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[-170-] CHAPTER IV
AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS.
Literary remuneration of popular authors-Mistaken notions of authors as to the expected sale of their works - Imprudence of authors in publishing on their own account- Gentlemen Publishers - Illustrative anecdotes -Various arrangements between authors and publishers - Extent of the Editions of various kinds of works-Popularity of works-Expenses connected with the publication of books-Disposing of works to the trade-Number of publishers and booksellers in London - Advantages and disadvantages of popularity to an author - The fate of authors often dependent on purely accidental and trifling circumstances - An instance given-General remarks.
AUTHORS and publishers are so associated with each other in the appearance of literary works, that they may with the greatest propriety be [-171-] classed together in a chapter of such a nature as it is intended the present shall be.
In the previous chapter I have spoken of the exceedingly precarious character of the literary profession. My observations, however, will not have been understood as applying in every case. They do apply in the vast majority of cases; but there are numerous exceptions. The case of Sir Walter Scott was an illustrious exception. His average income from his literary talents could not, for some years before his death, have been much short of 12,000l: for he received 8,7501. for permission to print an edition of 10,000 copies of several of his novels; and he ordinarily wrote three novels every year, besides his various contributions to periodicals. Byron, too, turned his genius to excellent pecuniary account. From first to last, it is understood that he received upwards of 20,000l from Mr. Murray for his works. Moore also used to derive a large income from his intellectual exertions. For his life and works of Lord Byron, he is said to have received from [-172-] Mr. Murray 2,0001. Mr. Murray is understood to have given 2,0001. for the copyright of Washington Irving's " Life of Columbus. For the first volume of Colonel Napier's " History of the Peninsular War, the same publisher gave the gallant author the sum of one thousand guineas. It is calculated that Southey derives an annual income of about 1,0001. from his literary labours. There is no doubt, I believe, that Messrs. Baldwin and Cradock gave him last year 1,000l for his Life, &c. of Cowper. That literature has proved, and ever will prove a very lucrative profession to those who have most distinguished themselves in its higher walks, will appear from a statement of the prices which many authors have received for their works.
Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer got, if my information be correct, no less a sum than 1,6001. for his " Rienzi, from Messrs. Saunders and Otley, who have also paid him similar amounts for several of his other works. The same publishers gave Captain Marryat 1,0001., or one thousand guineas, I am not sure which, for his [-173-] "Japhet in Search of a Father, though the work had, in some measure, lost the freshness of novelty, through its previous appearance in the "Metropolitan Magazine. Mr. Gait always got from 2001. to 8001. for his novels; and when any of them came to a second edition, he usually got something more.
I could mention several other instances, in which other authors have received douceurs from publishers, when the works reached second or third editions; but as the circumstance is by no means uncommon, it is unnecessary to refer particularly to individual cases. It is but right, however, to state, that this is, in some cases, more from considerations of good policy than from the mere impulses of a generous feeling. Publishers sometimes make authors presents of the kind referred to, as an inducement to write other works, of which they expect, of course, to have the publication. Let me mention one striking instance of genuine liberality on the part of the publisher to a successful author. Allan Cunningham was engaged to furnish [-174-] Mr. Murray with six volumes of his "Lives of the British Painters, &c. at 600l., or 100l. each volume, for the "Family Library." He executed his task to the satisfaction of his employer and the public. Mr. Murray, on its great success, showed that he could appreciate merit by doubling his terms; in other words, by giving Allan 1,200l., instead of 600l., exclusive of a handsomely bound set of the Quarterly Review, from the commencement of the work. It is to the credit of the trade, that while there are some publishers who would screw .down a poor author to a scale of remuneration for his works which would render his social condition little better than that of a mechanic, there are others who are forward not only to appreciate, hut suitably to reward his efforts. Messrs. Saunders and Otley* (* This was written before the author was aware that Messrs. Saunders and Otley were to be the publishers of his work.) are favourably known among literary men for the liberality of their terms to writers of celebrity. [-175-] Messrs. Longman and Co. have, on several occasions, given a high rate of remuneration for literary labour. The case I have mentioned of Messrs. Baldwin and Cradock giving Southey so large a sum for his Life of Cowper, is one instance of their liberality. I know various instances in which Messrs. Whittaker and Co. have given large sums for works of merit; hut from the way in which the information has been communicated to me, I am not sure it would be proper to make a public use of it. I am in the same situation in respect to the prices given by other publishers for particular works.
I have mentioned the sum which Allan Cunningham received for the volumes which he furnished to Mr. Murray's " Family Library. For his " Life and Works of Burns, in eight volumes, published by Messrs. Cochrane and Macrone, he got 800l Mr. Galt got from the same publishers, 250l for his "Autobiography. The price which Mr. Robert Montgomery Martin received, from Mr. Cochrane, for his "History of the British Colonies, in five volumes, was about 8001. Mr. Cochrane gave [-176-] very liberal remuneration to literary men in several other instances which have come under my own immediate observation; but it is not necessary to allude to them in detail. Mr. Willis got 250l from Mr. Macrone, for his "Pencillings by the Way. What Messrs. Saunders and Otley gave him for his "Inklings of Adventure, I have not heard. The usual price of works of fiction, in three volumes, written by popular authors, has of late been from 200l to 300l: formerly it was higher; but, as mentioned in the preceding chapter, the falling off in the demand for works of that class has been so great as to render it hazardous for publishers to offer a higher sum than the above. As it is, comparatively few, even of those written by novelists of distinguished reputation, obtain a remunerating sale. In two or three late instances, novelists of the first class have got as high as 500l, but the publishers have been losers by the transaction. Illustrated works, got up in the style of the annuals, have, in some recent cases, "fetched a high price in the literary market. Captain Marryat, in 1835, received for his " Pirate, [-177-] in one volume, no less than 750l., from Mr. Heath, who has brought out so many illustrated works. And Mr. Bulwer, if I remember rightly, got 800l. for his " Pilgrims of the Rhine, also in one volume.
It will be seen, from the above statements, that there are a few authors who reap an abundant pecuniary harvest, as well as a harvest of fame, from their literary labours; but they are only a few, compared with those who get nothing, or next to nothing, for their toil and trouble.
Authors of second or third-rate works of fiction, no doubt, think they are very inadequately remunerated when they receive from 100l to 200l for the copyright. What would they have thought of the price usually given half a-century ago for the same class of publications? At that time it was a rare circumstance for publishers to give more than 5l. or 10l for the manuscript of novels, except in those cases in which the author had previously acquired a first-rate reputation as a novelist. The fact was, that publishers, fifty years ago, found that [-178-] the public taste was in favour of more solid mental food, and that the sale of novels was seldom sufficiently large to meet the necessary expenses of mere paper and print. For historical, philosophical, or any other class of works, however, conveying important information, when written by distinguished authors, the publishers of that period were in the habit of paying large sums. Dr. Hawkesworth got the immense sum of 6,000l for his voyages round the world, though only a compilation. I do not at this moment recollect the number of volumes to which the work extended, but I think it did not exceed fifteen. Dr. Robertson got 4,500l. for his "History of Charles the Fifth, in four volumes"; and the same writer got 600l. for his " History of Scotland, in two volumes. Smellie, the translator of Buffon's works, got 1,000l. for his own work on the " Philosophy of Natural History. Hume only received 200l for his first part of the "History of England ;" but that proving eminently successful, he got, in one shape or another, full 5,000l for it, before it was [-179-] finished. Mr. Creech, the then Prince of Publishers, had the honour of bringing most of these works before the public. Mr. Creech, I believe, was the first publisher who ever paid for contributions to periodicals. The mode of making his first payment was curious. He sent two pipes of wine to Mackenzie, the author ox the "Man of Feeling," as a return for various valuable contributions which the latter had made to a periodical, "The Lounger," -if my memory be not at fault,-which then belonged to him. After that time, the same publisher commenced the practice of paying in money, which soon became general in the case of all respectable periodicals. I am indebted for this interesting anecdote to one of the sons of the celebrated author of "The Man of Feeling" himself.
