uring the years of struggle to establish himself as a writer, Thackeray can hardly be said to have "had a publisher." Each new book had to find a home, often with a new publisher because his last book had failed to make money. By 1847 Thackeray's works had been published in book form by ten different publishers, of which four (Chapman and Hall, Macrone, Cunningham, and Hooper) are known to have paid him money. Another (Mitchell) published by agreement with him but claimed that returns did not even cover production costs, so there was no payment to the author. The other five (Taylor, Baudry, Berford, Cary and Hart, and Winchester), publishing unauthorized reprints, definitely did not pay. (Baudry is a possible exception, but there is no evidence one way or the other.)
Of the four who did pay, Chapman and Hall alone stuck with the author over a significant period of time. Indeed, the firm acted as Thackeray's bankers as well as publishers in the early 1840s. Then, for four years running (1846-49), Thackeray was able to count on them to publish his Christmas books.
Thackeray's relations with the Chapman firm in the second half of the 1840s was carried on as between equals in a business venture. In the turbulent revolutionary year 1848, Thackeray wrote Chapman suggesting the projected Christmas book, Kickleburys on the Rhine, be dropped in favor of a purely domestic and politically safe story [Letters 2: 444-45). Dr. Birch and His Young Friends became the season's offering that year. On the other hand, when Charles Lever parodied Thackeray as Elias Howle in the next month's installment of Roland Cashel, Thackeray's protest to Chapman that his publisher should not be "the office for this dreary personality" apparently made no difference. Yet Thackeray's business relations with Chapman and Hall proceeded on a professional level; subsequent letters deal with the production problems and illustrations for Dr. Birch [Letters 2: 466).
Rebecca and Rowena was Thackeray's last book published by Chapman [69/70]and Hall. On 17 September 1849, while he concerned himself primarily with producing Pendennis, Thackeray twisted his ankle badly enough to put him in bed for a few days. As luck would have it, he came down at the same time with a case of what may have been cholera, the worst of the illness coming on the night of 3 October. Obviously, he failed to prepare the next number of Pendennis for October; and though he pulled through and was declared out of danger by 15 October, he did not resume publication of Pendennis until 1 January 1850. He spent the end of October in Brighton to convalesce with "Dr. Sea Breeze," and on 7 November he began work, with Eyre Crowe's help, on the texts for Louis Marvy's Sketches after English Landscape Painters to be published by David Bogue in 1850. Bogue had very recently taken over the business of Charles Tilt, who had published Thackeray's Stubbs's Calendar in The Comic Almanac for 1839. Bogue wished both to build on Tilt's past interest and to take advantage of Thackeray's new popularity, so he wrote to Thackeray proposing republication of Stubbs's. On 21 November Thackeray replied:
The story of Stubb's Calendar has been already reprinted by me, in the "Comic Tales & Sketches" published by Cunningham in 1840 - It is my copyright, as all my works have been by verbal agreements with the publishers for whom I wrote, with the exception of certain contributions to the "Heads of the People" about wh. I forgot to make a stipulation: though I am advised that I can with perfect safety republish these latter in case I shd. think fit so to do.
I regret that I cannot consent to the republication of the Stubbs story, under the present circumstances.
I am working at the text for M. Marvy's engravings, & hope very shortly to deliver it to you. Nothing but illness wd. have prevented me from executing this task before now. [Letters 2: 610-11]
By 3 December Thackeray was well enough to accept a dinner invitation from George Smith, publisher of Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre. The two men had not met, but Brontë had asked Smith for a meeting with Thackeray. There is nothing in George Smith's recollections [quoted from Huxley in Letters 2: 611n] or Thackeray's own to suggest any lingering effects of his illness. Yet in December, Thackeray had to write Joseph Cundall to explain the delay in completing
the text for Marvy's book. Cundall, remembered primarily as a writer and publisher of children's books in the 1840s and 1850s, had previously been employed by Charles Tilt and had copublished several books with David [70/71]Bogue. He had just suffered bankruptcy and was continuing his publishing activities only in conjunction with other publishers when he apparently inquired on Bogue's behalf concerning the text Thackeray was preparing [McLean, pp. 1, 18, 22]. Thackeray wrote:
The gentleman whom I had engaged to get some biographical notices for Mr. Marvy's sketches is gone to France, hence my delay during the last month - but this month at any rate I promise you that the work shall be done, and always keep my promises.
