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he third of fourteen children born in 1705 to a Presbyterian minister in Port Glasgow, Andrew Millar was apprenticed at the age of fifteen to an Edinburgh bookseller, James McEuen; two years later he was employed at McEuen’s branch in the Strand, in London; and in 1728 he was able to take the shop over himself. From 1741 on, he was also the London agent for the Foulis press of Glasgow. As a publisher, Millar acquired shares in classic texts by Milton and Francis Bacon, as well as in Thomas Birch’s expanded translation of Pierre Bayle’s famous Dictionary (1734-41). He was the publisher of the first complete edition of James Thomson’s celebrated poem The Seasons (1730), as well as of works by many other Scots, among them his friend David Hume’s three volumes of Essays and Treatises (1753) and his History of England (1761), the historian William Robertson’s History of Scotland (1759), and the novelist Tobias Smollett’s many novels. He was also the publisher of Smollett’s translations of Le Sage’s Gil Blas and Cervantes’ Don Quixote; of Fielding’s novels (Tom Jones [1741], Joseph Andrews [1751], Amelia [1752], and Jonathan Wild [1754]) and of the Works of Fielding in four volumes (1762); and he was a member of the syndicate of booksellers who financed Samuel Johnson's Dictionary in 1755. "I respect Millar," Dr. Johnson said of him in 1755, "he has raised the price of literature." (Millar paid Thomson £105 for The Seasons; Fielding £700 for Tom Jones and £1000 for Amelia.)

Title-pages opf three works published by Millar. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Scot though he was, Millar’s business was in London and it was he who led the Stationers’ war against allegedly “pirated” Scottish reprints with a series of lawsuits in the Scottish Court of Session, notably Millar v. Kincaid in 1743, on behalf of sixteen London booksellers against twenty Edinburgh-based and four Glasgow-based booksellers. When the Scottish Court ruled in this case that the Londoners’ claimed copyright could not be protected, Millar appealed the decision to the House of Lords, where the Scottish Court’s decision was upheld (See Shōji, p. 32, MacQueen, pp. 128-29; Hugh Amory in DNB, 38:185.). Millar did win an important victory in Millar v. Taylor (Court of King’s Bench 1766-69), in which it was again argued on behalf of the plaintiff that authors and publishers are entitled to a perpetual common law copyright. But that posthumous decision (Millar died in London on June 8, 1768) was soon overturned in the landmark 1774 case of Donaldson v Beckett.

After Millar’s death, the business was run by his former apprentice and subsequent partner, Thomas Cadell. In collaboration with William Strahan, another Scot and sometime fellow-apprentice at Millar’s, Cadell published Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88), Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), as well as the poetry of Robert Burns (1787; the first edition having been put out by John Wilson of Kilmarnock in 1786 and then by William Creech of Edinburgh in 1787). Cadell was one of a group of booksellers who convinced Samuel Johnson to write his Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1779–81). Cadell also brought out many novels, including works by Tobias Smollett and the women writers Fanny Burney, Charlotte Smith, and – in translation – Mme de Graffigny and Mme de Genlis.

Spreading the Word: Scottish Publishers and English Literature 1750-1900


MacQueen, Hector. “Literary Property in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,” in Isabella Alexander and H. Tomás Gomez-Arostegui, Eds. Research Handbook on the History of Copyright Law. Cheltenham, U.K. and Northampton MA: Edward Elgar, 2016. pp. 119-38.

. Shōji, Yamada. “Pirate” Publishing. The Battle over Perpetual Copyright in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Trans. Lynne E. Riggs. Kyoto: International Research Center for Japanese Studies, 2012.

Last modified 31 October 2018