Edmund Curll (1683–1747)
Pat Rogers, University of South Florida
As the most scandalous English publisher of his age (or of almost any other), Edmund Curll helped to give Grub Street a local habitation and a name in the literary world. Until recently very little has come to light about his origins, apt in the case of a man who spent his career in a shadowy subculture of the London book trade. It used to be thought that he was born around 1675, but it has emerged that the true date is 1683. He was once believed to have grown up around Maidenhead, thirty miles west of the capital, but it now appears that his roots were in the parish of St. Giles in the Fields. This lay in the heart of London, close to the area surrounding Covent Garden, near the location of Curll’s business for most of his career. His father appears to have been in trade, although we have no idea in what branch of commerce. He looks to have had a fair education, perhaps at the level of a grammar school, but this is all speculation.
Curll makes his first hesitant entrance into the sphere of biography near the turn of the century, when he is alleged to have “kept a stall, and then took a shop in the purlieus of Covent Garden.” Even this is unreliable, and may be based on the informant’s recollection of the location where Curll operated in later years. What is certain is that he began to work for a bookseller named Smith in the Strand, and this can only be Richard Smith, who started out around 1699 “at the Angel and Bible, near the May-Pole in the Strand.” This site happens to be the place where Alexander Pope caused his motley crew of literary folk to gather in the second book of his Dunciad (1728 onwards), and where Curll himself had his shop through most of the twenties.
However, he can never have entered into a formal apprenticeship with Smith, as this would have culminated in membership of the Stationers’ Company, which remained the most powerful institution within the book trade, though it had lost some of its former imperial sway. Instead, he was admitted in 1707 to the even more ancient Cordwainers’ Company, a guild of shoemakers that was rather less prominent in civic affairs. Once, he was slated to join his colleagues among the Stationers but he failed to appear, presumably because of his earlier attachment to the Cordwainers. Thus Curll remained a liminal figure in the publishing world, at once in and out of the established hierarchy.
None the less he did qualify to become a citizen of London, a status he would blazon in a number of his books. He did not take much part in municipal affairs, except that he cast his vote in the often contentious elections for the City of London, one of the most populous and influential in the whole array of parliamentary seats (“There is no election so solemn and so important as that of London,” wrote a pamphleteer in 1713 with only a hint of exaggeration). Later on, though he professed great loyalty to Robert Walpole when he needed the help of the prime minister to get out one of his regular scrapes, he generally voted for the Opposition candidates. During his early days, especially at the time of the Sacheverell controversy in 1710, he may have gone with the Tories, but as soon as the Whigs achieved total hegemony, after the arrival of George I, he saw which side his bread was buttered on. At the age of twenty-two he had married Anne Rowell, a woman then living in the same locality close to the Strand: she has been condemned to live in the same obscurity from which Edmund had emerged, but we can now say that she was a member of the erudite Rowell family of Kingston on Thames. A son named Henry was born at the start of 1707. Anne Curll died from unknown causes in 1724.
In 1706, while he was still working with Smith, presumably in a dependent role, he appears in the imprint of books along with his master (he signs the earliest surviving letter, written to the great physician and collector Hans Sloane, “your humble Servant, though unknown Ed. Curll, living with Mr. Smith Bookseller in the Strand”). He would not be unknown for much longer. A year later he issued the first volumes under his own name, and began a long career in book auctions, following the example of Smith. His list soon took on the miscellaneous character that would always prevail: it includes devotional works along with very different items. There was the first collection of poems by Matthew Prior (arguably the most distinguished poet of the day at this juncture, but also author of a number of the most scabrous), and A List of Horse-Matches to be Run at New-Market in Mar, April, and May 1707, with an Account when the Great Cock-Match Begins at Saffron-Walden in Essex, a twopenny pamphlet that has not survived.
We can see from these examples that Curll was already pursuing some of the lines that would help to furnish his stock in trade. There were some of his first risqué items, including his initial Case of Sodomy, the sort of title that would regularly grace his catalogues from now on. There was also an edition of the Earl of Rochester that would appear in various guises for the next twenty-odd years, and an exercise in the vein of backstairs gossip that served as an equally prescient hint of what was come, entitled The Memoirs of the Marquess de Langallerie: Containing an Account of the most Secret Intrigues of the French, Spanish, and Bavarian Courts. He was issuing works by celebrated writers without their permission (the Prior edition was immediately repudiated by the writer himself and the great figure at the head of the book industry, Jacob Tonson, who held the rights); besides engaging in partnership with the major trade publishers, that is distributors and wholesalers, John Baker and John Morphew, Baker was responsible for the marketing of Whig authors mainly, such as Daniel Defoe; Morphew for those in the Tory camp, most prominently Jonathan Swift.
It was not long afterwards that there broke out one of the battles that have assured Curll an enduring place in the quarrels of authors. By 1710 he had started to produce editions of Swift’s shorter miscellaneous works, and a key to A Tale of a Tub that touched on some delicate religious issues. Swift expressed resentment at these proceedings, and they would mark the opening of a longstanding enmity with the bookseller. It is possible, however, that he had some complicity in certain cases, as happened with his friend Pope in the following years. By the time that this last feud began, Curll had already offended other writers in addition to Prior and Swift, notably the poet laureate and successful dramatist Nicholas Rowe.
Curll’s business gradually expanded. As was the custom then, he acted in concert with other booksellers, most significantly at this stage Egbert Sanger and John Pemberton, who both operated towards the western end of Fleet Street. He had started out in exactly the same area, and gradually followed the route taken by the book trade as its axis shifted from the historic quarters in the City, near St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Stationers’ Hall, towards the more fashionable West End (a name not yet used). Here Curll and his colleagues were closer to a growing market, composed of readers who lived among the main haunts of the town. It was a younger demographic than that of the staid commercial district, with affluent young students at the inns of court, along with the audience at the two big theatres, Drury Lane and Covent Garden. In addition, it was more cosmopolitan, with an ur-Latin quarter in St. Martin’s Lane, and it was more open to new ideas and less prim in its tastes, being surrounded not just by the entertainment industry but also by the red light district that shared the network of alleys radiating out of the main thoroughfares and public spaces. See Vic Gatrell, The First Bohemians: Life and Art in London’s Golden Age (2013).