I hope Mr. Bogue will settle with Mr. Marvy - what is it that I our to be paid for my contributions? It is a very difficult task to perform. [Letters 2: 612-13]
It may be that in November, while Eyre Crowe was in France, Thackeray worked on Rebecca and Rowena, the 102-page continuation of the romance of Ivanhoe. Whatever the case, it was already December when he sent the manuscript to Chapman, at the same time asking to be paid £50 and saying, "The book has cost me more time than all the rest" [Letters 2: 613]. That left little time for publication, and it is perhaps understandable that mistakes should have been made, particularly with the title and preface, which are always the last to be prepared. Thackeray sent the preface together with copy for an advertisement to the publisher, who mistakenly assumed the preface was part of the ad. The whole apparently appeared together, for Thackeray wrote the publisher correcting the subtitle from "A Romance on Romance" to " Romance on Romance" and adding: "What the devil have you gone & done? Why the devil didnt you send me proof You have gone & printed the preface with the advertisement - spoiled my point: offended Dr. Elliotson & annoyed me beyond measure." 4[Letters 2: 613-14] A partially corrected advertisement appeared in the Examiner on 1 December, without the preface but still sporting the erroneous subtitle, prompting Thackeray to write again: "The title as I wrote, and rewrote and recorrected is R & R or Romance on Romance not A [Romance on Romance]" [Letters 2: 614]. On 22 December the Examiner had miscorrected the subtitle to "Or A Romance on Romance," but the book itself never was corrected. Since the title page is a wood engraving, one wonders if perhaps the illustrator, Richard Doyle, might have initiated the problem. [71/72]
Such irritations may seem minor, but there is an evident coolness on both sides that attends the almost gentlemanly duty Thackeray fulfilled when he offered Chapman and Hall his next Christmas book, the one that had been scheduled for two years earlier when Dr. Birch was substituted, It is likely, too, that Thackeray's new stature as author of two successful major works made him less tolerant of Chapman and Hall's decidedly genteel, informal, and occasionally sloppy business practices. On the other hand, Thackeray himself tended to be informal about business agreements, as is suggested by his reference to the "verbal agreements" about copyrights in his letter to Bogue.
In August 1840 Thackeray dutifully broached the subject of The Kickleburys on the Rhine, his fifth Christmas book, offering Chapman and Hall an edition of 3,000 copies for £150. "I think," he wrote, "I have a right to a shilling per copy of a 5/ & often 7/ book: and intend to stipulate for that sum with my publisher" [Letters 2: 687). Chapman's reply on the back of Thackeray's letter was:
I find that there are about 350 copies of Rebecca [the 1849 Christmas book] now on hand out of the 3000 printed and I know that there are also a great many [illegible word] with the country booksellers. I don't think that a sale of more than 2500 could be depended on for the new book.
Under these circumstances, I could not, I am sorry to say agree to your proposal with any chance of profit to myself.
I am obliged to you for mentioning your intention to me before applying elsewhere & shall be sorry to lose the <advantage> ↑ value ↓ of your name, but it would be useless for me to undertake a speculation by which I feel assured I should lose. [Huntington]
How wrong Chapman was and how right Thackeray was to hold out became evident soon enough. Chapman and Hall lost whatever hold the firm may have had on Thackeray. The relationship, however, had been a long and generally friendly one; and, although Thackeray's written correspondence with Chapman and Hall seems virtually to have ceased in 1850, his letters to others contain references to his having met and conversed with one or another of the partners from time to time for the rest of his life.
If Chapman and Hall was Thackeray's publisher in any proprietary way - Thackeray had assured the firm when offering it The Kickleburys in 1850 that he had spoken to no other publishers - it did not try very hard to hold him. Chapman obviously made his decision without reading any of the manuscript, and his change in wording from "advantage," which has a [72/73]positive meaning, to the ambiguous "value," suggests Chapman may not have been as sorry as he said about losing Thackeray. In any case, two other publishers were ready to take Thackeray away. The first was Bradbury and Evans. Vanity Fair became that company's publication almost by default. Thackeray had thought, when he first became a Punch writer for Bradbury and Evans, that he was associating himself with a less respectable magazine, but by 1846 this connection was not only economically important but one Thackeray had come to take seriously as a means of satire and ridicule against political and social evil. Yet to have his first major book published from "THE PUNCH OFFICE," after being rejected by at least one and possibly four other publishers, is an indication that he was settling for a familiar, somewhat lower class publisher. (Dickens, publishing his first work, Dombey and Son, with Bradbury and Evans at the same time, had no reference to Punch in the imprint of his numbered parts.) And once Bradbury and Evans had carried Vanity Fair through the risky part of its production to success and had offered Thackeray increased pay for his next novel before a word of it was written, he became a Bradbury and Evans author.
