Tag Archives: Henry Colburn

Define “Minority Interest.”

There would be a couple of ways to do this. The first definition would be “Pictures of Bibliodeviant without suitable clothing.” (it has to be pointed out that most people’s idea of suitable clothing for me is a hardy hazmat coverall in a neutral colour, and the kind of diving suit that is only ever accompanied by a giant octopus and very dramatic music). An alternative definition would be an explanation of  “The London Editions of John William Polidori’s; “The Vampyre.”

Seeing as there actually are numerous international guidelines and safety measures that forbid images of me, we’re going to go with the second definition…because someone asked, and I have a huge, ungainly man crush on Poildori.

The Vampyre Notes:
Although it seems as though “The Vampyre” has a complicated publishing history it’s actually fairly straight-forward, just a bit mad:


Henry Colburn publishes the first book issue with his name as publisher and Byron’s name as author (there are no known copies of this), Colburn then publishes his second issue with his name as publisher and “A Tale related by Lord Byron to Dr. Polidori” on the title page (all he did was cut off the old title page and glue the new ones onto the stub)…there are 4 or 5 copies of this imprint knocking about with two of them being a variant with the extract set in 23 lines instead of 24, suggesting there was another Colburn issue that Dr. Viets (the only other bibliographical reference available) couldn’t lay hands on.

He doesn't look anything like Timothy Spall

All of the attitude, none of the skillz

Colburn virtually simultaneously handed distribution and agency (NOT printing or production) over to Sherwood, Neely and Jones and they start adding their imprint title pages. Sherwood Neely first issue with Byron as author (no copies extant), the Second issue with nobody as author (this issue, which is the earliest generally available to actual humans) and the third issue with the “Extract from a Letter” introduction reset to remove libellous suggestions regarding “certain ladies”, the certain ladies being Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont, who according to the first form of the introduction, had rocked up without pants ready to play naked twister and do jello shots. Clearly none of the people believing this had met Mary Shelley.

The text block of the novel remains the same throughout ALL issues regardless of imprint, only the Extract of a Letter changes and the nature of the title page glued to a stub.
The missing “a” from “almost” isn’t an indicator of issue because all the sheets were the same and it wasn’t corrected until another enterprising publisher pirated the work a couple of months later (rather nicely actually).

This might sound a bit arcane until it becomes clear that this took place in a frenzy of activity over two weeks or so in March/April 1819.
The sheets were all ready and printed until Colburn ordered his printer (Gillet of Fleet Street) to reset the Extract which he did in house and on the spot.

Henry Colburn's office during May 1819...or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Henry Colburn’s office during May 1819…or the headquarters of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association most days of the week.

Basically the whole process was, in all likelihood, an up all night extravaganza of one publisher and his agents trying to make as much cash as possible in the shortest space of time without being sued, paying Polidori anything or running the risk of Byron threatening to shoot them.

The title was a big hit and it’s doubtful that very many copies with Colburn’s imprint ever made it out of the printer’s yard and into a bookshop. Colburn’s editor, Alaric Watts, resigned in disgust at his boss’s conduct and in all likelihood Colburn (being Colburn, who by rights should have had a skull and crossbones flag attached to his hat, and an eyepatch) probably decided to cut his losses and distance himself by being able to point at Sherwood Neely and Jones and say “Talk to them!”

"Copyright's more guidelines, than actual rules..."

“Copyright’s more guidelines, than actual rules…”

Polidori, being Polidori, got nothing, except sadder and more resentful and desperate until finally he killed himself at the age of 26 in 1821. Byron was still in exile and would remain so until his death in 1824. John Murray wrote stiffly worded letters, John Cam Hobhouse grumbled and muttered but the good ship Colburn made a good deal of money and The Vampyre stayed in print and in the public eye, it was still being performed on the stage in the second half of the 20th century and was pirated, redistributed and reprinted right the way across the globe. It is basically almost solely responsible for giving us the vampire genre in its current and by far most enduring form…and without it the landscape of our popular culture would be significantly different.

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