From now, Curll developed some personal specialisms, among which the most characteristic was his penchant for sending out the lives and wills of recently deceased notabilities. (Wills could be purchased for a small fee at Doctors Commons, the centre of ecclesiastical law, which stood in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and thus close to the home of the book trade.) So marked was this fatal fondness of Curll that Dr. John Arbuthnot, a member of the Scriblerian group of satirists, dubbed his productions “a new terror of death.” Meanwhile the publisher went about extending his armoury of tricks to entice the reader. These included fake imprints, false dates, spurious “new” editions, and a variety of bibliographic cheats. However, it was above all in his advertising methods that he broke fresh ground. He outdid all his predecessors in the effrontery with which he pushed his own books and stigmatised those of his adversaries. His ubiquitous presence in the columns of the London press was marked by pithy one-liners, witty versicles, and much self-display. He cannot be well described as a pirate since he preferred to acquire copyrights where he could or, failing that, unpublished manuscripts purloined by ingenious means. The centre of literary piracy lay in Blackfriars, close to the eastern end of Fleet Street, where unscrupulous practitioners such as Henry Hills plied their trade.
The battle between Curll and Pope that would stretch over thirty years began in 1716, when the bookseller got hold by devious means of some poems written chiefly by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and allowed the world to think that they came from Pope, then busy establishing his renown as the most eminent man of letters in the nation. Retribution came quickly, with two brutal but hilarious satires in prose that professed to describe Curll’s ordeal and a humiliating confession of his wrongdoings after being poisoned with a doctored glass of wine. Nevertheless, there were some smart ripostes by Curll, notably when he managed to get hold of verses that Pope had circulated in manuscript and proved highly embarrassing for their obscene or blasphemous quality. After this the pair continued to trade blows at short intervals for the rest of their lives.
One such bout was triggered in 1726 when Curll issued two volumes entitled Miscellanea, whose most eyecatching items were those pillaged from Pope and Swift. Bad feeling was also caused by a foolish set of keys to Gulliver’s Travels which appeared in the same year, shortly after the Dean’s great satire came before the world. These pamphlets were attributed to “Signor Corolini, a noble Venetian now residing in London,” but internal evidence suggests that this was simply Mister Curll in a carnival disguise. As for Pope, he was greatly discomforted by the opening element in the Miscellanea, which consisted of pretentious and ribald letters he had written in his callow youth. The recipient’s mistress, a poet named Elizabeth Thomas, had fallen on hard times and sold them to Curll. This transaction earned her a place in The Dunciad, and brought back to the boil a contest between poet and publisher that had barely ever ceased to simmer.
As time went on, Curll had grown more reckless. He faced prosecution on several occasions, and was had up before the House of Lords for breach of privilege. Things began to get really serious in the 1720s, when his tribulations included arrest and trial on two separate charges—one for seditious material, one for obscene libels concerned with items such as a book about the sexual antics of French nuns. The prosecution hung over his head for several years, and he spent time in gaol leaving his unreliable son Henry to take care of the business. Finally in 1728 he was convicted of both offences, and as well as receiving hefty fines he was sentenced to stand in the pillory at Charing Cross. He naturally turned this into an opportunity for street theatre, wooing the assembled crowd with publicity handouts, and he was said to have been carried off in triumph to a neighbouring tavern. Of course, he may have made up that bit and sent it to the press.
Pope, Swift and their friends hoped that these experiences would cause their enemy to take a more cautious approach. Far from it: he continued to harass them. Even when, barely three months after the episode of the pillory, Pope brought out the first version of The Dunciad, he was not abashed. The text and the malicious footnotes that accompanied it both give much space to “shameless Curl” and indeed he is integral to the design. It is not just that he takes part in a footrace, splattered with various ordure, against Pope’s own publisher Bernard Lintot, and earns the winner’s prize, contemptuously awarded in the person of the writer Eliza Haywood (now, of course, much more highly esteemed). A whole gallery of Curll’s authors, some long associated with his shop, infiltrate the poem, and as mentioned the dunces gather at a precise location in the Strand associated with Curll for the opening ceremony of their “high, heroic Games.”
Far from pushing the bookseller into early retirement, this treatment impelled him to issue a series of pamphlets focusing on The Dunciad in its various incarnations, among them a key that exposed more of Pope’s hidden intentions than he would have wished for, as well as a bantering Curliad. There were numerous ripostes by writers to their incarceration within the poem, and Curll published some of these. They mostly reflect the anger that hardy veterans of the literary profession now felt in the realisation that they had been consigned for perpetuity to the enclave that was Grub Street. Not so Curll: his contributions to this exchange mostly carried a good tempered air, and if he is scornful towards Pope it is ostensibly more on public than on private grounds. It calls for bravery to take on a comic masterpiece with a humorous sally of one’s own, but then Curll never lacked chutzpah.
In the mid thirties, the contest entered its most prolonged and bizarre phase. It started with an over-elaborate scheme by Pope to engineer the publication of his collected letters. This involved the use of fake agents delivering materials to Curll by night, and other subterfuges to convince the bookseller that he was putting one over on his opponent. In the end the plot partially backfired. Pope got the letters into print seemingly under the aegis of Curll, and went on to produce his own ”authentic” edition. On the other hand, this was the stimulus for no less than five volumes of Mr. Pope’s Literary Correspondence, some of which did damage to the author’s reputation. More seriously an effort by Pope’s aristocratic allies to have the books condemned in the House of Lords ended in failure, which naturally led Curll to crowing in print about his triumph. No member of the London book trade had ever achieved such a highly visible public profile.