That was not, however, an exclusive arrangement. The other publisher wooing Thackeray from Chapman and Hall did so far more deliberately and intentionally. With Chapman and Hall's release of its courtesy claim to his next Christmas book, by declining to pay £150 for it, Thackeray was free to offer it to George Smith of Smith, Elder, and Company, who immediately sent him a check for the full amount [Sutherland, Contracts, p. 171]. Thackeray replied in August 1850, "I went out of town early on the mg. of the 25th or I should sooner have acknowledged your letter, & the enclosed cheque for £150: the price of the Copyright of 3000 copies of my Xmas book for 1851 [i.e., December 1850]" (NLS). The first edition of 3,000 copies sold out immediately. On the day Smith wrote Thackeray with this news (and, by the way, enclosing a £50 bonus check), the Times printed an unfavorable review (later attributed to Charles Lamb Kenny). Thackeray's response, "An Essay on Thunder and Small Beer," appeared in the second printing of The Kickleburys, announcing itself as a "Second Edition," dated 1850. Two more reprints, the second called a "Third Edition," were issued in 1851. The printer's records for Smith, Elder no longer exist for the years preceding 1853, but it is clear that Chapman and Hall turned down a chance to make a tidy profit and thereby also lost any chance of enlarging [73/74]its share in an increasingly valuable literary property.6 Chapman and Hall's dealings with Thackeray had begun with caution, the formalities of contracts, and the proffer of advances in exchange for a security, the deposit of the family plate. These formalities later were dropped, and there were no written contracts for the Christmas books and no formal registration of titles with the Stationers' Register, facts discovered by George Smith in 1865 when he was trying to gain control of all Thackeray's copyrights [MS correspondence between Smith and Chapman, used by permission of John Murray, Publishers, the present owners]. Nevertheless, the Chapman and Hall firm seems to have paid its small profit-sharing dividends regularly, relying on gentlemen's agreements.
Bradbury and Evans exhibited a similar tendency toward informal agreements, and the company's hold on Thackeray was never a very firm one. It never stipulated for anything except the work it was about to publish. Anything else Thackeray undertook at the same time was none of its business or concern. With Smith, Elder, for example, Thackeray published The Kickleburys in 1850, The History of Henry Esmond in 1852, and Lectures on Eighteenth Century English Humourists in 1853, but in fact he was primarily a Bradbury and Evans author from 1847 to 1859
Bradbury and Evans
illiam Bradbury and Frederick Mullet Evans had gone into partnership as a printing firm in 1830. The company became the primary printer for the publisher and bookseller Moxon and later for Chapman and Hall. In the late 1840s and 50s appears to have done much of Smith, Elder's printing until that firm acquired its own printing works in 1857. Bradbury and Evans began, then, as a printer, not bookseller and publisher. When the partners purchased Punch in 1841, they launched a publishing career that seems to have been extraordinarily lucky rather than expert or self-assured. Charles Dickens considered a long while and turned down several offers from Bradbury and Evans because he was not convinced the firm knew enough about advertising and book distribution to make the most of his works [Patten, p. 141]. Thackeray's connection with Bradbury and Evans had begun, of course, with his contributions to Punch in 1842 and included occasional pieces in such Punch Office publications as George Cruikshank's Table-Book (1845) and Punch's Pocket Book for 1847. Perhaps like Dickens, Thackeray [74/75] distrusted his Punch employers as book publisher, for he tried other publishers with his first truly ambitious book before settling with their firm. The first number of Vanity Fair, issued on 1 January 1847, was the first Thackeray title published separately by Bradbury and Evans, and it marked the beginning of eleven years during which the firm was Thackeray's primary publisher. This relationship ended in 1859 with the purported failure of The Virginians and the successful wooing of Thackeray by George Smith, which bore fruit in the Cornhill Magazine. By then Bradbury and Evans had published Thackeray's four longest novels and three of the four volumes of Miscellanies collecting many of his better early productions. Thus, Bradbury and Evans continued to exercise publication rights in the majority of Thackeray's work until July 1865, when Smith, Elder and Company purchased the unsold stock, stereotyped plates, and copyrights from all other interested parties.
