As devotees of Jane Austen’s novels may know, Austen submitted the manuscript that became Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803, long before it was finally published, posthumously, with Persuasion. The novel at that time was titled Susan, and the publisher she sent it to, Benjamin Crosby, accepted it—but then sat on it until Austen was able to buy it back in 1816. As the author commented in her Advertisement to Northanger Abbey,
This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business went no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth while to purchase what he did not think it worth while to publish seems extraordinary. (12)
Why did Jane Austen choose to send her novel Susan to the firm of Benjamin Crosby in the first place, among all the publishers out there in 1803? No explanation is available from surviving letters, which (except for Austen’s letter to the firm of 5 April 1809) do not mention Crosby. One possibility is that she may well have thought of Crosby’s company only as one of several publishers to try. The author could not anticipate that her manuscript would be purchased by the first publisher she sent it to, and there is no evidence that Benjamin Crosby was the sole publisher whom she would consider. That said, Austen did submit Susan to Crosby first, conveying the manuscript through her brother Henry’s agent, William Seymour (Le Faye, Chronology 280). The question of why she chose Crosby has never been definitively answered.
Authors in general had good reason to submit work to Crosby; he was an active publisher with a growing business. According to Henry Curwen’s 1873 History of Booksellers, a valuable resource, Crosby “was one of the first London booksellers who travelled regularly through the country, soliciting orders for the purpose of effecting sales and extending his connections” (413). Curwen gives Crosby substantial credit. Interchanges between town and country were no small matter in the book world, and the middlemen between city and country were the wholesalers, who supplied “all the country, colonial, and smaller London orders” (412). These would be the suppliers for circulating libraries, local booksellers, and individuals. Indeed, Curwen identifies Crosby as the wellspring of this literary commerce between London and the provinces and between the major publishers and small booksellers: “The real founder of this enormous traffic was, Benjamin Crosby” (413).
That Crosby published novels and that he published female authors would also place him on a short list for Austen. His dealing in remaindered books and in multiple categories from agriculture to children’s literature also meant that he did not seem inaccessible, unlike the perhaps snootier firm of Thomas Cadell. Furthermore, he published family-friendly material rather than anything too warm, as Aunt Norris would put it. Thus on several grounds Crosby’s firm must have appeared eligible.
Austen had, however, a further, more personal reason. In 1800, Crosby displayed an editorial change of heart that must have pleased her. He advertised and then jettisoned a book that would have caused her family great pain—a pamphlet on the trial of her aunt, Mrs. Jane Leigh-Perrot.
The trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot
The primary sources are illuminating. In August 1799, Austen’s maternal aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot was arrested in Bath for allegedly stealing a length of lace from a shop. The accusation was grand larceny, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot spent seven months in pre-trial detention, and the cause célèbre took place in a roar of publicity that included newspaper coverage, magazine articles, and a spate of pamphlets. On April 10, 1800, the London Oracle and Daily Advertiser announced the publication of another trial pamphlet, from none other than Benjamin Crosby:
In a few Days will be published, Price Eighteen Pence,
The Trial of Mrs. Leigh-Perrott,
With Marginal Notes.
By William Legge, Esq.
Of the Temple.
Sold by Crosby and Letterman, No. 4, Stationers’-court
Crosby and then-partner Charles James Letterman ran the same Oracle advertisement again the next day.2 As Gilson showed in his authoritative Austen bibliography, Crosby also advertised the pamphlet in the Bath Chronicle: on April 24, 1800, The Trial of Mrs. Leigh-Perrot was (ostensibly) “this day published, price Eighteen-pence, with marginal notes, sold by Crosby, Stationer’s Court, Pater-noster-row, London; and Mr. Cruttwell, Bath” (454).
Crosby and Letterman also advertised the pamphlet in The Edinburgh Magazine for “Mar. and Apr. 1800” and The Monthly Epitome, both naming Crosby as publisher and Legge as author.3 The Monthly Epitome categorized new publications so conveniently that Crosby’s title appeared just above that of another trial pamphlet from a different publisher.
As he did later with Susan, Crosby advertised a book in 1800—this one five times—that then was lost to view. That publication date of April 24 turned out to be wishful thinking if not pure fantasy: unlike Austen’s Northanger Abbey, the book seems never to have appeared in finished form. As Gilson noted, “I have found no copy of this version” (“Jane Austen’s Text” 454). The catalogue of the global library cooperative OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) and the giant text repositories of the Hathi Trust, Google Books, and Project Gutenberg show no trace of a book on the Leigh-Perrot trial by a William Legge, nor did any print periodical refer to it, in 1800 or later, aside from the five advertisements. By May 1800, Crosby’s own listings in The Edinburgh Magazine (460–63) and in the Monthly Epitome (191–200) did not include it. Crosby and Letterman’s choice not to publish the pamphlet already advertised must have been early and decisive.
