16th December 1788

Walter Scott’s publisher Robert Cadell is born

Author Walter Scott enjoyed considerable success during his lifetime. However, we must thank one of his publishers, Robert Cadell, for securing Scott’s legacy.

Without Cadell, those novels might not be so well known and beloved today. Cadell’s work was particularly valuable in the period during which Scott was working to write himself out of debt, and in the immediate aftermath of his death.

Walter Scott’s unfortunate investment

Scott was already a successful author when Cadell took up employment with his publisher, Archibald Constable, with whom he eventually became a business partner. But hard times were ahead. Scott had invested in a printing business, which fell into significant debt as a result of a banking crisis in 1825. Scott had to offer his house as collateral to keep his creditors at bay while he devoted himself to earning sufficient through new writing to settle his debts.

Subsequently, Archibald Constable and Company was placed into receivership, and the partnership between Constable and Cadell was dissolved. However, Cadell remained Scott’s publisher, and Cadell devised a plan by which the two men could continue to benefit from Scott’s work.

Walter Scott’s surplus works auctioned

The Derbyshire Courier of 27 January 1849 described how “at the time of the bankruptcy it was found that there were enormous stocks of Sir Walter Scott’s works on hand… and all these were peremptorily sold off by auction in the course of 1827 and 1828; and it is a fact that this immense stock, which had cost above £40,000 in paper and print, sold for not much more than half that sum, and created an impression among the London booksellers that the value of the copyrights have been worked out.”

However, Cadell understood that there was considerable residual value within the copyrights if only it could be realised. He and Scott bought back the copyright in Scott’s Waverley novels for less than £10,000 and set about producing a new edition illustrated by JMW Turner.

“The public have long since seen the working of this scheme, which consisted of a republication of the whole series of novels in 8vo. 5s. volumes, neatly got up, with plates and embellished title pages, so arranged that the novel originally published at a guinea and a half was presented in a convenient form and handsome legible type for 10s, with the additional recommendation of explanatory notes by ‘the Author of Waverley’,” the Derbyshire Courier continued. Over the next few years the venture was reckoned to have returned around a quarter of a million pounds.

“Exceedingly cheap” editions

The Dublin Monitor of 1 April 1841 wrote that it was happy to announce the publication of a “new, very beautiful and exceedingly cheap edition” of Scott’s novels, which would be produced as a series of 25 monthly editions “at the trifling price of four shillings”. This seemed sure to bring Scott a new audience as, “the comparatively high price at which former editions were published precluded multitudes who were desirous of procuring those works from doing so.”

Cadell continued publishing Scott’s work after Scott’s death, and loaned Scott’s family the remainder of the money required to pay off Scott’s debts. This loan was eventually repaid by Cadell acquiring the remaining rights in Scott’s work.

He died on 20 January 1849.



Other events that occured in December

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