Victorian Popular Fictions 3.2 2 Maidment

“Thief in the Name of Kidd:”

Unscrupulous Opportunism and Cheap Print

in Late Regency London

Brian Maidment

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William Kidd saw himself as a struggling small publisher of illustrated books operating during the 1830s in a marketplace that favoured large scale firms. His response to his perceived disadvantages was twofold. In seeking to reach a rapidly expanding cohort of leisure-based readers, Kidd deployed aggressive marketing policies that frequently sailed close to the law and generated considerable controversy. He was also less than honest about just who had written or illustrated his books. At the same time, he initiated new genres of relatively cheap illustrated publications based on the recreational interest and habits of an emerging lower middle class and artisan reading public. In particular, he took advantage of the wood engraving as a cheap reprographic medium, and employed highly capable draughtsmen such as Robert Cruikshank, Robert Seymour and George Bonner to illustrate his books and pamphlets.  His pocket guides to British seaside resorts, his development of the illustrated reprints known as jeu d’esprit or Facetiae and his packaging up of sayings, mottos and nuggets of information into small format gatherings all show a lively minded and innovative response to the rapidly changing literary marketplace. Kidd’s career suggests both the legally chaotic nature of the literary marketplace and the entrepreneurial opportunities offered to a shrewd if unscrupulous publisher in late Regency London.



William Kidd; wood engraving; jeu d’esprit; Robert Seymour; Robert Cruikshank; comedy; caricature; piracy


Date of Acceptance: 8 December 2021

Date of Publication: 17 December 2021

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation

Maidment, Brian. 2021.  “‘Thief of the name of Kidd:’ Unscrupulous Opportunism and Cheap Print in Late Regency London..”  Victorian Popular Fictions,  3.2  (Autumn): 21-44.  DOI:

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