Decorated initial B

y February 1848, Ticknor and Fields had published two editions of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems and two editions of The Princess but in June of the same year, they varied their approach. ‘Poems...a new edition enlarged’ included The Princess and the 1842 Poems.1 From this point Ticknor and Fields never issued the 1842 Poems as a separate volume. This was probably because it had not been very profitable, Ticknor later complained that Tennyson’s Poems had only ‘a sale sufficient to pay the Publisher’s bills’.2 This enlarged edition was stereotyped in 1850 and issued in four further editions and, by 1851, advertised as ‘Poetical Works’ rather than ‘Poems’.3 In 1853-4 this publication was updated to include the additions Tennyson had made to the 1842 Poems and The Princess, both of which had arrived at their more or less final form. In June 1856, Ticknor and Fields added Maud and other Poems and In Memoriam to their Poetical Works and 50c to the price. By this time, however, the $2 Poetical Works was not the bestselling edition, as it has been superseded by the ‘Blue and Gold’ edition, which contained all the poetry of the Poetical Works but in a ‘Pocket Edition’ at 75c. Initial sales of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems were relatively slow, the original print run of 1000 in June 1842 was not reordered until September 1845 and then nearly three years passed until a third edition was needed, and it was at this point that Ticknor and Fields transformed Poems into Poetical Works, by including The Princess.

The decision to bundle Tennyson’s poetry into a collected edition is a marked contrast to the strategy of the Moxon firm who did not publish a collected or selected edition of Tennyson until A Selection from the Works of Alfred Tennyson in 1864, six years after Edward Moxon’s death. Moxon’s approach protected the relatively high price of the individual volumes: it constitutes a refusal to ‘tranch down’, a sensible approach if sales are strong and copyright is secure, as was the case in England. In America, after the relatively slow sales of the 1842 Poems, Ticknor and Fields must have been encouraged by the rapid sales of The Princess: an edition of 1000, ordered in January 1848 was followed by another of 1500 the next month. A few months later, in June 1848 they ordered the ‘enlarged edition’– essentially the start of the Poetical Works. In several ways this seems like a strange decision, one consequence was that a new edition of The Princess was not needed again until 1855: sales of this poem as an individual book were almost certainly damaged. Ticknor and Fields chose not to increase the price of the publication: the 1842 Poems and The Princess in the ‘enlarged edition’ was sold at a retail price of $1.50, the same price as the 1842 Poems of the first two American editions. This again, seems like a strange decision but the rationale can be explained by further attention to the production costs.

Ticknor’s second edition of the 1842 Poems cost approximately 46c per copy to manufacture. The first edition was more expensive to produce, mainly due to the ‘copyright’ fee of $150 paid to Tennyson but if this fee is deducted the figure is comparable at 51c per copy. Perhaps surprisingly the third edition, which included The Princess, was manufactured at approximately the same price, 46c per copy. Analysis of the production costs show that Ticknor and Fields made dramatic savings on the composition and printing costs. While the cost of paper and printing were higher (as a consequence of the longer book) the third edition was costed at 335 ems per copy, as opposed to 432 ems per copy of the second edition. Although other costs were slightly lower (77.5 c per token as opposed to 80c and 37c per 1000 ems as opposed to 37.5c) the major saving was made in the number of ems charged: essentially the number of lines of type that were composed for the new edition. The only logical explanation for this saving was that the type set for the first two editions of The Princess was left standing for the ‘enlarged edition’. This would mean the type was static from late February until early June 1848.

By November 1850 the ‘enlarged edition’ had met with enough success for Ticknor and Fields to order stereotypes. At this stage, in order to study the comparative cost of editions it is important to isolate the printing and composition costs from the binding costs, which varied considerably. Excluding binding, the ‘enlarged edition’ cost 34c per copy to produce, the first stereotyped edition 59c per copy (including the costs of having the stereotype plates made up), and the second stereotyped edition only 22c per copy. In this instance, investing in the stereotype plates generated a 35 per cent saving on production costs for printing the basic text. Once the stereotype plates had been cast, the normal economies of scale no longer applied: after the first printing from stereotypes of 1000, Ticknor and fields printed three relatively small editions of 500 between August 1851 and August 1852.

The evidence shows that the 1842 Poems was not very popular in America but that The Princess was an immediate success. While in Britain sales of the 1842 Poems showed signs of acceleration before the publication of The Princess, there is no evidence for this in America. Ticknor and Fields seem to have decided to use the popularity of The Princess to increase sales of their earlier investment: by bundling both poems into Poetical Works, they were effectively using the popularity of the later poem to sell the earlier work. This made sense financially: the profits on the first two editions of the Princess were 30c and 33c per copy while the profit on the Poetical Works was consistently over $1 per copy.4

After the fourth printing of the first stereotyped edition, Ticknor and Fields had to think again, as Tennyson had significantly altered both The Princess and the 1842 Poems. Between 1853 and 1856 Ticknor and Fields’ Poetical Works did not include In Memoriam but was revised to incorporate Tennyson’s radical reworking of The Princess and his additions to the 1842 Poems. The reuse of the original stereotype plates was achieved by adding the new material in Poems at the end of volume 1 while the newly stereotyped Princess was added to at the end of the 1842 Poems in volume 2.5 The partial reuse of the original stereotype plates explains the small sum listed in the ‘Cost Books’: $77.53 is less than a quarter of the original stereotyping costs and so could not have covered new plates for the entire edition, instead it probably covered new plates for The Princess and a few plates for the poems that Tennyson had added to the 1842 Poems. This strategy gave the allowed the publisher to reuse the stereotype plates made for the 1842 Poems, although Tennyson’s revisions to The Princess were too complex and substantive to allow reuse of the existing plates.

