1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Constable, Archibald
CONSTABLE, ARCHIBALD (1774–1827), Scottish publisher, was born on the 24th of February 1774 at Carnbee, Fife. His father was land steward to the earl of Kellie. In 1788 Archibald was apprenticed to Peter Hill, bookseller, of Edinburgh, but in 1795 he started in business for himself as a dealer in rare and curious books. He bought the Scots Magazine in 1801, and John Leyden, the orientalist, became its editor. In 1800 Constable began the Farmer’s Magazine, and in November 1802 he issued the first number of the Edinburgh Review, under the nominal editorship of Sydney Smith; Lord Jeffrey, was, however, the guiding spirit of the review, having as his associates Lord Brougham, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Hallam, John Playfair and afterwards Macaulay. Constable made a new departure in publishing by the generosity of his terms to authors. The writers for the Edinburgh Review were paid at an unprecedented rate, and Constable offered Scott 1000 guineas in advance for Marmion. In 1804 A. G. Hunter joined Constable as partner, bringing considerable capital into the firm, styled from that time Archibald Constable & Co. In 1805, jointly with Longman & Co., Constable published Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, and in 1807 Marmion. In 1808 a split took place between Constable and Sir Walter Scott, who transferred his business to the publishing firm of John Ballantyne & Co., for which he supplied the greater part of the capital. In 1813, however, a reconciliation took place. The publishing firm of Ballantyne was in difficulties, and Constable again became Scott’s publisher, a condition being that the firm of John Ballantyne & Co. should be wound up at an early date, though Scott retained his interest in the printing business of James Ballantyne & Co. In 1812 Constable, who had admitted Robert Cathcart and Robert Cadell as partners on the retirement of A. G. Hunter, purchased the copyright of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, adding the supplement (6 vols., 1816–1824) to the 4th, 5th and 6th editions (see Encyclopaedia). In 1814 he bought the copyright of Waverley. This was issued anonymously; but in a short time 12,000 copies were disposed of, Scott’s other novels following in quick succession. The firm also published the Annual Register. Through over-speculation, complications in Constable’s business arose, and in 1826 a crash came. Constable’s London agents stopped payment, and he failed for over £250,000, while James Ballantyne & Co. also went bankrupt for nearly £90,000. Sir Walter Scott was involved in the failure of both firms. Constable started business afresh, and began in 1827 Constable’s Miscellany of original and selected works . . . consisting of a series of original works, and of standard books republished in a cheap form, thus making one of the earliest and most famous attempts to popularize wholesome literature. He died on the 21st of July 1827. After Constable’s bankruptcy, Robert Cadell (1788–1849), who had been his partner, in conjunction with Sir Walter Scott, bought from the various publishers in whose hands they were, all Scott’s novels which had been issued up to that time, and began the issue of the forty-eight volume edition (1829–1833). The result of its publication was that the debt on Abbotsford was redeemed, and that Cadell bought the estate of Ratho near Edinburgh, which he owned till his death on the 21st of January 1849.
Archibald Constable’s son, Thomas (1812–1881), was appointed in 1839 printer and publisher in Edinburgh to Queen Victoria, and issued, among other notable series, Constable’s Educational Series, and Constable’s Foreign Miscellany. In 1865 his son Archibald became a partner, and when he retired in 1893 the firm continued under the name of T. & A. Constable.
See also Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents, by his son Thomas Constable (3 vols., 1873). This book contains numerous contemporary notices of Archibald Constable, and vindicates him from the exaggeration of J. G. Lockhart and others.