decorative initial 'A'

lthough Thackeray closed no deals with Longman until five years later, within two months he made a £385 contract with Chapman and Hall for "Titmarsh in Ireland" (eventually The Irish Sketch-Book). His star may have been a faint one yet, but it was definitely rising. The contract, or "fine," he had begged of Macrone in 1837 was delivered into his hand in September 1840 by Chapman and Hall, complete with a due date for an illustrated two volumes by 31 December!

The silver lining, however, had a dark cloud, Though the ante this time seems to have jumped from £20 to £120 "to be paid down this day" (Letters1:471), there lurked in the background of the contract an arrangement with Chapman and Hall revealed only in Thackeray's letters to his mother asking Miss Mary Graham, his cousin and adoptive sister, to sign a letter of surety for Chapman and Hall in case of Thackeray's default; moreover, Thackeray left his plate-chest with the publisher who held it until 1846 Letters 1: 468, 473). Three weeks earlier Thackeray had returned from Belgium to discover his wife in a deep depression he still hoped was temporary. On 12 September, Thackeray took his family to Ireland where he hoped to write the book and see if Cork air and a visit home would restore Isabella's wandering mind and spirits. Neither endeavor was successful. On the trip to Ireland, Isabella's depression manifested itself as insanity. She threw herself into the sea where she was found twenty minutes later "floating on her back, paddling with her hands." The Thackerays' sojourn in the Emerald Isle lasted just a month, during which Thackeray nursed his wife, chafed heavily under the tyranny of his mother-in-law, and worked intermittently on an unidentified play. His exit from Ireland [43/44] on 11 October 1840 was something of an escape or retreat from Isabella's mother. By the end of November, Isabella was institutionalized in France at J.-E.-D. Esquirol's Maison de Santé, and Thackeray could spend more and calmer time writing [Ray, Adversity, pp. 255-60].

Among his first concerns was The Shabby Genteel Story. On 3 December he wrote James Fraser from Paris: "I left purposely the Shabby Genteel Story in such a state that it might be continued in the magazine or not as you and I liked best. Would you like it to be continue? In that case I should like to write the whole story off, and of course be paid for it on delivering over the MSS. Some 4 sheets I think would complete the affair. Please let me know whether I shall proceed with it, for though I can't afford to begin my new articles at your prices this one had better be gone through with if you think fit." Then, assuming that Fraser would authorize the continuation, he added, "I shall probably publish the whole tale wh. has a very moral ending in a volume with illustrations" (Letters 1: 488). The plan reveals again Thackeray's increasing desire to see his magazine work in book form. Fraser, however, declined; a continuation, as such, was never written, though Thackeray briefly considered it in 1856 when searching for copy for volume 2 of Miscellanies to fill a vacuum caused by a miscommunication with his publisher. The incomplete story was first published in book form by Appleton in New York in 1852.18 But there was plenty more to keep Thackeray busy.

On 15 December 1840 Thackeray witnessed the celebrations connected with the arrival of Napoleon's body from St. Helena for burial in Paris. He claimed to have written The Second Funeral of Napoleon in four days and the appended "Chronicle of a Drum" in a week. Published by Hugh Cunningham in London in January 1841, it made a small book of 122 pages - one of the quickest productions of his career. He wrote to friends that he was to receive 7 ½ pence for every copy sold and claimed by 21 January to have earned £3.2.6 from the sale of 100 copies (Letters 2: 4, 7). By March he groused that the total sold was only 140 copies.

In spite of his disastrous personal circumstances at the end of 1840, or perhaps because of them, Thackeray was intensely committed to the production of new works. The initial success of The Paris Sketch Book in mid-1840 had made The Irish Sketch-Book contract possible, but when work on that scale proved impossible under the circumstances, Thackeray produced shorter pieces (A Shabby Genteel Story and The Second Funeral) [44/45] and projected more by the end of the year. Cunningham advertised two new books by Titmarsh: The Second Funeral and Dinner Reminiscences: The Young Gormandizer's Guide at Paris. The latter work was never issued, though parts of it may survive in "Memorials of Gormandizing" in Frasers Magazine, June 1841. Cunningham may have waited to see how The Second Funeral would do, deciding not to try another book in the same format when that one failed in the marketplace, or he may have decided that Comic Tales, a new two-volume venture already planned, was as much as he dare invest at one time in the as yet little known author.

