I wrote before about John Oldmixon’s subversive index to Laurence Echard’s History of England (1718), and I described the bitter response it provoked a decade later in a pamphlet entitled The Index-Writer (1729). What’s rather odd about this is that the pamphlet presents the matter as if it were a recent discovery – as though The Index-Writer were a piece of investigative journalism, bringing to light some terrible seditious timebomb which had lain undetected for eleven years.
In fact, the divergence between Echard’s History and Oldmixon’s index had already been picked up before the book even went on sale. The first and second editions include this note at the end of the index:
N.B. This Index was written by a Person at a distance from the Author, and for the most part printed off, before he had time to examine it. The Reader is therefore desired to take notice, that he Writer through haste, has in some few Places mistaken the Meaning of the Author; but, in all other Respects, it is a Complete Index.
Slightly disingenuous, blaming what’s clearly a political act on haste and misunderstandings, but at least it shows that the Tonsons, Echard’s publishers, had clocked what Oldmixon was up to. They had come up with a story explaining it to their readers which wouldn’t mean holding up publication for the index to be rewritten. Still, when the third edition came out in 1720, the index had been tidied up, with Oldmixon’s more subversive entries amended or removed.
But it might be that the Tonsons’ response is more nuanced than just this one fudged statement. When Echard’s History first came out, it appeared simultaneously in two different formats: the normal (but still enormous) version, and a deluxe, even-more-enormous “large-paper” issue.
Now the thing is, I’ve seen two copies of this large-paper issue – British Library (193.f.3) and Christ Church, Oxford (Wb.1.4. (1)) – and in both cases the index to volume three is completely missing, despite the fact that it’s advertised on the title page. Whereas I’ve seen eight different copies of the standard format version, and never come across a missing index in any of them.
So I’m wondering whether this indicates two different crisis-management strategies adopted by the Tonsons. For your common-or-garden reader (albeit one who’s wealthy enough to buy an enormous three-volume history book), a simple disclaimer note will do: “Some of these index entries might seem a little strange. Don’t worry about it.” But for the luxury buyer perhaps the Tonsons thought it was safer to pull the index altogether – even though the title page announces that it should be there – than expose them to this sort of scandal.
It’s just a hunch at the moment – obviously you can’t base a claim like this on just two copies seen. There are further surviving large-paper issues at Göttingen, Aberdeen University and Trinity College Dublin, and I’m waiting to hear whether any of them has an index in vol. 3. I have to confess, I hope they don’t.