Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Curll, Edmund
CURLL, EDMUND (1675–1747), bookseller, was born in 1675 in the west of England (New and General Biog. Dict. 1798, iv.), of humble parentage. He was apprenticed to ‘Mr. Smith, by Exeter Change,’ most probably the Richard Smith who published an edition of Cæsar's ‘Commentaries, made English by Capt. Bladen,’ ‘at the Angel and Bible without Temple Bar,’ in 1705. The ‘second edition, improv'd,’ a mere reprint with a new title, was ‘sold by E. Curll at the Peacock without Temple Bar,’ in 1706. ‘A Letter to Mr. Prior’ was also published by him. It is likely that Curll succeeded to Smith's business on the same premises, changing the sign of the house from the Angel and Bible to that of the Peacock. In 1708 he published ‘An Explication of a Famous Passage in the Dialogue of St. Justin Martyr with Tryphon,’ ‘the first book I ever printed’ (Apology for W. Moyle, p. 17), and, in conjunction with E. Sanger, a translation of Boileau's ‘Lutrin.’ Like other booksellers of the time, Curll sold patent medicines. He had not been long in business when he began a system of newspaper quarrels with a view to force himself into public notice. Having published a quack medical work known as ‘The Charitable Surgeon,’ he got up a fictitious controversy about its authorship in ‘The Supplement’ newspaper of 8 April 1709. An interesting volume lately added to the British Museum shows us that Curll was a pamphleteer during the Sacheverell controversy in 1710. It contains some curious notes in Curll's own neat handwriting. The first book entered under his name in the ‘Registers of the Stationers' Company’ was ‘Some Account of the Family of Sacheverell,’ on 13 Sept. 1710. Very few books at all were entered at that period, and his name only appears ten times between 1710 and 20 Aug. 1746. In 1710 he had taken the premises in Fleet Street formerly occupied by the well-known bookseller A. Bosvill, where he published ‘A Complete Key to the Tale of a Tub,’ ‘printed for E. Curll at the Dial and Bible against St. Dunstan's Church.’ He remained at this address until 1718. Besides his house in London he also had a shop in Tunbridge Wells, as an advertisement dated 15 July 1712 calls attention to one ‘on the walk at Tunbridge Wells. Gentlemen and Ladies may be furnish'd with all the new Books and Pamphlets that come out; also French and Italian Prints, Maps, &c.’ (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ii. 484).
In 1716 Curll had his first quarrel with Pope on the publication of ‘Court Poems,’ in March 1716, by James Roberts, a minor bookseller. In the advertisement it is hinted that certain ‘lines could have come from no other hand than the laudable translator of Homer.’ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had some share in bringing out the book, and it is impossible to say whether or not Pope secretly promoted the volume while openly expressing annoyance. Pope, finding that Curll had to do with the publication, sought an interview with him through Lintot, which led to the famous scene at the Swan Tavern in Fleet Street, told in the ‘Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll, Bookseller; with a faithful copy of his last Will and Testament.’ This was circulated shortly after the event, and reprinted in the ‘Miscellanies’ of Swift and Pope. It was followed by a ‘Further Account,’ and ‘A strange but true Relation how Mr. E. Curll out of an extraordinary desire for lucre was converted by certain eminent Jews.’ The meeting was the only occasion on which the poet and bookseller were in company (Dunciad, ii. 54, note). It is certain that some practical joke was played upon Curll, who refers to the ‘emetic potion’ he was made to drink in the ‘Curliad,’ where he describes how the ‘Court Poems’ came to be published. Pope returned to the subject in ‘Moore's Worms, for the learned Mr. Curll, bookseller’ (E. Smith, 1716); and Curll retaliated with satirical advertisements (see Flying Post, 5 and 10 April 1716) relating to the translation of Homer.
Four days after the death of Robert South, on 8 July 1716, a Latin oration was delivered over the body in the college hall of Westminster School by John Barber, then captain of the king's scholars. Curll obtained a copy of the oration and
… did th' Oration print
Imperfect, with false Latin in't.