Thackeray's business association with Bradbury and Evans can be detailed rather fully because the firm's account books are still extant, and while the various records seem incomplete and do not always agree on amounts, especially in accounting for the distribution of copies printed, the archive provides what is in the main a faithful picture of the financial relationship between author and publisher.9 Sales figures provide a clue to the circulation of Thackeray's works; the size and number of printings suggest the development and decline in the popularity of individual titles; a clearer view is gained of the financial "failure" of The Virginians; and a previously unknown edition of one of his books is revealed.
Although Vanity Fair (1847-48) earned Thackeray less money than any of his other parts-issued novels (£3,006.3.3, compared with £3,207.18.1 for Pendennis and £4,561.3.9 for The Newcomes), it was his most widely circulated book. Of the two editions published by Bradbury and Evans, 32,500 copies were printed, and only 931 of these remained in stock in June 1865. Most of the sales were of the cheap edition, which was printed eleven times between 1853 and 1865 to produce 22,0000 copies. Aside from the fact that Thackeray received only £60 per number as initial payments for Vanity Fair, production costs kept it from earning much on the profit-sharing system, and although the total number of copies of the first edition (10,500) exceeded that for Pendennis (9,500), it required twice as many printings to reach that figure. The obvious reason for this was that Vanity Fair was written by a relatively unknown author for whom no [75/76] publisher would be likely to risk large printings, whereas Pendennis (1848-50) was written by the author of Vanity Fair - a fact which had a considerable bearing on the size of the initial printings (9,000 per number for Pendennis compared to an average of 4,500 per number for Vanity Fair).
After Vanity Fair Thackeray's most purchased books were Pendennis and The Newcomes (20,000 copies printed of each with only 500 copies of The Newcomes and 423 of Pendennis left in stock in 1865). For both publisher and author The Newcomes (1854-55) was a bigger money-maker than Pendennis because it sold more copies in the more expensive first edition and because production costs were slightly lower (fewer and larger reprints); for Thackeray himself The Newcomes had the additional advantage of initial payments £50 per number higher than those for Pendennis. The Book of Snobs, riding the rising wave of popularity developed by Vanity Fair, also had a large circulation. In two separate editions (1848 and as an "off-print" of Miscellanies, vol. 1, in 1855) Snobs circulated 11,750 copies, When this figure is added to the 10,000-copy printing of the first volume of Miscellanies, which contained it, it appears that Snobs may have reached a higher circulation figure than Pendennis. However, the records do not indicate clearly how many copies of each volume of the four-volume Miscellanies were included in the total of 1,600 copies left in stock or unaccounted for in 1865.
Although the The Virginians (1857-59) was recorded by Bradbury and Evans as a financial failure, it was Thackeray's greatest financial success while with that firm. No contract survives to tell us the details of Thackeray's agreement with Bradbury and Evans, but on 10 September 1856 he wrote to his friends Mrs. Elliot and Kate Perry that he was to receive £6,000 for the novel [Letter 3: 60). He repeated that information to his mother in December [Letters 3: 655). Since The Virginians is a twenty-four-part novel, like Pendennis and The Newcomes, this figure averages out at £250 per month. As late as February 1857, however, Thackeray referred to it as "that novel expanded into 20 or 4 numbers wh. <wd> I ↑ was to ↓ have been the continuation of Esmond — embracing the American War" (NLS). Thackeray seriously contemplated making it a twenty-part novel, like Vanity Fair, for he mentioned to William Bradford Reed in May 1857 that he was to receive twice as much for The Virginians as he had gotten for any other publication [Letters 4: 44). His highest previous payment was for The Newcomes, for which he had received £150 per month. Thackeray used the same phrase to Baron Tauchnitz on 12 November 1857: "my publishers here pay me twice as much as for the Newcomes." [Verlag Bernhard Tauchnitz, p. 123]. The first [76/77] installment appeared on 1 November, but sales were not as high as expected. Thackeray wrote to his American friends the Baxters in that month, "I tremble for the poor publishers who give me 300£ a number - I don't think they can afford it and shall have the melancholy duty of disgorging" [Letters 4: 56). And sure enough, on 21 December he wrote to John Blackwood: "We don't sell 20000 of the Virginians as we hoped, but more than 16000 and should have done better but for the confounded times. I have thought proper to knock 50£ a month off my pay from Bradbury & Evans till we get tip to a higher number - For you see Sir my publishers have always acted honestly and kindly by me and I don't want any man to lose by me" (Morgan). It is tempting to speculate that the novel was extended from twenty to twenty-four numbers, as Pendennis had been, so that while Thackeray's pay dropped from £300 to £250 per month, the total initial payment remained at £6,000, but that might just be an ingenious way to reconcile the varying figures in the surviving correspondence.11