During these years he carried on much in in the old vein. He took a second wife, a widow named Elizabeth Bateman in 1734; his son Henry suddenly disappeared from view and he would predecease his father in 1737. At the start of the decade, Edmund had moved to Bow Street, conveniently sited in theatreland, where he set up a “Literatory,” a kind of showroom chiefly for antiquarian stock. After a brief spell back off the Strand, adjoining the cluster of retail premises in Exeter Exchange, he finally settled in 1734 on Rose Street, which zigzagged between Covent Garden and Long Acre in a district that was described by a Victorian author as “a tortuous, crapulous and infamous district” full of “tumble-down tenements as reeking courts.” It may not have been quite as bad in Curll’s day, but this was far from a palatial setting. The saving merit was that it stood near the social action of the city.
Perhaps in view of this, the publisher’s list took on a greater share of theatrical biographies over the 1730s. There was a smaller proportion of the classical texts and county histories that he had previously used to serve as a respectable front for his business. A number of outlandish titles appeared, such as the rambling Account of the Progress of an Epidemical Madness. In a Letter to the President and Fellows of the College of Physicians (1735), most likely a posthumously published work by John Arbuthnot, Fellow of that College. For some time there had been less outright smut and quasi-medical treatises on subjects like eunuchism and onanism. But the flow of titles issued each year started to dry up around 1740, and the bookseller was reduced to participation in a series of crudely sexual titillations concerning “Merryland,” which involve twelve chapters describing the female pudenda in terms of a topographic survey. The alleged source is one “Roger Pheuquewell, Esq.,” a pseudonym for the almost equally fictitious-sounding Thomas Stretser.
There was time for one more contest at arms with his old enemy. This took place in the Court of Chancery, where the historically important case of Pope vs. Curll (1741) settled for almost two centuries the law on the rights in personal letters. This time the plaintiff came out on top, and much of Curll’s editions of the Literary Correspondence were deemed inadmissible under some vital aspects. The actual case in point, however, was a last dying fling by Curll, Dean Swift’s Literary Correspondence for Twenty-four Years. After this we have not much more, although after his principal antagonist died in 1744, there followed in the next year a cumbrously assembled Memoirs of Pope (1745), attributed to William Ayre. Curll may have had something to do with this, as publisher or even as author, but the evidence is not clearcut.
The veteran lingered on for a couple of years, but Curll’s chaste press had now almost ceased to roll. He died on 11 December 1747, aged sixty-four, and was buried two days later at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, which stands at the heart of the district where he operated with such élan for most of his career. His widow Elizabeth Curll survived until 1756.
There are two full-length biographies. Ralph Straus, The Unspeakable Curll (1927) is lively and amusing. Paul Baines and Pat Rogers, Edmund Curll, Bookseller (2007), is more detailed and comprehensive. The same authors are engaged on a catalogue of Curll’s publications. For his relations with the City of London, see their article “Edmund Curll, Liveryman,” Publishing History, 62 (2007): 1–35. For the place of Curll within the bookselling profession, see Pat Rogers, “Edmund Curll and the Publishing Trade,” in Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book, ed. Laura Runge and Pat Rogers (2009), 215–34.
A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers who were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to 1725, by Henry Plomer (1922)
CURLL (EDMUND), bookseller in London and Tunbridge Wells, (1) Covent Garden; (2) Peacock without Temple Bar, 1706–10; (3) (a) Dial and Bible, against St. Dunstan's Church, (b) next the Temple Coffee House in Fleet Street, 1710–23; (4) on the Walk, Tunbridge Wells, 1712; (5) Paternoster Row, 1720 [this and the preceding must be branch shops]; (6) over against Catherine Street in the Strand, 1723–6; (7) next to Wills's Coffee House in Bow Street, Covent Garden, 1729; (8) Burleigh Street, Strand, 1733; (9) Pope's Head, Rose Street, Covent Garden, 1735–47. 1705(?)–47. Born, according to his own statement [Curliad, p. 14] in 1683, but perhaps in 1675, as the Gentleman's Magazine [XVII. 592] gives his age as seventy-two at his death in 1747. Curll came early from the West of England to London, and was apprenticed to a bookseller, "Mr. Smith by Exeter Change". Having served his apprenticeship he set up first a stall and then a shop in Covent Garden, where he probably carried on a purely retail trade. In 1706 he first appears in an imprint, publishing at "the Peacock, near St. Clement's Church in the Strand", a "reprint" [D.N.B.], really a reissue of the sheets, of Captain Bladen's translation of Caesar's Commentaries, published in the previous year by Richard Smith, who may be identified with his old master. In 1707 he pirated Prior's Poems on Several Occasions. In 1708 he published, in conjunction with E. Sanger, Dodwell's Explication ... concerning the Immortality of Human Souls, and Boileau's Lutrin. [T.C. III. 595–6.] The latter appears in his list of 1735 as still in stock. Curll declared in 1727 that the former was the first book printed by (i. e. for) him. [Apology for the Writings of Walter Moyle.] On September 13th, 1710, he made the first of his very few entries in Stat. Reg., Some Account of the Family of Sacheverell, and he himself contributed to the controversy a pamphlet, The Case of Dr. Sacheverell, 1710. In this year he left the Peacock for the Dial and Bible close by, previously occupied by A. Boswill, and published there A Complete Key to the Tale of a Tub. Two years later he is found subscribing a guinea to the Bowyer fund, and had prospered enough to have a branch shop at Tunbridge Wells. In 1716 began his long quarrel with Pope. He had had a hand in the publication by James Roberts of Court Poems, some of which are attributed in the advertisement to "the laudable translator of Homer". Pope