A literary man has often to work for his bread against time, or against his will, or in spite of his health, or of his indolence, or of his, repugnance to the subject on which he is called to exert himself, just like any other daily toiler. When you want to make money by Pegasus, (as he must, perhaps, who has no other saleable property,) farewell poetry and aerial flights: Pegasus only rises now like Mr. Green's balloon, at periods advertised before-hand, and when the spectator's money has been paid. Pegasus trots in harness over the stony pavement, and pulls a cart or a cab behind him. Often Pegasus does his work with panting sides and trembling knees, and not seldom gets a cut of the whip from his driver.
Do not let us, however, be too prodigal of our pity upon Pegasus. There is no reason why this animal should be exempt from labour, or illness, or decay, any more than any of the other creatures of God's world. If he gets the whip, Pegasus very often deserves it, and I for one am quite ready to protest with my friend, George Warrington, against the doctrine which sonic poetical sympathisers are inclined to put forward, viz., that men of letters, and what is called genius, are to be exempt from the prose deities of this daily, bread-wanting, taxpaying life, and are not to be made to work and pay like their neighbours. [Pendennis, vol. I, chap. 37]
amenting that literature ever became a Profession, though acknowledging its inevitability, A. S. Collins remarked in 1982 that "when we speak of the trade or profession of letters, we mean the pursuit of literature as a means of living, independent of all other, and if we speak of it now as a profession, and now as a trade, it is only to mark off those like Southey who worked for high ideals, from those hacks and compilers whose aim was merely the day's wage." The thrust of these remarks is that the necessity of bread caused much writing to be done to order, with an exhausting and a cramping effect" upon the author's mind. The alternative to the profession of literature was a free application to the Muse as my staff but not my crutch," as Sir Walter Scott put it before necessity and debt caught up to him, so that "the profits of my literary labour, however convenient otherwise, should not, if f could help it, become necessary to my ordinary expenses." Collins saw a marked difference between writing in response to the "pressure of occasion," which might include the incentive of money, and to the "pressure of living," the unrelenting need for bread. The purpose of these distinctions was to suggest that, for the most Part, the need for bread caused writers to compromise their ideals, to look to the short-term purpose of satisfying the publisher and public rather than the long-term satisfaction of literature. "Those who have been greatest in the practice of letters have rarely been those to whom letters was their supporting profession," wrote Collins, citing among the poets who did write for money Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Rogers, and Scott and noting that in prose the situation in the romantic period was that all the best-known writers then are forgotten now (Collins, pp. 7, 8; John Lockhart, Life of Scott, quoted, ibid., p. 138).
While there might be some truth in the idea that desperate need is not conducive to the production of writing of lasting value or in its converse, that freedom from desperate need allows development of literature, it cannot be sustained as a blanket observation. One might cite among those [1/2] authors who relied upon independent means but who burdened literature with less than the best Charles Lever, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Robert Smith Surtees, Edward Fitzgerald, Lady Blessington, Mrs. Gore, and, depending on whom one listens to, Coleridge and Wordsworth themselves, whose reputations are often said to rest on a fraction of their output. These writers either inherited independent livelihoods or obtained them through marriage, pensions, or government posts in which a comfortable living involved "nothing to do," as Charles Lever observed about his post as British consul to Trieste. On the other hand, of few writers can it be said that they did not so burden literature. The whole exercise of connecting the greatness of the literary output to the monetary motives for its production is as misguided and ideological as John Ruskin's attempt to relate the greatness of Gothic architecture to the independent spirit and moral fiber of the artisans.