The Westminster boys enticed the bookseller into Dean's Yard, and tossed him in a blanket. The incident is referred to in the ‘Dunciad,’ and Pope gleefully speaks of it in a letter to Martha Blount. It was the theme of a poem, ‘Neck or Nothing, a consolatory letter from Mr. D—nt—n to Mr. C—rll,’ sold by Charles King in Westminster Hall (1716), believed to have been written by Samuel, the elder brother of John Wesley, and sometime head usher of the school (Alumni Westmonasterienses, 1852, pp. 255–6). In the ‘Curliad’ (p. 25) the victim states that the torture was administered, not with a blanket, but ‘a rugg, and the whole controversy relating thereunto shall one day see the light.’
Curll as publisher and Bridge as printer of a pirated edition of the trial of the Earl of Wintoun were reprimanded on their knees at the bar of the House of Lords in 1716 (Journals, May 1716). He was released on 11 May, and soon after was in correspondence with Thoresby, with reference to Erdeswicke's ‘Survey of Staffordshire,’ published by him in 1717 (Letters addressed to Ralph Thoresby, ii. 360, 362–3). Many of Curll's publications were scandalously immoral. The writer in the ‘Weekly Journal, or Saturday Post,’ of 5 April 1718, afterwards known as ‘Mist's Journal,’ identified by Lee with Defoe (Lee, Defoe, ii. 32), says: ‘There is indeed but one bookseller eminent among us for this abomination [indecent books], and from him the crime takes the just denomination of Curlicism. The fellow is a contemptible wretch a thousand ways: he is odious in his person, scandalous in his fame; he is marked by nature.’ Curll defended himself in ‘Curlicism Display'd.’ A Mr. William Clarke prosecuted Curll for a libel, and in a pamphlet, ‘Party Revenge’ (1720), states (p. 40) that it had been his practice ‘for many years to print defaming, scandalous, and filthy libels, particularly of late against the Honourable Commissioners of H.M.'s Customs, to be seen by his recantation in the “Daily Courant,” Feb. 17, 1720.’ He now removed to Paternoster Row, where he brought out ‘The Poetical Register,’ by Giles Jacobs. Another address in this year was ‘next the Temple Coffee House in Fleet St.’ In 1721 Curll was again at the bar of the House of Lords for publishing the ‘Works of the Duke of Buckingham,’ which was the occasion of the well-known resolution, making it a breach of privilege to print, without permission, ‘the works, life, or last will of any lord of this house’ (Standing Orders, 31 Jan. 1721). This order was not annulled until 28 July 1845. In the same year he was in correspondence with White Kennett, and vainly endeavoured to get permission from the bishop to reprint his translations of Erasmus's ‘Praise of Folly’ and Pliny's ‘Panegyric’ (Lansdowne MS. 1038, f. 96, in British Museum). Between 1723 and 1726 he was living ‘over against Catherine Street in the Strand.’