was so annoyed that he arranged a meeting with Curll and Lintot at the Swan Tavern in Fleet Street, and there administered to Curll an "emetic potion"; he then published a satirical account of the affair, A Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll bookseller, which was followed by other pamphlets. In the same year Curll first came under the displeasure of authority, being reprimanded at the bar of the House of Lords for breach of privilege in publishing a piratical edition of An Account of the Trial of the Earl of Wintoun [Lords' Journals, May 1716], and was also tossed in a blanket and beaten by the Westminster scholars for pirating, with many inaccuracies, their Captain's oration over Dr. South. In 1720 he apparently opened a branch shop in the City, in Paternoster Row, but continued to give the Dial and Bible as his address on imprints till at least 1723. In 1721 he was again convicted at the bar of the House of Lords, for an unauthorized edition of the Duke of Buckingham's Life and Works; and in 1725 and 1728 he was fined for publishing immoral books; on the latter occasion he was also imprisoned for five months, and used his imprisonment to acquire the copy of the Memoirs of John Ker of Kersland, for publishing which (as being defamatory of the Government) he was in the same year condemned to stand in the pillory at Charing Cross; the inconveniences of this he skilfully avoided by circulating among the crowd a leaflet stating that he was suffering for vindicating the memory of Queen Anne. He stated that of the most notorious of the indecent books he had been convicted of publishing in 1728 (Venus in the Cloister) he had sold only one chance copy; but this can hardly be true, as it appears, with the rest, in his list of 1735. In spite of all these transactions he is found in 1723–4 and again in 1728 offering his services to the Government. In 1733 his Copy of the Will of Matthew Tindal, one of a large series of wills and memoirs which led Arbuthnot to observe to Swift that Curll was "one of the new terrors of death", brought him into a violent quarrel with Eustace Budgell. His feud with Pope had continued intermittently since 1716. In 1726 he printed Pope's Letters to Henry Cromwell, of 1708–12, and Pope accused him in the Dunciad (Notes, ed. 1729) of, among many other things, clandestinely acquiring the copy of these letters, a charge which Curll denied. But Pope's attack at large on Curll in the Dunciad is so strong that its victim is now generally remembered only as "dauntless Curll" and "shameless Curll". He replied at length in the Curliad, 1729, a valuable source of biographical details concerning its author. In spite of these amenities Pope is known to have secretly arranged the publication by Curll in 1735 of his Literary Correspondence for Thirty Years, and at the same time to have contrived to have the publication stayed by the Lords on a far-fetched and unsuccessful plea of breach of privilege. His object was to give excuse for and advertise his own authorized edition. Curll published his collection, which degenerated into a miscellany, in 1735–7, and Pope his in 1737–41. Curll had simultaneously moved to Rose Street, Covent Garden, and taken the sign of "Pope's Head", of which sign his device is no doubt a copy. Here he continued to publish, apparently more peacefully, until 1747, on December 11th of which year he died. His will, which was proved on July 21st, 1748, contains the following codicil of July 17th, 1742:
I have no relatives, my son is dead. He left no issue, and his wife's re-wed; Therefore no legacys at all I leave. But all I've got to my dear wife bequeathe. [P.C.C. 209 Strahan.]
The son here referred to as dead by 1742 had a separate shop in 1726 and sold his father's books, while the latter was in conflict with the authorities; he appears to have been with him in Burleigh Street in 1733. Curll issued brief select lists of novels and of poems in 1719 [in The Female Deserters (printed for James Roberts), and Major Pack's Miscellanies], and of theology in 1723 [in Addison's Miscellanies], also a list of forty-three books issued from "over against Catherine Street in the Strand", i.e. not before 1723 [a copy is bound after John Hales's Discourse, 1720, B.M. 1113. g. 13]. Classified general lists appeared in 1726 [in Ashmole's Order of the Garter, 2nd ed., not in B.M.], and in 1735 [separately, B.M. G. 13457/2]. This last contains nearly two hundred items, including not only some of his earliest publications, but also those on account of which he had suffered fines and imprisonment, and is the basis of any bibliography of his productions. It may be compendiously said of Curll that while he possessed all the vices attributed to him, he also possessed virtues which are too commonly ignored. Some of his publications are in the worst style of a bad period; many are libellous. He was pertinaciously defiant of authority, and malicious toward his enemies. But he is generally truthful, and his chief enemy, Pope, was the aggressor and deserved much worse handling than Curll gave him. The accusations against him of starving his hacks are apparently exaggerated, at least, if not quite false. Curll's classified list of 1735 shows that he was a large publisher of almost every sort of literature, especially of memoirs and of local history. A series of county histories, which he advertised as Anglia Illustrata, in 20 vols., and a bibliography of such books, entitled The English Topographer, alone give him a claim to gratitude; but comparatively few of his publications are worthless. In short, he was a man of considerable intellect, and an excellent man of business, who was troubled by few scruples. A vivid portrait of him is drawn by Amory in John Bunch (ed. 1770, IV, 138, &c.): "Curl was in person very tall and thin, an ungainly, awkward, whitefaced man. His eyes were a light grey, large, projecting, gogle and purblind. He was splay-footed, and baker-kneed. He ... was well acquainted with more than the titlepages of books. ... He was not an infidel. ... He was a debauchee. ... By filling his translations with wretched notes, forged letters and bad pictures, he raised the price of a four shilling book to ten. ... He died at last as great a penitent ... as ever expired." [W. J. Thoms, Curll Papers (reprinted from N. & Q.); D.N.B.; and sources quoted.]