All the same, a considerable mythology about writing has developed around words like imagination, fancy, creativity, genius, inspiration, the Muse, and artistic integrity. Simultaneously, the independence or autonomy of the artist has come to be thought traduced by insolent and insensitive patrons or by screwing publishers and booksellers. Such a mythology demands of authors that they conceal the sweat. Fits of creative passion, bouts of wrestling with the Muse or of striking with white heat upon her anvil are images passing muster, but daily discipline, writing to deadlines of time or space, exchanging one's soul for money are infra dig. In Thackeray's Pendennis, Warrington, a baronet's son arid a "gentleman," admits: "'I write.... I don't tell the world that I do so,' he added, with a blush. 'I do not choose that questions should be asked: or, perhaps, I am an ass, arid don't wish it to be said that George Warrington writes for bread.' " (History of Pendennis, 1: 311). After looking at some of George's articles for a law review, Pen remarks:
'I can't fly upon such a wing as yours.' 'But you can on your own, my boy, which is lighter, and soars higher, perhaps,' the other said, good-naturedly. 'Those little scraps and verses which I have seen of yours show me, what is rare in these days, a natural gift, sir. You needn't blush, you conceited young jackanapes. You have thought so yourself any time these ten years. You have got the sacred flame — a little of the real poetical fire, sir, I think; and all our oil-lamps are nothing, compared to that, though ever so well trimmed. You are a poet, Pen, my boy.' [1: 312].
Thackeray's portrait of Pendennis here says much about the [2/3] mythology of writing. Pen falls so easily for the rhetoric that George has to correct the pretensions:
You don't suppose that you are a serious poet, do you, and are going to cut out Milton and Æschylus? Are you setting up to be a Pindar, you absurd little tom-tit, and fancy you have the strength and pinion which the Theban eagle bear, sailing with supreme dominion through the azure fields of air? No, my boy, I think you can write a magazine article, and turn out a pretty copy of verses; that's what I think of you.
When they have sold Pen's first verses to the publisher of the Spring Annual, Pen exults, "I can make my own way," and George remarks, "Well, you may get bread and cheese, Pen: and I own it tastes well, the bread which you earn yourself" (1: 317). Having disposed of the inflated myth of romantic writer and sorted out the discrepancy between Milton and a writer of light verse for the magazines, Thackeray had Doctor Portman signify "his approval of Pen's productions, saying that the lad had spirit, taste, and fancy, and wrote, if not like a scholar, at any rate like a gentleman" (1:349)- By contrast, Pen's "fellow laborer," Mr. Bludyer, reviews books according to which publishing house produces the magazine he writes for and then sells the review copy to buy brandy.
The real distinctions between writers as poets, versifiers, scholars, gentlemen, and Grub Street literary hacks can be put in the context of Thackeray's own immediate experience. His own mentor in magazine writing was William Maginn who wrote like a scholar but was no gentleman, Editor of Fraser's Magazine, Maginn was the impecunious prototype for Captain Shandon in Pendennis, but unlike Shandon he was a learned, though self-educated, man. Thackeray himself was a fair versifier and in many regards, like Pen himself, soared on a lighter wing — if it can be called soaring to write desperately for bread.3 Thackeray's need to support himself was a deal more acute than Pen's. Thackeray's fellow writer on Punch, Douglas Jerrold, could write both the light verse and the political article but did not pretend to be either scholar or gentleman. Another of Thackeray's friends, writing like both a scholar and a gentleman, was Thomas Taylor, who, though a fellow contributor to Punch, had earned a first in the classical tripos at Trinity College (where Thackeray had had his own brief and unsuccessful flash of pleasure arid education) and had been elected fellow and awarded an M. A. by 1843. He was appointed professor of English literature at London University in 1845 and was called to the bar [3/4] in 1846. In short, he was a man who succeeded brilliantly in the very competitions that Pendennis (and Thackeray) had found too rigorous or formally restrictive to endure. Though Taylor's father was a brewer and self-made man and consequently "of no family," Thomas had made his own way into the worlds of literature, medicine (he was secretary to the Board of Health from 1854 to his retirement in 1871), theater (he was an avid and prolific playwright), and the periodic press where for years he wrote regularly for the Times, the Morning Chronicle, the Daily News, and Punch, which he also edited from 1874 to his death in 1880 (Dictionary National Biography).
The point of this little digression is that Thackeray's personal experience of the profession of letters, his extensive acquaintance with other members of the profession from the top to the bottom, and his personal dealings with a range of publishers on a commercial basis for his livelihood allowed him to examine at first hand the realities and pretensions of literature as a calling, a mission, a vocation, and a trade. His circle of acquaintance among writers ranged from Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Tennyson, and the Brownings to Douglas Jerrold, George Augustus Sala, Mark Lemon, William Maginn, Harrison Ainsworth, and Charles Lever and to Mrs. Gore, Lady Blessington, Richard Bedingfield, and William Carleton. His reaction to this diversity and the development of his own response to the profession is one subject of this book.