Of all hopes there are none so illusory as those which are based on one's literary labours; and yet there are none in which authors are so apt to indulge. They are cheered and supported amidst all the labour they are doomed, [-180-] or, rather, which they doom themselves, to undergo, by the expectation of fame and profit. Almost every one flatters himself that the publication of his work will create a sensation in the literary world. The day of publication comes - and passes away too - and what does he find? The realisation of his sanguine and dearly-cherished hopes? No: but in all probability he hears nothing of his work except in the advertisements of the publishers, or, it may be, in a passing faint commendation given it in some review. He asks his publishers how it sells. The answer comes on him with the effect of a thunderbolt, as if launched by the hand of Jove himself - "It does not sell at all:" in other words, only a few copies have been disposed of. In the agony and mortification of the moment, he wishes, it may be, he had never been born; certain it is, he wishes his book had never been born. And yet, in the course of a year or two, if he have the means, you will find the unfortunate author again continuing the midnight [-181-] toil, hoping against hope he will be more fortunate next time. Next time comes and he encounters the same disappointment, and so on to the end of the chapter.
The uninitiated will wonder, after what I have stated of the immense number of failures on the part of authors, how it happens that publishers undertake to bring out their works at all. The publishers are, generally, a shrewd class of men; and they do not incur the risk of publishing one half perhaps of the works which are daily making their appearance. The other half are published at the expense of the authors, many of whom lose a great deal in this way. A popular tragedian, about eighteen months since, published a novel, in two volume, on his own account, which he had written. It never sold to the extent of twenty-five copies: he was a loser by his adventure to the extent of 200l. Several other similar miscalculations have been made by authors within the last twelve months. I know some instances in which the works were what is called heavy, that is, large in size [-182-] and closely printed; in which authors have lost nearly 1,000l at once. Even in the pamphlet way, great losses are sometimes sustained. I lately heard the Rev. Mr. P., a metropolitan clergyman of the Church of England, mention that he had lost altogether 600l by his various pamphlets against the Socinians and Roman Catholics. The Rev. Dr. Dibdin, in his "Literary Reminiscences, lately published, gives some particulars of a rather interesting nature respecting his adventures in this way.
I would lay it down as a rule, and it will be found to admit of but few exceptions, that those who cannot afford, or who have not the disposition to lose money, should not risk the publication of a work which the leading publishers have declined to undertake on their own account. From what I know of the publishing trade, I can say with confidence that, taken in the aggregate, they are much more apt to err in accepting than in rejecting works. Take all those works which, when refused by the trade, have been published by the authors themselves, [-183-] and it will be found that not one out of fifty pays its expenses. These are odds sufficiently fearful, one would think, to make an author, to whom money is an object, hesitate before he engages in the speculation of publishing of his own account.
There is another class of authors, though their number is now much less than it was some years ago, who publish on their own account for very different reasons. They do so from that avaricious spirit which causes men to grasp at the profits of both author and publisher. A well-known bibliopole with whom I lately had some conversation on the subject, happily characterised such authors, as " Gentlemen Publishers. It will be found in a number of cases, that those who publish their works on their own account, merely employing some bookselling house as their agent, are gentlemen of rank, and that they have previously received considerable reputation as literary men. This practice of uniting the functions of the publisher with those of the author, is not very reputable [-184-] in the cases to which I refer. It is not merely a violation of good taste, inasmuch as it is an intrusion into a field which they have no right to enter, but it is, practically, to all intents and purposes, an attempt to deprive a most meritorious class of individuals of the means of existence. The trade has suffered severely from these gentlemen interlopers.
It is idle to say, that though gentlemen become their own publishers, they must of necessity employ booksellers, as they cannot themselves sell every isolated copy of their works. All true; but the profit which an agent or deputy publisher is in this case allowed, is so small, that no respectable house could maintain its character with it. The commission, as I have before mentioned, allowed to the house which acts as agent, is usually only ten per cent. on the amount sold. With this sum the house is not only to be remunerated for the trouble to which it must put itself in the sale of the work, but it has also to defray the expenses of the establishment. The house must further run the risk of bad debts; [-185-] the author making no allowance for these. It is clear, I repeats that on such a source of revenue none of our large publishing houses could long maintain their influence and respectability.
The circumstance which has of late led so many gentlemen authors to become their own publishers, thus blending in discordant harmony, as an Irishman would say, the character of tradesman with that of gentleman the supposed prodigious profits which publishers derive from their trade. How far the profits of publishers are exaggerated, may be inferred from the fact, that very few of them, even after a very laborious application for many years to their calling, have succeeded in making more than a respectable livelihood. It is true they have very large profits in some cases. I know a late instance in which a house cleared about 1,200l on two volumes, in little more than eighteen months; but then what is gained on the one hand, is often lost on the other. That a few enterprising houses have made handsome[-186-] fortunes by publishing, is not to be denied; but what are such instances, compared with the hundreds in which publishers have either failed in business, or only succeeded, by great care and exertion, in making the bare means of subsistence?
As regards the profits of the mere venders of books, very extravagant notions are also entertained by those unacquainted with the subject. Mr. Babbage, in his work on the "Economy of Manufactures", has done much to confirm and extend the error. The nominal profits of booksellers, in retailing literary works, is twenty-five per cent.; but this amount of profit dwindles down to a mere trifle, when due allowances are made for bad debts, for the number of copies which often remain unsold, and for the outlay of capital on which returns are seldom obtained sooner than twelve months; often not even in that lengthened time. Mr. Babbage says, that booksellers need not order books except when they are bespoke. Here Mr. Babbage, while assuming to be much better informed on the [-187-] subject than the rest of his fellow-men, betrays a degree of ignorance which would be discreditable to a schoolboy of the fourth or fifth class. Authors mourn over the lack of literary taste that obtains, as evinced in the limited sale of their works; but were Mr. Babbage's notions of bookselling generally adopted, their ground for lamentation would be increased in a tenfold degree. It is only by booksellers taking a number of copies of new works on chance, and then exhibit1ng them in their shops, and otherwise submitting them to the inspection of their customers, that the majority of copies are disposed of. Of all commodities, those of a literary kind stand most in need of what is called pushing and if book sellers make the necessary exertion, take the necessary trouble, and incur the risk of serious loss from bad debts and unsold copies, it is but fair they should have a reasonable allowance made them.
But the trade are not the only parties injured by the practice of gentlemen publishing their [-188-] own works. In the majority of cases, these gentlemen publishers are serious sufferers themselves from their bibliopolic speculations. Poor Sir Egerton Brydges has lost a little fortune in this way. His "Autobiography" contains some useful admonitions to gentlemen publishers, grounded on his own experience, respecting the pecuniary disadvantages of authors publishing their own works. One may safely undertake to say, that though Sir Egerton were to live to the age of Methuselah, he would never publish another work on his own account. There are others I could name, and men of great reputation too, who have been out of pocket to a considerable extent by publishing on their own account, who, if they had sold their works to publishers, would have got a handsome sum for them.
The truth is that no author, whatever his popularity, can do the same justice to his work as regards the promotion of its sale, as a respectable publisher. The agent he employs has not the same inducement to exertion as if the property were his own, and consequently will [-189-] not make the same exertions to insure an extensive sale. It is in the bookselling world, as in everything else, the greatness of a man's exertions will always be proportioned to the strength of the motive. No influential house, where they are only the agents, will ever call their full forces into play. They will only do that - they will only avail themselves of the aid of their various and powerful connexions in trade, when the property is their own, and the alternative of considerable gain or considerable loss affects themselves alone.
