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AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS.
T has been a popular assumption that between authors
and publishers little sympathy existed. The story of Campbell, at a literary dinner, proposing the health of Napoleon, because he “once shot a publisher,"" has often been quoted as a fair expression of the feeling with which they regard each other, and if there is any truth in the picture which represents the publisher as a sort of ogre, whose den is strewn with the bones of authors, and who quaffs his wine out of their skulls, this assumption is certainly natural enough, as between the eater and the eaten there can be little love lost.
It must be admitted that the reminiscences of authors do contain not a few instances which might serve to justify this vulgar impression as to the practical and profit-absorbing tendencies of publishers. Milton, Johnson, Goldsmith, Voltaire, Balzac, Heine, Byron, Thackeray, and many others, including even Cicero, might be cited in support of this view. In deciding, however, how much weight ought to be given to such quotations, it is proper to bear in mind several considerations. In the first place, the reports of such differences as have arisen between authors and publishers always appear in an ex parte shape. We hear only the authors' opinions of the questions at issue, while the statements of the other parties, the publishers, do not get
. Johann Phillip, Palm, of Nuremberg, shot in 1806, for publishing a pamphlet against the rule of the French in Germany.
before the public at all. Secondly, these ex parte opinions come to us from members of a genus irritabile, whose perceptions of the facts and equities of business transactions must in any case be taken with much allowance, and of whom some, at least, such as Voltaire, Balzac, Heine, etc., can hardly be trusted to tell straight stories of matters in which their own vanity or interests were involved.
It is further to be borne in mind that, while the transactions between authors and publishers would now aggregate a very considerable number (equal, of course, to the total number of books published), the public has its attention called to those instances only in which the authors imagine they had grounds for complaint or texts or pretexts for satire; and in reading of these it is easy to forget how very inconsiderable a proportion they must bear to the long list of transactions concerning which the authors had no criticisms to make.
The hundreds of thousands of cases in which the authors have, through the successful co-operation of their publishers, received from the public a satisfactory return for their labors, give no texts for satirical chapters in fiction, no themes for fierce onslaughts in reminiscences ;—they remain naturally and of necessity uncommemorated.
And, finally, it is proper to remember that publishers are the only class of business men whose sins, real or imaginary, come into literature. Their clients have the ear of the public, and sometimes of posterity, and are likely enough to assume that the details of their personal concerns and grievances are as interesting to their readers as they may be important to themselves. If the complaints against merchants, bankers, lawyers, physicians, etc., on the part of their respective clients, could, in like manner, be put into literary form, the sins of publishers would, in comparison, sink into absolute insignificance.
It must also be said that the relations of authors and publishers have, as literature has developed in commercial importance, and has established its commercial status, undergone material modifications, and that occurrences which gave rise to some of the bitter passages in authors' reminiscences of a century back, would, under the conditions of today, be impossible. Grub Street exists no more, and with Grub Street have disappeared the patron and the publisher of old-time literary history and literary hatred. The last appearance of the latter is, we believe, in “ Pendennis," where Warrington and young Pen are described as going down to Fleet Street to sell Pen's poem, and Pen becomes acquainted with the manner in which the rivals of the publishing fraternity, Bungay and Bacon, bully, on the one hand, their hardly paid hacks, while ever ready, on the other, to toady to their aristocratic clients.
This picture in “ Pendennis,” by the way, could not have been given as a personal experience, for it is on record that Thackeray's personal relations with his own publishers (Smith, Elder, & Co.) were both pleasant and profitable.
It is certainly the case to-day that authors who can produce wares possessing commercial value, find little difficulty in securing for them such value. Publishers are always on the look out for real material, that is, for material possessing that indescribable quality which secures popular appreciation, and they can be trusted, on the ground of their competition with each other, if for no other reason, to pay for such material its market value. It may, therefore, safely be concluded, that it is chiefly the feebler sort of authors who make any attempt to keep up the “ ogre” theory or to represent publishers as “ bulldozers.”
The fledgeling whose first venture has been entered upon with large expectations, may often be ready to imagine that the profits upon which he had fondly calculated, and which he has failed to realize, have been absorbed by the publishers. But an author who has any experience in literature or knowledge of business, can readily recognize that the interests of authors and publishers, of producers and distributors, are practically identical, and that all transactions between them must be regulated by the same inexorable laws of supply and demand, and under the same pressure of competition, which control all buying and selling.
In connection with this matter of the relations of authors and publishers, it may be worth while to quote a few words from a writer whose experience was, on the whole, not unsatisfactory :
“ I have dealt with a good many publishers,” says Mr. Frederick B. Perkins, “and while I have found some few of them arrogant, discourteous, oppressive, and generally abominable in both personal and business intercourse, I desire to record my testimony that as a class they are courteous and honorable gentlemen ; fair and liberal in views, intentions, and actions, and pleasant and intelligent in mind and intercourse. For my own part, after having examined in detail a good many transactions with publishers for other people, and after having a good many dealings with them for myself, I should be satisfied that what my publisher told me about the sale of my book was true ; that he had done his best to sell it, and that what he had paid me (for my share of the proceeds) was right.”
In a recent article on “ The Publisher's Vocation,” the text for which was the cordially appreciative memoir by Thomas Hughes of the publisher Daniel Macmillan, the Rev. Julius H. Ward says :
“The reading public is ready enough to acknowledge its obligations to authors, and seldom thinks of the party named at the foot of the title-page, through whose agency a book is brought out. The traditions of books give every ad