Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Routledge, George
ROUTLEDGE, GEORGE (1812–1888), publisher, was born at Brampton in Cumberland on 23 Sept. 1812, and from June 1827 to 3 Sept. 1833 served his apprenticeship with Charles Thurnam, a well-known bookseller in Carlisle. In October 1833 he came to London and found employment with Baldwin & Cradock at Paternoster Row. On the failure of that firm in September 1836, he commenced business as a retail bookseller at 11 Ryder's Court, Leicester Square, having for his assistant William Henry Warne, then aged fifteen, whose sister he had married. His chief business was in remainders of modern books. For four years (1837–41) he supplemented his income by holding a small situation in the tithe office, Somerset House; and he made some money by supplying stationery to that establishment. In 1843 he started as a publisher at 36 Soho Square. His first publication, brought out in 1836, ‘The Beauties of Gilsland Spa,’ was a failure. He then began reprinting the ‘Biblical Commentaries’ of an American divine, the Rev. Albert Barnes, and had the sagacity to engage the Rev. John Cumming, D.D., who was rising into popularity, to edit them. The volumes had an enormous sale. In 1848 he took his brother-in-law, W. H. Warne, into partnership, and in 1851 a second brother-in-law, Frederick Warne. In 1852 the firm, then styled ‘Routledge & Co.,’ removed to 2 Farringdon Street.
Routledge's career as a publisher of cheap literature, on which his reputation mainly depends, opened in 1848. In that year he issued at a shilling, as the first volume of a series of volumes to be entitled ‘The Railway Library,’ Fenimore Cooper's ‘Pilot.’ The ‘Railway Library’ was rapidly extended, ultimately numbering 1,060 volumes, most of which achieved a vast circulation. Of ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’ which was soon included in it, five hundred thousand copies were sold; of W. H. Russell's ‘Narrative of the Crimean War’ twenty thousand; of Soyer's ‘Shilling Cookery for the People’ two hundred and fifty thousand; and of ‘Rarey on Horse-Training’ one hundred and fifty thousand copies. As an example of Routledge's energy, it is stated that the copy of Miss Wetherell's ‘Queechy’ (for the ‘Railway Library’) was received from America upon one Monday morning, when it was at once placed in the printer's hands; on Thursday the sheets were at the binder's, and on the Monday following twenty thousand copies were disposed of to the trade. Routledge's reprints of the works of Washington Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Miss Maria Susanna Cummins, and other Americans were not always undertaken with the sanction of the authors or their representatives, and Routledge was more than once involved in legal proceedings for infringements of copyright. He paid, however, large sums to authors for many of the ‘Railway Library’ volumes. On 27 Dec. 1853 he contracted with Sir Bulwer Lytton (afterwards Baron Lytton) to include nineteen of his novels in the ‘Library.’ The terms were 20,000l. for ten years (1853–63), and the venture in the end proved profitable. He also arranged for the publication in cheap form of all the writings of Benjamin Disraeli, W. H. Ainsworth, Howard Russell, and G. P. R. James.
Besides cheap works, Routledge issued some expensive volumes, illustrated by capable artists. Among these were ‘Shakespeare,’ edited by Howard Staunton (who received 1,000l. for his labours), with illustrations by Sir John Gilbert, 1853; Wood's ‘Natural History,’ 1859, 3 vols.; Wood's ‘Natural History of Man,’ 1870, 2 vols.; and a series of ‘British Poets’ (1853–8) in 24 volumes. A quarto series of illustrated works included Longfellow's ‘Poems,’ of which twelve thousand copies were sold. He also brought out original works by James Grant, Mayne Reid, Longfellow, Prescott, and Canon R. W. Dixon, the church historian, who married one of his daughters. A large number of his publications bear his own name as part of the title, as in the case of ‘Routledge's American Handbook,’ 1854, but there is no record that he wrote anything himself. ‘Routledge's Universal Library,’ edited by Henry Morley [q. v.], was commenced in April 1883, in shilling monthly volumes, and ran to sixty volumes.
In 1854 Routledge visited America and established a branch of his business in New York. On 9 Nov. 1858 his son, Robert Warne Routledge, was admitted a partner, and the firm took the style of Routledge, Warne, & Routledge. In May 1859 W. H. Warne died, and in 1865 F. Warne left the firm and established a new business at 15 Bedford Street, Covent Garden. Another of Routledge's sons, Edmund, became a partner in July 1865, and the style was changed to George Routledge & Sons; the premises in Farringdon Street being required for railway improvements, the business was removed at the same time to 7 Broadway, Ludgate Hill, where it is still carried on.
In later life Routledge lived much in Cumberland, where he bought land and was appointed a justice of the peace and a deputy-lieutenant, serving as high sheriff in 1882–3. He did not retire from business until 1887, and on the following 12th of January was entertained at a farewell dinner at the Albion Tavern. He died at 50 Russell Square, London, on 13 Dec. 1888. His first wife, Maria Elizabeth Warne, died on 25 March 1855, aged 40; and he married, secondly, on 11 May 1858, Mary Grace, eldest daughter of Alderman Bell of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. By both marriages he left issue.[Publishers' Circular, 16 Jan. 1888, p. 6, 15 Dec. p. 1748, 31 Dec. p. 1795, with portrait; Bookseller, June 1865 pp. 363–4, January 1889 p. 7; Curwen's History of Booksellers, 1873, pp. 437–40; Literary Opinion, 1 Feb. 1888 pp. 378–80, 1 Jan. 1889 p. 341, 1 Feb. p. 348, with portrait; Times, 15 Dec. 1888, p. 10; Athenæum, 7 Jan. 1888 p. 18, 15 Dec. p. 814, 22 Dec. p. 850; Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore, February 1889; Illustrated London News, 12 Jan. 1889, pp. 38, 40, with portrait.]