Long before the first manifestation of his wife's illness and before dealing with Chapman and Hall for The Irish Sketch-Book in September, Thackeray had already planned a collection of his earlier magazine fiction, Comic Tales, to be published with Cunningham. The idea was first mentioned in surviving letters in December 1839, and by December 1840 he remarked to James Fraser his intention to republish A Shabby Genteel Story19 and added, "I have got a very decent price from Cunningham for a republication of my comic miscellanies" (Letters 1: 489). That decent price is not known, but by then he had signed with Chapman and Hall for a new work at £385 and had begun to appreciate the market value of his work. Serious work and new illustrations were undertaken in February and March 1841, and Comic Tales was published in April in two volumes (Letters 2: 9).20 The only new text in the book was Thackeray's preface clearly indicating that the American appearance of Yellowplush and the rumored but never confirmed republication of Gahagan had spurred preparation of the collection. Both those works appeared in Comic Tales. No evidence exists to confirm that Thackeray was instrumental in having Yellowplush published that same year by Baudry in Paris in tandem with Dickens's Master Humphrey's Clock, but the Baudry text derives from the Comic Tales edition, not the Fraser's text, and Thackeray was in Paris off and on during the year and may have collected a modest amount for the republication there. If so, he was tasting the first fruits of having a literary property out of the inkwell.

During the six months after Isabella's entry to the Maison de Santé for treatment (December 1840 to May 1841), Thackeray was very [45/46] productive, as Gordon Ray has pointed out. He wrote The Second Funeral in December and The History of Samuel Titmarsh in January and February, began and abandoned eight chapters of the never completed historical novel "The Knights of Borsellen" between January and April, saw Comic Tales through press in March, and wrote "between February and May a dozen magazine articles and stories. " [Ray, Adversity, p. 261] Such a flurry of activity was made both possible and necessary by the emotional crises and the increased financial burdens of the last year's ending. But Thackeray's almost single-minded application to writing at the same time was developing in him ideas about his profession-about the cold trade relations existing between all persons making a living out of writing, printing, publishing, and bookselling as well as about the unpredictable nature of literature's new patrons, the public. This is the period in which he wrote the two letters to Jane Carlyle from France, the first full of desperate need, the second of cheerful but, as it turned out, misplaced hope. The Second Funeral was a failure, and Comic Tales cannot have done well; not only did Cunningham never publish anything else by Thackeray, remaindered sheets from the 1841 Comic Tales were reissued with a new title page in 1848 to take advantage of the popularity of Vanity Fair. "The Knights" was abandoned, and the publisher Bentley ignored the manuscript of The History of Samuel Titmarsh. The rising star so quickly blighted by Isabella's illness had flared once more only to die back, Thackeray eking out his living with the usual magazine work.

The manuscript of The History of Samuel Titmarsh languished with Bentley from late February to the first of June when Thackeray wrote angrily to have it turned over to Hugh Cunningham. It is a notable letter revealing both frustration and a new confidence in his status that did not mind offending a publisher: "& next time your obedient Servant sends you an article you may set him down without fail to be you understand what [sketch of a donkey] yours & whatdyecallem W M Thackeray." [Ray, Adversity, p. 478] But Cunningham did not want Samuel Titmarsh either, and it was published at magazine rates in Fraser's from September to December 1841.23 [46/47]

During these years of hand-to-mouth existence, Thackeray entered many tentative and aborted relations with publishers, some of several years' duration or occasional renewal. His relations with Richard Bentley seem to have begun with the publication of "The Professor," a short story in Bentley's Miscellany, September 1837. That was also the end of their business together, although they both came up with other proposals. It was probably on the strength of an interest Bentley had shown that Thackeray began writing "The Knights of Borsellen" early in 1841 [Ray, Adversity, p. 268] and it is just as probable that his anger with Bentley and break with him in June 1841 influenced him to abandon it. Nearly a year later, still casting about for any work he could get, Thackeray approached Bentley again, offering the translation of a French novel ("strange to say it is not at all indecent") and suggesting that it "would answer for 3 volumes or for the Miscellany" (NYU). Apparently Thackeray had already translated two volumes, but the project came to nothing. We do not even know what novel it was. Three years later, Thackeray began translating a Eugène Sue novel, for which he also failed to find a publisher after having done a good deal of the work.

