Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Little World of London, by Charles Manby Smith, 1857 - Paternoster Row and Magazine Day

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PATERNOSTER ROW AND MAGAZINE-DAY.

PATERNOSTER ROW, which, as most people know, stands north of St. Paul's Churchyard, began its career as a straggling row or rank of dumpy wooden houses, inhabited by the turners of beads and rosaries, and the writers of Paternosters, Aves, and Creeds, in days prior to the invention of printing. Its proximity to the metropolitan church, and its central position in the capital, made it a desirable situation for the scribes and the artificers of those clays, whose occupation it was to supply the literature and the machinery of devotion. The Row then consisted but of a single rank of houses, looking out upon old St. Paul's Church and the sale of its merchandise, we may reasonably conclude, augmented or declined with the religious fervour of the people, and with the periodical celebration of ecclesiastical ceremonies.
    When the Reformation came, and England grew Protestant, the beads and the rosaries, the Paternosters, Aves, and Creeds - and the poor friars of the religious houses, "white, black, an grey, with all their trumpery,'' had to decamp without beat of drum. In their place came a swarm of mercers, silkmen, lacemen, and tirewomen and seamstresses. Church-goers no longer wanted beads and breviaries, but handsome Sunday garments - and the new tenants of the Row administered to the necessities of a new species of devotion, not much better it is to be feared, than the old. The Row now began to grow famous as a market for rich velvcts and stuffs. It was here the gentry of the court of Charles II. came a-shopping in their equipages ; and by [-38-] this time the Row must have become, to some extent, what it is at the present day - a narrow lane, unsuitable for the passage of vehicles - for we read that the thoroughfare was often blocked up by the carriages of the court ladies. Pepys records, in his diary (1660), that he came here to buy "moyre for a morning waistcoat" and again, in 1662 that he came on foot to purchase "satin for a petticoat for his wife against the queens coming."
    But the mercers, lacemen, &c., had not the whole place to themselves. A century before Pepys bought his wife's satin petticoat, one Henry Denham, a bookseller, had opened shop at the sign of the Star, and had written on his sign-board the motto Os homini sublime ded it. It was not, however, until the reign of Queen Anne that the booksellers in a body removed to the Row from Little Britain. From that time to this, the reputation of the Row lies has spread further and wider through the world with each revolving year ; and for many generations past, the well-known name has been familiar to the eye of every man, woman, and child of the realm to whom a book is either a necessary or a luxury of life. It is not our purpose to trace the history of the commerce in books, of which the Row is the great centre, and where as many as five millions of volumes have been sold in a year by a single firm. To do that, would require more space than we have at command, and would involve researches and calculations that might perplex and appal a Bidder. The Row is fed, now-a-days, by fifty thousand authors at least, and a thousand or so of steam-presses ; and what the amount of printed paper may be which is turned into it and turned out of it in the course of a year, let those declare, if there be such, who have the means of judging. There are firms there of above a century's standing, who might throw some light on that subject, if they chose ; and to them we leave it -  preferring, on the present occasion, to introduce the reader to Paternoster Row under its existing aspect, and contemplate [-39-] at leisure such of its activities as may help us to some general idea of its way of life.
    The aspect of the Row, enter it from what quarter you may - and you may take your choice of very numerous different entrances - is pretty sure to disappoint the expectations of a stranger. To say the best of it, it is but a narrow, curving, irregular thoroughfare, leading from near Ludgate hill to Cheapside - a lane of brick and mortar, with erections of all dates and all styles and no styles of building - with a foot-pavement scarcely wide enough for two individuals to pass each other, and a roadway through a good part of which vehicles can pass only in single file. The shops, which, with the exception of two or three, are all those of publishers, have a business rather than an attractive air, and except on certain periodical occasions, are not much troubled by the rush of customers. Into this lane, a number of narrower lanes, of courts and alleys, disembogue themselves - some leading to Newgate Market, whose shambles are in unpleasant contiguity to the rears of the houses on the northern side - some into St. Paul's Churchyard, some into Newgate Street and Warwick Square, and some to nowhere particular, only to a cul-dc-sac, which sends the wanderer back again into the Row. At the west end, in a small dusty square, - accessible through close-paved courts, leading by a byway to Ludgate hill, stands a noble sycamore of perhaps a century's growth, whose leaves rustle pleasantly in hot summer-time and whose leafless boughs in the winter are the parliament of the sparrows of the ward, which are observed to sit there in deafening convocation daily during the short half-hour of winter's twilight.