Certainly he had moments of creative satisfaction. Thackeray's excitement at discovering a title for Vanity Fair ("I jumped out of bed and ran three times round my room, uttering as I went, 'Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair"') and his satisfaction with the description of Rawdon Crawley flinging Becky's diamonds at Lord Steyne and scarring his forehead "to his dying day" ("When I wrote the ... sentence, I slapped my fist on the table and said 'that is a touch of genius' "), for example, can be seen as tastes of the rewards of creative genius (Perry, quoted by Harden, p. 332; Hannay, quoted by Ray, p. 438). But he had moments of professional pride as well. His satisfaction at hearing that Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo would be his first book to require a second edition (Letters 2:558-59) and his delight in George Smith's offer of £1000 for a [4/5] novel were token rewards of a trade well conducted. The interplay of these points of view, popularly conceived as opposed to one another, is more intricate and extensive than is usually acknowledged. The interplay certainly was complex in the case of Thackeray, whose experience was akin to Thomas Campbell's when he boasted that "necessity, not inspiration, was the great prompter of his Muse."8
Samuel Johnson once remarked, "Sir, there was a good public, and liberal booksellers, and you should not let yourself be seduced by a pension."9 Thackeray eventually adopted this attitude perforce. His acquiescence was perhaps philosophical, for in his middle years he attempted and failed to get a sinecure — as assistant secretary in the Post Office in 1848 - and he stood unsuccessfully for a seat in Parliament for Oxford in 1857. In 1850 he wrote to William Allingham, a poet receiving income as a customs officer in Belfast, "You're lucky to have a trade and live out of this turmoil" (Letters 2:711) He was called to the bar in 1848 and had his name added to the door of Thomas Taylor's chambers, but nothing came of these attempts to secure a financial competence outside the profession of letters. Addressing the Royal Literary Fund dinner in June 1859, Thackeray alluded to this fact: "I have no claim to appear before you as a representative of letters at all, except on this account, that for nearly a quarter of a century I have been a struggling literary man of no other profession than that, getting on as best I could." (Melville, 2: 117). Thackeray often referred to his publishers as liberal and fair, and he eventually found the public to be good. In fact, he made the public-not the reviewing public, but the book-buying public-into an article of faith for his profession when he wrote to William Aytoun asking that Vanity Fair be reviewed in Blackwood's Magazine and then retracting his request on the grounds that "puffs are good and the testimony of good men, but I don't think these will make a success for a man and he ought to stand as the public chooses to [5/6] put him" (Letters 2: 267). All this points to a question, taken up in chapter 6, about the extent to which the writing was shaped or even determined by social and economic exigencies. Did the author bow to the "pressures of living" and compromise the Muse? One wonders if the question is legitimate, suggesting as it does that some writings might not be shaped by their social and economic milieus.
Thackeray's reputation has had its ups and downs, lagging behind, then surpassing, and lagging once again behind that of Charles Dickens, the other great professional writer of the mid-century. But no one questions his position as one of the foremost English novelists of the period. Are his achievements to be understood outside of AS Collins's lament that anyone should write for a living? Are we to understand Thackeray and Dickens, as Collins did Robert Southey, to be exceptions to a rule that assumes real literature is written for its own sake, not for bread? Thackeray would have denied there was such a rule; Dickens would more likely have believed that there was and that he himself might be an exception to it. The picture Collins drew ends ill 1832, a great year for reform but a very bad year for literature. The next year Thackeray purchased and began editing the National Standard, an enterprise he undertook on the strength of an inheritance of approximately £17,000. A year later he had lost both periodical and inheritance.