Later, while writing Vanity Fair, Thackeray wrote to Bentley asking for a copy of the six-volume edition of Horace Walpole's letters edited by John Wright in 1840 and offering to pay for it by writing for Bentley's Miscellany. Bentley, according to Thackeray's recollection, declined the deal but offered to pay for any of Thackeray's contributions at the rate of £12 per sheet. Thackeray apparently did not respond at the time. After the successes of Vanity Fair, Pendennis, and Esmond, it was Bentley who wrote proposals to Thackeray and the novelist who turned them down. In 1853 Bentley suggested, probably because of the success of Thackeray's first lecture series, that he reedit Walpole's letters. Two more volumes, edited by the Reverend J. Milford, had been added in 1851, and Bentley wanted a uniform and chronologically arranged eight-volume work. Thackeray responded, "The task wh. you propose is one wh. I should be glad enough to undertake provided we could agree upon terms. " He reminded Bentley of his earlier offer of £12 per sheet and concluded, "I'm sure that you are going to make me better proposals25 than the above: and awaiting them, am, very faithfully yours, W M Thackeray. " [NYU] Though this was a far more polite closing than the "Yours & whatdyecallem" of twelve years earlier, [47/48] no terms were agreed upon. Bentley tried once more in 1857 when, probably because of the success of Thackeray's second lecture series, he wrote to propose a work on the eighteenth-century artist and caricaturist William Hogarth. Aside from having "my own hands quite full at present," it happened that Thackeray had inside information on a project in progress answering Bentley's description exactly. In September 1855 George Augustus Sala had first spoken to Thackeray and then written to him of his work on Hogarth. Thackeray had recommended Sala to George Smith and apparently put it out of his mind until Bentley's proposal reminded him of it. Interestingly, Thackeray, who was in Paris at the time, sent his response first to George Smith to be forwarded to Bentley, writing Smith a note at the same time on the back of Bentley's proposal (NLS). Sala's work on Hogarth appeared first as nine installments in Smith's Cornhill Magazine (February - October 1860) and as a book under the Smith, Elder imprint in 1866 Meanwhile, in June 1841 The Irish Sketch-Book remained unwritten, Chapman and Hall holding the plate-chest and looking very like bankers making a loan instead of publishers paying an advance. Indeed, Thackeray seemed in no hurry to redeem his plate, offering instead to write a serial fiction for Fraser that might be turned into a book:

I have in my trip to the country, found materials (rather a character) for a story, that I'm sure must be amusing. I want to write & illustrate it, and as you see how Harry Lorrequer succeeds both in the Dublin Magazine & out of it, why should not my story of BARRY-LYNN< (or by        what name so ever it may be called) answer in as well as out of Regina. Suppose for instance you were to give a sheet & a half per month that sheet and a half could be stretched into two sheets for the shilling number by transposing (or whatever you call it) the type: and the book would thus make a handsome saleable volume at the end of the year. My subject I am sure is a good one, and I have made a vow to chasten and otherwise popularize my style. Thus I could have 20 guineas a month from you and a farther chance of profit from the sale of the single numbers. Were we to come to a bargain I would not of course begin until 3 numbers of the tale were in hand: with the plates &c. [Letters 2: 29-30]

Here for the first time we see Thackeray planning a work as "a property" with a view to its value beyond its first appearance. And we see him acknowledging the need to write first and close deals second, offering to have three installments done on the basis of encouragement alone from the [48/49] publisher. In the event, however, Thackeray wrote The Irish Sketch-Book first.

Thackeray had removed Isabella from the Maison de Santé in early April 1841, and she seemed so much better that he spent a considerable amount of time with her over the next few months, taking her for water treatments at a sanatorium on the Rhine in August. While they were there, two unforeseen events altered his financial situation: his half sister died, freeing to Thackeray £500 of inheritance that had been entailed while she lived, and his cousin Mary Graham, now married to Charles, Major Carmichael-Smyth's brother, lent him another £500 (Letters 2: 34). The Thackerays continued the water treatments in Boppard until October when Isabella ceased to improve, and by February 1842 she was placed under the residential care of Dr. Puzin in Chaillot (Letters 2: 41).

Over that winter Thackeray continued producing articles for Fraser's and George Cruikshank's Omnibus but no progress seems to have been made on Barry Lyndon or The Irish Sketch-Book until February 1842 when Thackeray wrote of his impending return to Ireland (Letters 2: 42). As that spring progressed, references to the Irish book came more and more into Thackeray's letters, including several to Chapman and Hall for whose newly acquired Foreign Quarterly Review he was writing two major articles totaling fifty pages (perhaps as a bid to become its new editor). Payment for these articles was separate from the advance (or loan) Chapman and Hall had made for The Irish Sketch-Book. After suggesting that the ordinary rate for his article on France was too little, considering the time for research it required ("The restoration alone cost me 6 weeks labor, &- the reading of many scores of books" [Letters 2: 51]) he concluded that the continuation on Louis Philippe would "bring no profit" and would be done "for reputation's sake" (Letters 2: 65). Thackeray at the same time had been busy with his first serial contribution to Punch "Mrs. Tickletoby's Lectures." By 19 September 1842 nine installments had appeared, and Thackeray awaited payment from Punch's publisher, Bradbury and Evans.

You may remember that when I spoke to you regarding Punch, you were ready to promise as proprietors of the journal that any articles wh. 1wrote for it should be paid. My stipulations with the editor of the paper were that my contributions should be paid at the rate of 2 guineas a page, and the only article for wh. I have recd payment was at that rate

I have now been writing for nearly 3 months (the printers have some more of my MS in their hands) I wrote a fortnight since to Mr. Landells [49/50] requesting him to communicate with Mr. Lemon, and beg the latter to send me what was my due, according to the account; wh. I have not kept myself but wh. can easily be arranged by reference to Punch from wh. this year I have received nothing. I did not receive an answer from Mr. Landells & then wrote to Mr. Lemon I have likewise no reply from that gentleman.