    Viewed, then, in connection with the immediate neighbourhoods of Ludgate hill, Cheapside, and Newgate Street, - which, from early morn to midnight, are resounding with the continuous roar and rumble of wheels, the Row is, in general. a remarkably quiet place. The fever of business is inter-[-40-]mittent, and the crises occur only at regular intervals. During the quiet times, the place is frequented chiefly by two classes the publishers, their booksellers and their agents - and literary men. There is a good deal of gossipping in the shops among clerical-looking gentlemen in white ties, and much lounging and reading of newspapers and magazines over the counter among clerics and shopmen. Now and then, the old blind fiddler strays into the Row, and tunes up a sentimental air, followed by rapid variations, in a masterly style, to whom his regular patrons are not slow in awarding the customary meed of coin. Anon comes a brass band of Germans, who draw up in rank on the kerb, intoning the patriotic harmonies of Fatherland, anti who, in their turn, gather a shower of coppers, cunningly aimed from upper stories into the open throat a French horn or ophicleide by publishers' clerks in want of more profitable amusement. Here and there, a collector, bag on shoulder, strolls from shop to shop, to make up some extra parcel for a country customer - or a hungry bookworm lounges from window to window, to catch a glimpse of some new work ; but there are no great signs of activity - except it be the sudden taking to his heels of the bookworm aforesaid, from a sudden effluvium that hits him clean off the pavement, and sends him staggering down the nearest court ; and which proceeds from a tallow-melting establishment,  as appropriately fixed as would be a pig in an Opera-box, in the very focus and centre of the literary world. Once a week, however, the Row puts on a vivacious look, and bustle and business are the order of the hour. By post-time on Friday, the weekly papers march off in sacks, bags, and parcels to the post-office, and of these the Row furnishes a liberal quota. The procuring of the papers from the publishers of each, which is often attended with no small amount of squabbling and delay - the packing for agents - the addressing to private customers - the invoicing and final bundling [-41-] off on the back of the boy to the post-office - all together put the whole force of the publisher upon their mettle, and make his shop-counter the arena of a contest against time, in which, if he come off the winner by a minute or so, he is perfectly satisfied. Before the clock strikes six, the whole affair is over - the crisis past, and the Row has relapsed into its former state of tranquillity.
    But the grandest demonstration of all occurs on that day of days, which is the test and touchstone of the publisher's commerce, known among printers, binders, booksellers, and men of the Row of all denominations as Magazine-day. On this day, which is the last day of every month, the Row is as much alive as an Egyptian pot of vipers, and far more wide awake. Every house, from garret to cellar, is in a thrill of agitation that stirs the dust in the remotest crannies. Such pulling and lugging and hauling, and unpacking and brown-papering and pigeon-holing, as then takes place, upstairs and down, is a thing to be seen only then and there, and at no other time or place. It is a thing worth seeing, too, only we would advise no unauthorised intrusion of spectators who cannot compromise their dignity, and consent to be carried with the tide.
    The business of Magazine-day invariably commences on the night before the important day dawns - a night which goes among the trade by the denomination of "late night," from the fact that its duties, when business is brisk, rarely terminate before twelve or one o'clock. By the morning post of this day of preparation, the orders of the country booksellers have all arrived. From their orders the invoices have to be made out a process which, in some houses, is facilitated by means of printed lists of the monthly magazines and of the publisher's own books. Each regular customer has his allotted pigeon-hole, or other place of deposit, into which his invoice is put as soon as it is copied, together with such of the books he has ordered as the publisher has on his [-42-] premises. In this way, a considerable part of the work of Magazine Day is done during "late night"; and in houses where the business is extensive, it is indispensable that all that can possibly be done should be done before the labours of the night cease. Because, in a case where a man has to supply in one day the monthly parcel of a hundred or more of country booksellers, each of whom would think there was a design to ruin him if his parcel did not arrive on the first of the month, he cannot afford the risk of a moment's avoidable delay.
    As soon as breakfast is swallowed on Magazine-day, the business of dispatch begins. The printers have sent the magazines perhaps overnight, or, at the latest, by early morning. The object is now to complete the order of each customer ; and the moment it is completed, to pack it up with the invoice and direct the parcel. Were nothing more to be done than to add the magazines and monthly publications to such books as form part of the publisher's own stock, the affair would be comparatively easy and simple but as country booksellers deal mostly with but one publisher, each publisher has to supply his customers with all they want and it will happen that, for one book of his own, he is compelled to procure ten or a dozen of other people's, upon which all the profit he gets is a trifling commission. Let him be as provident as he will in reference to this contingency, he finds, on Magazine-day, that he has to send not only to every house in the Row, but to half the publishers scattered over the metropolis besides, for books or pamphlets he has not got. His hands are so busy packing, sorting, and arranging, that he cannot spare enough of them to run half over the town for the whole day so he has recourse to the book-collector, who at this moment comes forward with his services, and of whom, notwithstanding the hurry of the occasion, we must say a word or two before we proceed.