Besides the vanished title, another anomaly is that the vanished author, William Legge, shares the name of a series of Earls of Dartmouth, including the second, after whom the American university was named, who died in 1801, and the fourth, who was fifteen at the time of Leigh-Perrot’s trial and whose father, George Legge, became Earl of Dartmouth and Viscount Lewisham in 1801.4 Perhaps the younger Legge, who later received an honorary Doctorate of Law, freelanced as a fledging court reporter in 1800. Regardless of who authored it, most likely the reason the Legge pamphlet left so little footprint is that Crosby did not publish it.5 Like Austen’s Susan, it may have been purchased by Crosby; it was even advertised; but it never appeared in print.
The Leigh-Perrot trial pamphlets
The trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot began and ended on March 29, 1800. After deliberating for fifteen minutes, the jury pronounced Austen’s aunt not guilty—very fortunately for her, since shoplifting twenty shillings’ worth of lace was defined as a capital crime, and conviction would probably have meant transportation to Botany Bay. All the London papers ran stories on the trial. A search of the Burney Collection database of seventeenth and eighteenth century newspapers at the Library of Congress turns up reports of the trial in The London Chronicle, The Evening Mail, The London Packet, The Times, The St. James Chronicle, The Whitehall Evening Post, and The General Evening Post.6 Naturally, the affair, which was news in the nation’s capital, was local news in Bath; Gilson cites accounts in The Bath Chronicle, The Bath Journal, and The Bath Herald newspapers (Bibliography 454).
Following the newspaper articles came three pamphlets about the trial. Two were written by John Pinchard, an attorney in Taunton, where the trial took place.7 The first was The Trial of Mrs. Leigh-Perrot, Wife of —— Leigh-Perrot, Esq., published by West and Hughes, in London. The second was The Trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot, Wife of James Leigh-Perrot, Esq., published by Thomas Norris, in Taunton. The Monthly Magazine dated May 1, 1800, listed both as “Law” publications for April, not clarifying that Pinchard authored both (380).
Pinchard’s West and Hughes pamphlet, The Trial of Mrs. Leigh-Perrot, Wife of — Leigh-Perrot, Esq. which Came on at Somerset Assizes, Holden on the 29th of March, 1800, at Taunton, came out in London, probably by April 9 (Gilson 455). Over the next two days, Crosby and Letterman advertised their forthcoming Legge pamphlet, also in London. West and Hughes ran classified advertisements for their pamphlet in the London papers The Star, The Sun, and The Morning Chronicle.8 Odds are that Crosby quickly became aware of the rival pamphlet; the April 11 Sun advertisement appears just below Crosby’s. Not incidentally, James Fletcher Hughes went from partnering with West in 1800 to partnering with Crosby in 1802–1803 (Mandal 515–17). Clearly, Hughes and Crosby were acquainted; perhaps the Leigh-Perrot trial became a topic of conversation between them.
Almost immediately after the West and Hughes pamphlet was published, Pinchard’s second pamphlet, The Trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot, Wife of James Leigh-Perrot, Esq; Charged with Stealing a Card of Lace, in the Shop of Elizabeth Gregory, came out, from Thomas Norris in Taunton. Pinchard may have doubled down on the trial by publishing the second pamphlet, but he went local, and provincial, to do so, returning to his own place of residence and business, as well as to the site of the trial, for publication. Why did Pinchard write the second version? There may have been more of a chilling factor in London, where the Leigh-Perrots had allies, than in Taunton, where the family did not visit, as an Austen narrator might put it. In London, the negatives of polite disapproval might affect the market, especially once Leigh-Perrot was acquitted. Although some London booksellers sold the second Pinchard pamphlet, local interest was presumably more of an angle in Taunton; the book concerned a Taunton trial, was written by a Taunton lawyer and author, and came from a Taunton publisher.
Pinchard’s second publisher (Norris) must have thought that the market could bear another account of the trial; he brought it out even at twice the length and twice the price, two shillings. The second, expanded, two-shilling Pinchard pamphlet was listed in The Monthly Epitome (155) and was reviewed in the May London Review (478–79), the May Monthly Review (95), and later in the January 1801 British Critic (95–96), the last very sympathetic to the defendant. Pinchard’s Taunton pamphlet was the one recorded in Reuss’s 1804 Alphabetical Register of All the Authors Actually Living in Great Britain (200) and reproduced in Sir Frank Douglas MacKinnon’s influential Grand Larceny in 1937.