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)
CURLL, EDMUND (1675–1747), bookseller, was born in 1675 in the west of England (New and General Biog. Dict. 1798, iv.), of humble parentage. He was apprenticed to 'Mr. Smith, by Exeter Change,' most probably the Richard Smith who published an edition of Cæsar's 'Commentaries, made English by Capt. Bladen,' 'at the Angel and Bible without Temple Bar,' in 1705. The 'second edition, improv'd,' a mere reprint with a new title, was 'sold by E. Curll at the Peacock without Temple Bar,' in 1706. 'A Letter to Mr. Prior' was also published by him. It is likely that Curll succeeded to Smith's business on the same premises, changing the sign of the house from the Angel and Bible to that of the Peacock. In 1708 he published 'An Explication of a Famous Passage in the Dialogue of St. Justin Martyr with Tryphon,' 'the first book I ever printed' (Apology for W. Moyle, p. 17), and, in conjunction with E. Sanger, a translation of Boileau's 'Lutrin.' Like other booksellers of the time, Curll sold patent medicines. He had not been long in business when he began a system of newspaper quarrels with a view to force himself into public notice. Having published a quack medical work known as 'The Charitable Surgeon,' he got up a fictitious controversy about its authorship in 'The Supplement' newspaper of 8 April 1709. An interesting volume lately added to the British Museum shows us that Curll was a pamphleteer during the Sacheverell controversy in 1710. It contains some curious notes in Curll's own neat handwriting. The first book entered under his name in the 'Registers of the Stationers' Company' was 'Some Account of the Family of Sacheverell,' on 13 Sept. 1710. Very few books at all were entered at that period, and his name only appears ten times between 1710 and 20 Aug. 1746. In 1710 he had taken the premises in Fleet Street formerly occupied by the well-known bookseller A. Bosvill, where he published 'A Complete Key to the Tale of a Tub,' 'printed for E. Curll at the Dial and Bible against St. Dunstan's Church.' He remained at this address until 1718. Besides his house in London he also had a shop in Tunbridge Wells, as an advertisement dated 15 July 1712 calls attention to one 'on the walk at Tunbridge Wells. Gentlemen and Ladies may be furnish'd with all the new Books and Pamphlets that come out; also French and Italian Prints, Maps, &c.' (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ii. 484). In 1716 Curll had his first quarrel with Pope on the publication of 'Court Poems,' in March 1716, by James Roberts, a minor bookseller. In the advertisement it is hinted that certain 'lines could have come from no other hand than the laudable translator of Homer.' Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had some share in bringing out the book, and it is impossible to say whether or not Pope secretly promoted the volume while openly expressing annoyance. Pope, finding that Curll had to do with the publication, sought an interview with him through Lintot, which led to the famous scene at the Swan Tavern in Fleet Street, told in the 'Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll, Bookseller; with a faithful copy of his last Will and Testament.' This was circulated shortly after the event, and reprinted in the 'Miscellanies' of Swift and Pope. It was followed by a 'Further Account,' and 'A strange but true Relation how Mr. E. Curll out of an extraordinary desire for lucre was converted by certain eminent Jews.' The meeting was the only occasion on which the poet and bookseller were in company (Dunciad, ii. 54, note). It is certain that some practical joke was played upon Curll, who refers to the 'emetic potion' he was made to drink in the 'Curliad,' where he describes how the 'Court Poems' came to be published. Pope returned to the subject in 'Moore's Worms, for the learned Mr. Curll, bookseller' (E. Smith, 1716); and Curll retaliated with satirical advertisements (see Flying Post, 5 and 10 April 1716) relating to the translation of Homer. Four days after the death of Robert South, on 8 July 1716, a Latin oration was delivered over the body in the college hall of Westminster School by John Barber, then captain of the king's scholars. Curll obtained a copy of the oration and
... did th' Oration print Imperfect, with false Latin in't.
The Westminster boys enticed the bookseller into Dean's Yard, and tossed him in a blanket. The incident is referred to in the 'Dunciad,' and Pope gleefully speaks of it in a letter to Martha Blount. It was the theme of a poem, 'Neck or Nothing, a consolatory letter from Mr. D—nt—n to Mr. C—rll,' sold by Charles King in Westminster Hall (1716), believed to have been written by Samuel, the elder brother of John Wesley, and sometime head usher of the school (Alumni Westmonasterienses, 1852, pp. 255–6). In the 'Curliad' (p. 25) the victim states that the torture was administered, not with a blanket, but 'a rugg, and the whole controversy relating thereunto shall one day see the light.' Curll as publisher and Bridge as printer of a pirated edition of the trial of the Earl of Wintoun were reprimanded on their knees at the bar of the House of Lords in 1716 (Journals, May 1716). He was released on 11 May, and soon after was in correspondence with Thoresby, with reference to Erdeswicke's 'Survey of Staffordshire,' published by him in 1717 (Letters addressed to Ralph Thoresby, ii. 360, 362–3). Many of Curll's publications were scandalously immoral. The writer in the 'Weekly Journal, or Saturday Post,' of 5 April 1718, afterwards known as 'Mist's Journal,' identified by Lee with Defoe (Lee, Defoe, ii. 32), says: 'There is indeed but one bookseller eminent among us for this abomination [indecent books], and from him the crime takes the just denomination of Curlicism. The fellow is a contemptible wretch a thousand ways: he is odious in his person, scandalous in his fame; he is marked by nature.' Curll defended himself in 'Curlicism Display'd.' A Mr. William Clarke prosecuted Curll for a libel, and in a pamphlet, 'Party Revenge' (1720), states (p. 40) that it had been his practice 'for many years to print defaming, scandalous, and filthy libels, particularly of late against the Honourable Commissioners of H.M.'s Customs, to be seen by his recantation in the “Daily Courant,” Feb. 17, 1720.' He now removed to Paternoster Row, where he brought out 'The Poetical Register,' by Giles Jacobs. Another address in this year was 'next the Temple Coffee House in Fleet St.' In 1721 Curll was again at the bar of