    The  "collector,'' so indispensable to the Row, is a rather [-43-] anomalous subject, and may rank as a curiosity among London industrials. He is, for the most part, neither man nor boy, but in that transition period of existence known as hobbledehoyhood. For the outward and visible signs of respectability, judging from appearances, he cares not a doit. He wears a seedy suit, surmounted by a cloth cap or a crushed hat ; and he carries on his shoulders a dust-coloured canvas-bag, which had parted with its original and legal hue before it came into his possession. His voice is loud, his bearing independent, and his speech sharp, rapid, and abbreviated. Perhaps you would not be inclined to trust him with much, measuring him by your instincts ; but if you were a publisher, you would be compelled to trust him often, and with a good deal. In the financial conduct of small and serial publications, ready cash is the standing rule and you must give your collector the cash, or he can't collect the goods. Fortunately, you may trust him without incurring any great risk : there is honesty in him, and a proud feeling of caste, and he will account for your cash to the last fraction ; and if he should do so with an air as though, if there were any delinquency to be suspected, it would be on your part, and not on his, you need not be surprised - it is his way. When you have given him your cash and your commission, he knows what to do, and is off like a shot. A specific sort of knowledge he has in perfection-a knowledge of little books and low-priced publications, and who their publishers are, and where they may be got. He will not travel half the distance for the things you want that your own clerk would do if you were to send him after them. Then, he can crush into a crowd, and "chaff"' and bully his way to the counters in a style which your clerk would never learn, and get his business done all the quicker for it - and he will fill his bag, and return with the load, leaving you ample time for packing before the carts come for the parcels. He is well known at all the news-offices - was, in fact, a [-44-] news-boy himself as long as he was a boy at all - is well used to accounts, and the mental addition of fractions especially ; and though more thou a trifle pert and slangy, and given to stare at you in a way that savours of impudence, he is, upon the whole, a reasonably reliable, indifferent, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow enough. 
    As fast as the several orders are completed, the collected books and publications, together with the invoices, are carried to the packing-department, which may be a cellar, gas-lighted, below the shop, to be packed. The packets of the smaller traders are mostly cleared off early in the day, and stacked ready for the carters ; but the completion of a large order is a thing not to be got over in a hurry, and is only effected at last by the success of the collectors in their rambling mission. Often enough, as the country booksellers know to their mortification, an order is not completed at all - tracts and pamphlets being returned as "out of print" when they are only "out of reach" - far off on the shelves of some West-end publisher, to whom there is not time to send. 
    As the day grows older, faster and more furious grows the strife of business. Every publisher has not only his own dozens, scores, or hundreds of parcels to despatch, but he is himself a quarry of more or less importance to fifty other publishers, whose agents and collectors are goading him on all sides with eager and hurried demands, which it is as much to his interest to supply instantaneously as it is to execute the orders he has himself received. Within doors, the shops are crammed with messengers, bag-laden and clamorous, from all parts of London ; and without, the Row is thronged like a market with figures darting to and fro, and across and back again - with bulging sacks on shoulder  - with paper parcels and glittering volumes grasped under each arm - and with piles of new books a yard high, resting on clasped hands, and steadied beneath the chin. It is of no use now for the blind fiddler or the brass-band to make [-45-] their appearance, and they know that perfectly well, being never caught in the Row on Magazine-day.
    Let us enter one of the shops while the business of the day is at its height and note what is going on. The apartment is not particularly large, the convenience of space being the one thing in which the Row is awkwardly deficient but it is well furnished with goods, the walls, from floor to ceiling, being on all sides one conglomerate of pigeon-holes ; further, there are screens of double-sided pigeon-holes, dividing the shop from the offices, and all are stuffed to repletion with books, mostly of small size, and tracts or pamphlets in prodigious numbers. A crowd of boys and lads are pressing to the counter, behind which clerks, with pen in hand or ear, and shopmen - now climbing ladders, now ducking and diving into dark corners - are busy in supplying their numerous demands. From a trap-door in the floor, the gaslight glimmers pale from the cellar below, whence now and then a head emerges, and descends again with an unpacked pile. Amid the jingle of cash, the shuffling of feet, and the lumping of books on the counter, rise the imperative voices of the collectors, in tones none of the gentlest, and in terms not the most intelligible to the ears of the uninitiated. 
    "Come, it's my turn,'' bawls one ; "am I to wait here all day ? Pots of manna, six and phials of wrath, thirteen as twelve. Look alive, will you?''
    While the shopman is rummaging for the pots and phials, another voice ejaculates - "Coming struggles, twenty-six as twenty-four ; two devices of Satan ; and one little Tommy Tubbs.''
