These ballads and Chap-books have, luckily for us, been preserved by collectors, and although they are scarce, are accessible to readers in that national blessing, the British Museum.There the Roxburghe, Luttrell, Bagford, and other collections of black-letter ballads are easily obtainable for purposes of study, and, although the Chap-books, to the uninitiated (owing to the difficulties of the Catalogue), are not quite so easy of access, yet there they exist, and are a splendid series—it is impossible to say a complete one, because some are unique, and are in private hands, but so large, especially from the middle to the close of the last century, as to be virtually so., although the book from which it is taken was not published until 1703.
The names of the proprietors were William and Cluer Dicey—afterwards C.
Dicey only—and they seem to have come from Northampton, as, in "Hippolito and Dorinda," 1720, the firm is described as "Raikes and Dicey, Northampton;" and this connection was not allowed to lapse, for we see, nearly half a century later, that "The Conquest of France" was "printed and sold by C.
The principal factory for them, and from which certainly nine-tenths of them emanated, was No.
4, Aldermary Churchyard, afterwards removed to Bow Churchyard, close by.
Dicey in Bow Church Yard: sold also at his Warehouse in Northampton." From Dicey's house came nearly all the original Chap-books, and I have appended as perfect a list as I can make, amounting to over 120, of their publications.
Unscrupulous booksellers, however, generally pirated them very soon after issue, especially at Newcastle, where certainly the next largest trade was done in this class of books.And they flourished, for they formed nearly the sole literature of the poor, until the Penny Magazine and Chambers's penny Tracts and Miscellanies gave them their deathblow, and relegated them to the book-shelves of collectors.That these histories were known and prized in Queen Anne's time, is evidenced by the following quotation from the Weekly Comedy, January 22, 1708:—"I'll give him Ten of the largest Folio Books in my Study, Letter'd on the Back, and bound in Calves Skin.These nine volumes contain ninety-nine Chap-books, and the price paid for them all was 24 13s.6d., or an average of five shillings each—surely not a bad increment in a hundred years on the outlay of a penny; but then, these volumes were bought very cheaply, as some of their delighted purchasers record.The Newcastle editions are rougher in every way, in engravings, type, and paper, than the very well got up little books of Dicey's, but I have frequently taken them in preference, because of the superior quaintness of the engravings.