Will you have the kindness to let me know where I am to apply, in the first place for answers to my letters, and secondly for payment for my contributions? and may I beg an answer either with or without money by return post? [Bodleian]

Thackeray's letters to Landells and Lemon have not survived. But by 27 September, Thackeray had received £25 and the bad news that the publisher was not pleased with Thackeray's contribution. Evidently two more installments had been sent off already, for it appears that Thackeray broke off immediately: "I have no wish to continue the original agreement made between us, as it is dissatisfactory to you and, possibly, injurious to your work; and shall gladly cease Mrs. Tickletoby's Lectures, hoping that you will he able to supply her place with some more amusing and lively correspondent" (Letters 2: 82).

Judging from Thackeray's letters to his mother during his Ireland tour, which lasted from July to 1 November 1842, he was also writing steadily on The Irish Sketch-Book. Even before finishing it, however, he proposed, in January 1843, a new work, "FAIRY BALLADS by W. Thackeray," to Chapman and Hall and continued to write book reviews for that publisher's Foreign Quarterly Review (Letters 2: 9f). One can only imagine Chapman's response to this new proposal, with old ones pending long overdue, for there is no further reference to it in extant letters. But two weeks later Thackeray asked Mark Lemon to submit anonymously to the actor Macready a tragedy he had worked on while in Ireland (Letters 2: 93). Apparently nothing came of the effort. In February, Thackeray reported reading proofs for the first two sheets of The Irish Sketch-Book, noting "they've spoiled my first chapter for me though . . . by making me withdraw some personalities, agst. the Catholics wh. might certainly have been dangerous" (Letters 2: 94, 96) This remark should, however, be read in the context of a comment he made to his mother from Ireland: "A man coming here as I did with a strong disposition in favor of the Catholics, priests & all can't fail to get indignant at the slavish brutal superstition of the latter, and to become rather Toryfied so far. So I shall be abused by the Catholic Press for abusing the priests, and by the Tory papers for being a liberal" (Letters 2: 78). [50/51]

Oddly, though he was reading proofs by 20 February, Thackeray waited until 11 March to complain, mildly, to Chapman and Hall about the type size and page size of the book: "I find I am done out of no less than 50 pages by the size of the type &c- I bargained for 25 lines of 40 letters, and our page is 26 lines of 43 " (Letter 2: 98). While there was no stipulation in the contract for a certain number of pages, the book was "to consist of two volumes of the size . . . of the Paris Sketch Book," The Paris book consisted of two volumes of 304 pages and 298 pages; the Irish work turned out to be 311 pages and 327 pages. In spite of his hope that Chapman and Hall's "perspicacious generosity will bear this fact I'm sure in mind," apparently Thackeray found himself obliged for the extra pages, some of which may have been fleshed out with added illustrations. Perhaps because of Chapman and Hall's insistence on the full complement of pages, Thackeray recovered from a genial attitude toward what the publishers were doing to his book.26 Earlier, complaining mildly to his mother that "they have called it Rambles in Ireland wh. I think is a foolish name," [Letters, 2: 100] he added that he was too lazy to do anything about it, but in the end he must have balked.

On 29 April 1843 Thackeray sent unbound sheets (all but the one containing the front matter27) to his friend Percival Leigh asking for a quick review in the May issue of Fraser's Magazine: "Not a puff you understand, hit as hard as you like but in a good natured way and so as not to break bones." He explained that "the book is dedicated to Mr. Lever and the preface says that it was to have been called the Cockney in Ireland but for the remonstrances of the publisher wh. were so pathetic that the author was obliged to give way. In a second edition it is to be changed" (Letters 2: 106). The facetious tone of these remarks is familiar. The title probably was an item of discussion and perhaps contention between author and publisher, but in fact there is no preface in the book and the [51/52] dedication does not mention the alternate title. On the same day that Thackeray wrote to Leigh, he sent a similar request for a review to Laman Blanchard, saying, "It is dedicated to Mr. Lever, and the author will say in the preface that it was to have been called 'The Cockney in Ireland,' but for the pathetic remonstrances of the publishers" (Letters 2: 106). The future tense may be telling; it is conceivable that Thackeray had not yet read the proofs or settled finally on the content of the front matter. Furthermore, the reference to a second edition, as if one were already planned, was entirely facetious. Though The Irish Sketch-Book was Thackeray's greatest success to date, the 1845 "second edition," two years later, was nothing more than leftover first-edition sheets reissued with a new title page, and not with Thackeray's jocular title.28 No new negotiations and no additional payment came to Thackeray from that reissue.29 The next true English edition of The Irish Sketch-Book was not required until 1857.

Last modified 25 November 2021