It had been Bradbury and Evans's practice with Pendennis and The Newcomes to record the firm's own share of income as one of the costs of production. The split on Pendennis was £100 to Thackeray and £75 to the publisher, and the split on The Newcomes was £150 to Thackeray and it £112.10 to the publisher. Both of those books began showing a profit over and above these initial payments to author and publisher within a year of publication. But in accounting for The Virginians, the publisher did not figure in its share as a cost of production. According to the records, then, the author received his £6,000 while the publisher was still showing a deficit of £3,257.2.3 in 1865. There never were any profits to share from the first edition of The Virginians. Two reasons for the publisher's alleged predicament emerge from the records. First, it grossly overestimated the sale of the book: of the first number, 20,000 copies were printed; the print order was immediately reduced to 16,000 each for numbers 2 and 3, and reductions continued until, finally, only 13,000 copies each were printed of numbers 18-24; even this was too many, for in 1865 there were still 16,000 parts (equivalent to 690 copies of the book) left in stock. Second, the publisher agreed to pay more for this novel than Thackeray ever earned from a single title during the entire period of the company's connection with him. [77/78]
Every commentator on the financial fortunes of The Virginians, Thackeray included, has believed that Bradbury and Evans lost money on the book. They point to the fact that Thackeray agreed to a £50 per month reduction in pay and to the fact that Bradbury and Evans let Thackeray go to Smith without protest. In fact, however, Thackeray never stood to earn more than £6,000 in initial payments for the book, all of which he received, and a look at the records shows that the publisher's loss was a loss of expected profits, not a loss of capital outlay. By December 1857, after three numbers of The Virginians, there was a £66 deficit after paying production costs and after paying Thackeray but before paying Bradbury and Evans. By December 1958, after fifteen numbers, there was a surplus of £546 after paying production costs and author. The surplus continued to grow, Bradbury and Evans enjoying the fruits of it but not recording the firm's share until January 1863, when the surplus recorded was £1,199. At this point Bradbury and Evans credited the company with £4,500, which would have been its share in profits if the book had made enough to pay that share. By December 1863 the account showed a loss of £3,291, which really means that Bradbury and Evans made a little over £1,200 on the book. The firm recovered, through sales, all the costs of production, including all the money it had paid to Thackeray, and paid itself just over £1,200 in real money from profits. The deficit reported represents the amount required to pay the company its share of the proceeds from the book before the bookkeeper would declare the account balanced and proceed to ring up profits for sharing with the author. Since Bradbury and Evans apportioned to the company only £4,500 to Thackeray's £6,000, it appears, in the absence of any surviving contract, that, the profit-sharing arrangement for The Virginians was to have been three to four, very slightly less for Thackeray than the two-to-three agreement in effect for the Miscellanies. Since Bradbury and Evans earned only a fourth of its three-sevenths share on the first edition of The Virginians, the deal was the worst it had made with Thackeray, earning it a profit of just over one half what it had made from the first edition of Vanity Fair. The Newcomes (1853-54), the second highest money-maker for Thackeray, had netted him only £4,561.3.9 by 1865, but it was a far more satisfactory bargain for the publisher, showing a profit within a year of the novel's completion in July 1855. To show a profit in that case meant the publisher had been able to pay itself as much as it had paid Thackeray.
The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond (circulation about 15,000) almost equaled the sales of The Virginians (about 15,500), but both lagged behind the Ballads, a sleeper of which 18,000 [78/79] copies were printed (8,000 in a separate edition requiring nine printings and 10,000 as part of the first volume of Miscellanies).
