James Lackington (1746-1815) and reading in the late eighteenth century

Bankes, Sophie (2014). James Lackington (1746-1815) and reading in the late eighteenth century. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000eeee


This thesis contributes to the history of reading in the eighteenth century by examining the impact of reading on the life and work of the bookseller James Lackington. It illustrates the transfonnative power of reading in the period, its ability radically to alter the life of a man of humble birth. It presents a detailed analysis of Lackington's two autobiographies, Memoirs of the First Forty-Five Years of the Life of James Lackington (1791), and the later and neglected Confessions of J. Lackington (1804). The numerous quotations they contain become the basis in the thesis for a detailed reconstruction of Lackington' s reading. These two texts also provide evidence of Lackington's use of literary tools such as review journals, miscellanies and dictionaries, and the thesis here builds upon the work of Barbara Benedict, Leah Price, Antonia Foster and others to trace his developing confidence as consumer and distributor of texts. It uncovers the crucial role played by Methodism in Lackington's reading career and documents his complex relationship to the religion of his youth, which he rejects in favour of freethinking only to return to it in later life. The thesis is also concerned to explore the relationship between reading and identity in the eighteenth century. It discusses the way in which Lackington employs reading in his autobiographies to construct a new identity compatible with his social aspirations, and it considers his attempts to influence the choices of the reading public both in his autobiographies and, as a bookseller, by designing sales catalogues to appeal to and aid inexperienced readers in their buying choices. Unlike previous studies, it examines the whole of Lackington's life, not just his bookselling years, and in so doing gives a fuller account of the rich and complex relationship between religion and reading in this period. Lackington, it is argued, was an extraordinary reader himself, as well as an inspirational seller of books and promoter of reading in others.

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