Tonson - Encyclopedia




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TONSON, the name of a family of London booksellers and publishers. Richard and Jacob Tonson (c. 1656-1736), sons of a London barber-surgeon, started in 1676 and 1677 independently as booksellers and publishers in London. In 1679 Jacob, the better known of the two, bought and published Dryden's Troilus and Cressida, and from that time was closely associated with Dryden, and published most of his works. He published the Miscellany Poems .(1684-1708) under Dryden's editorship, the collection being known indifferently as Dryden's or Tonson's Miscellany, and also Dryden's translation of Virgil (1697). Serious disagreements over the price paid, however, arose between poet and publisher, and in his Faction Displayed (1705) Dryden described Tonson as having "two left legs, and Judas-coloured hair." Subsequently the relations between the two men improved. The brothers jointly published Dryden's Spanish Friar (1683). Jacob Tonson also published Congreve's Double Dealer, Sir John Vanbrugh's The Faithful Friend and The Confederacy, and the pastorals of Pope, thus justifying Wycherly's description of him as "gentleman usher to the Muses." He bought also the valuable rights of Paradise Lost, half in 1683 and half in 1690. This was his first profitable venture in poetry. In 1712 he became joint publisher with Samuel Buckley of the Spectator, and in the following year published Addison's Cato. He was the original secretary and a prominent member of the Kit-Cat Club. About 1720 he gave up business and retired to Herefordshire, where he died on the 2nd of April 1736. His business was carried on by his nephew, Jacob Tonson, jun. (d. 1735), and subsequently by his grand-nephew, also Jacob (d. 1767).

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