the House of Lords for publishing the 'Works of the Duke of Buckingham,' which was the occasion of the well-known resolution, making it a breach of privilege to print, without permission, 'the works, life, or last will of any lord of this house' (Standing Orders, 31 Jan. 1721). This order was not annulled until 28 July 1845. In the same year he was in correspondence with White Kennett, and vainly endeavoured to get permission from the bishop to reprint his translations of Erasmus's 'Praise of Folly' and Pliny's 'Panegyric' (Lansdowne MS. 1038, f. 96, in British Museum). Between 1723 and 1726 he was living 'over against Catherine Street in the Strand.' Some letters reprinted in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (1798, vol. lxviii. pt. i. pp. 190–1) reveal that he was protesting, 2 March 1723–4, to Walpole his 'unwearied diligence to serve the government,' and that 'Lord Townshend assured me that he would recommend me to your honour for some provision in the civil list. In the Stamp Office I can be serviceable.' On 30 Nov. 1725 he 'was tried at the king's bench bar, Westminster, and convicted of printing and publishing several obscene and immoral books' (Boyer, Political State, November 1725, p. 514). Curll's own case has been preserved (Rawlinson MSS., c. 195, in Bodleian Library). He was found guilty, but an arrest of judgment was permitted, on the ground that the offence was only punishable in the spiritual courts. The judges finally gave against him (Strange, Reports, ii. 788). On 12 Feb. 1728 he was sentenced to be fined for publishing 'The Nun in her Smock' and 'De usu Flagrorum,' and to an hour in the pillory for publishing the 'Memoirs of John Ker of Kersland' (Daily Post, 13 Feb. 1728). He 'stood in the pillory [23 Feb. 1728] at Charing Cross, but was not pelted or used ill. ... He had contrived to have printed papers dispersed all about Charing Cross, telling the people he stood there for vindicating the memory of Queen Anne' (State Trials, xvii. 160). We learn from the 'Curliad' (p. 17, &c.) that he was imprisoned five months in the king's bench for the two books, and that it was from Ker, a fellow-prisoner, that he had the papers on which the 'Memoirs' were based. The latter book was the subject of a separate indictment. A letter signed 'A. P.' in the 'London Journal,' 12 Nov. 1726, on 'Deceptive Title Pages' refers to a recently published edition, in six volumes, of 'Cases of Impotence and Divorce,' by Sir Clement Wearg, with which it is affirmed that the late solicitor-general had nothing to do. To this accusation Curll replied with an evasively worded affidavit. In 1726 were written Swift's famous verses of 'Advice to Grub Street Verse Writers,' who are recommended to have their poems well printed on large paper, and then 'send these to paper-sparing Pope,' who will cover them with his manuscript, and, when they are returned,
Sell them to Curll for fifty pound, And swear they are your own.
One of Pope's untrue charges was that Curll starved one of his hacks, William Pattison, who actually died in his house of small-pox, and received every attention (M. Noble, Hist. of England, iii. 304). Curll again tried to show his patriotic zeal by discovering what seems to have been a mare's nest of his own contriving, and wrote to Lord Townshend, 29 Sept. 1728: 'There is a conspiracy now forming which may be nipt in the bud, by a letter which I have intercepted, I may say, as miraculously as that was which related to the Gunpowder Plot' (Gent. Mag. 1798, vol. lxviii. pt. i. p. 191). In 1729 he lived 'next to Will's Coffee-house in Bow Street, Covent Garden,' and in 1733 was at Burleigh Street, Strand. He was mixed up with Eustace Budgell [q. v.] and the affair of Tindal's will, and had quarrelled with Budgell, who attacked him in the 'Bee' (7 July and 6 Oct. 1733). Curll printed both the will and memoirs of Tindal, the latter being dedicated to the Mrs. Price in whose handwriting the forged will was drawn up. In 1726 Curll had printed Pope's 'Familiar Letters to Henry Cromwell,' purchased for ten guineas from Mrs. Thomas, Cromwell's mistress, and in the 'Daily Post Boy' of 12 May 1735 advertised 'Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence for thirty years, from 1704 to 1734,' price 5s. Pope having instigated Lord Islay to move in the matter, the stock was seized, and Curll and Wilford, the printer of the newspaper, ordered to appear at the bar of the House of Lords (Journals, 12 and 13 May 1735). It was suspected at the time, and has now been fully proved, that the publication of this volume was promoted by Pope himself, who wanted an excuse to print his letters. A go-between was invented in the mysterious P. T., who wrote to Curll in 1733 to offer a collection of Pope's letters. Nothing was done until March 1735, when Curll told Pope of this fact, which Pope answered by advertising in the 'Daily Post Boy' that he had received such a communication, that he knew of no such person as P. T., and that the letters in question must be forgeries. P. T. wrote to Curll again, and a short man calling himself Smythe (afterwards discovered to be a certain James Worsdale) called at the bookseller's with some printed sheets and real letters. Fifty copies were delivered and sold on 12 May, and a second batch of 190 came just in time to be seized by the lords' messenger. As directed by P. T., Curll advertised that the volume would contain letters to peers, which made it a breach of privilege, and Lord Islay informed the committee of the house that on p. 117 of a copy he possessed there was some reflection upon the Earl of Burlington. No such passage could be found in the copies seized on Curll's premises, as Pope had artfully suppressed it in the copies of the second batch. The house decided that the book contained no breach of privilege, and the copies were returned (Journals, 15 May 1735). The sale proceeded, and Curll boldly announced, 26 July, that 'the first volume was sent me ready printed by [Pope] himself,' and that a second and third volume were in preparation. He ultimately produced six volumes of 'Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence' (1735–41), of which, indeed, a large proportion of the contents had nothing to do with Pope or his correspondence. Pope's authentic edition, to which these intrigues were introductory, was issued in 1737–41. In 1735 Curll was living in Rose Street, Covent Garden, having changed his sign to the Pope's Head. Hence the allusion in the 'Dunciad'—
Down with the Bible, up with the Pope's Arms.
