Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform


While errata may have operated imperceptibly, advertisements were less subtle interventions in the reading behaviour of audiences. Advertisements are interesting because they suggested what a reader should do after reading the text. These advertisements sometimes marketed goods, services, or other books. Whereas errata asked the reader to revisit the text in a potentially superficial way, book advertisements asked the reader to reflect on what they have read and think about whether they will follow the recommendation on where to go next. That is, advertisements provide some insight into what the printer thought the audience for one piece would want from another text. Determining the reading history of a specific person requires very detailed evidence that is usually difficult to procure, but book advertising provides a perspective on the commercial world of print and the various pathways connecting texts.

The two examples of book advertising from the Paxton Boys debate were both from the same printer, Andrew Steuart. Steuart was the second most prolific printer in the debate and, according to his fellow printers, he was notorious for being "not over nice as it respected the work of others" (Thomas 57). In keeping with this characterisation, Steuart published an edition of A Battle! A Battle! that competed with another edition of the text from the most prolific printer of the debate, Anthony Armbruster.

A Battle! A Battle! was a bawdy and satirical version of the more serious conspiracy arguments that the Quaker peace testimony disguised self-interest. A Battle! A Battle! brought together three different poems to the same effect. At the end of Steuart's edition, he included an advert soliciting subscriptions to publish a miscellany version of the three-volume The History of the Travels of the Chevalier John Taylor. There are no surviving examples of the proposed Philadelphia edition, so it is unlikely that Steuart was successful. Yet we can still learn something about the book business from the advert. John Taylor was a self-aggrandising eye surgeon who told many fantastic tales in his long-winded work. Steuart planned to condense these works into a shorter, thrilling piece. Steuart's motivations for including the subscription are difficult to discern from this distance. However, given that both A Battle! A Battle! and History of the Travels were more salacious than serious, Steuart may have believed that readers interested in the scurrilous accusations in A Battle! A Battle! would enjoy Taylor's barely credible anecdotes. This association of text and book advertisement, which seldom survives in the documentary record, reminds researchers that printers used their position to influence the reading behaviour of audiences.

Although rare, Digital Paxton preserves another advertisement connected to a text, again from Andrew Steuart. Quaker Unmask'd was one the most controversial pieces published during the pamphlet war, and there were many rejoinders written to refute its argument that Quakers were unsuited to govern. In his second edition of the text, he included an advertisement for fourteen (erroneously listed as fifteen) pamphlets 'relative to the Disputes in this Province.' The page was numbered sequentially to follow the last page of Quaker Unmask'd so it was specifically intended to sit at the end of the pamphlet. Three pamphlets were doggerel verses like A Battle! A Battle! and ten were pairs of rejoinder texts. Steuart did not print all the pamphlets himself, so by advertising the texts for sale he was effectively curating the debate for his audience. The fact that he chose to concentrate on the contentious nature of the dispute by offering pairs of rejoinder texts is important for understanding how Steuart encouraged his audience to engage with the texts.

Advertisements are a reminder that the Paxton Boys debate was a commercial exchange. As fraught as all the ideas were, print professionals generated revenue from the sale of these texts and used the debate as a business opportunity. However, advertisements also give us a sense about what else readers might have read. Ultimately, readers were affected by what they had read previously and what they were reading when they encountered an advert, these together affected what they read next.

This page has paths:

This page references: