An Interlude with Smith, Elder and Company
here Bradbury and Evans had been casual about contracts and nonexclusive in its "proprietorship" of the author, Smith did business another way. Thackeray had first met George Smith in November 1849, when the publisher invited the author to meet Charlotte Brontë at the publisher's home. Smith already had a long-standing admiration for Thackeray,22 and [85/86] no doubt on this occasion expressed a willingness to entertain a proposal from Thackeray. Had such an offer come earlier, Thackeray might have jumped at the chance, but having spent years importuning and cajoling publishers, he found himself suddenly in 1849 all but overcommitted. To his friend Mrs. Sartoris he confided one year later the frustration of having too many deadlines: "My young one said to me just now Papa how will you get through your plates and your Punch and your Xmas book and your Pendennis? 'Why do you ask me that question? says I, flinging out of their school room. I've been writing all day" [Letters 2: 701).
It is not clear how early George Smith decided to make Thackeray "his author" and build a part of his publishing empire on Thackeray's works. From the way he originally approached Thackeray for Henry Esmond and the Lectures on the English Humourists, it is evident he had something of the sort in mind by 1851, but he may have thought of it earlier. He responded eagerly to Thackeray's offer of The Kickleburys on the Rhine in August 1850, paying the whole amount asked, £150, four months before publication and then sending a bonus £50, apparently unasked, when the whole edition sold out immediately. Thackeray was unused to that kind of treatment from Chapman and Hall and Bradbury and Evans.
Thackeray finished Pendennis at the end of November 1850 and saw Kickleburys through the press in December; he then turned his attention immediately to reading for The English Humourists, which he projected for a lecture tour in America. He spent January with his family in Paris. There is no evidence to suggest what schemes Thackeray may have discussed with publishers in the first half of 1851, but he began delivering the lectures in London on May 13. It seems fair, therefore, to conjecture that he was concentrating on the lectures and as yet was only thinking about his next novel, which he had mentioned without name in late November: "I've got a better subject for a novel than any I've had yet" [Letters 2: 708). In a January 1851 letter he referred to the novel as "a story biling up in my interior, in wh. there shall appear some very good lofty and generous people" [Letters 2: 736).
With the lectures scheduled to complete their first run on July 3, Thackeray was quite ready to commit himself to his next project, and he signed for Esmond with George Smith on June 27. Thackeray's daughter Lady Ritchie later gave an account of the author and publisher's agreement for Esmond: "One day my father came in, in great excitement. 'There is a [86/87] young fellow just come,' said he; 'he has brought a thousand pounds in his pocket. He has made me an offer for my book, it's the most spirited, handsome offer, I scarcely like to take him at his word; he's hardly more than a boy, his name is George Smith" [Smith, Memoirs, p. 130; quoted by Huxley, p. 69 and in Letters 2: 804]. No date is given for this supposed occurrence, but if the tale is accurate in its details, it cannot have taken place in 1851. Thackeray had met Smith too many times already, had dined at the publisher's house in 1849, and had entertained Smith and Brontë at his own home with his daughters in 1850, a year before signing the contract for Esmond [Letters 2: 673)24. When, in November 1849, Smith first invited Thackeray to his home, the two men had never met before. One can only conclude that this meeting took place in November 1849 and that Smith offered to publish a book, probably a three-decker, for £1,000 at the same time that he invited Thackeray to dinner. The alternatives are to believe that the episode never happened or that the account of it is totally distorted25.
George Smith's own account, written years after the event, states that Thackeray "had mentioned the work to me and I had expressed my anxiety to publish it. 'But I shall want four figures for it,' said Thackeray. This proved no obstacle."[Smith, Recollections, vol. 1, chap. 10, p. 6, quoted by Harden, Esmond, pp. 80-81). The two accounts from recollection appear contradictory, but they obviously refer to two occasions separated by nearly two years, Anne Thackeray recalling an event in November 1849 and Smith recalling another, probably in May or June 1851. Thackeray dined at Smith's home, again in company with Charlotte Brontë, on 13 June 1851 [Letters 2: 784), and there must have been many other opportune moments for the exchange Smith recalled.
In November 1849 the author was in no position to respond to an offer from Smith —he was just recovering from a nearly fatal illness, he had half of Pendennis yet to write, and he was busy with Rebecca and Rowena (already committed to Chapman and Hall) and the joint project with Louis [87/88] Marvy on English landscape painters (already committed to Hugh Cunningham). The next project Thackeray was free to offer Smith was Kickleburys — which he first felt obliged to offer to Chapman, who fortunately declined it. Doubtless Smith's earlier magnificent offer lingered in Thackeray's memory as Henry Esmond's story was "biling up in [his] interior" in the spring of 1851.
Thackeray did not receive a £1,000 advance for Esmond. The contract indicates his advance was £400. He signed the contract on 27 June 1851, at first agreeing to submit the completed manuscript for a three-decker novel on the first of November. (Thackeray had tried to lock himself into that kind of agreement before.) The word "November" was canceled in the contract and "December" substituted probably at the time Thackeray signed it; later postponements of the due date are not reflected in further changes in the contract. Upon submission of the manuscript, Thackeray was to receive £400 more, and on publication he would get a final £400, for a total of £1,200. Smith was to get the entire profits from the first edition, which was not to exceed 2,750 copies.
Smith must have thought Thackeray could produce a three-decker from scratch in six months; further, Smith believed he could produce and publish one in two months, for in October he announced that the novel would appear in January 1852 [advertised in Publisher's Circular, as noted by Sutherland, Novelists, p. 108]. Thackeray had not meant to relax his writing pace in spite of the windfall income from the lectures. On 9 October he wrote to Dr. John Brown that he intended to invest his lecture income and not "touch the proceeds of the lectures myself (beyond actual travelling charges).... In order to [achieve] this end you see I must work as if nothing had happened, and am under stringent engagements to write a novel" [Letters 2: 804). But Thackeray was unable to lecture and write at the same time, and he apparently was already lagging behind in writing the book (though he did not immediately inform Smith), for in the same month, Thackeray wrote to the Tauchnitz firm saying publication would take place not in January as Smith had advertised but in February [Letters 2: 806). On to November he was hoping to finish Esmond by the end of January [Letters 2:810). But then on 26 December, Thackeray, who had been delivering his lectures all fall in Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, wrote the inevitable plaintive letter to Smith: "I have so far bad news to give you that I have not advanced 5 pages whilst I was in Edinburgh, It was impossible to write. And if it doesn't interfere with your plans much I am [88/89] glad of the delay —Every month is of importance toward effecting a cure of a complaint wh. would have made the book dismal & a failure." [NLS] At about this same time, Thackeray resigned from Punch [Letters 2: 823). Delay followed delay, and Thackeray finally finished the manuscript on 29 May 1852, five months over schedule.
Smith's estimate of the time it would take to publish the novel was also quite unrealistic. It was not, however, from inexperience in publishing three-deckers, but from his inexperience in publishing books requiring special old-fashioned type. According to Eyre Crowe, the delays in getting proofs to Thackeray were the result of insufficient type stock, which meant that the type used to print the first part of the book had to be cleaned and distributed for use in subsequent parts of the book [Crowe, p. 7). No one has determined how much type was involved or how large a part of the book could be printed at once, but Thackeray received proofs in portions approximately 100 pages long at weekly intervals from 15 August through 13 October [Letters 3: 69, 72, 661).
It seems fairly clear that Smith was anxious to get Thackeray to write for him. Further, it is clear that though young, Smith was no boy. He began publishing on his own within his father's firm at nineteen in 1846 and took over his father's work completely in 1848. He soon discovered his former mentor and partner, Patrick Stewart, to have embezzled approximately £30,000 from the firm. By 1851 Smith was a very mature young man, whose overload of work apparently showed in his thin face but not in his business relations, which were thriving30. Nevertheless, that early business catastrophe must have had its influence on the contract for Esmond, which is cautiously protective of the publisher's rights. In addition to the stipulations concerning manuscript submission, the contract specifies that Thackeray "will not print or publish any serial or other work within six months of the date of publication of the above mentioned work" (NLS; see Appendix A). No other publisher is known to have exacted such a promise from Thackeray. Had the prohibition been levied at any earlier point in his career, Thackeray would have either worked [89/90] night and day on the novel or starved. The contract seems to mean primarily that Thackeray should not undertake any large work after accepting the £400 advance, but it may have meant he was to cease all other publications. Lending support to the latter view is the fact that Thackeray did not publish anything in 1852 except Henry Esmond.
John Sutherland has concluded that "altogether Thackeray was led by the terms of his arrangement for Esmond to do two things which were unusual for him personally and the Victorian novelist generally. These were to think in terms of 'plans' for his career, and to pay attention to the completeness of the work in hand." [Sutherland, Novelist, p. 111) He contrasted this work with Vanity Fair, which he assumed was under threat of termination at any time if the publisher thought it unsuccessful (thus rendering long-term plans by Thackeray for the book less likely), and with Pendennis, which was extended from twenty to twenty-four numbers in midstream. Edgar Harden assessed the matter similarly: "Thackeray was committing himself to a dual task he had never undertaken before — both completing a novel before publication and, by implication, working on it more or less exclusively." ["Introduction," p. 394) These assessments seem only partially correct. In June 1851, as Thackeray was signing this commitment and collecting the first installment of £400, he was also putting away £500 in earnings from the first round of London lectures [Ray, Wisdom, p. 168). He planned to repeat his lectures in the fall in England and Scotland and intended to take them to America in the new year. His check from Bradbury and Evans for profit sharing in Pendennis had come in May (£66), and he must have sincerely believed he could finish Henry Esmond by December and collect the next £400 of the purchase price. In fact, if Thackeray and Smith could have fulfilled the schedule they imagined the contract called for — submission of the manuscript on 1 December and publication in January 1852 — Thackeray would have made £1,200 in eight months, or £50 per month, £50 a month more than Bradbury and Evans had paid for Pendennis34. In addition, far from [90/91] committing him to exclusive attention to Esmond, the contract left him free to pursue the lecture circuit, which he called "the easiest and most profitable business" he had ever done [Ray, Wisdom, p. 169). Furthermore, he continued sporadic contributions to Punch through September 1851, slowing down his contribution rate at least as much because of a growing alienation from the political stance of the magazine as because of the pressure of time caused by concentrating on Esmond. He resigned from Punch in December 1851 primarily because of political disagreements, not pressure from George Smith or stipulations in the contract for Esmond.
So, on 27 June as he signed the contract, it must have appeared to Thackeray the most lucrative arrangement of his blossoming career. Since, however, neither Thackeray nor Smith was able to meet his projected deadlines, sixteen months elapsed between the first and third payments, making Thackeray's effective income from Esmond £75 per month. Yet, that can have had little to do with Thackeray's attitude toward the book while writing it, since he could not have anticipated the delays of the production process and since his own delays were caused by his being busy making relatively easy money lecturing. In addition, it is probable that the thing that most put Thackeray off from his proposed schedule on Esmond was the traumatic rupture in his relations with the Brookfields in September 1851. Briefly, in August Thackeray's long but apparently platonic affair with Jane Octavia Brookfield led to or exacerbated an argument between Jane and her husband William, one of Thackeray's college friends. On or about 22 September, Brookfield forbade Thackeray to visit his home again [Letters 4: 428). That was most likely the complaint needing time to cure to which he referred in his December letter to Smith asking for an extension.
It is not clear from the contract precisely which six months were intended as the period during which Thackeray should not "print or publish," but it really did not matter. The lecture circuit, with its necessary social obligations, kept Thackeray too busy to write anything else. It remains a matter of critical controversy whether the mode of production stipulated by the contract for Esmond and the differences in schedules and work rhythms between serial publication and three-decker novels significantly influenced the style, tone, structure, or meaning of the novel. [91/92]
Esmond was submitted to the publisher in May 1852 and was published in October just as Thackeray sailed on his long-delayed tour to America. He had already made approximately £2,500 from the lectures in England; he would make that much and more in America. There is nothing to suggest that Thackeray was in any way dissatisfied with his new publisher. His next book, the lectures themselves, went to the same firm.
It is interesting to see the remarkable difference between Thackeray's relations with George Smith and with any previous publisher. In every other relationship to date, Thackeray had been dependent on the current work for financial solvency. For the most part his publishers were not much better off, unable or unwilling, in any case, to brook many delays or leave advances unrecovered for long. With Smith in 1851-52, author and publisher were both engaged in an enterprise that could be delayed, improved, and embellished because neither was financially dependent on a quick return. It is no wonder they got on well. Surely that fact went into the decision to print the book in Queen Anne-style type font, a decision that delayed publication but apparently did not frazzle any nerves.
A further indication of Smith's desire to keep Thackeray as his author and of Thackeray's contentedness to be courted by Smith can be seen in a contract they signed on 3 June 1852, one week after Thackeray finished writing Esmond, for a Continental travel book the size of From Cornhill to Grand Cairo (i.e., about 40,000 words, less than half the size of The Irish Sketch-Book). The plan was to do the work in four months, and Thackeray left for the continent a week and a half later. Smith gave Thackeray £200 on the spot as an advance. Had Thackeray not lost half of the money when his purse was stolen a few days later and had he actually written the book, it would have been published under a most liberal and innovative contract. Although the contract specifies that the book would be like the Eastern book, "containing no less matter" than that one, the rest of the agreement tacitly acknowledged that whatever Thackeray came back with would have to do, for it specifies that upon the manuscript "being placed in the hands of Smith Elder & Co an estimate is to be made by them of the cost of printing, paper, engraving, binding, advertising and other necessary expenses" (NLS; see Appendix A). In other words, both parties would have to wait and see what turned up before any hard figures could be determined. Then, "the above mentioned estimate being made up, Smith Elder & Co are to pay Mr Thackeray the difference between the amount of Four Sevenths of the estimated profit of the First edition & the Two Hundred Pounds already received by him." Both men knew that if the book was not [92/93] done by the time Thackeray sailed to America in October, it probably would not get done. Here was a contract in favor of the author. He was allowed to bring in a manuscript that might not exactly conform to the specified goal, he was given a substantial advance, and he was to be paid a share of estimated, not realized, profits. Furthermore, his share, four-sevenths, was higher than anything he had been offered to date. There are some safeguards for the publisher, but on the whole this remarkable contract reflected Thackeray's power and George Smith's trust in it. Unfortunately, the book was never written, and Thackeray lived under the cloud (not an ominous one) of his debt to Smith until the 1854 publication of The Rose and the Ring.
Why that debt lingered unpaid until 1854 is not at all clear, for when the first edition of Esmond sold out in less than two months, a second was published and produced £101 profits each for author and publisher within six months, and The English Humourists was published in the spring of 1851, likewise producing profits — Thackeray's first share coming to just over £190, Thackeray, however, remained under the impression that the £200 advance for the travel book was overlooked and unpaid, so on 28 August 1854 he asked Smith to take £150 of it out of the fee for The Rose and the Ring (NLS). But the ledger accounts for that book do not show any charge against it for back debts. There is, however, a charge for £200 "cash on account" in a statement of accounts to Thackeray for 1852-53, which covers some transactions in the period for which ledgers no longer exists [MS owned by Gordon Ray, now at the Pierpont Morgan Library]. It seems possible that Smith did not dun Thackeray because the debt was already paid. In the statement of accounts for 1853, Smith indicated that he still owed Thackeray over £75 in their various dealings (i.e. not specifically attributable to any one book).
George Smith gained a reputation for being a careful and shrewd, though also generous, businessman. At age twenty-two he took an established business that was severely rocked by an embezzler and turned it into a thriving concern, and he launched a publishing business that fostered some of England's best writing talents. He is famous for the advances and payments he made to authors; and, as with Esmond, he spelled out fairly detailed terms in his contracts, And yet one wonders why no contracts survive for three books he published by Thackeray: The Kickleburys, The English Humourists, and The Rose and the Ring. The publishing arrangements for these books are accessible through letters and the ledger books; they show the precision of Smith's professional dealings, and they show [93/94] him scrupulously honest with his author. It is hardly surprising that there seems to be only one story of a good but disgruntled author leaving Smith, as they always left Newby, Bentley, Colburn, and even Chapman and Hall and Bradbury and Evans, with feelings of suspicion and anger38.
The Kickleburys was a success, requiring and getting a second edition within two weeks of first publication. The surviving ledger accounts for that book begin in 1853 when only 236 copies of the second edition remained unsold. Thackeray made at least £200 off the first edition; his share for the second edition is unknown. Smith presumably made an equal amount for himself.
For the English Humourists there is no surviving record of agreement. On 21 October, just ten days before sailing to America, Thackeray wrote Smith in such a way as to indicate that an agreement for the publication of the lectures had already been made: "Whatever the notes may be to the Lectures; the Text may be printed at once & in a large type say, to wh. the notes could be afterwards subjoined. I write to Mr. Hannay by this day's post, who knows the Lectures, & is conversant with the literature of the period; & I should be very glad if he could help me" (NLS). In fact, the notes were done by James Hannay who, according to a statement of accounts to Thackeray made out in 1853 by George Smith, received £40 for his services. The same accounting makes it possible to figure out the main features of the agreement. A first printing of 2,500 copies was made in February 1853 at a total cost of just over £445. All but 97 copies had been disposed of by July 1853, netting £333.11.3 in profits. Thackeray got four-sevenths and Smith three-sevenths, making Thackeray's portion £190.11.8. There was apparently no advance, unless Smith's reference to £200 cash in his account to Thackeray of his income in 1852-53 was an advance for the English Humourists and not for the travel book.
Publication of The English Humourists did not go smoothly. In January Thackeray wrote from New York to say haste in publication was unnecessary to forestall piracy, for he had closed a deal with Harper and Brothers, the "chief buccaneers," for publication in America; consequently, he wanted a chance to read over proofs for the English edition and to make changes and corrections — no doubt a result of his continuing to tinker with the lectures as he gave them (NLS). This request was ignored or came [94/95] too late, for the book with Hannay's notes was printed and a prepublication copy sent to Thackeray in April.39 He responded in a tone of irritation: "I have not had leisure to look carefully through the Lectures; but am sorry to say I have seen faults enough already in glancing through the pages to make me wish that they had not been printed without my supervision. One page (193) contains a blunder of my own making, wh. will require the cancelling of the sheet; & I shall send you a list of errata by the next packet." The letter actually goes on to four pages and the errata list is included: " —for Almanza: read: —Barcelona: at page 193. line 14. —that page must be cancelled & the sheet likewise if necessary.40 The book must on no account be published with such an error." [NLS] Upon his return to London in May, he wrote Smith again:
It is heart-breaking to read the blunders through the volume: and I am sure it would be more creditable to cancel it all than to let it go forth with all these errors.
If you insist however —the errors marked on the next page must be amended and we must leave the rest to the just indignation of the public.
I will pay half the expenses of a new edition if they are anything reasonable —And in that case you'll send me proofs wont you. [NLS]
He added a list of page numbers where changes had to be made. With that, he went off to Paris to see his daughters and parents. But on 16 May, still in reference to the first printing, he wrote again sending a marked copy of the book and calling attention especially to a change on page 199: "It is of great importance and the page as it at present stands should be cancelled" (NLS).
What happened next can be deduced from the ledger. Three "sheets" were reprinted, and the rest left to the "indignation of the public." The ledger indicates charges for the cancellation of three sheets at a cost of £31.13. Smith hired out the printing to Bradbury and Evans; hence, Smith's records are not sufficiently detailed to determine just how the book was printed. Each sheet of double crown paper would hold two gatherings of the book, but if the pressmen mounted one whole gathering, [95/96] outer and inner forms, on the press and printed by the work-and-turn method, then each sheet would hold two copies of one gathering. If, on the other hand, they mounted one form each from two separate gatherings, each printed sheet would produce two gatherings. It is not immediately apparent, therefore, whether "three cancelled sheets" represents three gatherings (forty-eight pages) or six gatherings (ninety-six pages) in the book. Further, it is not clear whether the canceled gatherings were consecutive or from various parts of the book. Finally, although the ledger shows that enough paper was used in the cancels to replace all 2,500 copies of three double-gathering sheets, the printing cost was charged at exactly half the rate charged for printing the whole book. Collation of the various surviving states of the book and comparison of Thackeray's notes with the published book indicate that the three canceled sheets probably contained six book gatherings, for there are significant changes in the first three gatherings (through page 48), the sixth gathering (pp. 81-96), and the thirteenth (pp. 193-204).
Clearly, Smith was unwilling to waste a whole edition of 2,500 copies, though he could have; it would have cost him only about £115 to correct and reprint the whole book. Instead, he paid an extra £31.13 for correcting and reprinting six gatherings and went ahead with publication. Economically, it was a good decision, for the first printing sold out in the first month, netting Thackeray £190.11.8 and Smith £142.19.7 in profits. Furthermore, none of the reviewers seem to have noticed anything untoward in the printing of the lectures, though several objected to Thackeray's opinions and judgments — particularly about Swift [Flamm provides an extensive, though not complete, list of reviews and contemporary notices]. A second printing being wanted immediately, it was produced with extensive alterations made in the standing type from the first printing. Since a new setting of type was not involved, the printing cost was half of that for the first printing (£114.3.9), and the profits should have been correspondingly higher. Thackeray wrote to Smith in September asking to see an accounting for the lectures: "I hope that the first Edition will yield me more than 200£:; calculating that we should go shares in the proportion of 3 for me and 2 for you: and take half profits upon the second edition" (NLS). Had the share been three to two, Thackeray's cut would have been over £200, but it was only four to three. Perhaps that is why Smith figured Thackeray's share in the second edition at four to three also, instead of the one to one Thackeray suggested. [96/97]
In response to Thackeray's request, Smith had two account statements drawn up, one for each printing [MSS in the estate of Gordon Ray, now at the Pierpont Morgan Library]. The first statement shows Thackeray's earnings of £190 from the sold-out printing, The second estimates the total cost and profits for the second printing if it sold out. According to that accounting the second printing would net £511.8.9, of which Thackeray's share would be £292.5 and Smith's £219.3.9. However, a memo indicates that half of the profit sharing would become due only when two-thirds of the copies printed had been sold. The ledger entries for the second printing show Thackeray's first half (£146.2.6) paid in 1853 at a time when sales had provided enough income to pay production costs and all but £8.2 of Thackeray's share. Smith's share is not recorded then. By June 1858, 300 copies were remaindered at half price. Income at that time exceeded expenses by a total of £217.6, which was £1.17.9 less than Smith's share was supposed to have been. However, the second half of Thackeray's share and none of Smith's is recorded as paid, and the final disposition of the £217.6 is not found in the ledger. Since the agreement called for a four-to-three split, Smith should have taken £109.11.10 to bring him even with what had been paid to Thackeray. Then the remaining £107.14.2 should have been divided four to three, giving Thackeray just over £61 more, for a total income from the two printings of approximately £397. That is probably what happened.
Perhaps the remarkable thing about these transactions is the informality of the accounting. It is astonishing enough that Smith's projections about the income would be fulfilled so closely, but his other contracts suggest that normally Smith was a stickler for form. This entry is reminiscent of Thackeray's arrangements with Chapman and Hall and Bradbury and Evans, which often amounted to little more than gentlemen's agreements.
The bottom line for the next book Smith undertook for Thackeray, The Rose and the Ring (December 1854), shows Thackeray earning £250 and Smith £224.5.9, not quite a fifty-fifty split, but the agreement for this book was rather different from that for any of Thackeray's previous dealings with Smith. For this book Thackeray parted with the entire copyright for one printing of 5,000 copies for £150 and then sold the entire copyright for a second and third printing of 1,000 copies each for £100 more. Smith's entire payment to Thackeray was "up front," so the risk was entirely his. His judgment, however, was unerring, for by 1858 he was able to earn for himself nearly as much as he had paid the author. At [97/98] first blush, it might seem strange that Thackeray could make £397 from 5,000 copies of English Humourists but only £250 from 7,000 copies of The Rose and the Ring, but the ledgers make it clear. The cost of manufacturing and advertising and selling 5,000 copies of the lectures was about £745 for a book that sold to the trade at 7s and 6. Of those 5,000 copies, over 300 were remaindered at 3 6d. The lecture volume had a total income of £1,815, or a profit of £1,100. On the other hand, it cost nearly £420 to manufacture, advertise, and sell 7,000 copies of The Rose and the Ring that sold to the trade at 36. Of the 7,000 copies, over 300 were remaindered at 19d. The Rose and the Ring bad a total income of £1,198.15, or a profit of £778.15. It took the sale of 2,000 copies of the lectures at the trade price to recover the cost of production, leaving 3,000 copies to produce profit. It took a sale of 2,400 copies of the Christmas book at the trade price to recover the cost of production, leaving 3,600 to produce profit. In short, therefore, although there were more "profit copies" of the Christmas book, the lectures produced profit at twice the rate that the Christmas book did. In addition, a higher proportion of profit from the Christmas book went to the publisher: total profits to Smith for the lectures equaled £695, while for the Rose they were £474
Both books were unusually expensive to produce, the lectures because of the canceled sheets and editing fee, the Rose because of the lavish illustrations. The remarkable thing is that despite these problems, which undoubtedly would have swamped any of Thackeray's publishing efforts in the 1840s, the books were turned into moderate successes.
Return to Bouverie Street
Smith came close to being the publisher of The Newcomes as seems apparent from Thackeray's 16 June letter explaining, with regret, why he had given the work to his old publisher Bradbury and Evans:
I wish this answer to your kind letter could be Yes: but my friends Bradbury & Evans have always dealt so honorably by me that I was bound in duty to them; and offered them <terms> the same terms about wh. I had spoken ↑ with them, ↓ on my return from America. They were not so good as those wh. Other publishers I know would have given me; but having stated my own price, wasn't it my duty to abide by my words? —I think so, though I might have benefited my pocket elsewhere.
I hope you & I however will have many other dealings, and I'm sure you won't think the worse of me for remaining constant to old friends, who have been very kind & constant to me.