Some letters reprinted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1798, vol. lxviii. pt. i. pp. 190–1) reveal that he was protesting, 2 March 1723–4, to Walpole his ‘unwearied diligence to serve the government,’ and that ‘Lord Townshend assured me that he would recommend me to your honour for some provision in the civil list. In the Stamp Office I can be serviceable.’ On 30 Nov. 1725 he ‘was tried at the king's bench bar, Westminster, and convicted of printing and publishing several obscene and immoral books’ (Boyer, Political State, November 1725, p. 514). Curll's own case has been preserved (Rawlinson MSS., c. 195, in Bodleian Library). He was found guilty, but an arrest of judgment was permitted, on the ground that the offence was only punishable in the spiritual courts. The judges finally gave against him (Strange, Reports, ii. 788). On 12 Feb. 1728 he was sentenced to be fined for publishing ‘The Nun in her Smock’ and ‘De usu Flagrorum,’ and to an hour in the pillory for publishing the ‘Memoirs of John Ker of Kersland’ (Daily Post, 13 Feb. 1728). He ‘stood in the pillory [23 Feb. 1728] at Charing Cross, but was not pelted or used ill. … He had contrived to have printed papers dispersed all about Charing Cross, telling the people he stood there for vindicating the memory of Queen Anne’ (State Trials, xvii. 160). We learn from the ‘Curliad’ (p. 17, &c.) that he was imprisoned five months in the king's bench for the two books, and that it was from Ker, a fellow-prisoner, that he had the papers on which the ‘Memoirs’ were based. The latter book was the subject of a separate indictment. A letter signed ‘A. P.’ in the ‘London Journal,’ 12 Nov. 1726, on ‘Deceptive Title Pages’ refers to a recently published edition, in six volumes, of ‘Cases of Impotence and Divorce,’ by Sir Clement Wearg, with which it is affirmed that the late solicitor-general had nothing to do. To this accusation Curll replied with an evasively worded affidavit. In 1726 were written Swift's famous verses of ‘Advice to Grub Street Verse Writers,’ who are recommended to have their poems well printed on large paper, and then ‘send these to paper-sparing Pope,’ who will cover them with his manuscript, and, when they are returned,
Sell them to Curll for fifty pound,
And swear they are your own.
One of Pope's untrue charges was that Curll starved one of his hacks, William Pattison, who actually died in his house of small-pox, and received every attention (M. Noble, Hist. of England, iii. 304). Curll again tried to show his patriotic zeal by discovering what seems to have been a mare's nest of his own contriving, and wrote to Lord Townshend, 29 Sept. 1728: ‘There is a conspiracy now forming which may be nipt in the bud, by a letter which I have intercepted, I may say, as miraculously as that was which related to the Gunpowder Plot’ (Gent. Mag. 1798, vol. lxviii. pt. i. p. 191). In 1729 he lived ‘next to Will's Coffee-house in Bow Street, Covent Garden,’ and in 1733 was at Burleigh Street, Strand. He was mixed up with Eustace Budgell [q. v.] and the affair of Tindal's will, and had quarrelled with Budgell, who attacked him in the ‘Bee’ (7 July and 6 Oct. 1733). Curll printed both the will and memoirs of Tindal, the latter being dedicated to the Mrs. Price in whose handwriting the forged will was drawn up.
In 1726 Curll had printed Pope's ‘Familiar Letters to Henry Cromwell,’ purchased for ten guineas from Mrs. Thomas, Cromwell's mistress, and in the ‘Daily Post Boy’ of 12 May 1735 advertised ‘Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence for thirty years, from 1704 to 1734,’ price 5s. Pope having instigated Lord Islay to move in the matter, the stock was seized, and Curll and Wilford, the printer of the newspaper, ordered to appear at the bar of the House of Lords (Journals, 12 and 13 May 1735). It was suspected at the time, and has now been fully proved, that the publication of this volume was promoted by Pope himself, who wanted an excuse to print his letters. A go-between was invented in the mysterious P. T., who wrote to Curll in 1733 to offer a collection of Pope's letters. Nothing was done until March 1735, when Curll told Pope of this fact, which Pope answered by advertising in the ‘Daily Post Boy’ that he had received such a communication, that he knew of no such person as P. T., and that the letters in question must be forgeries. P. T. wrote to Curll again, and a short man calling himself Smythe (afterwards discovered to be a certain James Worsdale) called at the bookseller's with some printed sheets and real letters. Fifty copies were delivered and sold on 12 May, and a second batch of 190 came just in time to be seized by the lords' messenger. As directed by P. T., Curll advertised that the volume would contain letters to peers, which made it a breach of privilege, and Lord Islay informed the committee of the house that on p. 117 of a copy he possessed there was some reflection upon the Earl of Burlington. No such passage could be found in the copies seized on Curll's premises, as Pope had artfully suppressed it in the copies of the second batch. The house decided that the book contained no breach of privilege, and the copies were returned (Journals, 15 May 1735). The sale proceeded, and Curll boldly announced, 26 July, that ‘the first volume was sent me ready printed by [Pope] himself,’ and that a second and third volume were in preparation. He ultimately produced six volumes of ‘Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence’ (1735–41), of which, indeed, a large proportion of the contents had nothing to do with Pope or his correspondence. Pope's authentic edition, to which these intrigues were introductory, was issued in 1737–41.