I could illustrate, by innumerable instances, the extent to which the success of a work is affected by the circumstance of whether it be published for the author, or for some respectable house. I will, however, confine myself to a single case. A literary friend of my own was some time since employed by one of the most influential publishing firms in town, to write a short treatise on a subject of general interest. The terms were high-twenty guineas per sheet. The work was written and printed, and every [-190-] exertion possible made to insure its success. The price was cheap, and the publishers having influential connexions in every part of the kingdom, the sale in the space of a few months exceeded 20,000 copies. The author, though in the first instance perfectly satisfied with the terms he received, grew discontented when he saw the extent of the sale, and deeply regretted that he had not published the work on his own account. He calculated the enormous profits the publishers must have made, and thought they would have been much better in his pocket than in theirs. Regret, however, was unavailing in so far as the past was concerned; but, as he conceived, a happy idea occurred to him as to the future. He would extend the work to other two parts, and publish it himself; in other words, he would join the brotherhood of gentlemen publishers. The house for which he had written the two first parts, heard of his being engaged on two additional ones, and offered him the same terms as before. He at once rejected them. They raised their offer to twenty-four guineas [-191-] per sheet; but he unceremoniously declined it, telling them he was determined on publishing the work on his own account. They disadvised him from the speculation, and pointed out the probable difference as to sale, between their extensive and powerful bookselling connexion, and his utter want of such connexion. The advice was disregarded: it was ascribed to interested motives. To press he would go, and to press he went, on his own account. The same number of copies, viz. 20,000, was ordered to be thrown off. The book appeared; it was largely advertised. What does the reader suppose was the number of copies sold in the same time as it required to dispose of 20,000 of the former- parts, published by the influential house alluded to? It was considerably under 500!
The public have no idea of the activity, and tact, and influence, necessary to insure a remunerating sale to any literary work; and these, I repeat, are qualities which are only possessed in their combination by the most respectable publishing houses. The public, I may add, have no [-192-] idea of the extensive losses which many gentlemen publishers incur, who either overrate the merits of their own works, or underrate the difficulties which attend the publishing business. It is only two or three years, since I myself was consulted by the near relative of a well-known nobleman residing in the country, about the publication in London, of a work of the former. I advised him to dispose of the copyright to some respectable publisher. He would not hear of the proposition; he looked at it in very much the same light as if I had seriously meditated an attack on his pocket. He would have it brought out on his own account, for no other reason in the world than that he wished to pocket all the fancied profits himself. He asked my opinion of what the extent as to the impression ought in the first instance to be: his own notion was that 2,000 was the lowest number of copies he should print. I advised him to content himself with 500. My counsel was looked on by him in very much the same light as a deliberate insult. Eventually, I got him per-[-193-]suaded to throw off no more than 1,000 copies. When, however, he concurred in my suggestion to that effect, it was only because he thought it would be an object to have another 1,000 printed immediately after, as a second edition. That a second edition would be called for in a few weeks after the publication of the work, appeared to him as certain as his own existence. In due time, the work made its appearance; the agents were a respectable house in the metropolis; it was extensively advertised; but the agents had no special inducement to push its sale. Anxious to learn indirectly how the work was selling, the author desired a friend, who was in town, to get a copy of it for him from the agent's, without, however, letting his friend know (the work was published anonymously) that he was the author. His friend did call at a bookseller's, but not at the agent's for the work, and asked for a copy. The bookseller not having seen the volume, but confounding it with one similar in title, which had been published some years before, and the whole impression of which [-194-] had by that time been sold off, stated that the work the gentleman inquired for had been some time out of print. The author's friend immediately wrote to him that the work he had commissioned him to procure was out of print. It will readily be guessed with what sovereign contempt on receiving the letter, my literary judgment and my opinion of the wants of the reading public, were regarded. The author wrote by return of post to his London agents, to get a second edition printed forthwith, and dreaming of nothing but pecuniary profit and literary glory, desired them to send him a statement of his and their account. The agents, with the most provoking nonchalance, wrote in answer that they thought it would be in all good time to publish a second edition when there was some appearance of getting rid of the first; that the demand, if such it might ever be called, was completely over, no copy of the work having been called for for the last month, and that the entire number of copies sold was seven! With what surprise and horror the author received this inti-[-195-]mation, it is left to the reader to guess. The statements I have made are, I repeat, facts which came under my own immediate cognizance.
The late Mr. Johnson, of St. Paul's Churchyard, a well-known publisher of religious works, used to tell a laughable anecdote illustrative of the extravagant notions which authors often entertain of the demand there will be for their works. A clergyman called on him, and said that he wished him to be the agent for a volume of sermons, price l0s. 6d., which he (the clergyman) had resolved on publishing on his own account. The bibliopole asked him how many copies he meant to throw off. "At least 10,000,', replied the divine. - The worthy publisher remonstrated, saying that 250 would be nearer the mark. "Two hundred and fifty! exclaimed the theologian, in a tone of stifled indignation at the censure cast on his professional acquirements, as he thought, by the observation. " Two hundred and fifty! Why there are at least 10,000 clergymen in the communion of the [-196-] Church of England, and every one of them will have a copy. Get me 10,000 copies printed, said the divine, with an air of self-importance, "and if they are not all sold, I myself will have to sustain the loss alone. " Very well, said the publisher, and the parties bade each other good morning. The volume of divinity appeared, and continued to be advertised in all the magazines and papers for nearly six weeks. In about three months after the publication, the reverend author came to town (he was the rector of a parish in Yorkshire) with the sole view of balancing accounts with his bookseller, and receive the anticipated profits. A statement of accounts was demanded by the clergyman, and instantly furnished by the other. It was substantially as follows
|To printing and correcting||246||0||0|
|The number of copies sold was 45, amounting, after deducting commission and allowance to the trade, to . .||15||15||0|
|Making the balance due by author to his agents, &c. -||959||0||0|
The rev, gentleman was quite horror-struck at this
"statement of accounts. He declared himself a ruined man by the result of
his publishing speculation. The worthy bibliopole, seeing he had fairly
convinced the divine how grossly he had over-estimated the demand for books,
told him the account he had submitted to him was drawn out agreeably to the
number of copies he had ordered to be printed; but that he, knowing
better about such matters, had instructed the printer to throw off only 250
copies. A thousand blessings invoked on the head of Mr. Johnson, was the
emphatic manner in which the reverend author expressed his obligations to his
[-198-] But of all men, Sir Walter Scott was the greatest sufferer, though not in the same way as in the case alluded to, from publishing on his own account. It is true, Sir Walter was not his own publisher altogether; but he was partly so. The profits of his later works were to be shared between him and his printer and publisher. These arrangements ultimately led to his engaging in other speculations, and to his acceptance of bills to a large amount. The consequence was, that Sir Walter got himself involved in pecuniary responsibilities for Mr. Constable to an extent which eventually proved ruinous. His pecuniary embarrassments preyed so much on his sensitive mind, as to bring on that disease of which he at last became the victim. Had the author of "Waverley contented himself with entirely disposing of the copyright of his later works as he did of the earlier ones, for a specific sum, he might still have been the brightest living ornament of modern literature. But pecuniary disadvantages are not the only evils which result to authors from the injudicious practice of publishing on their own ac-[-199-]count; their literary reputation also suffers severely from it. I have already shown, that authors can never do that justice to their works, in the article of sale, which publishers can. It consequently follows, that where books' are not read, their merits cannot be appreciated.
It is no less obvious, that literature itself is an equal sufferer from the practice I am condemning. Many a meritorious work has fallen still-born from the press, in consequence of the author becoming his own publisher. The result is, that not only is the work in question comparatively lost to the world of literature, but the author himself, disgusted with his failure, most probably resolves that he shall never again make his appearance in the republic of'letters. I am convinced that the flame of many a bright genius has by this means been extinguished, which otherwise would have shone on the world with great splendour.
And here I must remark, that both authors and literature are under the deepest obligations [-200-] to publishers. I do not mean to say that a publisher can put brains into a brainless author, or can make the hook intrinsically better than it is; but by his tact, his activity, and enterprise, he gives it an opportunity which it would never otherwise have had of being seen and read, and consequently of its merits, if it have any, being duly appreciated. So far, therefore, publishers have the making of authors, and so far they prove most efficient auxiliaries in the cause of literature. I hold that we are to a very great extent indebted to judicious publishers for many of the best and most popular works in modern literature. Had these works not made their appearance under the auspices of influential publishers, and been by them kept ingeniously and perseveringly before the public, their merits would have been but slightly known, and the books themselves consequently suffered to sleep in undisturbed oblivion on the shelf or in the warehouse. The authors, as a matter of course, would, as already hinted, shrink from a second [-201-] experiment on the literary discernment of the public, and fall back into that obscurity whence they had vainly endeavoured to emerge.