Mrs. Pilkington (Memoirs, 1749, ii. 189) tells a story of receiving a mysterious visit from 'an ugly squinting old fellow' about 1741, who turned out to be Curll trying to obtain, in his usual roundabout way, some letters of Swift which he wished to include in his forthcoming 'Life of Barber.' The last book entered to Curll on the 'Registers of the Stationers' Company' was 'Achates to Varus' on 20 Aug. 1746. He died 11 Dec. 1747, aged 72 (Gent. Mag. 1747, xvii. 592). A figure of him appears in an engraving on the wall in the first state of Hogarth's 'Distressed Poet' (1736), and the frontispiece to Wesley's 'Neck or Nothing' (1716) represents three acts of his punishment by the Westminster boys (Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Div. I. ii. 408–9, iii. 212–14). His son Henry had a separate shop in Henrietta Street in 1726, and advertised in the 'Daily Post Boy' of 7 Aug. 1730 that he was leaving off business (in Bow Street, Covent Garden), and that the standard antiquarian books issued by his father might be had for a time at a cheap rate. Like his father he seems to have suffered personal chastisement at Westminster, a fact which produced a satirical pamphlet, 'Hereditary Right exemplified; or a Letter of Condolence from E.C.,' 1728, 8vo. The fame of 'Dauntless Curll' lives in some of the most unsavoury lines of the 'Dunciad,' but we know that the poet and the bookseller were quarrelling for twenty years. Nichols says that, whatever his demerits, 'he certainly deserves commendation for his industry in preserving our national remains' (Lit. Anecd. i. 456). He had knowledge and a ready pen, plenty of courage and more impudence. He had no scruples either in business or private life, but he published and sold many good books. At the end of Hale's 'Discourse' (1720) is a list of forty-three publications, and in a volume of Addison's 'Miscellanies' (1723) is a list of theological books also issued by him. In the second edition of Ashmole's 'History of the Garter' (1726) is a catalogue of sixteen pages of his books, which include no less than 167 standard works. All of his authors were not paid at a niggardly rate, as may be seen from some notes by Upcott extending from 1709 to 1740 (Gent. Mag. xciv. pt. i. 318, 410, 513). He was active in bringing out lives and wills of noted persons; in the 'Life of Barber' (1741) is a list of thirty-one, some of considerable biographical value. In 1730 he was busy producing a collection of antiquarian volumes, including Ashmole's 'Berkshire' and Aubrey's 'Surrey,' and Browne Willis allowed his opinion to be advertised to the effect that 'Mr. Curll, having been at great expense in publishing these books (now comprised under the title of “Anglia Illustrata,” in 20 vols.), and adorning them with draughts of monuments, maps, &c., deserves to be encouraged by us all, who are well-wishers to this study; no bookseller in town having been so curious as he' (Daily Post, 7 Feb. 1729–30). A graphic picture is to be found in Amory's 'Life of John Buncle' (1770, iv. 137–68): 'Curll was in person very tall and thin, an ungainly, awkward, white-faced man. His eyes were a light grey, large, projecting, gogle, and purblind. He was splayfooted and baker-kneed. He had a good natural understanding, and was well acquainted with more than the title-pages of books. He talked well on some subjects, and was not an infidel. ... He was a debauchee. ... His translators in pay lay three in a bed at the Pewter Platter Inn in Holborn. ... No man could talk better on theatrical subjects.' During the forty years Curll was in business many of his publications were edited by himself. Besides the Popean volumes, the following is a list of some to which his name can be fixed with some degree of certainty: 1. 'The Case of Dr. Sacheverell represented in a Letter to a Noble Lord,' London, 1710, 8vo ('by E. Curll,' in British Museum copy). 2. 'Some Considerations humbly offer'd to the Bp. of Salisbury [G. Burnet], occasioned by his speech upon the First Article of Dr. Sacheverell's Impeachment, by a Lay Hand' ('i.e. E. Curll,' in British Museum copy), London, J. Morphew, 1710, 8vo (two editions). 3. 'An impartial Examination of the Bishop of Lincoln's and Norwich's Speeches at the opening of the Second Article of Dr. Sacheverell's Impeachment,' London, E. Curll, 1710, 8vo ('by E. Curll,' on title of British Museum copy; at the end is an advertisement of pamphlets on the Sacheverell controversy, and of theological works published by Curll). 4. 'A Search after Principles in a Free Conference between Timothy and Philatheus concerning the present times,' London, J. Morphew, 1710, 8vo. 5. 'A Meditation upon a Broomstick [by Swift] and somewhat beside of the same author's,' London, E. Curll, 1710, 8vo. 6. 'A complete Key to the Tale of a Tub; with some account of the authors, the occasion and design of printing it, and Mr. Wotton's remarks examin'd,' London, 1710, 8vo (in the British Museum copy the preface is signed in manuscript 'E. Curll,' who also noted that the annotations were 'given to me by Ralph Noden, esq., of the Middle Temple.' Nos. 5 and 6 were reprinted by Curll in 1711 as 'Miscellanies by Dr. Jonathan Swift'). 7. 'Some Account of the Life of Dr. Walter Curll, Bishop of Winchester,' London, E. Curll, 1712, 12mo. 8. 'The Character of Dr. Robert South, being the Oration spoken at his Funeral, on Monday, July 16, 1716, in the College Hall of Westminster, by Mr. Barber,' London, E. Curll, 1716, 8vo. 9. 'Posthumous Works of the late Robert South, D.D., containing Sermons, &c.,' London, E. Curll, 1717, 8vo (edited by Curll, who contributed 'Memoirs,' and added No. 8). 10. 'Curlicism Display'd, or an Appeal to the Church, being observations upon some Books publish'd by Mr. Curll. In a letter to Mr. Mist,' London, 1718, 8vo (signed 'E. Curll,' see Thoms, Curll Papers, pp. 46–9). 11. 'Mr. Pope's Worms, and a new Ballad on the Masquerade,' London, 1718, 8vo. 12. 