Since the days of Pope and Johnson, who are often said to have begun the "profession of letters" in England, the prospects for making a living with the pen had increased dramatically. The nation of readers that Johnson referred to in the 1780s doubled and tripled again by the 1830s, and the cost of book production and taxes on paper were reduced. In consequence, the place for a profession of letters, for a viable means of getting a living by one's pen, existed in Victorian England as it never had before. On the other hand, the competition was far stiffer, with more writers than ever before vying for a place in the sun.11 Furthermore, from the end of the eighteenth century can be traced the development of publishing as a profession separate from printing and bookselling; there was, therefore, a new breed of middlemen between the author and public to be supported by the increased literary trade. [6/7]
As James I Hepburn has pointed out, however, the fault for the "author's empty purse" was not wholly to be laid at tile feet of greedy publishers and booksellers. Many authors themselves had traditionally regarded writing as a hobby or a calling or an avocation and had regarded themselves as gentlemen if not actually guardians of the sacred flame above the ruck and rout of commercial life. There was little tradition of authors with a strong sense of the monetary value of the products of imagination. Copyrights had long been thought to be vested in the printed book-product of the endeavors of printers and booksellers — rather than in the imaginative content — product of the author's work. The lines between plagiarism and influence and borrowing have never been firmly established, as celebrated cases in our own century demonstrate, but they were especially loosely drawn in the gentlemanly circle of dabblers in literature, whose borrowings arid influences suggested perhaps that a published work was in a sense fair game in the public domain. For good or ill, something of this notion of community property or gift to the world provided the most attractive models for the myth of "the author" with his mind and goals above petty merchandise. But the situation was much changed in actual fact and practice by 1832. The opportunity for petty skulduggery by printers, booksellers, and publishers-and, toward the later part of the century, by literary agents-abounded, of course, but so too did the opportunity for equitable professional dealings arid mutually beneficial contracts and long-standing business relationships. The fact is there was a lot of money to be made in publishing, and one would need more than the fingers on two hands to count the Victorian authors, let alone publishers, who left estates in five figures earned entirely from writing. (Hepburn, p. 96).
On the other hand, a longer list could be made of those authors who died in poverty or whose lot it fell to benefit from the temporary assistance of the Literary Fund. Fear of the wolf at the door was always present for professional writers - or at least such was the popular conception. Established in 1790 and renamed the Royal Literary Fund (RLF) in 1842 under the patronage of Prince Albert, it named among its beneficiaries Coleridge, Chateaubriand, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, and Richard Jefferies. (Cross, p. 4). Among other applicants (whether successful or not, I do not know) were William Maginn, George Augustus Sala, William Carleton, the widow of Mark Lemon (Punch editor), and scores of others. But the idea that [7/8] literature was a viable means of livelihood is not belied by these instances, nor by the lamentable case of Gilbert à Beckett who died in 1856 leaving no estate and a wife and children with no means of support because he had failed to insure his life. The fact is à Beckett had one child in university and another in an expensive public school; he had achieved these things through writing (Letters 2: 617).
The aspiring literary hack's struggle to fulfill the role of poet/priest or of heroic man of letters was dramatized in a literary controversy over how to best lend a helping hand to the writers of England without betraying the dignity of literature. Thackeray was at the center of the debate. He was toasted and responded in recorded speeches at the annual fund-raising dinners of the Royal Literary Fund in 1848, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1857, and 1859. In his response for 1851 he remarked in reference to the laudatory toast that "in my profession we get immense premiums, and amongst them is this one which has exhibited itself so nobly to-night, and for which I do feel most sincerely and proudly grateful." He went on to claim that the degraded and downtrodden author was a thing of the past:
Literary men are not by any means, at this present time, the most unfortunate and most degraded set of people whom they are sometimes represented to be . . . certain persons are constantly apt to bring forward or to believe in the existence, at this moment, of the miserable old literary hack of the time of George the Second, and bring him before us as the literary man of this day. I say that that disreputable old phantom ought to be hissed out of society. I don't believe in the literary man being obliged to resort to ignoble artifices and mean flatteries to get places at the tables of the great, and to enter into society upon sufferance.... A for pity being employed upon authors, especially in my branch of the profession, if you will but look at the novelists of the present day, I think you will see it is altogether out of the question to pity them.... Of course it is impossible for us to settle the mere prices by which the works of those who amuse the public are to be paid. I am perfectly aware that Signore Twankeydillo, of the Italian Opera, and Mademoiselle Petupas of the Haymarket, will get a great deal more money in a week for the skilful exercise of their chest and toes than I, or you, or any gentleman here present, should be able to get by our brains and by weeks of hard labour. We cannot help these differences in payment; we know there must be high and low payments in our trade, as in all trades; that there must he gluts of the market and over-production; and there must be successful machinery, and rivals, and brilliant importations from foreign countries; that there must be hands out of employ, and [8/9] tribulation of workmen. But these ill-winds which afflict us blow fortunes to our successors. They are natural evils. It is the progress of the world, rather than any evil which we can remedy; and that is why I say this society acts most wisely and justly, in endeavouring to remedy, not the chronic distress, but the temporary evil; that it finds a man at the moment of the pinch of necessity, helps him a little, and gives him a "God-speed, " and sends him on his way. For my own part, I have felt that necessity, and bent under that calamity; and it is because I have found friends who have nobly, with God's blessing, helped me at that moment of distress that I feel deeply interested in the ends of a Society which has for its object to help my brother in similar need. [Melville, 2: 71-75].
