3.2.11: 1725 - 1830 - Language/genre

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, French had taken over the role of Latin as the scholarly lingua franca. Amsterdam, Leiden and The Hague were major centres of French book production. The Republic was still an intellectual haven from where many controversial theological and philosophical books found their way throughout the whole of Europe. The works of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and many others were first, and most often, published in the Netherlands by major publishers such as Marc-Michel Rey and Jean Néaulme. But just as many hundreds of French plays, novels, devotional works and periodicals rolled from the Dutch presses both for the domestic and the international market.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, partly as a result of economic stagnation and partly as a result of the relaxation of government control of publishers within France itself, the proportion of publications in French began to decline. Publications decreased in quality while prices increased, nor did real innovations take place. Cities elsewhere in Europe, including France, took over the role of the Netherlands. Opposite the decline in French titles, Dutch-language books in original works as well as in translation increased. Whereas the internationally oriented 'French book trade' continued to lose ground, the 'Dutch book trade' flourished more in the domestic market than previously.

After 1750, Latin was used almost solely for text editions of the classics, academic texts and occasional university poetry. Whole print-runs of books in Hebrew, which were initially printed in the Netherlands in large numbers, were often intended for Jewish communities abroad. When economic circumstances worsened this market declined slowly as well. Few works in other Oriental languages appeared and the small number of English books was intended solely for export. In the last decades of this period, at least ninety percent of book production was in Dutch.

The tumultuous rise of periodicals and children's books was of great cultural-historical importance. Newspapers also became ever more important in society. In relation to these new genres, the number of pamphlets decreased in comparison to their importance in the seventeenth century, although there were still sizeable exceptions at times of major political developments, in particular during the periods of the Patriots and the Batavian Republic. The various upheavals in the state also brought about a boom in new national and local legislation and regulations which were laid down in thousands of government publications.

The spread of books across different genres and disciplines continued into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Religion (although less than previously), literature and history were still the major fields of publication. The diversity of titles within the genres became larger but successful editions still went through reprint after reprint. There was a plentiful supply of cheap books (popular prose, collections of songs, prayer books, sermons, almanacs) for a wide public. For the wealthy buyers there were richly illustrated books especially the books of plates of flora and fauna, history and travelogues. Large books often appeared in instalments.

As long as the quantitative research (including print-run figures) into the developments in the various genres in the production of books is not more advanced than it is now, the question remains whether terms such as 'reading revolution and 'from intensive to extensive reading', which assume a very strong growth, diversification and democratisation of the supply of titles in this period time, actually apply.

author: Jan Bos