P.S. This is a secret. Next year I am not pledged not to write a book [98/99] about the United States; with wh. and the Warringtons of Virginia & the 4 Georges I see a tolerable amount of work before both of us. [NLS]
There is a possibility that this letter, carrying no year date, was written not in 1853 but in 1857 and refers to The Virginians, for which Smith may have made a bid as well (this letter seems, in fact, to offer that book to Smith); but a reference in a letter from Thackeray to Evans on 24 March 1855 seems to point directly to an offer from Smith for The Newcomes. In asking Evans for help in straightening out misunderstandings about his resignation from Punch, Thackeray noted, "And you can say for me as a reason why I should feel hurt at your changing the old rates of payment made to me — that I am not a man who quarrels about a guinea or two except as a point of honour; that when I could have had a much larger sum than that wh you give me for my last novel [The Newcomes] — I preferred to remain with old friends, who had acted honorably and kindly by me." [Bodleian]
And so, though Thackeray's relations with Bradbury and Evans were becoming slightly less cordial, and though Thackeray seemed to prefer working with Smith, he thought that because Bradbury and Evans had published his first two large, successful serial novels, his third large serial, The Newcomes, should be offered first to that company.34
The terms of his offer are not on record —there is no extant contract —but Bradbury and Evans must have given what Thackeray asked. Thackeray wrote to the Baxters in June 1853 that he had "signed and sealed with Bradbury and Evans for a new book" (Letters 3: 280). The first number appeared on 1 October 1853. Thackeray had written nothing else for publication since his return from America on 2 May. His plan had been to finish the whole book by the end of the year, but once again Thackeray was being too optimistic. He had actually written four monthly installments by 1 September, and he had decided to have the illustrations done by Richard Doyle, so there was reason to believe he could stay well ahead of the monthly deadlines. But the work was allowed interruptions. A full account of the composition and publication of The Newcomes has been given by Professor Edgar Harden [Harden, Emergence, pp. 75-137]. He detailed how the book was written while Thackeray traveled in Europe, staying for a while in Rome, [99/100] how Percival Leigh was employed to oversee the proofing and final adjustments in length and illustrations, and how a mix-up at the London end misplaced an extra passage that was meant for installment 6, resulting in some jury-rigging by Leigh, the illustrator, and the printer to make a short installment fill the required thirty-two pages. The extra passage has not been identified and apparently has been lost forever; it was not mistakenly added to installment 5, for that was too long already, having had to accommodate an overage from installment 4.
Thackeray finished the novel in June 1855, just a little over one month before publication of the final double number. Clearly he did not stay as far ahead of publication as he had been on 1 October 1853 when the serial began. Furthermore, his writing for periodicals had fallen off sharply: only ten contributions to Punch during two years and the controversial article on John Leech in the Quarterly Review. In addition, he wrote The Rose and the Ring (published by Smith in December 1854). A relatively secure financial base, illness, and a house moving seem to have combined to slow Thackeray's production, though he was putting some time into preparing the cheap editions of Vanity Fair (1853), Pendennis (1855), and the Miscellanies (1855-58). But Thackeray's essay on Leech, published in December 1854, was his last known prose contribution to a periodical until he began writing as contributing editor for Smith's Cornhill Magazine in 1860. 45
Having finished The Newcomes, Thackeray wrote an exploratory letter to Smith in September 1855 offering him The Four Georges and perhaps a travel book. He went on to contemplate The Virginians but did not offer it: "I propose to sell you an edition of 'The Georges. Sketches of Courts, manners, and town life, and if I do a book of travels I shall bring it you but this is hardly likely. I shall more likely do the Esmonds of Virginia, and it will depend on the size to wh. that book goes whether it shall appear in 3 vols. or 20 numbers" (NLS).
Gordon Ray noted that "with Bradbury and Evans bidding against George Smith for his next book, the terms proposed soon soared so high that Thackeray could not refuse them," [Ray, Wisdom, p. 222] but Ray cited no source for this competition, which nevertheless may have accounted in part for the high offer Bradbury and Evans made for The Newcomes (£3,600 plus £500 from Harper and Tauchnitz [Letters 3: 280]) and the even higher bid for The Virginians (£6,000). But the evidence of Thackeray's June 1853 letter [100/101] suggests that whatever the competition was, loyalty to Bradbury and Evans for a time won out over higher offers. Whatever the reason was that took The Virginians to Bradbury and Evans, Smith must have been grateful; for though the Bradbury and Evans loss was not as bad as the firm led people to believe, it probably had effects on Smith's negotiations with Thackeray, which are visible in the contracts. Nevertheless, Smith's overall plan to acquire Thackeray as a property was undiminished.
Last modified 20 July 2012