Dec 12, 2011
Joseph Malaby Dent (30 August 1849 – 9 May 1926) was the British book publisher who gave the world the Everyman's Library series.
After a short, unsuccessful career as an apprentice printer he took up bookbinding, and shortly thereafter founded J. M. Dent and Company, in 1888, publishing the works of Lamb, Goldsmith, Austen, Chaucer, and Tennyson among others. Printed in short runs on handmade paper, these books enjoyed some success, but it wasn't until the Temple Shakespeare series, launched in 1894, that Dent hit the big time.
Ten years later he began planning what became known as the Everyman's Library, a canon of one thousand classics, attractively, but practically, produced pocket-sized books sold for a shilling each. To meet demand, Dent built the Temple Press. Publication of the series began in 1906; 152 titles were issued in the first year. They were hugely popular.
'Small, lame, tight-fisted, and apt to weep under pressure,' Dent's ungovernable passion was, says critic Hugh Kenner, for bringing books to the people. He remembered when he'd longed to buy books he couldn't afford. Yes, you could make the world better. He even thought cheap books might prevent wars."
I met with renowned book historian Professor Johathan Rose to discuss J.M.Dent, and to find out why the Everyman's Library series was so successful.