Though sentiments expressed on public occasions of ceremony might not be the most candid, Thackeray was expressing the side of an argument about the profession of letters that had been brewing for several years between himself and Charles Dickens. Thackeray pictured the author in a natural world beset by natural evils, fighting the same fight that other tradesmen fought, and like them capable of self-reliance and economic competence, though perhaps occasionally in need of a hand when things got especially rough. This view differed radically from that of Dickens and John Forster, who saw the temporary aid of the RLF to the absolutely destitute writer as too little too late. The official notice of purpose for the RLF states that it "is to assist authors and their families who are in distress. Before their needs can be considered, all applicants must have published work of approved literary merit (which may include contributions to periodical literature) . . . The Fund does not offer grants to writers who can earn a living in other ways; nor provide financial support for writing projects. It exists to sustain authors who have, for one reason or another, fallen on hard times-illness, family misfortune, or sheer loss of writing form; all of which can afflict an established author and deprive him/her of that peace of mind necessary for work."' (Cross, p. 4).
Dickens saw the abject poverty of many young or ill or old writers and the mind-cramping work of many literary hacks who under other circumstances might produce better work and concluded that the dignity of literature was dragged down. Thackeray, on the other hand, saw in literature a fair means of gaining a livelihood and in the pensions Dickens and Forster were proposing an admission that, literature did not provide [9/10] the dignity of a living. To accept such a pension for writing was to lose the dignity of honest effort and the rewards available in the marketplace. "I have been earning my own bread with my pen for near twenty years now," Thackeray wrote to a French critic in 1854, "and sometimes very hardly too, but in the worst time, please God, never lost my own respect" (Letters 3:39o). That there was reason and justice on both sides seems clear, but the verdict of history, so to speak, sided with the work of the RLE The Literary Guild established by Dickens was a star-crossed endeavor that never succeeded, in part because its establishment was linked to a hostile attack on the RLF and in part because its goals were far too ambitious for its financial resources.
Thackeray's relations with his publishers have produced a small crop of classic stories-some true, some apocryphal, like the tale of Vanity Fair being rejected by five or six publishers before finally finding a home in the Punch Office or the story his last publisher, George Smith, told of Thackeray entering his office from time to time with empty pockets pulled inside out in a gesture of need, More significant episodes are made famous by the scholarly controversies that have been waged over them. What, for example, were Thackeray's relations with William Maginn, the brilliant, hard-drinking, easy-spending Irish editor of Fraser's Magazine, and when did Thackeray actually start writing for Fraser's? What were the full reasons for Thackeray's break with Punch Magazine, and why did he never again publish in Punch after 1854? And what were Thackeray's relations with the American reprinters of his books?
It is, in part, my aim to push beyond and to answer such questions.
Some of Thackeray's publishers' account books still exist, as do some of the contracts for books both written and unwritten. And some of the correspondence between Thackeray's publishers concerning the posthumous disposition of the copyrights survives. The production ledgers of the Bradbury and Evans Company and the Smith, Elder Company survive with very few-and therefore very tantalizing-gaps. The Chapman and Hall records seem to have been destroyed. But a large part of the picture can be clearly seen.