The process of retaining the existing stereotypes for the Poetical Works was maintained in the third stereotyped edition, ordered in June 1856 and described as ‘4 Vols in 2’ meaning the 1842 Poems, The Princess, In Memoriam and Maud and other poems. In Memoriam was stereotyped for its second separate edition in September 1850, while Maud and other poems was stereotyped immediately, Ticknor and Fields writing enthusiastically to their London agent: ‘We have sold 4000 of Maud in three weeks although it has been severely criticised’ (Tryon and Charvat 327). With the two later poems already stereotyped, the plates just needed altering for details such as pagination, reflected in the cost ‘Alteration in Plates $48.85’ (Tryon and Charvat 367). The Princess had been stereotyped as part of the Poetical Works rather than as an individual poem and so when Ticknor and Fields issued a third individual edition of this poem they reused the plates commissioned for the Poetical Works but again needed alterations, this time itemised as ‘Altering folios $5.25’ (Tryon and Charvat 327).

Stereotyping was a technological process that publishers introduced in order to save on production costs, but, as the activity of Ticknor and Fields shows, this had a major influence on the collation of Tennyson’s poetry. Tennyson had always been quite particular about the presentation of his books and Moxon had little choice but to accommodate his wishes. A clear distinction was always maintained in Moxon’s editions of the 1842 Poems between the poems published in the 1830s and the later poetry. The first two Ticknor and Fields’ editions followed the Moxon edition closely and the physical distinction between the earlier and later poems was manifest in the two separate volumes, although the American editions did not include the all the dividing pages included in Moxon’s editions.6 When The Princess was added to form Poetical Works, in order to keep the length of the two volumes reasonably even, the break between them was moved to between ‘St. Simeon Stylites’ and ‘The Talking Oak’, seven poems into the section that Tennyson described as ‘Published 1842’ in the English edition. When the edition was extended in 1853, the poems that Tennyson added to the collection were added at the end of the first volume (to preserve the pagination and format), after ‘St. Simeon Stylites’. When the Poetical Works was extended again, volume one contained the original 1842 Poems as far as ‘St. Simeon Stylites’ then the seven poems added to Moxon’s eighth edition, followed by In Memoriam. Volume two started with ‘The Talking Oak’, completed the 1842 Poems and then printed The Princess followed by Maud and other Poems. Tennyson had omitted ‘The Skipping Rope’ since Moxon’s sixth edition of the 1842 Poems but in the American editions this was retained.

While Ticknor and Fields published faithful and comprehensive textual versions of Tennyson’s poetry, an American reader’s conception of Tennyson’s corpus may have been quite different to that of an English reader. This was a result of their decision to publish a collected edition and their consistent use of stereotyping. As it evolved, the form of the Poetical Works was largely determined by stereotyping, because the commercial logic that underpinned this process necessitated the retention of the plates that had already been cast. Tennyson’s power over Ticknor and Fields was limited, which meant that they were free to publish his poetry in forms that suited their production methods.

Initially it appears that Ticknor and Fields prioritised the Poetical Works over the individual poems. The Princess was included a few months after publication and less than a year after its initial release. In this context we might question why In Memoriam was left longer: for six years it was only available as a single volume despite the fact that sales tailed off quickly after the poem’s initial publication in 1850. Ticknor and Fields ignored several opportunities to include In Memoriam in the Poetical Works: the first stereotyped edition was published five months after In Memoriam and another chance for its incorporation occurred in 1853, when the stereotypes for Poetical Works were revised to incorporate additions to Poems and Tennyson’s revisions to The Princess. This delay can be most plausibly explained as inertia caused indirectly by the stereotyping process: simply stated the physical balance of Poetical Works would have been wrecked by In Memoriam, its incorporation would have necessitated either splitting the poem or producing two very uneven volumes. When In Memoriam was added to Poetical Works, volume one constituted almost 500 pages, which would have looked ridiculous next to the second volume of about 280 pages. It would appear that while Ticknor and Fields were happy to disrupt the sequence of the 1842 Poems, they could not countenance either splitting In Memoriam or publishing an ungainly edition. They could have recast the stereotypes for the entire edition in 1853, but instead, recast the plates for The Princess and continued to publish In Memoriam as an individual poem. When Maud and other poems offered them an opportunity to balance the two volumes, they went to work very quickly, incorporating both poems less than a year after the book was published.

The analysis above suggests that the idea of Tennyson’s 1842 Poems as a carefully curated collection of poetry would not have been apparent to American readers unless they owned one of the 2000 copies printed as a discrete collection. Any sense of early or later Tennyson would have been more difficult to ascertain due to the increasingly mixed up order of the poems. A purchaser of the Poetical Works in 1856 may well have had little idea that The Princess was written before In Memoriam or even wondered if The Princess and ‘Maud’ were ironic commentaries designed to be read against each other, printed as they were, adjacent in the text. A reader in England would have owned four discrete volumes and probably possess better sense of the evolution the poetry but they would have paid considerably more for this privilege.

Last modified 13 April 2017