Wednesday, December 09, 2009

American Books in 1709

At the New Yorker Book Bench blog, Jill Lepore writes on her "top ten books of 1709" (by which she means books printed in British North America that year, and punts on the tenth spot by giving it to Ben Franklin reasons that are unclear from her post). She gives the top slot to what she calls "the only truly secular publication of the year," Daniel Leeds' American Almanack (printed at New York). Lepore writes that in the mainland British colonies "only thirty-one books were printed (if you discount a handful of broadsheets, proclamations, and volumes of laws)."

Evans' American Bibliography (I:198-205) lists 63 titles published in America in 1709, and in a quick ESTC search, I got 22 non-duplicate titles for New York, 45 for Boston, 2 for New London and 1 for Philadelphia (for a total of 70). Lepore's correct that most of these were short (only five of Evans' 63 contain more than 100 pages), but by including these other figures we get something that looks a little different from how she describes things. Using the Evans titles as a base, this is the subject breakdown I get:

- sermons/other religious publications - 33 (12 of which were by Cotton Mather)
- laws and government proclamations - 20
- almanacs - 5
- speeches and political essays - 3
- periodicals - 1
- grammars - 1

Given this, Lepore's depiction of Leeds' almanac as "the only truly secular publication" is at least a little misleading, and the book listed in the "grammars" category above is the most inexplicable omission from Lepore's list, since it was almost certainly the single most important book published in America that year. That was Ezekiel Cheever's A short introduction to the Latin tongue, for the use of the lower forms in the Latin School. Being the accidence abbridg’d [sic] and compiled in that most easy and accurate method, wherein the famous Mr. Ezekiel Cheever taught; and which he found the most advantageous by seventy years experience (Boston in N.E. : Printed by B. Green, for Benj. Eliot, at his shop under the Town-House, 1709). According to ESTC, it went through some eighteen Boston editions alone through 1784, and was also published in London (1734 and 1738), New York (1749), Salem and Newburyport (both 1785).

Seems to me that this should have rated at least a spot on the list.

3 comments:

J. L. Bell said...

I agree that the book known as “Cheever’s Accidence” was significant, though Lepore might have omitted it as a textbook. I understand that there’s some debate about whether this was actually Ezekiel Cheever’s work, published the year after he died, or the work of his successor, trying to cash in on his name.

JBD said...

Yeah - there's an interesting piece on this (mainly the authorship question) in Littlefield's "Early schools and school-books in early New England" (starting here.

JBD said...

Yeah - there's an interesting piece on this (mainly the authorship question) in Littlefield's "Early schools and school-books in early New England" (starting here).