In 1735 Curll was living in Rose Street, Covent Garden, having changed his sign to the Pope's Head. Hence the allusion in the ‘Dunciad’—
Down with the Bible, up with the Pope's Arms.
Mrs. Pilkington (Memoirs, 1749, ii. 189) tells a story of receiving a mysterious visit from ‘an ugly squinting old fellow’ about 1741, who turned out to be Curll trying to obtain, in his usual roundabout way, some letters of Swift which he wished to include in his forthcoming ‘Life of Barber.’ The last book entered to Curll on the ‘Registers of the Stationers' Company’ was ‘Achates to Varus’ on 20 Aug. 1746. He died 11 Dec. 1747, aged 72 (Gent. Mag. 1747, xvii. 592).
A figure of him appears in an engraving on the wall in the first state of Hogarth's ‘Distressed Poet’ (1736), and the frontispiece to Wesley's ‘Neck or Nothing’ (1716) represents three acts of his punishment by the Westminster boys (Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Div. I. ii. 408–9, iii. 212–14).
His son Henry had a separate shop in Henrietta Street in 1726, and advertised in the ‘Daily Post Boy’ of 7 Aug. 1730 that he was leaving off business (in Bow Street, Covent Garden), and that the standard antiquarian books issued by his father might be had for a time at a cheap rate. Like his father he seems to have suffered personal chastisement at Westminster, a fact which produced a satirical pamphlet, ‘Hereditary Right exemplified; or a Letter of Condolence from E.C.,’ 1728, 8vo.
The fame of ‘Dauntless Curll’ lives in some of the most unsavoury lines of the ‘Dunciad,’ but we know that the poet and the bookseller were quarrelling for twenty years. Nichols says that, whatever his demerits, ‘he certainly deserves commendation for his industry in preserving our national remains’ (Lit. Anecd. i. 456). He had knowledge and a ready pen, plenty of courage and more impudence. He had no scruples either in business or private life, but he published and sold many good books. At the end of Hale's ‘Discourse’ (1720) is a list of forty-three publications, and in a volume of Addison's ‘Miscellanies’ (1723) is a list of theological books also issued by him. In the second edition of Ashmole's ‘History of the Garter’ (1726) is a catalogue of sixteen pages of his books, which include no less than 167 standard works. All of his authors were not paid at a niggardly rate, as may be seen from some notes by Upcott extending from 1709 to 1740 (Gent. Mag. xciv. pt. i. 318, 410, 513). He was active in bringing out lives and wills of noted persons; in the ‘Life of Barber’ (1741) is a list of thirty-one, some of considerable biographical value. In 1730 he was busy producing a collection of antiquarian volumes, including Ashmole's ‘Berkshire’ and Aubrey's ‘Surrey,’ and Browne Willis allowed his opinion to be advertised to the effect that ‘Mr. Curll, having been at great expense in publishing these books (now comprised under the title of “Anglia Illustrata,” in 20 vols.), and adorning them with draughts of monuments, maps, &c., deserves to be encouraged by us all, who are well-wishers to this study; no bookseller in town having been so curious as he’ (Daily Post, 7 Feb. 1729–30). A graphic picture is to be found in Amory's ‘Life of John Buncle’ (1770, iv. 137–68): ‘Curll was in person very tall and thin, an ungainly, awkward, white-faced man. His eyes were a light grey, large, projecting, gogle, and purblind. He was splayfooted and baker-kneed. He had a good natural understanding, and was well acquainted with more than the title-pages of books. He talked well on some subjects, and was not an infidel. … He was a debauchee. … His translators in pay lay three in a bed at the Pewter Platter Inn in Holborn. … No man could talk better on theatrical subjects.’
