Henry Colburn

Henry Colburn (1784 – 16 August 1855) was a British publisher.


Colburn began his career in the London shop of William Earle, a bookseller in Albemarle Street. He then worked as an assistant at Morgan's Library, a circulating library in Conduit Street. He took it over in 1816, and carried on the business until he resigned it to Messrs. Saunders & Otley, to concentrate on light literature. He started off with a coup in publishing Lady Caroline Lamb's roman à clef (and succès de scandale) novel Glenarvon (1816), which went through four editions and sold very well.[1] Lady Morgan's France (1817) was another of his earliest successful ventures. A furious attack in the Quarterly Review (April 1817) did more good than harm to the book.[2] Glenarvon was a harbinger of Colburn's later great innovation, the so-called "Silver Fork Novel," a kind of Fashionable Novel which gave readers the thrill of peering into the lifestyles of rich and aristocratic families.

In 1830 Colburn took his printer, Richard Bentley into a partnership, which was the dissolved in August 1832. Having first set up business again at Windsor for a short time, Colburn paid a forfeiture for breaking the covenant not to commence publishing within twenty miles of London, and opened a house in Great Marlborough Street. He finally retired from business in favour of Messrs. Hurst & Blackett, but kept his name attached to a few books. These were Elliot Warburton's Crescent and the Cross, the Diaries of Evelyn and Pepys, Agnes Strickland's Lives, Burke's Peerage and some more. Their copyrights went to auction at Southgate & Barrett on 26 May 1857, and produced about £14,000.[2]

Colburn amassed a considerable fortune, his property being sworn as under £35,000.[2]


With the support of Frederic Shoberl, Colburn started in 1814 New Monthly Magazine, and Universal Register, a rival to the old Monthly Magazine of Sir Richard Phillips. John Watkins and Alaric Alexander Watts were among the early editors. A new series began in 1820 under the care of Thomas Campbell. Bulwer Lytton (1832), Theodore Hook, and Harrison Ainsworth (3rd ser., 1836) successively were editors. The magazine lasted to 1875.[2]

On 25 January 1817, Colburn brought out the first number of the Literary Gazette, priced at one shilling.[2] It was the earliest weekly newspaper devoted to literature, science, and the arts which obtained reputation and authority. Initially Hannibal Evans Lloyd, and Thomasina Ross who had worked with Lloyd before, appear to have been joint editors.[3] The department of fine arts was under the care of William Paulet Carey. After the twenty-sixth number (19 July 1817) William Jerdan purchased a third share of the property and became sole editor. Messrs. Longman also purchased a third, and the periodical was rapidly successful. In 1842, William Jerdan became sole proprietor. The Gazette was incorporated with the Parthenon in 1862. [2]

On 31 December 1827, Colburn wrote to Jerdan that he had joined the new literary journal, the Athenaeum, "in consequence of the injustice done to my authors generally" by the Gazette. In 1828, he founded the Court Journal; in the following year he brought out the United Service Magazine and Naval and Military Gazette; and he had some interest in the Sunday Times.[2]

A biography of David Lester Richardson recounts the background to Colburn's Court Journal. Richardson established the London Weekly Review in 1827, but was compelled to give it up in 1828; he entered into an agreement under which Colburn would assume control of the journal in return for Richardson receiving a share in the profits of sales of the London Weekly Review. Colburn ingeniously renamed the publication as the Court Journal, and Richardson's anticipated rewards evaporated.[4]


After the successes of Lady Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon (1816) and Lady Morgan's France (1817), Colburn, at the suggestion of William Upcott, brought out the first edition of John Evelyn's Diary in 1818. It was followed by his publication of Pepys's Diary in 1825. At the height of Theodore Hook's headlong London career, Colburn offered him £600. for a novel, and Sayings and Doings (1824) was the result. Six thousand copies of the three volumes are said to have been sold.[2] In 1827 he published Thomas Skinner Sturr's anonymous Richmond, or stories in the life of a Bow Street officer, the earliest collection of detective stories.

Colburn was a major purveyor of the fashionable novel mode of social fiction called "Silver Fork" after a phrase coined by William Hazlitt.

The series of Colburn's Modern Standard Novelists (1835–41, 19 vols.), containing works by Thomas Campbell, Bulwer Lytton, Theodore Hook and Harrison Ainsworth, Lady Morgan, Robert Plumer Ward, Horace Smith, Marryat, Thomas Henry Lister, G. P. R. James, and George Robert Gleig. Colburn also numbered among "my authors" Disraeli, John Banim, and fashionable novelists of the day.[2]


He was twice married, the second time to Eliza Anne, only daughter of Captain Crosbie, who survived him. He died at his house in Bryanston Square on 16 August 1855.[2] He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


  1. Douglass, Paul. Lady Caroline Lamb Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004, pp. 183–18.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Tedder 1887.
  3. Susan Matoff (January 2011). Conflicted Life: William Jerdan, 1782–1869, London Editor, Author and Critic. Sussex Academic Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-84519-417-8. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  4. "Biographical Sketches No.1 - D.L.R". Calcutta Monthly Journal. Calcutta: Samuel Smith and Co. For the year 1838: 4. 1839.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Tedder, Henry Richard (1887). "Colburn, Henry". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 11. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 254–255. 


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