The relationship between Thackeray and the firm of Bradbury and Evans was for the most part a pleasant and fruitful one. The records show the publisher always increasing remunerations to the successful author: initial payments for parts-issued novels climbed rapidly from £60 per number for Vanity Fair to £100 for Pendennis, £150 for The Newcomes, and finally to the supposedly disastrous £250 for The Virginians. Likewise, inprofits Thackeray's share, usually a half, became three-fifths for the Miscellanies (1855-57) and four-sevenths for The Virginians (1857-59).12
Thackeray's relations with Bradbury and Evans were personal as well as professional, The weekly Saturday Punch dinners for the magazine staff promoted both camaraderie and business, as is apparent from Henry Silver's diary recording the conversation at the table [Quoted by Ray, Wisdom, p. 347, and transcribed by Smith]. Bradbury and Evans gave Thackeray a punch bowl, engraved as from the publisher of Vanity Fair and Pendennis, in May 1849 [Letters 2: 530); in May 1852, in a letter to Evans asking if the agreement for Pendennis had not specified his share to be four sevenths rather than one-half, Thackeray also asked both cheekily and deferentially for a couple of commemorative cups "that my children might have after me — the Dobbin cup and the'Warrington' say. 20 might buy them; and they would slave who knows at what sideboards when you and I are passed away — " (Bradbury Album). It would seem that there was no contract for Pendennis to which Thackeray could appeal for support of his memory of the agreement, and the profit sharing for that book proceeded at half for the author, half for the publisher.
What Thackeray seems not to have known when he wrote his complaint, but which might have been told to him in person, is that Bradbury and Evans had undertaken a sacrifice on his behalf, which the firm probably felt was sufficient to satisfy the author. The publisher routinely charged 10 percent of gross income as a commission. This overhead cost was assessed as a cost along with production and in the case of Vanity Fair meant that Bradbury and Evans earned nearly £700 more than Thackeray did from the first edition of that book, which was published on a half-share [79/80] contract. In December 1851, after having charged the Pendennis account £787.13.10 for the publisher's commission, Bradbury and Evans seems to have had a change of heart, for it restored the full amount to the credit side of the ledger, pushing the Pendennis account from a deficit to a profit and enabling the first profit-sharing check to be drawn. It was that check which prompted Thackeray's letter of complaint about his portion. Bradbury and Evans never charged a publisher's commission again on Pendennis or on Thackeray's two other serial novels.
It was inevitable, of course, that the relationship would have its low points. One instance, more a case of panic than crossness, interrupted the otherwise smooth production of The Newcomes. Thackeray had a hard time getting Bradbury and Evans to deal expeditiously with Sampson Low for the sale of advance sheets to Harper and Brothers. In the end he lost about £150 by the company's failure to press the matter. Perhaps more important was the sharp tone used by Thackeray concerning Richard Doyle's tardy work in illustrating The Newcomes, but here Thackeray's irritation was shared with Bradbury and Evans, not directed against it.
Serious problems and a near rupture in the relationship occurred, however, early in 1855. In December 1851 Thackeray had resigned from Punch because of political disagreements, primarily with Douglas Jerrold. His last contribution to Punch as a regular staff member appeared in that month. The break was not without its tense feelings, but it seems not to have been personal between Thackeray and the publisher. In 1853 and 1854 Thackeray again contributed a few occasional pieces to Punch, apparently taking little heed to the rate of payment until, having dunned the editor, Mark Lemon, for back pay, he noticed in October 1854 that his rate of pay had been reduced. In a humorous but restrained letter to Lemon, Thackeray calculated the relative rates of pay for Punch, The Newcomes, and Blackwood's by adding up letters per line, lines per page, and pages per sheet, demonstrating in that way that he could no longer afford to work for Punch. It is clear also, however, that he was miffed [undated letters to Mark Lemon, privately owned, photocopies supplied by William Baker].
These money matters, just the current irritation, were easily exacerbated by a series of events beginning in December 1854. Thackeray wrote an article about Punch in the Quarterly Review which he said was intended to be good-natured but in which he praised John Leech, the illustrator, at the expense of all other contributors. Other staff members were [80/81] understandably upset, though Douglas Jerrold in particular was predisposed to resent any remark Thackeray might make. The first result of the ensuing tempest was that Thackeray, who had been proposing to George Smith that he start a periodical called Fair Play with Thackeray as editor, decided he could not undertake such a task. To Smith he wrote:
another incident has occurred to put a spoke in Fair Play's wheel; and I must give up all idea of the paper.