During the forty years Curll was in business many of his publications were edited by himself. Besides the Popean volumes, the following is a list of some to which his name can be fixed with some degree of certainty: 1. ‘The Case of Dr. Sacheverell represented in a Letter to a Noble Lord,’ London, 1710, 8vo (‘by E. Curll,’ in British Museum copy). 2. ‘Some Considerations humbly offer'd to the Bp. of Salisbury [G. Burnet], occasioned by his speech upon the First Article of Dr. Sacheverell's Impeachment, by a Lay Hand’ (‘i.e. E. Curll,’ in British Museum copy), London, J. Morphew, 1710, 8vo (two editions). 3. ‘An impartial Examination of the Bishop of Lincoln's and Norwich's Speeches at the opening of the Second Article of Dr. Sacheverell's Impeachment,’ London, E. Curll, 1710, 8vo (‘by E. Curll,’ on title of British Museum copy; at the end is an advertisement of pamphlets on the Sacheverell controversy, and of theological works published by Curll). 4. ‘A Search after Principles in a Free Conference between Timothy and Philatheus concerning the present times,’ London, J. Morphew, 1710, 8vo. 5. ‘A Meditation upon a Broomstick [by Swift] and somewhat beside of the same author's,’ London, E. Curll, 1710, 8vo. 6. ‘A complete Key to the Tale of a Tub; with some account of the authors, the occasion and design of printing it, and Mr. Wotton's remarks examin'd,’ London, 1710, 8vo (in the British Museum copy the preface is signed in manuscript ‘E. Curll,’ who also noted that the annotations were ‘given to me by Ralph Noden, esq., of the Middle Temple.’ Nos. 5 and 6 were reprinted by Curll in 1711 as ‘Miscellanies by Dr. Jonathan Swift’). 7. ‘Some Account of the Life of Dr. Walter Curll, Bishop of Winchester,’ London, E. Curll, 1712, 12mo. 8. ‘The Character of Dr. Robert South, being the Oration spoken at his Funeral, on Monday, July 16, 1716, in the College Hall of Westminster, by Mr. Barber,’ London, E. Curll, 1716, 8vo. 9. ‘Posthumous Works of the late Robert South, D.D., containing Sermons, &c.,’ London, E. Curll, 1717, 8vo (edited by Curll, who contributed ‘Memoirs,’ and added No. 8). 10. ‘Curlicism Display'd, or an Appeal to the Church, being observations upon some Books publish'd by Mr. Curll. In a letter to Mr. Mist,’ London, 1718, 8vo (signed ‘E. Curll,’ see Thoms, Curll Papers, pp. 46–9). 11. ‘Mr. Pope's Worms, and a new Ballad on the Masquerade,’ London, 1718, 8vo. 12. ‘A Discourse of the several Dignities and Corruptions of Man's Nature since the Fall, written by Mr. John Hales of Eton, now first published from his original manuscript,’ London, E. Curll, 1720, 8vo (preface signed ‘E. Curll’). 13. ‘Doom's Day, or the Last Judgment; a Poem written by the Right Honourable William, earl of Sterline,’ London, E. Curll, 1720, 8vo (preface signed ‘A. Johnstoun,’ i.e. Curll, see Thoms, p. 55). 14. ‘The Humble Representation of Edmund Curll, bookseller and citizen of London, concerning five books complained of to the Secretary’ [London, 1726?], 8vo (ib. p. 63). 15. ‘An Apology for the Writings of Walter Moyle, Esq., in Answer to the groundless Aspersions of Mr. Hearne and Dr. Woodward, with a word or two concerning the frivolous cavils of Messieurs Whiston and Woolston relating to the Thundering Legion,’ London, 1727, 8vo (contains letters to and from Curll). 16. ‘An Answer to Mr. Mist's Journal of the 28 Jan. No. 93,’ London, M. Blandford, 1727, 8vo (signed ‘Britannus,’ i.e. Curll). 