David Atkinson

Published On


Page Range

pp. 321–346


  • English

Print Length

26 pages

11. Street Literature and Cheap Fiction

  • David Atkinson (author)
The increasing prominence of the Scottish-printed chapbook is contextualized within the broader theme of the spread of printing and slowly rising literacy rates within Scotland. More importantly for current research trends, some issues relating to the applicability of the concepts of popular culture and mentalité are raised, and the provisional answers appear less straightforward and more subtle than they might immediately appear to be. The major difficulties in estimating the output of Scottish-printed chapbooks are identified: some relate to the very definition of ‘chapbook’, while others relate to the existence and quality of catalogues and lists. Nevertheless, a tentative estimate of at least 1,200 chapbook editions published between 1780 and 1800 is proffered. The chapter shows that there remains a considerable amount to be learned from a close examination of religious chapbooks and their relationships with chapbooks on other themes. Concluding remarks comment on the antipathy towards chapbooks that had gained ground in some quarters by the early nineteenth century.


David Atkinson

Honorary Research Fellow at the Elphinstone Institute at University of Aberdeen

David Atkinson is the author of The English Traditional Ballad (2002), The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts (2014), and The Ballad and its Pasts: Literary Histories and the Play of Memory (2018). With Steve Roud he has co-edited Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America (2014), Street Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century (2017), Cheap Print and the People: European Perspectives on Popular Literature (2019), Street Literature and the Circulation of Songs (2019), and Printers, Pedlars, Sailors, Nuns: Aspects of Street Literature (2020). He has published articles on cheap print in The Library, Publishing History, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society. He is the editor of Folk Music Journal, Honorary Research Fellow at the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, and Executive Secretary of the Kommission für Volksdichtung (Ballad Commission).