Worst Publisher of All Time?

literatoryImage credit: The Grub Street Project

If you’re still hanging on to traditional publishing for your book, don’t worry — that title doesn’t refer to anyone who’s working today! As competitive as the publishing industry is in its current state, it’s nowhere as corrupt and conniving as it was in 18th century London (then again, is there any industry that wasn’t more corrupt in the 18th century?)

Salon writer Laura Miller has the full story over on the official Salon website, but our favorite part of the article has to be the details of real life publisher Edmund Curll’s bookselling career:

Curll published everything from religious tracts to outright pornography, a mainstay of his business. He put out what was probably the first example of flagellation erotica ever published in English, a translation of the Latin text “De Usu Flagrorum.” Another big title for him was “Venus in the Cloister,” which may explain why [a parody character of Curll] expresses the intention of encouraging any future pupil to “run away with a Nun.” For several decades, the word “Curlicism” was synonymous with smut publishing, and Curll served prison time for printing both the flogging book and nun-related porn. He was in and out of court on charges of indecent and libelous publication — as well as copyright violations — for most of his career.

Curll also had the distinction of both acting as a government informant (snitching on fellow publishers for printing dissident works — whether they were actually guilty or not) and being convicted of revealing state secrets. He accomplished the latter by publishing the memoirs of a Scottish spy. For this crime he became the last English literary figure to be literally pilloried, although he managed to convince the public that he had published the material out of patriotic devotion to the late Queen Anne. As a result, he was not pelted with garbage while standing in the stocks.

Hands up, who else would like to see a resurgence the term “curlicism?” Perhaps we can all slip it in the next time 50 Shades of Gray crops up in a conversation?

The rest of the article is at Salon.com and is absolutely worth the full read through, so go check it out!


One thought on “Worst Publisher of All Time?

  1. As the entry suggests, Laura Miller does a good job of summarizing a few of Curll’s crimes and misdemeanors. But while I’d never want to whitewash the old reprobate, it’s fair to report that he did publish a number of worthy tomes – especially historical and antiquarian books, translations of the classics, works on science, and a good deal of blameless theology.

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