To establish my position still more clearly; suppose Sir Walter Scott, instead of selling the copyright of "Waverley, which everybody knows was his first novel, to the late enterprising and influential Mr. Constable, bad, like the gentlemen publishers of the present day, got it out on his own account, will any one who knows any thing of publishing maintain, that in that case "Waverley would have met with a tithe of the success it did meet with as the property of Mr. Constable? And if it had not succeeded, the illustrious author would never have written another novel; for he has expressly recorded, that it was put forward as an experiment on public taste, and that the circumstance of his proceeding in, or relinquishing for ever the new walk of fiction he had chalked out for himself, wholly depended on the reception which "Waverley should meet with. To Mr. Constable, therefore, and to the circumstance of his having bought the copyright [-202-] of that novel, we are in one sense as much indebted, as to the author himself, for the most splendid series of fictions which ever emanated from the human imagination. No one was more sensible of this than Sir Walter himself; and no one could have been more forward to acknowledge it. I myself have seen several such acknowledgments under his own hand, made spontaneously to persons with whom he was corresponding. What a number of other authors are under equal obligations, in the same respect, to their publishers ! I wish that they and the public were equally sensible of them.
From all I have said, it is demonstrably obvious, as already hinted, that the fortunes of literature are in a great measure in the hands of publishers. If their influence and respectability be not sustained and fostered by the confidence and liberality of authors, English literature must of necessity be a serious sufferer.
An arrangement is sometimes made between authors and publishers, which is a sort of medium between an author's publishing the [-203-] book on his own account, or disposing of it to a publisher. I allude to the practice of going half-and-half, as it is called. The parties agree that they shall equally share the losses, or divide the profits, or that the publisher take all the risk, just as the case happens. This has been found to work well, where the house is honourable, as it secures to the author the full benefit of the publisher's exertions. It has, besides, the recommendation of its being perfectly equitable. I have heard that Mrs. Jamieson's popular works have been all brought out in this way, very much to her satisfaction and advantage,
There is another arrangement between authors and publishers which has become very frequent of late. I refer to the practice of an author agreeing to let his publisher print a certain number of copies on certain terms; and in the event of the impression being got rid of, the copyright reverting to him. This is, perhaps, as fair an arrangement for both parties as could be made. If the publisher disposes of the edition, he is sure, from the terms he has made, [-204-] to have a fair profit; and it is optional for him to make a new arrangement with the author or not, just as he thinks the demand for the book is or is not likely to continue. If it be, then the author shares with his publisher the benefit of the proceeds from the new edition. It is on these terms that many of our most popular authors dispose of their works. The same kind of arrangement is becoming general among the most distinguished writers in France. Balzaac never consents to the publication of any of his works on any other terms. No price which a bookseller can offer, will induce him to part with the entire copyright of any of his productions.
Another arrangement which is4air and equitable to all parties, is that of an author agreeing to make the amount of his remuneration contingent on the sale of the work. Supposing, for example, it were deemed probable that a work would reach a sale of 1,250 copies, the author, according to the arrangement to which I refer, would consent to take a given sum, say 100l on the day of publication, and make another 100l [-205-] or 50l., according to the size and price of the book, contingent on the sale of 1,000 copies. The author, by such an arrangement, secures, as it is reasonable he should, a certain sum in return for his literary labours; while the publishers, by his consenting to make.the remainder of the price agreed on conditional on a certain amount of sale, are not exposed to the risk of losing so much by their enterprise, as if they had had to pay down the entire sum unconditionally and at once. I do think it unreasonable on the part of authors to decline coming to terms with publishers unless they get the amount of money they are willing to take paid to them, without regard to the success of the work. I think it is all that can be reasonably expected of publishers, that they should, in addition to incurring all the expenses of publication, which are heavy, make the author such an advance, without reference to the sale of the work, as affords him a fair remuneration for his labour. I often wonder how authors, especially those who are in easy circumstances, could have [-206-]any pleasure in getting large sums of money for their works, when aware that the publishers are serious losers by them. I have no notion of publishers having by far the greater share of the profits of a work, when an author has spun his brains to some purpose; but neither, on the other hand, do I think it fair or reasonable, that authors should exact such terms of them, after they run all the risk of publication, as will leave them but a trifling profit, should the work meet with the expected success, but which, in the event of its not reaching the anticipated sale, will leave them with a loss. My impression is, that the most equitable arrangement for both parties, is that which, in the event of the book meeting with the expected success, gives to each, nearly as may be, the same amount of profit.
I have often heard the question asked, of what number of copies does an edition of a work consist? There is no fixed number: the thing depends entirely on circumstances. There is, however, a kind of conventional understanding on the subject among the trade. What would [-207-] be considered a large edition of one book, would be considered a small one of another. For example; a thousand copies of any of the "Standard Novels, &c., which Mr. Colburn and Mr. Bentley are severally publishing, at five or six shillings each, would be considered a small edition; while the same number of copies of any of the works, when originally published in three volumes at a guinea and a-half, would have been considered a large edition. It is always assumed, that in proportion to the cheapness of a book, will be the extent of its sale; and vice versa. Of very expensive books, the edition often consists of only 250 copies. Five hundred copies of a work published at half-a-guinea or seven shillings and sixpence a volume, are con- considered a small edition: 750 copies of such works are considered a fair edition. That indeed is the number usually printed of novels, and other works of fiction, except where the great popularity of the author is supposed likely to carry off a larger impression. One thousand copies of such works, or of any works published at or about the same price, and containing a corres-[-208-]ponding quantity of matter, are regarded as forming a large edition.
The public are sometimes deceived as to the number of editions a book goes through. In various instances, a new title-page is printed, with the words "Second Edition, or "Third Edition, as the case may be, on it, while in point of fact a dozen copies perhaps, of the work has never been sold. I knew an instance last year in which a second edition of a half-guinea work was advertised, while in reality only nine or ten copies were sold. The object in such cases is to give the work a character, by conveying to the public mind an idea that it is in extensive demand. It is right, however, to mention, that not only are the majority of the respectable publishers incapable of practising such an imposition on the public themselves, but they will not be parties to it by allowing authors to practise it who have published their works with them by commission, in those cases where the words "second, " third, " fourth " or other edition, are seen in the title-page of any work which emanates from a respectable house, the fair pre-[-209-]sumption is, that the number making fair editions has been sold.
It is curious to reflect on the nature of the popularity of different works. Some rise into notice in the course of a few days, and are quite popular for a fortnight or three weeks, but after that time are never seen or heard of; they fall into as great oblivion as if they had never been published. The vast majority of our novels are among this class of works. No one ever thinks of purchasing a copy of any of these works, two or three months after its publication. The publisher, indeed, knows that if he do not obtain a remunerating sale within five or six weeks after their appearance he has made a bad speculation. What copies remain on hand after that time he Looks on as little better than waste paper. He would be glad to dispose of them at a sixth or seventh of the usual price, were it not that it would prove injurious to the sale of his other works.
Other works often take some time before they attain any degree of popularity; but when they [-210-] have done so, they usually retain it much longer. It is generally some time before works of a scientific, philosophical, or historical nature command a tolerable sale; but when they once get a hold on the public mind, they usually keep it for a length of time. The sale, however, even then, is seldom or never rapid; it is slow or gradual, but steady.
The history of literature and bookselling abounds with instances in which a work has fallen still-born from the press, and yet at some distance of time has been, by some accidental circumstance, restored from the dead, and become eventually a part of our standard literature. Milton's " Paradise Lost, as mentioned in my last chapter, is a case in point. It was wholly unknown until Addison, by his criticisms on it in the Spectator, brought its beauties before the public eye. Another striking instance of the same thing occurred in the case of Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield. It was, for some time after its appearance, so much literary lumber on the shelves of the bibliopole who [-211-] ushered it into existence. It dates its popularity from the accidental circumstance of Lord Chesterfield chancing to meet with it in the publisher's shop. His lordship was so struck with its merits, that he perseveringly recommended it to every person he met with, until it was fairly brought into notice. The only other instance I shall mention of the same thing, refers to a living author of great popularity. A good many years ago, he published a book in two octavo volumes, of an "Imaginary kind, which was, perhaps, for some time, one of the most striking bibliopolic failures on record; for within twelve months of the publication of the work, only three copies were sold. At the end of that time it was brought into notice by an elaborate and commendatory critique in the "Edinburgh Review. Other periodicals followed the example of the Northern Leviathan, and eventually the book attained an extensive sale, and is now the groundwork of the author's reputation.
The expenses of printing books are pretty much the same in all the respectable typographical [-212-] establishments in the metropolis. The usual charge for the paper and printing of 1000 copies of such a work as the present varies from 61. to 71. per sheet. This, of course, is exclusive of corrections: if the author makes any alterations on the proof sheets, when the work is going through the press, he or the publisher is charged according to their number or importance. The price of such a quality of paper as that on which this work is printed varies from twenty-six to thirty shillings per ream. Printing and paper, however, are not the only expenses incurred in the publication of a book. One very important item in those expenses is that of advertising. Unless a book be extensively advertised, there is little chance of its selling to any extent, whatever may be its merits. If a book command a fair sale without much advertising, there must be something extremely attractive in it. Some publishers are of opinion, that it were to incur an unnecessary expenditure of money to advertise a book which sells well without advertising. This is an error; for it will always be found, [-213-] that if a book sell well without advertising, it would have twice the sale if liberally advertised. No book is done any degree of justice to if not advertised to the extent of at least 801.; the sum usually expended by spirited publishers in advertising interesting books is about 1001. The best proof of the beneficial effects of advertising is to be found in the fact, that those houses which have once begun the practice of liberal advertising, invariably continue it. The amount of money which some of the larger houses expend in advertising their works in the course of the year, is little short of 5,0001.
A day or two before the publication of a work, some one connected with the house from which it emanates, goes round among the trade to show it them, and to receive, in a book kept for the purpose, the order for any number of copies which the various booksellers may be inclined to take. Messrs. Longman and Co. are always waited on first, as being the oldest established house in town. Messrs. Simpkin and Marshall, Messrs. Whittaker and Co., Messrs. Baldwin [-214-] and Cradock, Messrs. Sherwood and Co., Messrs. Hamilton and Co., Mr. James Duncan, and some other houses in the "Row, as Paternoster Row is always called, are then severally waited on. The number of copies which the different houses engage to take depends, of course, on the probable popularity of the book. Where the work is by an unknown author, the amount engaged for, or " subscribed, as it is technically called, is always small. It may be twenty- five, or fifty copies, according to the price and appearance of the book, and the nature of the subject. When, however, the new work is by a popular author, and is in the same walk of literature as that in which he has distinguished himself, the number subscribed is always large. Any new novel of Mr. Bulwer, for example, is sure to be ordered by the trade to a very great extent; perhaps to the extent of 1,500 or 1,800 copies. One of the largest subscriptions I have heard of for some years, of an expensive work, was that of one published in the winter of 1835. The number [-215-] ordered before the book was ready for delivery exceeded 2,000 copies. Paternoster Row is the great place on such occasions. Four or five copies of every book of importance are always sold there for every one in all the other parts of the metropolis put together. The large houses there supply the booksellers in other parts of the town, and the whole of the country, with every new book on the same terms as they would get it from the publishers, namely, at a reduction of twenty-five per cent. on the published price. The profit of the large houses in "the Row arises from an allowance of five per cent. additional, which the publishers make them, coupled with the gift of one copy of the work for every twenty-five they order.
There is another way in which new works are sometimes disposed of to the trade. An extensive publisher who has several books in the press, or ready for publication, invites the leading men among the trade, by means of printed circulars, to a dinner sale, as it is called, in a particular hotel, on a given day. The works which are ready are shown, and the [-216-] names of the authors, the subject, the price, &c. of those which are not, are mentioned. Placed by an excellent dinner and an abundant supply of the choicest wines, in that happy frame of mind which leads one to look on the sunny side of the picture, it is no wonder if the merits of the arious works are sometimes a little magnified, and the probable amount of the demand for them somewhat exaggerated. The principal reason for this method, however, is the selling a large quantity of books at once; and they are therefore on such occasions offered on very advantageous terms to the trade. The trade then put down their names for copies to be delivered when ready. Mr. Murray, and many others, do a great deal of business in this way. Mr. Murray has one great dinner of the kind every year, at which there are sometimes from one hundred to one hundred and fifty of the leading men in the trade. In the spring of last year, he sold new works, in one day, to the amount of nearly 20,0001. at one of these dinner sales.
The publishers and booksellers in the metro-[-217-]polis are very numerous. Perhaps the former, including those who only occasionally publish a small work or two, are about fifty in number. The number of the trade altogether, that is, including both publishers and booksellers, is estimated by Mr. Babbage, in his "Economy of Manufactures, at 4,000. As a body they are men of great intelligence; but as there are exceptions to every rule, so among the smaller booksellers there are several individuals who are by no means remarkable for the extent of their literary knowledge. I could give some amusing instances in proof of their ignorance of books and of literary men. When one of Dr. Wolcott's volumes of poems which, as everybody knows, were represented on the title-page as being the productions of "Peter Pindar", was in the course of being subscribed, the publisher, on submitting the work to one of the smaller booksellers, was accosted by the latter in these terms, and in a tone of serious indignation which heightened the ludicrousness of the reproof- I will take no copies of the [-218-] work; and you may rely on it, it never will sell. Mr. Pindar has been dead* (* The bibliopole had heard something of the Peter Pindar of ancient Greece) for more than one or two thousand years: he is quite forgotten now, and I think it was very foolish of you to disturb the poor man's bones. I don't like that sort of resurrection-work, and will have nothing to do with the book. When the new edition of Mr. Peter Cunningham's (son of Allan Cunningham) "Poems of Drummond of Hawthorn- den, was being subscribed, one of the same class of booksellers to whom the volume was submitted inquired of the publisher, whether this Henry Drummond of Hawthornden was any. relation of Henry Drummond the banker, adding, that if he was, he would take a couple of copies, as he was sure the private friends of the author would insure the sale of the book to a certain extent.
The observation of Shakspeare, that "there is a tide in the affairs of men," holds eminently true of authors. A name is everything to them. [-219-] Once an author has got a name-if Juliet had been an author she would never have asked What's in a name ? -it is his own fault in most cases if he do not make his way in the world. A popular writer, if he wish it, may dispose of his manuscript works to a publisher without the latter even seeing them. This, indeed, is often done. Nay more, surprising as it may seem, an author sometimes sells a work and receives the price for it too, before he has written a line of it; before, indeed, it has any other existence than in his own head. Sir Walter Scott in his anxiety to get the means of carrying into effect his darling improvements at Abbotsford, often got large sums of money in advance, on projected works from Mr. Constable, before a single line of the intended work was written. Mr. Constable often anticipated Sir Walter's wishes in this respect. I saw a short time since a letter from that gentleman to the author of Waverley, in which, in reference to an observation of the latter, that he was employed in a work, to be. in one volume, on [-220-] "Superstition and Witchcraft", Mr. Constable said, that if he thought 500l was sufficient for the copyright he might draw on him for that amount whenever he pleased. I may mention one other instance. A work by a well- known author having been very successful, and the publisher having met him one day at Brighton, he made him a handsome douceur, making the whole price he gave for his work 7501. Mr. S., after expressing his grateful sense of the publisher's liberality, expressed a hope they should soon have another transaction together of a similar kind. The publisher responded to the hope, and said Mr. S. should have the same terms for anything else he wrote. The author and bibliopole shook hands, and bade each other good morning. Mr. S. wrote several other works of fiction, and received the same terms for them. In Mr. S.'s case I do not suppose there was any necessity to pay the money, or any part of it, in advance; but several instances have come to my [-221-] knowledge, in which other publishers have in this way advanced several hundred pounds to improvident authors. It is a decidedly bad practice, and is sure, in the end, to lead to unpleasant differences between the parties. Publishers should set their faces against it: they are generally sufferers by it: so is literature. A book is never written so well where the author has received his money in advance and spent it. He has no pleasure in his labour, any more than the common mechanic who is working for a person to whom he is in debt. So far from regarding his task as a labour of love, he feels himself, for the time being, the slave of the publisher. Falstaff would do nothing on compulsion: the author in such a case feels his labour is nothing but compulsion; and he feels he must perform it, however reluctantly.
To be a popular author is not so enviable a distinction as most persons imagine. It has its pleasures, undoubtedly; but these are mingled with a large proportion of pains and penalties. [-222-] I will not specify these: they are too numerous for that. Suffice it to say that the repeated applications made to him to assist obscure authors, who are very numerous, and for the most part very poor, are not among the least. Let one of these be only introduced to a writer of celebrity and have a ten minutes' conversation with him, and, not content with boasting among all his acquaintances that the popular author is his particular friend, it is a thousand to one if he do not next day apply to him either for his subscription to some forthcoming work, or for the use of his influence with some publisher to get the applicant's book "brought; out. What is the "distinguished writer to do in the latter,-which is a most common case? If he decline in the most polite terms he can employ, to recommend the work to any publisher, the applicant's pride is wounded-for the poorer and more obscure the party, the greater is sure to be his pride-and he may expect to be heartily abused. If he do speak to a publisher, and prevail on him to go to [-223-] press, he becomes to all intents and purposes guilty of aiding and abetting the would-be- author, to pick the unfortunate bibliopole's pocket. Here is a dilemma for you. It is one in which literary men of distinction find themselves placed every day of their lives. Happily, in the great majority of cases, they prefer the alter- native of wounding the pride of the would-be- author, to that of becoming a party to an at- tempt on the pockets of the publisher. Did - they act otherwise, the result would he equally disastrous to literature and to publishers. As it is, we have literary trash enough of all sorts and in all shapes, as everybody knows; and - publishers are, for the most part, sufferers by their speculations to as great an extent as their worst enemies could wish: let authors of reputation only induce bibliopoles to publish all the works on whose behalf their services are solicited, and we should not only have a deluge of nonsense in the form both of poetry and prose, - such as the world never dreamed of; but in a few years there would not remain one of the existing [-224-] race of publishers; all of them would be involved in one common ruin. The bitter experience of many a bibliopole will cause him to respond to me when I say, that there are at present various writers who have entailed a world of mischief on publishers by using the influence they possess in consequence of their popularity, to force pure nonsense in the shape of manuscript, from would -be authors, down their throats. They do it thoughtlessly, to be sure; but the results are not on that account less injurious to the bibliopoles. I would not have the sins in this respect on my head, which some of our most celebrated writers have on theirs, for all the laurels which adorn their brows. But publishers are not, in such cases, the only parties injured: you commit, in most eases, an act of inhumanity towards the would-be-authors themselves. You seduce them, as I mentioned in my last chapter, from the occupations, whatever these may chance to be, by which they earned their bread; for, once give persons of this description reason to believe you think [-225-] them literary men, and there is no use of them afterwards. Ordinary labour is below their notice: they will not stoop to it. They must ever afterwards soar in the lofty regions of intellect; and nothing but the gravitating tendencies of poverty and neglect can bring them down again to the level of the earth. Thousands of young men have been ruined for ever in this way.
He who would do a humane and friendly turn to a poor person applying for his influence to get his book published, will, except in very extraordinary circumstances, advise him at once to give up all ideas of literary distinction, and devote his attention to his calling in life, be that calling what it may. If a shoemaker, urge him by all means to stick to his last: if a tailor, -though I doubt if literary aspirations be compatible with tailorifics-implore him to think of nothing but his goose; or, at all events, let such persons be advised, as Sir Walter Scott always advised them, as mentioned in my last chapter, when they applied in such circumstances [-226-] to him, - to make literature only an amusement for their leisure hours, never trusting to it for their daily bread.
Authors are often the mere creatures of circumstances. The most purely accidental matters have frequently decided the fate of some of the greatest literary geniuses which have ever appeared. History abounds with instances of literary men dating their success to circumstances which in themselves were of the most trifling and unimportant kind. I will not refer to any of these; but I may mention one which was lately communicated to me by a gentleman who was personally privy to it. All the extensive publishers have one or more gentlemen- literary men they are technically called-to whom they submit the manuscripts of such works as they themselves deem likely to command a remunerating sale. Publishers generally form their own opinion as to the attractiveness or otherwise of the subjects of the works offered them for publication; but they have not time, even were they always disposed to trust to their own judgment, [-227-] to read the manuscript so carefully, as to form an opinion of the merit of the literary execution. This, then, is the province of the gentlemen I have referred to as being in the employment of all the respectable houses. In the instance to which I refer, the publisher had two literary men in his employ for the purpose of reading the manuscripts offered him for publication. Some years since, a gentleman well known in the fashionable and military world, and who had in addition the magical appendage of an M.P. to his name, called on the bibliopole and begged to introduce to him a young gentleman, his friend. After the usual civilities had been exchanged, the latter stated the object of his visit was to see whether he and the bibliopole could come to any arrangement regarding the publication of a work which be had almost ready. Knowing that the young gentleman belonged to a respectable family residing in St. James's Square, and hearing him warmly eulogised for his literary taste by the gallant M.P. who introduced him, the bibliopole undertook the publication of the [-228-] work, and to give 2001. to the author without even seeing the manuscript. This was certainly an adventurous step on the part of the publisher, where the work was the author's maiden production. The author being in want of money, the bibliopole drew out a bill at once for the amount. In about a fortnight afterwards, the manuscript was sent to the publisher and he handed it over to one of his literary men, with a request that he would read it carefully and state his opinion of it; but without mentioning that he had already bought and paid for it. The gentleman called on the publisher some days afterwards, when the latter asked him whether he had read the manuscript.
"1 have gone through the first volume, * (*The work was a fashionable novel in three volumes.) said the literary gentleman.
"And what do you think of it ?" said the bibliopole, eagerly. "Favourably, I have no doubt.
"The greatest trash, without exception, I ever read," said the other.
[-229-] The vender of literature turned pale. He was quite confounded, and a few minutes elapsed before he was able to utter a word. "You don't mean to say it's so very bad," he at length stuttered out.
"It is, I assure you, the most consummate nonsense that ever soiled paper," observed the literary man.
The bibliopole rubbed his hands in an agony of mortification.
"But perhaps, though deficient in literary merit, it may display a knowledge of high life and consequently sell," he observed, after a momentary silence.
"A knowledge of high life !" exclaimed the other, making a wry face; "why, if we may judge from the style and sentiments of the work, the author knows no more about high life than if his occupation were to sweep the crossings. * (*In order that the judgment of these literary men may be unbiassed, the publishers always conceal the name of the author of the manuscript.)
The bibliopole thrust his hands into his small [-230-] clothes pockets, and made two or three hasty paces through the apartment.
"But you have not read the whole through: possibly if you finish the manuscript you may think better of it," said the patron of literature, as he loves to be considered.
"Read the whole through !" exclaimed the literary man, "why, I would not wade through the other two volumes for fifty pounds. It is, you may depend upon it, the most unadulterated nonsense that ever emanated from the human mind.
The bibliopole looked at a heap of papers which lay on the table, scratched his head, and then muttered out, "Well, bring me back the manuscript, if you please."
The literary man quitted the place, and the poor publisher was left to ruminate on the folly, as he now thought it, of buying a pig in a poke. He vowed in his own mind that he would never afterwards purchase any work of an unknown author, without first examining the manuscript. But what was to be done touching [-231-] the 2001.? The loss of the money haunted him like a spectre. While reproaching himself as the greatest fool in Christendom, his other "literary man chanced to drop in. A thought struck the bibliopole. "Good morning, Mr. Thompson."
"Good morning, sir," responded the other.
"A gentleman has promised to send me the manuscript of a fashionable novel Will you set to work and read it carefully through as soon as you can, and let me know your opinion of it."
"Certainly, said Mr. Thompson.
"I expect it here every minute, said the vender of literature. "I will send it to your house the moment it comes, as I am quite impatient to know what you think of it.
"It shall have my immediate and best attention, remarked Mr. Thompson.
The manuscript was forwarded to the latter, and carefully examined. His opinion of it was the very reverse of that of the other "literary man". He pronounced it the best work of fiction he had ever read, and assured the bibliopole he had [-232-] been entranced by it, and that it would create a great sensation among the higher classes, with whose habits the author manifested a most intimate acquaintance.
The patron of literature was now thrown into a state of utter perplexity. "Who shall decide when doctors differ ?" was a remark he had often heard before, but the full force of which he had never until now experienced in his own person. To lose his 2001. was an evil of no ordinary magnitude; but it would have been a less evil than the loss of 5001. or 6001. by printing and advertising a book which would not sell. If, therefore, both his "literary men had concurred in condemning the work, he would have consented to the loss of his 2001., on the principle of choosing the least of two evils. Here, however, their opinions as to the merits of the book were the very antipodes of each other. If the judgment of the first literary man were correct, the loss incurred by the publication would be enormous; if that of the other were sound, the bibliopole must make a little fortune by the [-233-] work. To what decision, then, was the perplexed publisher to come? He waddled through the room, -knit his brow, and heaved two or three broken sighs, as he thought of the dilemma in which he was placed. He had often experienced the sorrows of a publisher before; but here were sorrows of a new class, or, to use his own words, a "new series. He thought with himself that if the unknown poet who begins his touching lines, "Pity the sorrows of a poor old man!" had been alive at the time, and been aware of his distressing perplexity, he would have made it- Pity the sorrows of a bibliopole!" While in this pitiable state, an acquaintance of mine who was in the confidence of the publisher, chanced to call on him. "O, Mr. Thomas, I'm so glad you're come !" he exclaimed as the other entered his room.
"What's the matter ?" said the latter.
"O these two rascals of readers ! (another of his terms,) what a couple of vagabonds they are! he answered.
[-234-] "What have they done ?" inquired Mr. Thomas.
"Why, the one pronounces a fashionable novel I have given him to read to be the most arrant trash ever penned, and says the author knows nothing of fashionable life; while the other represents the work as the best he ever read, and says the writer displays a most intimate acquaintance with the habits of the higher classes."
"Well, that is differing with a vengeance, certainly !" said Mr. Thomas.
"It is, indeed, observed the literary merchant; "and what am I to do between the two rogues ?"
"Stop a moment, said Mr. Thomas, putting his hand to his head, and looking thoughtfully. "Stop a moment! I think I know how you may decide at once as to whose judgment is to be relied on."
"By what means can I decide the point ?" said the bibliopole eagerly, his little countenance brightening up as he spoke.
[-235-] "Of course you know the author ?" said Mr. Thomas.
"O yes, certainly, replied the perplexed publisher.
"Then you must know whether he be a man accustomed to move in the higher circles of society; and as the one literary man affirms that he knows nothing of the manners of the upper classes, while the other says he evinces a most intimate acquaintance with fashionable life, the fair presumption is that the one who is right as to that point, is also right as to the literary merits of the work."
"Bless me! I never thought of that," said the publisher, overjoyed at the discovery of Mr. Thomas, and amazed at his own stupidity in not having made it himself.
The literary man who pronounced the work to be one of transcendent merit, having been the party who expressed his conviction that the writer was in the habit of mixing with the upper classes of society, the bibliopole, of course, at once determined on publication. The work ap-[-236-]peared; it made a great noise, and the author is now one of the most popular writers of the day.
In this anecdote we have a remarkable proof of the position for the illustration of which I have told it; the position, namely, that circumstances, purely accidental, and of the most trifling nature in themselves, are often decisive of the fate of authors. But for the accidental circumstance of the writer having got the 2001. before the manuscript was read by the bibliopole's literary man, the work would most certainly have been rejected; for the publisher would never have dreamed in that case, of asking the opinion of the second "reader. And as the bibliopole in question chanced to be at that time the only publisher of fashionable novels, the probability is that it would never have been published at all, and the author might therefore have abjured literature entirely and for ever.
Another singularly striking illustration of the influence which accidental circumstances of the most trivial nature, have on the fortunes of [-237-] authors, occurred in the case of Sir Walter Scott. His "Waverley having been represented as not likely to sell by a party to whom it was submitted, it had lain five years in manuscript in a drawer, quite forgotten by him; and it was not until he one day stumbled on it, while looking for some fishing-tackle, that the idea of trying to get a publisher for it occurred to him. But for the trifling circumstance of Sir Walter, then Mr. Scott, having resolved on going out to fish on a certain day, the probability is his name would never have been heard of as a novelist; he had never published a page of that splendid series of works of fiction which has afforded so much intellectual enjoyment to the world. That many other distinguished literary geniuses have been lost to mankind through accidental circumstances preventing their being fairly brought before the public, is a fact of which no doubt can be entertained.
It is a curious reflection, but an undoubted truth, that so different is the mental temperament of different individuals, that what would for ever [-238-] crush one's aspirations as an author, is the very thing which would call forth another's latent powers in all their force. Had some authors been treated, on the appearance of their maiden production as Byron was by the "Edinburgh Review, they would have shrunk from the very idea of any future publication; whereas, the furious attack in question was the very thing which called into full exercise the gigantic powers of that extraordinary genius. Had the "Edinburgh Review allowed "The Hours of Idleness to pass unnoticed, the probability was, the little work would have sunk into oblivion, and Byron might never have made a second attempt at authorship.
There are two or three houses in the publishing trade which, in their dealings with authors, afford a remarkable illustration of Pope's celebrated couplet-
" Tis from high life, high characters are drawn;
A saint in crape, is twice a saint in lawn."
The houses to which I refer evince a marked predilection for the writings of noblemen and [-239-] persons of title. One of our Annuals, a few years since, prided itself on the circumstance of almost all its articles being written by individuals of rank,-just as if rank and talent were synonymous terms. The fortunes of the Annual in question rectified this erroneous impression; and the houses to which I refer have also learned from experience that a high status in society and a high status in literature are very different things. One publisher was, some years since, provokingly tantalised by a noble author, as well as doomed to be a serious sufferer in purse by his confounding literary merit with exalted rank. Lord Orton called one day on an enterprising bibliopole, and was shown into the sanctum of the latter. "I have come, Mr. Monthly, to see if we can make any arrangement about a book I mean to publish, said his lordship.
The little countenance of the bibliopole brightened up at the very idea of "having the honour to usher into the world, as he used afterwards to say in his advertisements of the book, a work by a nobleman.
[-240-] "I shall be most happy to be your publisher, my lord," said the patron of literature.
"But you have not heard the subject yet, Mr. Monthly," said the noble lord.
"No matter what subject, my lord," answered Mr. Monthly; "anything from your pen and with your name is sure to take."
"You flatter me," observed his lordship.
"Not at all, I assure your lordship," said Mr. Monthly, making one of his own peculiar bows, and moving both his arms and both his feet at the same time.
"The subject is the late war."
"My lord," exclaimed Mr. Monthly, almost leaping off his feet in the ardour of his congratulations of the noble author at his choice of a subject; "My lord, it is an excellent subject- there could not be a better: it is the best in the world."
"But I expect a very large sum for the manuscript, Mr. Monthly."
"My lord, I shall have the greatest pleasure, [-241-] I assure your lordship, in giving you any reasonable sum," said the bibliopole.
"The work will be in two large octavo volumes, and I expect 1,500l. for the copyright."
"Fifteen hundred pounds! my lord, exclaimed Mr. Monthly, in a subdued tone, and with an altered expression of countenance, "Fifteen hundred pounds! That is a large sum, my lord;" but, he continued, after a moment's hesitation, "but you shall have it, as I doubt not the work, with your lordship's name on the title- page, will have a large sale."
"Then I'll send my solicitor here to-morrow, to draw up a written agreement," said his lordship.
"Very good, my lord, I shall be happy to see him."
"Good morning, Mr. Monthly," said his lordship, as he quitted the sanctum.
"I wish your Lordship a very good morning," said the bibliopole, making one of his lowest and best bows.
Next day his lordship's solicitor called on the [-242-] publisher and got the agreement duly ratified. Mr. Monthly having first signed the paper, and then put his bills for the 1,500l into the legal gentleman's hand, said, "Now, sir, perhaps you will favour me with his lordship's manuscript, that we may go to press directly.
"The manuscript !" exclaimed the solicitor, with infinite amazement. "The manuscript! why, did not his lordship tell you that he had not yet put pen to paper ?"
Mr. Monthly turned as pale as the unsoiled margin of his own books, and with difficulty resisted an undefinable tendency to fall back in the chair from which he had just arisen to pay his respects to his lordship's man of business.
"I understood," said the disappointed bibliopole, as soon as he was competent to the utterance of a syllable, "I understood the manuscript was quite ready.
"That is a slight mistake," said the man of law. "It is all, as yet, snug enough in his lordship's head."
[-243-] "This is a very awkward affair, sir, said Mr. Monthly. "This is a grievous disappointment to me, sir," he added.
"Well, the only thing that can be now done, I suppose, will be to spur his lordship on as much as possible."
"But how long may he take to finish it? inquired the bibliopole.
"That I cannot say," answered the solicitor.
Mr. Monthly scratched his head, and lifted up and threw down again two or three proof- sheets which lay on the table.
"I shall tell his Lordship you are very anxious about the manuscript," said the solicitor, taking up his hat in his hand.
"I beg- I beg you will, sir; very impatient about it, indeed, sir," remarked Mr. Monthly.
"Good morning," said the legal gentleman, as he quitted the place.
Mr. Monthly was so overcome with disappointment and mortification, that it was with difficulty he muttered out a "good morning" in return.
[-244-] Next day a note was sent to Mr. Monthly from the embryo noble author, requesting that he would send him all the works he had on the late war. The note was delivered by a friend of the noble lord who, it was stated, would wait for an answer.
"What! What! What's the meaning of this ?" said the bjbliopole, his face colouring as he read the letter.
"His lordship wants all the works you have got on the war," answered the bearer of the letter.
"I have not got a single volume on the subject. I never published anything on the subject," said Mr. Monthly, in hurried, half-pronounced accents.
"Well, then, you must get them from some one else," said the other, with provoking coolness.
"What does his lordship mean to do with them ?" inquired the confounded bibliopole, eagerly.
"Why to write his book, to be sure !" was the reply.
I shall not attempt to describe "the confusion [-245-] worse confounded" which followed. Mr. Monthly had expected the volumes were to consist entirely of the author's own personal observations and official documents.
However, the bargain was made and the money had been paid, and he could not now help himself. It was a bad bargain, and as the proverb says, he felt he "must now make the best of it". He had committed a greater folly than that of buying a pig in a poke; he had bought the pig before it was in a poke, or anywhere else- before it had an existence,-unless, indeed, it could be said to have existed in the noble author's head.
Mr. Monthly accordingly collected all the books - he could find on the subject of the war, and sent them up in a truck to the noble author's residence in May Fair. The noble lord handed them over, with all the official documents in his possession, together with some personal reminiscences, to a literary friend, and desired him to write the book. It was six months, however, before this was done; and several other [-246-] works having in the interim appeared on the subject, taken in conjunction with the specific gravity, as a chemist would say, of the work itself, it was such a decided failure that Mr. Monthly would have been a considerable loser by it, even though, instead of giving 1,5001. for the copyright, he had got it for nothing.
As still further illustrating the position with which I set out, namely, the importance which one or two publishers attach to the author's station in society, I may mention that, much about the same time as that at which the above transaction with the noble lord took place, a person called on the same publisher with a great quantity of manuscript, consisting of anecdotes of the most celebrated wits of the latter part of the last and beginning of the present century. The manuscript was carried in to the bibliopole, who was in his sanctum, by a friend with whom he used to advise on such matters,-while the author who had brought it stood in the front premises. Mr. Monthly glanced it over, and saw at once that it was admirably adapted for a periodical [-247-] in whose destinies he was deeply interested. "What does he ask for it ?" said the bibliopole to his friend.
"He has not named his price, but I have no doubt from his appearance that he would be glad to take twenty pounds," was the answer.
"Oh, he is a poor fellow, is he ?" inquired Mr. Monthly, eagerly, at the same time rising and taking a glance at the party through a small loop-hole in the partition.
"He is evidently hard up," said the other.
"Oh, that poor fellow will be glad to take anything he can get; try him with 2l." said the bibliopole, as he withdrew his eye from the loophole.
Two pounds were offered the poor fellow. He stated it was a great deal too little; but after hesitating for a moment or two, he said he must take it.
Authors may learn an important lesson from this anecdote, which is only one among many others of a similar kind I could tell. That lesson is, the importance of having, if possible, a good [-248-] coat on their backs when about to negotiate with some publisher for the sale of their literary works. I would advise authors, in such circumstances, who may not happen to have a good coat of their own, not certainly to steal one, but by all means to beg or borrow so useful an article before making their appearance in the sanctum of a publisher.
Some of the leading publishers often act on a principle which is injudicious for themselves and injurious to literature. I allude to the practice which is common to several respectable houses, of accepting the manuscript of an author, when they are perfectly convinced in their own minds that there is no probability whatever of the work commanding a sale which will do more than pay the expenses. In many such cases they, as might be expected, over-estimate rather than under-estimate the sale of the work, and are consequently losers to the extent to which the sale falls short of their expectations. But even where their expectations are realised, and the work barely pays the expenses, they are indi-[-249-]rectly losers by the speculation. Such works, however limited their sale, withdraw in a greater or less degree the public attention from books of real merit, and lessen the demand for them. The wisest course, therefore, for publishers to pursue, even regarding the question as one of mere business only, would be, never to undertake the publication of works for which they do not anticipate such a sale as will yield themselves a fair remuneration. By this means they would be enabled to pay more attention to those works of merit which hold out the prospect of a liberal sale and reasonable profits; and thus, by pushing the sale of such books, they would, in that proportion, be adding to their own profits. It is true, that a publisher may form an exaggerated estimate of the merits of a work, and of its consequent sale. To such cases my observations do not apply; they apply only in those instances in which a house undertakes the publication of a work,. with the full persuasion on their own minds that it will barely pay its expenses. How [-250-] far literature suffers from this practice, I will not take upon me to say.
There is another error into which I think some of the leading publishing houses fall. It is an error which arises from a spirit of misdirected rivalry, and entails suffering on all parties. My allusion is to the practice which has been so common of late years among the leading houses, of bringing out important works as nearly as they can about the same time. If one house sees a rival establishment announce a work which promises to be popular, at a given time, such house very often makes a point of either delaying or accelerating, according to circumstances, some important work of which it may have undertaken the publication,-so as that it may appear about the same time as the other. I have often known three, sometimes four, interesting works brought out within a few days of each other, solely from this spirit of rivalry. The consequence is, that the public attention being distracted between [-251-] them, they all suffer to a greater or less extent; whereas, if an interval of a few weeks had taken place in the publication, the public attention could have been exclusively given for a short time to each, and thus greatly increased the sale of all. I say nothing of the extent to which literature suffers from this injudicious rivalry among publishers; because that, strictly speaking, is no matter for their consideration. I put the question wholly on the broad ground of business. I may be told that the number of books which are published in the course of a year is so great that two or three, from rival houses, must necessarily appear more or less frequently at a time. In answer to this, Let me remark, that my observations do not apply to books taken in the mass; they have a reference only to works whose interest and popularity are in some degree guaranteed by the name of the author; and these assuredly are not so numerous that an interval of two or three weeks could not be suffered to pass, by a little arrangement, between their respective publica-[-252-]tions. I would throw it out as a suggestion to publishers, whether it would not be advisable, viewed merely as a matter affecting their own pecuniary interests, to come to some understanding with each other on the subject.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]