While Austen scholars have drawn on Pinchard’s Taunton pamphlet, the London pamphlet has gone almost unnoticed.9 Therefore, the dissimilarities between the two pamphlets have been overlooked. Pinchard himself said, in an “Advertisement” dated April 8, that the newer pamphlet was intended to set the record straight:
At the time this Trial was taken by the Editor, he had not the most distant idea of publishing it under its present form; but the many various and contradictory accounts contained in the public prints respecting the transaction, the general curiosity which has been excited, and the repeated requests of his friends, who were desirous that a full and impartial account of it should be published; have induced him to commit his minutes to the press. (my italics)
Pinchard’s advertisement highlights both that the new account differs from others and that this account is based on the author’s trial notes. Pinchard attests to its objectivity: “Unconnected, and unacquainted, with either of the parties, he gives the Trial without comment or embellishment; and pledges himself that he has not intentionally either added to it, or omitted, any word which can materially affect its accuracy” (x).
Pinchard’s Taunton pamphlet was indeed not just an embellished reprint; it corrected errors in Pinchard’s previous writing. A haberdasher with whom prosecution witness Charles Filby had partnered is called “Croup” in the London pamphlet (18); the Taunton pamphlet corrects the name to “Crout” (20). The name matters because Filby and Richard Crout went bankrupt as partners.10 (This point has not been examined closely by scholars assessing the charges against Leigh-Perrot; Filby, one of her accusers, was less than a credible witness.) Mistakes in the transcription of other testimony are also corrected, and the specific edits of detail confirm the chronology of the two Pinchard pamphlets; the second corrects the first. Again, Pinchard must have produced the second pamphlet to set the record straight.
Changes and additions in the Taunton pamphlet go beyond a few corrections. Justifying Pinchard’s claim, it is considerably more detailed than the London pamphlet, with more quotation, more documentation, and almost twice as much material—48 pages of text, with more print per page, compared to 26 pages of text (plus 4 pages of advertisements for other West and Hughes books), in the London pamphlet. The Taunton pamphlet adds the author’s page-long “Advertisement” (x) and incorporates case documents—a map of Miss Gregory’s shop (viii); a separate full page for the parties, prosecutors, and counsel in the trial (xi), noted only briefly in the London pamphlet, near the end; and the two-page indictment of the prisoner, verbatim. (The London pamphlet condensed the indictment to a one-sentence paraphrase.) Even the new title page provides additional detail, giving the presiding magistrate his full title and the defendant and her husband their full names instead of blanks. Naming names may have been less deferential but was also less coy, since the ridiculous blank in Leigh-Perrot’s name fooled nobody anyway; the full names make a better impression despite the ignominy.
Much has been written on the trial and on Austen’s relationship with the Leigh-Perrots, with some recent writers finding the defendant guilty.11 The possible significance of the trial to Austen’s dealings with Crosby, however, has almost never been mentioned.12 Whether or not Legge finished his pamphlet, in any case Crosby had more than one reason not to publish it. As with the competing Susans later, there were competing pamphlets on the Leigh-Perrot trial. Besides the pamphlets authored by Pinchard, another was published by William Gye, in Bath, Trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot, at Taunton Assizes, Saturday the 29th of March, 1800; Charged with stealing a Card of Lace, in the Shop of Elizabeth Gregory, Haberdasher & Milliner, of the City of Bath, as taken in short hand.
Here again, the primary documents are important and illuminating. If local interest was an angle in Pinchard’s Taunton pamphlet, at least as much local interest was involved in Gye’s pamphlet in Bath, where the alleged shoplifting took place. The Bath angle is played up in the title page, which like the other title pages gets the reader well into the narrative. On the back page, dated “BATH, APRIL 5, 1800,” Gye explains why he published the pamphlet:
In Reply to a Hand-Bill distributed about this City, the Printer hereof respectfully informs the Public, that in consequence of repeated Applications for this extraordinary Trial, and being informed that an Attorney of Taunton, had taken the same in Short Hand, solicited the indulgence of a Copy, informing him he intended to print it (not having the least Idea that he purposed publishing the Trial himself) but receiving no answer to the Letter, he applied to another Person, from whom a Copy was procured, taken in Short Hand at the Trial on Saturday last.
The references to “short hand” on the title page and the back page suggest that notes were taken by a court reporter; however, neither Gye nor anyone else named the unknown shorthand-taker.