I wrote an unlucky half-line in the Quarterly about the Punch men saying that Leech was Punch, and that without him the learned gentlemen who wrote might leave the thing alone — an opinion wh. true or nor, certainly should not have been uttered by me, and has caused the saddest annoyance and pain amongst my old comrades[.] I had quite forgotten the phrase until it stared me in the face on my return home. Jerrold had attacked me about it, and with perfect reason calling me a Snob & flunkey - and on the face of the matter I think I was a Snob - but thats not the question.
I wrote to confess my fault to my old friends the Publishers & Editor and passed ½ the night awake thinking of the pain I had given my kind old companions. This is for ½ line written in an article intended to be entirely good-natured - Don't you see the moral?
If in writing, once in 5 years or so, a literary criticism intended to be good natured, I manage to anger a body of old friends, to cause myself pain and regret, to put my foot into a nest of hornets wh. sting and have their annoyance too, to lose rest and quiet, hadn't I better give up that game of Fair Play wh. I thought of, stick to my old pursuits, and keep my health and temper?
[Letters reprints this letter from Centenary Biographical Edition; my text is from the original, NLS]
To Bradbury and Evans, Thackeray explained: "you know how carelessly I read my proofs over that is all I can say. Phrases pass under my eye, and I don't see them. And I am obliged to go back constantly to my own back numbers; and find new blunders every time I take them up" (Bradbury Album).
But that was not the end. Rumors and allegations (no longer, if ever, existing in writing) began circulating concerning the original reasons for Thackeray's resignation from Punch in 1851. Clearly the remarks on Leech opened festering wounds, and Thackeray found to his surprise that his old friends Bradbury and Evans were not willing to back him in a dispute with [81/82] their Magazine's continuing staff. In March 1855 Thackeray wrote Evans one of his rather frequent dunning letters for payments on The Newcomes, then added
I met Murray the Publisher the other day, and cannot help fancying from his manner to me that there is some screw loose with him too about that unlucky Leech article. Lemon answering one of my letters said that he previously complained that my account of my leaving Punch was not correct.
There was such a row at the time and I was so annoyed at the wrong that I had done, that I thought I had best leave Lemon's remonstrance for a while and right it on some future occasion.
I recal now to you and beg you to show to him and to any other person who may have recd. a different version of the story - what the facts were. I had had some serious public differences with the conduct of Punch - about the abuse of Prince Albert & the Crystal Palace on wh. I very nearly resigned, about the abuse of Lord Palmerston, about the abuse finally of L. Napoleon — in all wh. Punch followed the Times, wh. I think and thought was writing unjustly at the time, and dangerously for the welfare and peace of the Country.
Coming from Edinburgh I bought a Punch containing the picture of a Beggar on Horseback in wh. the Emperor was represented galloping to Hell with a sword reeking with blood. As soon as ever I could, after my return, (a day or 2 days after) I went to Bouverie St. saw you and gave my resignation.
I mention this because I know the cause of my resignation has been questioned at Punch - because this was the cause of it. I talked it over with you and Leech saw me coming out of your room and I told him of my retirement.
No engagement afterwards took place between us; nor have I ever been since a member of Punch's Cabinet so to speak. Wishing you all heartily well I wrote a few occasional papers last year - and not liking the rate of remuneration wh. was less than that to wh. I had been accustomed in my time - I wrote no more.
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; and 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.] [82/83]
I reproach myself with leaving written a ½ line regarding my old Punch Companions, wh. was perfectly true, wh. I have often said — but wh. I ought not to have written. No other wrong that I know of leave I done. And I think it now about time that my old friends and publishers should now set me right.17
But Evans declined, it seems, to arbitrate or to support Thackeray, who on April 3 wrote Evans again:
I have copied out from my letter to you of 24th. March the statement I then made respecting my retirement from Punch and have forwarded it to Lemon. As my Punch arrangements were always made with you and not with him, I am sorry you cannot help me in confirming a fact to which you and I alone were privy — but for which I luckily have an out-door witness in Leech. -
I am at a loss to think how you should imagine that my contributions to Punch continued up to my departure for America.19 My successor Mr Shirley Brooks came on, if I remember aright, very soon after I went off. I remember to have contributed nothing but a Ballad for which I never asked or received any payment, and that point must be set at rest by the certainty that if I had sent any contributions wh. were paid to me at a less rate than that for which I had been accustomed to write I should assuredly have "struck work", as I did when we came to our last unlucky little settlement of Punch Accounts.
