Chapter 3 ("The Writer as a Literary Property"), part 4, of the author's Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and W. M. Thackeray, which University Press of Virginia published in 1992. It has been included in the Victorian Web with the kind permission of the author, who of course retains copyright.
Smith came close to being the publisher of The Newcomes, as seems apparent from Thackeray's 16 June letter explaining, with regret, why he had given the work to his old publisher Bradbury and Evans:
I wish this answer to your kind letter could be Yes: but my friends Bradbury & Evans have always dealt so honorably by me that I was bound in duty to them; and offered them <terms> the same terms about wh. I had spoken ↑ with them, ↓ on my return from America. They were not so good as those wh. Other publishers I know would have given me; but having stated my own price, wasn't it my duty to abide by my words? - I think so, though I might have benefited my pocket elsewhere.
I hope you & I however will have many other dealings, and I'm sure you won't think the worse of me for remaining constant to old friends, who have been very kind & constant to me.
P.S. This is a secret. Next year I am not pledged not to write a book [98/99] about the United States; with wh. and the Warringtons of Virginia & the 4 Georges I see a tolerable amount of work before both of us.
There is a possibility that this letter, carrying no year date, was written not in 1853 but in 1857 and refers to The Virginians, for which Smith may have made a bid as well (this letter seems, in fact, to offer that book to Smith); but a reference in a letter front Thackeray to Evans on 24 March 1855 seems to point directly to an offer from Smith for The Newcomes. In asking Evans for help in straightening out misunderstandings about his resignation from Punch, Thackeray noted, "And you can say for me as a reason why I should feel hurt at your changing the old rates of payment made to me — that I am not a man who quarrels about a guinea or two except as a point of honour; 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." [Bodleian]
And so, though Thackeray's relations with Bradbury and Evans were becoming slightly less cordial, and though Thackeray seemed to prefer working with Smith, he thought that because Bradbury and Evans had published his first two large, successful serial novels, his third large serial, The Newcomes, should be offered first to that company.
The terms of his offer are not on record - there is no extant contract - but Bradbury and Evans must have given what Thackeray asked. Thackeray wrote to the Baxters in June 1853 that he had "signed and sealed with Bradbury and Evans for a new book" (Letters 3: 280). The first number appeared on 1 October 1853. Thackeray had written nothing else for publication since his return from America on 2 May. His plan had been to finish the whole book by the end of the year, but once again Thackeray was being too optimistic. He had actually written four monthly installments by 1 September, and he had decided to have the illustrations done by Richard Doyle, so there was reason to believe he could stay well ahead of the monthly deadlines. But the work was allowed interruptions. A full account of the composition and publication of The Newcomes has been given by Professor Edgar Harden [Harden, Emergence, pp. 75-137]. He detailed how the book was written while Thackeray traveled in Europe, staying for a while in Rome, [99/100] how Percival Leigh was employed to oversee the proofing and final adjustments in length and illustrations, and how a mix-up at the London end misplaced an extra passage that was meant for installment 6, resulting in some jury-rigging by Leigh, the illustrator, and the printer to make a short installment fill the required thirty-two pages. The extra passage has not been identified and apparently has been lost forever; it was not mistakenly added to installment 5, for that was too long already, having had to accommodate an overage from installment 4.
Thackeray finished the novel in June 1855, just a little over one month before publication of the final double number. Clearly he did not stay as far ahead of publication as he had been on 1 October 1853 when the serial began. Furthermore, his writing for periodicals had fallen off sharply: only ten contributions to Punch during two years and the controversial article on John Leech in the Quarterly Review. In addition, he wrote The Rose and the Ring (published by Smith in December 1854). A relatively secure financial base, illness, and a house moving seem to have combined to slow Thackeray's production, though he was putting some time into preparing the cheap editions of Vanity Fair (1853), Pendennis (1855), and the Miscellanies (1855-58). But Thackeray's essay on Leech, published in December 1854, was his last known prose contribution to a periodical until he began writing as contributing editor for Smith's Cornhill Magazine in 1860.45
Having finished The Newcomes, Thackeray wrote an exploratory letter to Smith in September 1855 offering him The Four Georges and perhaps a travel book. He went on to contemplate The Virginians but did not offer it: "I propose to sell you an edition of 'The Georges. Sketches of Courts, manners, and town life, and if I do a book of travels I shall bring it you but this is hardly likely. I shall more likely do the Esmonds of Virginia, and it will depend on the size to wh. that book goes whether it shall appear in 3 vols. or 20 numbers" (NLS).
Gordon Ray noted that "with Bradbury and Evans bidding against George Smith for his next book, the terms proposed soon soared so high that Thackeray could not refuse them," [Ray, Wisdom, p. 222] but Ray cited no source for this competition, which nevertheless may have accounted in part for the high offer Bradbury and Evans made for The Newcomes (£3,600 plus £500 from Harper and Tauchnitz [Letters 3: 280]) and the even higher bid for The Virginians (£6,000). But the evidence of Thackeray's June 1853 letter [100/101] suggests that whatever the competition was, loyalty to Bradbury and Evans for a time won out over higher offers. Whatever the reason was that took The Virginians to Bradbury and Evans, Smith must have been grateful; for though the Bradbury and Evans loss was not as bad as the firm led people to believe, it probably had effects on Smith's negotiations with Thackeray, which are visible in the contracts. Nevertheless, Smith's overall plan to acquire Thackeray as a property was undiminished.
Glynn, Jenifer. Prince of Publishers: A Biography of George Smith. London: Allison and Busby, 1986.
Harden, Edgar. "Thackeray: 'Rebecca and Rowena': A Further Document." Notes and Queries 24 (1977), 20-22.
-----. "Historical Introduction" to The History of Henry Esmond. New York: Garland, 1989
-----. "The writing and Publication of Esmond" Studies in the Novel 13 (1981), 79-92.
-----. "The Writing and Publication of Thackeray's English Humourists" PBSA 76 (1982), 197-207.
-----. The Emergence of Thackeray's Serial Fiction. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1979.
McLean, Ruari. Jospeh Cundall: A Victorian Publisher. Pinner: Private Libraries Association, 1976.
The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray, ed. Gordon N. Ray. 4 vols. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1946.
Ray, Gordon. Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.
-----. The Buried Life. A Study of the Relations between Thackeray's Fiction an His Personal History. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1952.
Spencer, Eddy. The Founding of the Cornhill Magazine. Ball State Univ. Monograph no. 19. Muncie, Ind, 1970.
Smith, Constance. "The Henry Silver Diary: An Annotated Edition" (Ph. D. diss., St Louis Univ. 1987).
Smith, George. Chapters from Some Memoirs. London: Macmillan, 1894.
-----. "The Recollections of a Long and Busy Life." 2 vols. Typescript. Quoted by Edgar Harden. "The writing and Publication of Esmond" Studies in the Novel 13 (1981), 80-81.
-----. "The Thackeray-Smith Contracts" Studies in the Novel 13 (1981), 168-83.
Der Verlag Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1837-1912. Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1912.
Last modified: 9 April 2001