For example, one can follow in the ledgers Thackeray's income from his books. In 1847 he made £780 from books published by Bradbury and Evans. In 1850 Bradbury and Evans paid him £1200, but in 1852, he got only £113 from that company. Combining with the account books what can be determined from contracts and letters, it is dear, however, that 1852 was not a bad year for Thackeray. He earned an undeterminable amount [10/11] by lecturing that year (approximately £4,500 by Thackeray's own estimate); he got £1,200 from Smith, Elder for Henry Esmond; he received an undetermined amount from Smith for the publication of his lectures (probably about £95 on the first edition and £146 on the second edition, but perhaps not collected until 1853); and he got $1,000 from Harper and Brothers for the American publication of the lectures; Appleton and Company gave him £100 in December 1852 for an introduction to its pirated reprint series of his work; and Smith, Elder paid an advance of £200 for a book Thackeray never wrote. Total for 1852: somewhere between £1,700 and £5,000.
The ledgers also reveal print orders and the rate of sale for the books. It is interesting to watch Vanity Fair, which began in January 1847 with a print order of 5,000 copies for the first monthly number, take an early spurt to 6,000, and then drop back to 4,000 for numbers 7 through 11, and finally climb back to 5,000 for the last five numbers. That is not a great record, comparing pretty evenly with Robert Smith Surtees's Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour three years later, which began at 4,000 copies, dropped to 3,500, and ended at 6,ooo, or with Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist in 1845/46, which began at just under 5,000 and fluctuated between 5,750 and 3,750. But Vanity Fair had staying power, and over the next twenty years there were continuous demands for reprints, so that by 1868, 10,500 copies of the first edition had been printed and sold. In 1853 a cheap edition of Vanity Fair was printed with an initial print order of 5,000 copies, and 22,000 had been printed and sold by 1865. Comparisons with Thackeray's other major books also reveal interesting facts. It took seven printings to produce the 10,500 copies of the first edition of Vanity Fair. It took five printings to produce the 9,500 copies of his next book, Pendennis. It took four printings to produce 14,000 copies of The Newcomes, and it took only one printing of the serialization in 1857-59 to produce 13,0000 copies of The Virginians, about 700 of which remained unsold in 1865,
The ledgers are an invaluable source of bibliographical information, revealing previously unknown editions, the existence of tipped-in title pages for reissues of leftover stock, and a number of reprintings that have otherwise escaped notice. Furthermore, the ledgers reveal enough about the materials from which the books were made to reveal the production processes. They show pretty accurately for some of Thackeray's works just how the manuscript became a book and in what ways Thackeray was able to influence the process and in what ways the process influenced the texts. There is no need to resort to vague generalizations about production modes and assumed social contracts to determine the influence of social [11/12] and economic forces on Thackeray's works. This is not to say that there are no unsolved mysteries, but there is more evidence extant than one might suspect regarding production.
In some ways, however, the most interesting documents concerning Thackeray's relations with his publishers are the contracts he signed with George Smith of Smith, Elder, and the correspondence between Smith and Thackeray's other publishers after the novelist's death in 1863. While Smith was rather careful, shrewd, and meticulous about his contractual dealings with authors, other of Thackeray's publishers were casual. Chapman and Hall had to admit that the firm did not have contracts relating to the copyrights it claimed to own, nor had it registered its titles in the Stationers' Hall. Bradbury and Evans had at least two contracts (only one survives) and had entered all but one title in the Stationers' Register, but casual arrangements were apparently common. Charles Lever remarked that only "great publishing people" require contracts (quoted by Sutherland, p. 54).
Thackeray's years as Smith's author, 1860-63, were the most lucrative of his life. Not only were his old copyrights finally producing a cumulative substantial annual income, his new contracts with Smith kept him close to the £500-per-month level. R. Jackson Wilson has remarked that in one way of looking at the profession of writing, authors produce words as commodities and publishers purchase them as goods (Wilson, p. 63). This model might be of some use in understanding Thackeray's relation to Smith, who preferred, it seems, to pay high premiums for full (though usually temporary) use of the copyrights. And while one effect of Smith's contracts was to give the publisher total control of reprints and foreign rights and to relieve the company of any requirement to open its books to the author, another effect was to take care of all the "tawdry business deals" and to leave the writer well taken care of and with hands clean of trade. Thackeray seems to have sunk more or less comfortably into this romantic authorial role, but that is not the role he developed during the twenty-six years preceding his final adoption by Smith. With all Thackeray's other publishers, particularly after the publication of Vanity Fair, author and publisher were partners, together courting the favor of a mutual patron, the public.
