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April 2, 1973

Medical Advice in Seventeenth-Century Journalism

JAMA. 1973;224(1):83-86. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220140057011

Making a living from writing is common enough in our day, but three centuries ago such a feat was rare. We are so accustomed to successful specialized journalism—medical, scientific, political, literary—that we can imagine only with difficulty a time when journalists struggled for bare sustenance, trying to create a buying audience where none had existed before. In seventeenth-century England, authors who needed support wrote for the patronage of the aristocracy; others wrote for fame. With growing literacy among the population, however, the possibilities of a new audience with its own demands began to be realized. Booksellers, themselves among the increasing middle class, found it profitable to hire educated but impecunious writers to produce hastily scribbled pamphlets and books, to be sold cheap to an audience far less wealthy than the aristocracy. These hack writers and their booksellers were derisively termed "Grub Street" by more serious and respectable literary men, who,