popular demand for printed books. For Taylor’s publishers, illustrated satires were one lucrative route of increasing the market for their wares. As an extension of the illustrated ballad, they would have been a relatively risk-free means of doing so. Encouraging a literary dispute would also have been an attractive way of boosting sales. So it seems possible that Bates, Coules and Banks might just have had a hand in the dispute – perhaps helping to craft a pamphlet war that could appeal to a wide range of readers and give them high sales.

What I hope I’ve shown is that Taylor and Walker’s dispute cannot be fully understood without a detailed contextualisation of every player involved in it. Pamphlet publishing strategies in the early 1640s were nuanced and complex. Authors, publishers and readers were capable of producing and reading texts in complicated and subtle ways, on a number of levels. Pamphlets existed as part of a network of authors, printers, sellers and readers. Their form and content was shaped by the creative tensions between these groups. Analysis of the two authors’ texts has revealed the extent to which they cross-refer to each other, to past works by Taylor, and to other literary disputes and genres. A geographical and contextual analysis of Taylor’s publishers has revealed a more consensual but also a more commercial side to the dispute. Walker as well as Taylor had professional and social links to booksellers specialising in cheap print. And behind the literary experimentation of both authors lay decidedly financial concerns for the booksellers. Looking at the readership also shows that it’s misguided either to dismiss the dispute as a crude scatological spat, or to react the other way and stress its sophistication.