Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Moxon, Edward

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MOXON, EDWARD (1801–1858), publisher and verse-writer, baptised in Wakefield on 12 Dec. 1801, was son of Michael and Ann Moxon, and was educated at the Green Coat School. At the age of nine he was apprenticed to one Smith, a bookseller of Wakefield, and about 1817 proceeded to London to find similar employment. Although 'daily occupied from morning until evening,' he managed on Sundays and after midnight on week-days to educate himself, and he obtained a good knowledge of current English literature (Moxon, Prospect, Ded.) In 1821 he entered the service of Messrs. Longman & Co., and soon had 'the conduct of one of the four departments of the country line.' In 1826 his private study bore fruit in the publication of a volume of verse, 'The Prospect and other Poems,' which the author dedicated to Samuel Rogers. He modestly described his efforts as the work of 'a very young man unlettered and self-taught.' The verse had little merit, but Moxon's perseverance favourably impressed Rogers. He obtained introductions to other men of letters, and his pleasant manner and genuine enthusiasm for poetry gained him a welcome in literary circles. He quickly fascinated Charles Lamb, and from 1827 onwards he was a frequent visitor at Lamb's house at Enfield, dropping 'in to tea,' or supping with Lamb on bread and cheese and gin and water, and at times bringing his sisters or brother (Lamb, Letters, ii. 275, 281). Lamb's sister soon pined 'for Mr. Moxon's books and Mr. Moxon's society' (ib. p. 170), and on 30 July 1833 Moxon married Lamb's adopted daughter, Emma Isola.

Meanwhile, in the autumn of 1827 Moxon had left Longmans' to 'better himself,' and Lamb strongly recommended him to Henry Colburn as 'a young man of the highest integrity and a thorough man of business' (25 Sept. 1827; ib. p. 181). Finally he found employment in Hurst's publishing house in St. Paul's Churchyard, apparently as literary adviser (ib. pp. 198-200), and there found a useful friend in Mr. Evans, afterwards a member of the well-known printing firm of Bradbury & Evans.

In March 1829 Moxon published another volume of verse, entitled 'Christmas,' and he dedicated it to Lamb. Lamb recommended it to Bernard Barton. 'It has no pretensions and makes none, but parts are pretty' (ib. ii. 222). Encouraged by Lamb's sympathy and advice, Moxon soon afterwards resolved to become a publisher on his own account. Rogers, who approved the project, advanced him 500l., and on that capital he began business in the spring of 1830 at 64 New Bond Street (ib. pp. 555, 261). In 1833 he removed to 44 Dover Street, an address long familiar to bookbuyers.

Moxon's progress as a publisher was at first slow, although he secured the support of many writers of established reputation. His earliest publication was Lamb's 'Album Verses,' which appeared in August 1830, with a genial dedication addressed to the publisher. In April 1831 he started under his own editorship the 'Englishman's Magazine,' a monthly publication, to which Lamb regularly contributed and Tennyson sent a sonnet; but Moxon deemed it prudent to abandon the venture in October (ib. ii. 272, 274). In 1832 he produced Allan Cunningham's 'Maid of Elvar,' Barry Cornwall's 'Songs and Ballads,' and a selection from Southey's prose works. In 1833 he issued a new edition of Lamb's 'Essays of Elia,' and a volume of 'Last Essays,' which involved him in some litigation with John Taylor, the original publisher (ib. pp. 287, 355). After Lamb's death in 1834 he penned a sympathetic paper of reminiscences. Lamb left his books to Moxon, who brought out a collection of his friend's prose works, with Talfourd's memoir, in 1836, and he undertook the first collection of Lamb's prose and poetry in 1840. In 1834 Wordsworth, always a steady friend, allowed him to publish a selection of his poems; next year he transferred all his works to Moxon, and in 1836 a full edition in six volumes was published. Many other works by Wordsworth proceeded at brief intervals, until the poet's death, from Moxon's publishing house. In 1838 Moxon produced the well-known illustrated edition of Rogers's 'Poems,' as well as a reissue of the illustrated edition of Rogers's 'Italy.' Many of Sheridan Knowles's dramatic works were issued between 1837 and 1847, and proved very profitable. One of Moxon's largest undertakings was Dyce's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher in eleven volumes (1843-6).

But it was as the discriminating patron of young or little known poets that Moxon deserves to be remembered. In 1833 he produced the 'Poems' of Tennyson, who, until Moxon's death, entrusted each new work to Moxon's care. In the same year he initiated a similar connection with R. Monckton Milnes, with the issue of Milnes's 'Tour in Greece.' In 1834 Moxon brought out Benjamin Disraeli's 'Revolutionary Epick;' he told Charles Greville in 1847 that Disraeli asked to enter into partnership with him, but he refused, 'not thinking that he was prudent enough to be trusted' (Greville, Memoirs, 2nd ser. iii. 75). Isaac D'Israeli's 'Genesis of Judaism' (1833) was one of Moxon's early issues. In 1836 he privately circulated Serjeant Talfourd's 'Ion.' His relations with Robert Browning were mainly confined to the production of 'Sordello' in 1840, and of 'Bells and Pomegranates.' 8 pts., 1843-6. Poems by Lord Hanmer appeared in 183940; 'Edwin the Fair' and other plays by Sir Henry Taylor in 1842; and 'Poems' by Coventry Patmore in 1844. An older writer, Landor, proved a less satisfactory client. Moxon undertook the publication of Landor's 'Poemata et Inscriptiones' in 1847, and John Mitford wrote in his impression (now in the Dyce Library), 'Moxon the publisher told me he had sold only one copy of this book to whom? to [Connop Thirlwall] the Bishop of St. Davids.'

