What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Fraught with Entertainment.”
Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, also sold books that they imported from England or exchanged with other printers in the colonies. Their advertisement filled an entire column and nearly half of another on the final page of the May 22, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Such lengthy advertisements were not uncommon for printers and booksellers, but the length of this one resulted from an innovative format not featured in most newspaper notices. Printers and booksellers usually followed one of two standard practices when advertising books. Either they provided a list of titles for sale, a catalog of sorts, or they marketed a single volume via lengthy explications of the contents and their practical usefulness for readers.
The Fowles did a little bit of each but more in this advertisement. They included a short list of additional titles at the conclusion, but first they described several books in chatty blurbs that took a very different tone than most advertisements for books inserted in newspapers in the 1760s. The Fowles aimed to entertain readers rather than strictly instruct them (though a heavy dose of instruction was still embedded in their marketing), offering an alternate rationale for why consumers should purchase their wares.
Consider, for example, the description of “The Clandestine Marriage, A COMEDY: As it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.” According to the blurb, the play was “fraught with Entertainment. Some of the Scenes are truly comic, others inculcate the strictest Morality.” It also included a description of the characters, including “the conceited, infirm, and antiquated yet generous Lord Ogleby – the vulgar, money loving Sterling – the sensible Lovewell – the sycophant Canton – the impudent Brush – Mrs. Heidelberg the Dutch Widow, an ignorant Pretender to Quality Manners – the pert, spiteful Miss Sterling, displaying in reality the modern fine Lady, and the amiable, gentle, and delicate Miss Fanny – who altogether form a Group that must afford greta [sic] Entertainment to every Reader.” In addition, the Epilogue, in particular, was “very remarkable for its Singularity and Humour.”
This shift in tone, telling readers that they would be entertained as well as receive moral instruction, made sense as part of the reading revolution that took place in the eighteenth century. Reading habits experienced a transition from intensive reading of the bible and devotional literature to more extensive reading of works of all sorts for entertainment. The Fowles demonstrate that one mode of reading did not simply replace the other. Instead, they framed several of their books to appeal to whichever purpose their customers wished to achieve in their reading habits.