3.4.1: 1725 - 1830 - Introduction

In the last decade of the twentieth century, much research has been done into the actual readers of the eighteenth century. The results of recent studies in this area have led to old assumptions being adjusted or even dismissed altogether. The generally accepted view was that the eighteenth century saw a sharp increase in the number of readers who began to read more and in greater variety. This view was based on the developments in the availability and distribution of printed matter. In this period, the number of titles available was said to have increased and become more varied.

The establishment of libraries, that of Hendrik Scheurleer in The Hague being the first in Holland, and contemporaries' complaints of a 'reading mania' among the lower classes also led to the assumption that the number of readers had to have increased in this period. Incidentally, particularly in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, attempts were made to steer the assumed love of reading of the lower classes towards socially desirable directions by means of the public libraries. More fortunate contemporaries united in reading societies, which could be more or less elitist in their composition, but were mainly intended for the distinguished citizens of the town.

The latest research into consumer groups calls for an adjustment of the views regarding a sharp growth in the market for books. Most probably, the increase in the number of readers during the eighteenth century was fairly moderate. Up until 1850, conditions for a significant increase in the reading public, such as increases in literacy, prosperity and population, as well as technical innovations, were lacking.

author: J. de Kruif