Moxon's literary and social ambitions grew with his success in business. As early as 1830 he had issued a volume of sonnets by himself, which he dedicated to his brother William, a barrister. A second volume of sonnets appeared in 1835, with a dedication to Wordsworth, and reached a second edition in 1837. Croker, in a severe article in the 'Quarterly Review,' lix. 209 seq., denounced the work with much justice as a puny imitation of Wordsworth; but when he ridiculed the dandy-like care which Moxon had bestowed on the form of the book, he unfairly depreciated the neatness and delicacy in external details that characterised all Moxon's publications. Both volumes were reprinted together in 1843, and again in 1871. Croker's sneers were repeated in Thomas Powell's 'Living Authors of England,' New York, 1849, pp. 226 seq.; but, despite his defects as a writer of verse, Moxon long held an assured position in literary society. John Forster was a constant friend and adviser. Rogers proved an unswerving ally, and Moxon was a regular visitor at Rogers's breakfast parties. In 1837 he accompanied Wordsworth and Crabb Robinson to Paris, and in 1846 spent a week at Rydal Mount, when Harriet Martineau came over to see him (cf. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, ii. 70, 232; Crabb Robinson, Diaries, iii. 113, 274). Moxon maintained affectionate relations with Mary Lamb till her death in 1847, when Mrs. Moxon was appointed Mary's residuary legatee (ib. pp. 73, 293).

In 1840 Moxon projected a series of single-volume editions of the poets, and initiated it in April with the complete works of Shelley, edited by Mrs. Shelley. At the time Henry Hetherington [q.v.], a small publisher who was being prosecuted for issuing blasphemous publications, caused copies of Moxon's 'Shelley' to be purchased at the shops of Fraser and Otley, two well-known booksellers, and at Moxon's office in Dover Street. Hetherington then instituted a prosecution against the three men for publishing a blasphemous libel. Moxon accepted the sole responsibility, and obtained the removal of the trial to the court of queen's bench. The case was heard at Westminster before Lord-chief-justice Denman and a special jury on 23 June 1841. The crown chiefly relied on passages from Shelley's 'Queen Mab.' Moxon'e friend, Serjeant Talfourd, defended him in an eloquent speech, which Moxon published. The judge summed up largely in the defendant's favour, but the jury found a verdict of guilty. Moxon was ordered to come up for judgment when called upon, and received no punishment. The prosecutions against the booksellers were allowed to drop. 'It was a prosecution instituted merely for the purpose of vexation and annoyance' (Blackburn, J., in R. v. Hicklin, L.R. 3, Q.B. 372). A full report of the case is in the 'State Trials,' new ser. iv. 693-722. Despite this rebuff, Moxon's series of the poets prospered. Nor did he abandon Shelley. In 1852 he purchased and published, with an introduction by Browning, some letters assigned to Shelley, but soon proved to be forgeries. Hogg's and Trelawny's lives of the poet Moxon brought out in the year of his own death. In later life he extended his business beyond the confines of pure literature, and Haydn's 'Dictionary of Dates' and nearly all the works of Samuel Sharpe the Egyptologist figured in his last lists of publications. He died at Putney Heath on 3 June 1858, and was buried in Wimbledon churchyard. His widow died at Brighton on 2 Feb. 1891, aged 82. She left one son, Arthur, and five daughters (Illustrated London News, 14 Feb. 1891, with portrait of Moxon).

The publishing business did not prosper after Moxon's death. Until 1871 it was carried on in Dover Street, at first under the style of Edward Moxon & Co., and from 1869 as Edward Moxon, Son, & Co. During this period a manager, J. Bertrand Payne, conducted the concern in behalf of Moxon's relatives. Mr. Swinburne's 'Atalanta in Calydon,' 1865, his 'Chastelard,' 1866, and the original edition of his 'Poems and Ballads' appeared under the firm's auspices. In 1868 Tennyson transferred his works to Mr. Alexander Strahan. In 1871 Messrs. Ward, Lock, & Tyler purchased most of the firm's stock and copyrights, and carried on a part of their business under the style of Edward Moxon, Son, & Co. until 1878, when Edward Moxon's name finally disappeared from the list of London publishers.

[Curwen's History of Booksellers, 1873, pp. 347-62; Illustrated London News, 12 June 1858; Lupton's Wakefield Worthies (1864), pp. 229 sq.; London Directory, 1833-78; Lamb's Letters, ed. Ainger; Crabb Robinson's Diaries; English Catalogue of Books, 1835-62; Clayden's Life of Rogers; Moxon's publications; Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 93.]

S. L.