In recent years it has become fashionable to reject the romantic image of the autonomous writer-genius and to acknowledge, instead, the [12/13] determining confluence of social, economic, and ideological factors that used the writer to produce the commodities needed by the market. There is enough balderdash in the former and enough insight in the latter to account for the attractions of this fashion. The differences these two views offer of the relations among the writer, his work, and his society highlight the fact that historical reconstructions reflect the present ideologies of the historian as well as the evidence under review. The construct of Thackeray's business relations, the account of his attitude toward his profession, and the discussion of the nature of Thackeray's texts presented in this book must also demonstrate this aspect of historical writing. Insofar as I can be aware of the underlying predispositions of this work, then, I would warn the reader (in what must appear to be an old-fashioned authorial intrusion) that I reject the romantic view of the autonomous author and the fortuitous notions of artistic integrity it entails, because its support appears to me patently rhetorical rather than evidential. Likewise, I reject the social deterministic interpretation of the writer's function, because it tends to define too rigidly the influences on human acts by the limitations of social, economic, political, and indeed linguistic structures within which "creative" acts take place. If it is true that the writer is not free to do anything he or she likes, it seems to me also true that the writer is free within limits and may occasionally be subversive not just to the consciously imposed conventionalities of a society but to the very limits of determinism itself
I retain sufficient respect for Thackeray's genius to prefer explanations of evidence that redound to his credit rather than indicate his weakness or helpless acquiescence to the pressures of convention. As Anthony Trollope once remarked, "I do not think that we yet know how great that man was." (quoted in Cross, p. 21). On the other hand, I retain sufficient respect for rational thought to be suspicious of the hagiologist's stance. Thackeray indeed had weaknesses and acquiesced to the pressures to compromise, but he did not claim to be more than an ordinary Mortal, just a gentleman who strove to tell the truth as he saw it. That many people of his own age and ours have chosen to see the truth otherwise would not upset or surprise him, for as he said at the RIT dinner in 1852, "Long after the present generation is dead, — of readers and authors of books, - there must be kindness and generosity, and folly and fidelity, and love, and heroism, and humbug, in all the world; and, as long as they last, my successors, or the successors of the novelists who come long after us, will have plenty to do, and plenty of [13/14] subjects to write upon."(Melville, 2: 78). Historians are such novelists, too, somewhat more determined but no less free to construct their narratives.
In this book I have tried to consider a large variety of aspects of Thackeray's professional career. While I began with a concern for contracts and ledger accounts of costs, profits, and circulation, I have tried to explore the personal and business relations between the author and his publishers. Furthermore, I have tried in the first chapter to follow the implications of these data to Thackeray's projections of authorship both in the cultivation of his own image and in his fiction. The next two chapters narrate the history of Thackeray's career as a professional writer, showing in detail the development of his writing persona and his changing relations with publishers. Chapter 4 explores the book market and shows how copyrights were worked through reissues, reprints, new editions, foreign rights, and translations. The fifth chapter represents, historically, the research foundation for this book. It traces the textual significance of production, air area so little known and so complex that its details can be suggested only through specific examples. Chapter 6 deals with the implications of the whole enterprise - the biographical, social, economic, and production complex - to textual questions. What is the text; which is the text; how can it be read; how can it be edited? Chapter 7 shows how Thackeray revealed in his prefaces his own conflicting roles of author and writer, trying both to "tell the truth" and to sell goods. Appendix A provides transcripts of all extant contracts for Thackeray's books, and Appendix B provides a checklist and census of locations for Thackeray imprints though 1865. Appendixes C, D, and E provide supporting details for the arguments of chapter 5
This book began as a description of the Bradbury and Evans publishing-house ledgers as they related to the bibliographical description of Thackeray's works. It developed into a narrative of the relations between Thackeray and his publishers. And it became, finally, an analysis of Thackeray as a professional writer and a discussion of how the trade of book publishing impinged on the writer and how that might affect our approaches as readers and editors to Thackeray's texts. It is intended as a contribution to the study of authorship, described by Robert Patten, that integrates "theory, history, biography, and sociology with an understanding of how a literary text is created, published, and marketed and how its utterance might be shaped by the cultural conditions of its creation." (Patten, p. 4).
Last modified: 4 April 2001