William Gye himself was known in Bath, where he had ample standing. In fact, he was one of the trustees for the shop where the alleged larceny took place. When Elizabeth Gregory took over the haberdashery that had belonged to her brother-in-law and her sister, it was with an arrangement in which she turned over a percentage of the shop’s revenues to its creditor, Baron Thomas Dimsdale (Trial of Jane Leigh-Perrot 9). The trustees who received the money from Gregory and conveyed it to Dimsdale were Lacon Lander Lambe and William Gye (Pinchard, Taunton pamphlet 12).
Remarkably, Gye’s connection with both the premises and this pamphlet has almost never been noticed in Austen scholarship.13 Frank MacKinnon mentioned Gye’s pamphlet but had incomplete information, so the pamphlet featured only as an asterisk:
In the Bath Herald of Saturday, 5 April 1800, there is also an advertisement of a forthcoming printed account of the trial, with the addendum:
“It is necessary to apprize the Publick that a Person at Bath (a party interested in the Prosecution), applied to the Editor for his Manuscripts, which not being complied with, a Sixpenny account is, it seems, to be published to-morrow, in order to forestall the above.” (MacKinnon 67–68)
As Gilson pointed out, the advertisement suggests that Gye’s pamphlet was published first (450). In 1937, MacKinnon asked rhetorically, “Was the Person at Bath Mr. William Gye? I have not discovered that the ‘sixpenny account’ was in fact brought out” (67–68). But in fact, the sixpenny pamphlet was brought out, and with Gye’s name on it.
While three pamphlets were published about the trial, only one has been thoroughly examined. William Gye’s pamphlet in particular is rare, held in very few libraries.14 It is also not electronically accessible, though it can be obtained by print-on-demand. Gye’s pamphlet and Pinchard’s first pamphlet have remained so obscure that cataloging does not always clarify that they are actually separate works. Even Gilson’s monumental 1982 bibliography, with images of all three title pages, characterizes the three pamphlets as “editions” (449–55).
It is significant that Crosby had planned to bring out his Leigh-Perrot trial pamphlet together with Richard Cruttwell of the Bath Chronicle.15 The Cruttwells, father and son, had longstanding business ties with William Gye, ties that would give Crosby another reason not to publish. If there were further good reasons, such as a flawed case against Mrs. Leigh-Perrot, the Cruttwells would also be well positioned to serve as local informants for Crosby.
Assuming that Austen and her relatives saw Crosby and Letterman’s advertisements for the William Legge pamphlet—and under the circumstances, they must have seen them—they could anticipate that yet another publisher was trying to cash in, prolonging the humiliation. Whetting these apprehensions would be the fact that Crosby had published on famous trials before—by 1795 at least three books about high-profile trials, by an unnamed court reporter.16 When Crosby did not publish a pamphlet on the Leigh-Perrot trial, the relief of the Austen family must have been correspondingly intense. Austen’s relief and gratitude for Crosby’s forbearance might help to explain her remarkable forbearance with Crosby later, when, after he accepted Susan, she waited six years before trying to nudge him into publishing.
On a separate note, it must be remembered that Austen was not only unknown but anonymous when she submitted Susan to Crosby. Given her family connections, she was probably worse off, in transactional terms, for being anonymous. With some publishers, she might have fared better had she been willing to trade on her social network, drumming up a list of subscribers as some authors did, perhaps among the Leigh-Perrots’ circle of friends. She might have fared better still had she been willing to market her novel as “By the Niece of the Lady formerly Accused, and Acquitted . . . ,” with a suitable frontispiece and advertisement. But Austen wasn’t wrapped that way. Quite the contrary; with regard to the Leigh-Perrot trial, she chose a publisher who did not bring out a book on it.
2Oracle and Daily Advertiser 11 Apr. 1800. Accessed from 17th–18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers, Library of Congress. Unfortunately, the image quality is too poor to copy well for an illustration.
4For the younger Legge, see at www.thepeerage.com/p1276.htm#i12759. Viscount Lewisham was later connected to some key trial personnel.
5A Thomas Legge, attorney, authored a book on law, The Law of Outlawry, and Practice of Civil Actions (London, 1779; reprinted 1797), listed in Reuss (237). I have not found any title on the Leigh-Perrot trial connected to a William Legge.
6Evening Mail 28–31 Mar. 1800; Times 12 Jan. 1799; General Evening Post 29 March–1 Apr. 1800; Morning Post and Gazetteer 31 Mar. 1800. See also E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor 6 Apr. 1800; and Caledonian Mercury 3 Apr. 1800.
10London Gazette (11–15 Feb. 1800: 149–50), announcing creditors to meet for dividends April 29; London Gazette (4–7 Feb. 1809: 172), announcing creditors to meet February 11; and London Gazette (28–31 Oct. 1809: 1714), creditors to meet November 28.
15British Newspaper Archive; see at https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/bath-chronicle-and-weekly-gazette.