17. ‘Miscellanea,’ London, 1727, 5 vols. 12mo (these volumes were sold separately, and some sets contain more than others; the third volume is ‘Whartoniana,’ and the fifth ‘Atterburyana’). 18. ‘The Curliad; a hypercritic upon the Dunciad Variorum, with a further key to the new characters,’ London, printed for the author, 1729, 8vo (some anti-Popean skits are advertised at the back of the title; signed at the end ‘E. Curll, Strand,’ 25 April 1729). 19. ‘The Life of that eminent Comedian, Robert Wilks, Esq.,’ London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo (the dedication to Mrs. Wilks is signed ‘E. C.’). 20. ‘A true Copy of the last Will and Testament of Matthew Tindal, LL.D.,’ London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo. 21. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Matthew Tindal, LL.D., with a History of the Controversies wherein he was engaged,’ London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo (dedicated to the Mrs. Lucy Price of No. 22). 22. ‘The Life of the late Honourable Robert Price, Esq., one of the Justices of her Majesty's Court of Common Pleas,’ London, printed by the appointment of the family, 1734, 8vo (the dedication is signed ‘E. C., Strand,’ 18 Dec. 1733; Mrs. Price was connected with the Budgell-Tindal forgery). 23. ‘The History of the English Stage from the Restoration to the Present Times, including the Lives, Characters, and Amours of the most eminent Actors and Actresses, by Mr. Thomas Betterton,’ London, E. Curll, 1741, 8vo. (William Oldys is usually credited with the authorship; the dedication to the Duke of Grafton is signed E. Curll; the Life of Mrs. Oldfield forms the second part). 24. ‘An impartial History of the Life, Character, Amours, Travels, and Transactions of Mr. John Barber, city printer and lord mayor of London,’ London, 1741, 8vo.
[Many facts are collected in Curll Papers, stray notes on the life and publications of E. Curll, 1879, 12mo, privately reprinted from Notes and Queries by W. J. Thoms. Curll's dealings with Pope are summarised in ch. vi. of Pope by Mr. Leslie Stephen (English Men of Letters series) and dealt with in detail in Dilke's Papers of a Critic, i. 97–339, and in Elwin and Courthope's edition of Pope, passim, especially Poetry, vols. i. and iv.; see also lives of Pope by Roscoe and Carruthers. There are numerous references in Swift's Correspondence, Works, 1814, vols. ii. xvi–xix. Curll's own statements in the Curliad, 1729, as to personal matters can be confirmed in many particulars. There is a burlesque life in Remarks on Sqre. Ayre's Memoirs of Pope, in a letter to Mr. E. Curll, with authentic Memoirs of the said E. C., by J. H., 1745, 8vo. The Memoirs of the Society of Grub Street, 1737, 2 vols. 12mo, contain passages relating to Curlus and his bookselling; see also Amhurst's Terræ Filius, 1726, i. 142, 155, and E. Budgell's Bee, 1733–4; see also Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 277, 392, 431, 2nd ser. ii. 203–4, iii. 50, x. 381, 485–7, 505–6, xi. 61–2, 3rd ser. ii. 162, 295, v. 425, 6th ser. ii. 484, iii. 95, iv. 98, 112, 171, 192, 437, x. 204, xii. 55; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 455, v. 491, viii. 295; Timperley's Encyclopædia, pp. 600, 635, 677, 712, 713; Curwen's Hist. of Booksellers, 1873, pp. 36–48; Curll's bibliography is treated by Mr. W. Roberts in Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xi. 381–2, and in articles by him and Mr. E. Solly in Antiquarian Magazine, 1885, vii. 157–9, 868–73.]