Reference > Cambridge History > The Period of the French Revolution > Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800 > Practical Divinity, Chapbooks
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIV. Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800.

§ 31. Practical Divinity, Chapbooks.


But practical divinity, though immensely popular, was not the whole of the literature which the lower reading classes affected. Cheap quarto “histories”—Reynard the Fox, Tom a Lincoln, or the Red Rose Knight, The Life and Death of Mother Shipton, Scogin’s Jests, with many others of that genus—had a ready sale at sixpence or a shilling; while the smaller chapbooks—the “Penny Merriments” and “Penny Godlinesses” which Pepys, with an eye ever alert for the broad humours of the populace, found amusement in collecting—were printed vilely and sold in thousands. These latter consisted of old popular favourites, such as The Friar and the Boy, The King and the Cobbler, Jack of Newbery, with Cupid’s Court of Salutations, garlands of songs, books of riddles, cookery recipes, dream interpreters and fortune tellers. While the Licensing act was still in force, many of these trifles were solemnly submitted to the censor, who, apparently, did not consider it part of his office to refine the coarse crudities which appealed to the taste and wit of the democracy, since they bear his imprimatur on their title-pages. Besides being exposed for sale in the smaller shops, they were hawked about the streets by “flying stationers,” or “running booksellers,” and carried further afield by country chapmen or hawkers, who got their supplies from the shop of William Thackeray, at the Angel in Duck lane, or John Back, at the Black Boy on London bridge, or from one of the several other stationers who specialised in this literature and sometimes combined with it the sale of pills or of “Daffy’s Elixir Salutis” at half-a-crown the half-pint bottle.   55

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