Edward Moxon (1801–58)
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 4, 328–330.
He was a poet in his own right, a prominent London publisher, and a friend of the Brownings even after they turned elsewhere for the publication of their works. Born at Wakefield in 1801 and apprenticed to a bookseller at age nine, Moxon successfully educated himself, especially in contemporary literature. In 1821 he began work with the London publishing firm of Messrs. Longman. In 1826 he produced a volume of verse entitled The Prospect, and other Poems, which, according to The Encyclopædia Britannica, “was received with some favour.” He dedicated it to banker-poet Samuel Rogers, who, in 1830, backed Moxon in the establishment of his own publishing firm. This firm’s first production was Album Verses (1830) by Charles Lamb, whose adopted daughter, Emma Isola, married Moxon in 1833. Prominent Moxon friends and clients, besides Lamb and the Brownings, included William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson, Bryan Waller Procter, Walter Savage Landor, and Harriet Martineau. Moxon eventually moved his firm from its original New Bond Street location to 44 Dover Street, an address which became famous in the publishing world. In November 1839 Moxon issued an edition of Shelley’s poetry containing the full text and notes of the controversial Queen Mab, and was consequently prosecuted for blasphemous libel. Although Thomas Noon Talfourd argued eloquently in defense of Moxon’s right to publish such materials, a “guilty” verdict was rendered. The prosecution being satisfied with this pronouncement, Moxon suffered no further serious consequences.
Moxon’s relationship with the Brownings began in the mid-1830’s. On 27 March 1835 (letter 500), RB wrote to his friend William Johnson Fox to seek help in finding a publisher for Paracelsus. After recounting earlier woes with the publication of Pauline, he proceeded: “Now I would ascertain whether it is possible for you to procure me an introduction to a good publisher,—Moxon for instance, who seems a superlative fellow … can you do this?” Fox did procure the introduction—through another literary figure, Charles Cowden Clarke—and soon RB wrote again to Fox (letter 503), saying that “the Moxonian visage” had “loured exceedingly” at Clarke’s letter of introduction. Discouraged over poor sales of recent publications, including some of Tennyson’s poetry, Moxon “in short begs to decline even inspecting” Paracelsus. The work was published in August 1835 by Effingham Wilson, at the expense of RB’s father. Sordello (1840) was the first of RB’s works to be published by Moxon, but, again, RB’s father had to bear the expense. Next came Bells and Pomegranates (1841–46), likewise published by Moxon, but financed by RB, Sr. It was Moxon who suggested a series of pamphlets as an economical means of publication. As all Browning fans know, eight pamphlets eventually appeared. No. V, A Blot in the ’Scutcheon, is of special interest. RB was quarrelling bitterly with theatre manager William Charles Macready over the production of this play (see vol. 3, p. 319) and had Moxon publish it hastily on 11 February 1843 to prevent Macready from “mutilating” it in that night’s stage presentation.
EBB’s dealings with Moxon began in 1842 when she approached him through her brother George to see if he would publish a set of poems that she had accumulated. He was “infinitely civil,” EBB wrote to Mary Russell Mitford on 30 December 1842, but he turned her down for the same reason that had made him reject RB’s Paracelsus in 1835: poetry wasn’t selling well. Later though, through her ubiquitous friend John Kenyon she secured Moxon’s agreement to publish what became Poems (1844). On 13 March 1843 she wrote to her brother George that Moxon had asked Kenyon “to take a message from him to me, offering to ruin himself for me, & me alone, by accepting any MS. I might please to send him.” Moxon advised that the book be issued in two volumes (as it was) and that the title be simply “Poems,” instead of “New Poems” as EBB had suggested. After considerable flurrying, the book was published on 14 August. Just prior to that, on 9 August 1844, EBB noted with pleasure in a letter to Mary Russell Mitford that Moxon was going to send a copy to Tennyson, though she had “never said a word” about his doing so. EBB’s reference to “Browning” in Poems (see vol. 3, p. 317) triggered the RB-EBB correspondence and courtship. Thus, Moxon was involved with both poets before they became directly acquainted with each other. The letters they exchanged in 1845 and 1846 show much evidence of their connections with the prominent publisher. For instance, in a letter of 2–3 July 1845, EBB said that someone in America had sent her a piece of mail “addressed to—just my name .. poetess, London!” and that it had reached her via Moxon. Also, Moxon’s name often crops up in RB’s letters. G & M (p. 124) mentions RB as “a frequent visitor” at Moxon’s place of business, “listening to the gossip” about Tennyson, Wordsworth, and others. Moxon presented numerous books to RB and EBB. For instance, he inscribed a copy of his Sonnets, second edition (1837) to RB (Reconstruction, A1685). The two volumes of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Rambles in Germany and Italy … (1844) went to EBB with inscriptions by Moxon (Reconstruction, A2091). As early as 1846, however, RB was becoming critical of his publisher. On 28 August of that year he wrote to EBB: “Moxon is the ‘slowest’ of publishers, and if one of his books can only contrive to pay its expenses, you may be sure that a more enterprising brother of the craft would have sent it into a second or third edition.” Moxon never took any risk in publishing RB’s works. All that he handled were subsidized by RB, Sr. After marrying, RB looked for a company which would bear the costs of publication. The firm of Chapman & Hall did so, producing his Poems (1849) and many items thereafter. EBB likewise switched to Chapman & Hall, who published her Poems (1850). Dorothy Hewlett speculated in Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1953, p. 346), that they may have insisted on handling EBB’s works as a prerequisite to taking those of the less-popular RB. Despite the changeover, the Brownings seemingly remained friendly with Moxon. In 1851 he was preparing to print a set of letters, hitherto unpublished, supposedly written by Shelley. He asked RB to furnish an introductory essay, which the latter did. The book (see Reconstruction, M258), published in 1852, was withdrawn from distribution when most of the letters were found to be forgeries, but RB’s introductory essay has many times been reprinted. RB wrote the essay in Paris in late 1851, and on 17 December of that year he also wrote to Moxon: “Do you ever run over to Paris? Our little band box apartment has not even the hole in the wall, that I had hoped never to be without, when the question was where to stow a friend for a night: but accommodations abound, and we would have a merry evening, at all hazards.” A copy of Men and Women (Reconstruction, C401), published for RB in 1855 by Chapman & Hall, was sent to Moxon at RB’s request. Moxon continued in the publishing business until his death on 3 June 1858. In a letter to Frederick Locker-Lampson on 20 February 1874, RB wrote: “Moxon was kind & civil, made no profit by me, I am sure, and never tried to help me to any, he would have assured you.”