    "Do you keep the pious pieman?" roars a lanky "lither-lad,'' half doubled up beneath his corpulent bag.
    "No,'' says the shopman, "over the way for the pious pieman.''
    "Well, give us a dozen blaspheming blacksmiths - thirteen, you know. Anything off the blacksmith?"
    [-46-] Shopman shakes his head.
    "Nine broken pitchers and Jacob's well," screams a shrill youth ; "and what's a church, and wheat or chaff.''
    "Ten garments of faith, and fifty bands of hope,'' cries another.
    "Come!" adds a third, " give us old brown and the new jerusalem, and I'll be off.''
    "Do you keep the two thieves?" asks a fourth.
    "Yes; how many?"
    "Two two thieves and thoughts in prison."
    The traffic here, as you perceive, is of a peculiar kind, being mostly in publications of a low price, and of a religious character. The moment a customer gets what he wants, he is off elsewhere for serials or volumes of a different description. The demand of the present day being chiefly for cheap or low-priced literature of one kind or another, we find the greatest crowds where that is dispensed in the greatest quantity. In places where volumes and the dear magazines form the whole, or nearly the whole, of the materials of traffic, there is time, even on Magazine-day, to conduct the business with more deliberation and decorum. But time must not be lost; and the dinner-hour comes at this particular crisis with but an apology for dinner, or not even that, to the majority of the actors in the busy scene.
    As the afternoon wanes, the collectors gradually disappear, and that for an obvious reason, as their burdens have to be sorted, packed, and sent off before six o'clock. As other people's collectors desert the publisher's shop his own begin to return, having fulfilled their commissions ; and now there is an hour and a half, or two hours, in which the work of packing has to be completed. The packing of books is an art, not an intuition. If it is not well done, the books suffer in their transit to the bookseller, and may be refused by the customer ; and if it is not done quickly on Magazine-day, it may as well not be done at all. Practice, however, renders [-47-] the packers adroit; and it is amusing as well as surprising to note how rapidly a heap of books, of all sizes and all shapes, of damp magazines and flimsy sheets, is transformed into a neat brown-paper parcel, corded and directed, and ready for carriage. This all-important work employs all hands, and consumes the last labouring-hours of the day. As time draws on, symptoms begin to appear of the conclusion of the labour. Head-clerks and shopmen button on their coats, and march off to a late dinner; chops, steaks, and cups of coffee walk in, to the solace of those who are left behind to see to the termination of the day's business ; and carts anti waggons begin to defile into the Row from the western entrance, to carry off the parcels to the carriers' depots. According to a very necessary regulation, well understood, the carts and vehicles performing this service enter the Row from the western or Ludgate Hill end, and draw up with horses' heads towards Cheapside. As a compensation for any trouble this rule may occasion, the carters have a small monthly gratuity allowed them. The carriers send for the goods at their own expense, receiving only the usual booking-fee for each parcel. Notwithstanding these regulations, however, the carting process rarely goes off without a bout at wrangling and squabbling among the drivers. Now and then an un-salaried carter, hired for the single job, and ignorant of the etiquette which requires that all vehicles shall depart at the Cheapside end of the Row, will obstinately persist in crushing his way in the contrary direction, and - though he is generally defeated in the attempt - he does not submit to fate without the usual demonstrations characteristic of his class. When the carts have all been filled and driven off, the Row assumes a sudden tranquillity, in remarkable contrast with the bustle and turmoil of the past day. By the time its shops are finally closed for the night, some million or so of copies of the latest productions of the press have taken to themselves wings of steam, and are all flying from London, as a common [-48-] centre, to all parts of the realm ; and before to-morrow night the greater portion of them will be affording to the reading public their monthly literary treat.
    The above glance at the operations of the publishing-trade furnishes us with a reason sufficiently obvious why publishers should congregate - in so doing they do but practise what is mutually convenient and profitable. It shows us, moreover, that the convenience at present derived from association is capable of very considerable enhancement. What to us appears to be wanting is, the establishment of a publishers' hall of commerce. in which, of everything published, not only in London but in all parts of the country, copies should be deposited for sale at the wholesale prices to all the members. The establishment need not be large, nor its management expensive and the expense should be defrayed by a rate chargeable to each member, and deducted from the sums handed over to him in payment for his deposits. If the publishing trade goes on increasing for the next thirty years in the same proportion as during the last thirty years, Paternoster Row, with its present limits, cannot long continue to form its principal store-house. As other nuclei arise in other places, the necessity for some common area for the despatch of business will become more imperative and indisputable; and something equivalent to what we here suggest will arise, as most improvements in commercial systems have arisen, out of the urgent requirements of the hour.

source: Charles Manby Smith, The Little World of London, 1857