Will you have the kindness to pay into my bankers the sum due to me for the current number? According to my Banker's Account there is still a month of last year owing to me.
The crisp concluding reminder lacks any of the humor usually attending such requests; it is clear that the friendship had been strained. And yet Thackeray's business relations with Bradbury and Evans survived four and a half years longer. Much of the interaction between the author and publisher, of course, is not represented in surviving letters, for the next letter, undated but obviously not much later, is in a much kinder tone and [83/84] regretfully declines a dinner meeting with the Punch staff because of a prior engagement. Thackeray concluded, "Commend me to all my friends & believe me yours always" (Bodleian).
One might have thought that Thackeray's 1851 resignation from Punch or his 1855 controversy with the Punch staff in which Evans betrayed his trust would have led to a clear rupture, particularly since George Smith was perpetually in the wings offering to be Thackeray's publisher. But the facts, as Thackeray saw them, were that Bradbury and Evans had launched him when he was unknown and that the firm's dealings with him were always honest and ever improving. By August 1855 the relationship was back to normal: Thackeray dunned Bradbury and Evans for back pay and raised the question of a cheap edition of Pendennis - an idea that saw the light in October of the same year (Bodleian).
From the completion of Pendennis on 1 December 1850 to the commencement of The Newcomes on 1 October 1854, Thackeray published no new works with Bradbury and Evans outside Punch. Three new works written during this period went to Smith, Elder (Kickleburys, Henry Esmond, and English Humourists) and a fourth (Rose and the Ring) would be published by that firm in December 1854, and yet Thackeray considered Bradbury and Evans to be his primary publisher. Why this should be so is open to question, for in fact Thackeray published as many titles with Chapman and Hall and with Smith, Elder as he did with Bradbury and Evans. But it is evident from his letters and the amount of his magazinery published in Punch, as well as from the coterie of Punch writers to which he belonged, that in the late 1840s Thackeray's most substantial financial and personal connection with publishers was with William Bradbury and F. M. ("Pater") Evans. Further, though Vanity Fair and Pendennis may have represented only one working contract each and can be listed in a bibliography in just two entries, they were the major continuing writing obligation of Thackeray's life from January 1847 to December 1850 - four continuous years of service, producing the two works which made the difference for Thackeray between "odious magazinery" and the "fight at the top of the tree." And yet, as well as Thackeray seems to have gotten on with Bradbury and Evans and as loyal to the company as he felt with regard to his next serial fiction, Bradbury and Evans had not been his first choice as publisher for Vanity Fair; he did not turn to the firm with his Christmas books when Chapman and Hall declined to meet his price; and he turned easily to George Smith with Henry Esmond and the lectures. What George Smith had that Bradbury and Evans did not was a certain air of substance, perhaps even elegance, attached to the publisher's imprint, which was associated with works of scholarship in zoology, astronomy, [84/85] art history, and geography and with elegant illustrated works.20 These matters may have weighed as much with Thackeray as Smith's purported generosity with money, for which he became known as the "Prince of Publishers."
A third factor, however, must have been the personal attraction between the two men. If Smith was, after all, a "mere tradesman," he was also intelligent. Smith had been asked to leave his boarding school at age fourteen not because he was a poor scholar (he was academically one of the top three students in his class) but because he was, to put it politely, too energetic. He immediately was apprenticed to his father's new partner, Patrick Stewart, where he learned all aspects of bookselling, stationery, trade with India, and banking. He continued his reading in history, science, religion, and fiction and could read French and Latin well. Furthermore, Smith, like Thackeray, was an avid theatergoer. He was over six feet tall, of slender, not athletic, build. Thackeray might well have found these abilities and characteristics congenial in a businessman publisher who was not only energetic but was cultivated enough to be a successful host for literate people in social settings [the information for this sketch comes from Glynn, pp. 16-21]. The personal relationship is attested by the fact that Thackeray seconded Smith's bid in 1861 to become a member of the Reform Club (NLS). Though Thackeray had been on friendly terms with his previous publishers, he was not on such a footing with them as he developed with George Smith.
Last modified 20 July 2012