Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hotten, John Camden

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HOTTEN, JOHN CAMDEN (1832–1873), originally named John William Hotten, publisher, was born at 45 St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, London, on 12 Sept. 1832. His father, William Hotten of Probus, Cornwall, removed to London and became a master carpenter and undertaker in Clerkenwell. His mother was Maria Cowling of Roche, Cornwall. At the age of fourteen Hotten was placed with John Petheram, bookseller, 71 Chancery Lane, London, where he acquired a taste for rare and curious books. In 1848 he went with his brother to America, and stayed there for some years. He returned to England in 1856, and commenced business as a bookseller and publisher in a small shop, 151B Piccadilly, London. Here his literary knowledge and shrewd intelligence collected around him a large circle of acquaintances. In 1859 he produced the first edition of his 'Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words' (reissued in 1874). Other works bearing his imprint rapidly succeeded; in the composition of nearly all he took some part, and many he wrote entirely. His most laborious and least-known compilation, the ‘Handbook of Topography and Family History of England and Wales, being an account of 20,000 books' (1863). Hotten's steady perseverance soon placed him among the best-known publishers, and he took larger premises at 74–5 Piccadilly. In 1866 the publication of Mr. A. C. Swinburne's 'Poems and Ballads' excited a prudish remonstrance on the score of indecency, and Moxon the publisher withdrew the work from circulation. Hotten boldly offered himself as the poet's publisher, and issued the volume in dispute as well as Mr. Swinburne's reply to his critics. Hotten was the first to introduce into England the humorous works of American writers like Mr. J. R. Lowell's 'Biglow Papers' (1864); Artemus Ward, his Book' (1865); O. W. Holmes's 'Wit and Humour’' (1867 and 1872); Leland's 'Hans Breitmann's Barty and other Ballads' (1869), and Bret Harte's 'Lothaw' and 'Sensation Novels' (1871). His last work was 'Macaulay the Historian' (1873), which was published eight days after his death. He was a fellow of the Ethnological Society, and contributed weekly articles of literary news to the 'Literary Gazette' during its last year (1862); to George Godwin's short-lived 'Parthenon' (1862–3); and to the 'London Review' (1863–6). He died at 4 Maitland Park Villas, Haverstock Hill, Hampstead, on 14 June 1873, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. His publishing business was purchased of his widow by Messrs. Chatto & Windus. He married, about 1859, Charlotte Stringer, by whom he had three daughters.

Hotten was author of slight biographies of Thackeray (under the name of Theodore Taylor), 1864, and Dickens, 1870, 1873; the 'History of Signboards' (with Jacob Larwood), 1867; 'Literary Copyright, seven letters addressed to Earl Stanhope, 1871; 'The Golden Treasury of Thought. A Gathering of Quotations,' 1874.

Hotten also undertook several translations of Erckmann-Chatrian's works, and edited among many other books: 1. 'Sarcastic Notices of the Long Parliament,' 1863. 2. 'The Little London Directory of 1677,' 1863. 3. 'The Original List of Persons who went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600–1700,’ 1874.

[Bookseller, 31 Aug. 1863, pp. 491–3, and 2 July 1873, pp. 548–9; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature, ii. 2325–6; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 255, iii. 1237.]

G. C. B.