'A Discourse of the several Dignities and Corruptions of Man's Nature since the Fall, written by Mr. John Hales of Eton, now first published from his original manuscript,' London, E. Curll, 1720, 8vo (preface signed 'E. Curll'). 13. 'Doom's Day, or the Last Judgment; a Poem written by the Right Honourable William, earl of Sterline,' London, E. Curll, 1720, 8vo (preface signed 'A. Johnstoun,' i.e. Curll, see Thoms, p. 55). 14. 'The Humble Representation of Edmund Curll, bookseller and citizen of London, concerning five books complained of to the Secretary' [London, 1726?], 8vo (ib. p. 63). 15. 'An Apology for the Writings of Walter Moyle, Esq., in Answer to the groundless Aspersions of Mr. Hearne and Dr. Woodward, with a word or two concerning the frivolous cavils of Messieurs Whiston and Woolston relating to the Thundering Legion,' London, 1727, 8vo (contains letters to and from Curll). 16. 'An Answer to Mr. Mist's Journal of the 28 Jan. No. 93,' London, M. Blandford, 1727, 8vo (signed 'Britannus,' i.e. Curll). 17. 'Miscellanea,' London, 1727, 5 vols. 12mo (these volumes were sold separately, and some sets contain more than others; the third volume is 'Whartoniana,' and the fifth 'Atterburyana'). 18. 'The Curliad; a hypercritic upon the Dunciad Variorum, with a further key to the new characters,' London, printed for the author, 1729, 8vo (some anti-Popean skits are advertised at the back of the title; signed at the end 'E. Curll, Strand,' 25 April 1729). 19. 'The Life of that eminent Comedian, Robert Wilks, Esq.,' London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo (the dedication to Mrs. Wilks is signed 'E. C.'). 20. 'A true Copy of the last Will and Testament of Matthew Tindal, LL.D.,' London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo. 21. 'Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Matthew Tindal, LL.D., with a History of the Controversies wherein he was engaged,' London, E. Curll, 1733, 8vo (dedicated to the Mrs. Lucy Price of No. 22). 22. 'The Life of the late Honourable Robert Price, Esq., one of the Justices of her Majesty's Court of Common Pleas,' London, printed by the appointment of the family, 1734, 8vo (the dedication is signed 'E. C., Strand,' 18 Dec. 1733; Mrs. Price was connected with the Budgell-Tindal forgery). 23. 'The History of the English Stage from the Restoration to the Present Times, including the Lives, Characters, and Amours of the most eminent Actors and Actresses, by Mr. Thomas Betterton,' London, E. Curll, 1741, 8vo. (William Oldys is usually credited with the authorship; the dedication to the Duke of Grafton is signed E. Curll; the Life of Mrs. Oldfield forms the second part). 24. 'An impartial History of the Life, Character, Amours, Travels, and Transactions of Mr. John Barber, city printer and lord mayor of London,' London, 1741, 8vo.
[Many facts are collected in Curll Papers, stray notes on the life and publications of E. Curll, 1879, 12mo, privately reprinted from Notes and Queries by W. J. Thoms. Curll's dealings with Pope are summarised in ch. vi. of Pope by Mr. Leslie Stephen (English Men of Letters series) and dealt with in detail in Dilke's Papers of a Critic, i. 97–339, and in Elwin and Courthope's edition of Pope, passim, especially Poetry, vols. i. and iv.; see also lives of Pope by Roscoe and Carruthers. There are numerous references in Swift's Correspondence, Works, 1814, vols. ii. xvi–xix. Curll's own statements in the Curliad, 1729, as to personal matters can be confirmed in many particulars. There is a burlesque life in Remarks on Sqre. Ayre's Memoirs of Pope, in a letter to Mr. E. Curll, with authentic Memoirs of the said E. C., by J. H., 1745, 8vo. The Memoirs of the Society of Grub Street, 1737, 2 vols. 12mo, contain passages relating to Curlus and his bookselling; see also Amhurst's Terræ Filius, 1726, i. 142, 155, and E. Budgell's Bee, 1733–4; see also Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 277, 392, 431, 2nd ser. ii. 203–4, iii. 50, x. 381, 485–7, 505–6, xi. 61–2, 3rd ser. ii. 162, 295, v. 425, 6th ser. ii. 484, iii. 95, iv. 98, 112, 171, 192, 437, x. 204, xii. 55; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 455, v. 491, viii. 295; Timperley's Encyclopædia, pp. 600, 635, 677, 712, 713; Curwen's Hist. of Booksellers, 1873, pp. 36–48; Curll's bibliography is treated by Mr. W. Roberts in Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xi. 381–2, and in articles by him and Mr. E. Solly in Antiquarian Magazine, 1885, vii. 157–9, 868–73.]
H. R. T.
Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)
CURLL, EDMUND (1675–1747), English bookseller, was born in 1675 in the west of England. His parents were in humble circumstances. After being apprenticed to an Exeter bookseller he came to London and started business on his own account, advertising himself by a system of newspaper quarrels. His connexion with the anonymously-published Court Poems in 1716 led to the long quarrel with Pope, who took his revenge by immortalizing Curll in the Dunciad. Curll became notorious for his indecent publications, so much so that “Curlicism” was regarded as a synonym for literary indecency. In 1716 and again in 1721 he had to appear at the bar of the House of Lords for publishing matter concerning its members. In 1725 he was convicted of publishing obscene books, and fined in 1728 for publishing The Nun in her Smock and De Usu Flagrorum, while his Memories of John Ker of Kersland cost him an hour in the pillory. When Curll in 1735 announced the forthcoming publication of “Mr Pope’s Literary Correspondence,” his stock, at Pope’s instigation, was seized. It has since been proved that the publication was really instigated by Pope, who wanted an excuse to print his letters, as he actually did (1737–1741). In his forty years of business Curll published a great variety of books, of which a very large number, fortunately, were quite free from “Curlicisms.” A list of his publications contains, indeed, 167 standard works. He died on the 11th of December 1747.
For Curll’s relations with Pope, see the Life of Pope, by Sir Leslie Stephen in the English Men of Letters series.