decorative initial 'T'

hackeray must have entered an early, though tentative, agreement with Smith to publish The Four Georges at some future date, for he apparently received an offer from another publisher in February 1857. Thackeray sent this no longer extant offer to Smith on 16 February, commenting: "Meditate the astounding offer contained in the enclosed not with the idea that I am going to think of accepting it. Having sold my horse to a good friend & for a good price how can I sell it to another dealer? But the question with me is, Is the delusion about those Lectures sufficiently great to enable us to sell them as they actually stand at a good profit. And having read them (all) through the country for a few months more Shall we kill the wretched goose & have done with it. Or shall we bring out not 2 but haply 6 great volumes in future ages about the Georges with a success that might be something like Stricklands.?" (NLS).

Neither man was, however, in a hurry to kill the goose. Thackeray continued to deliver the lectures as late as June [Ray, Wisdom, p. 267] after which the parliamentary election campaign in Oxford, a holiday, and then, perhaps, the pressure of deadlines for The Virginians, which he was eking out monthly as he had Vanity Fair and Pendennis, kept him from following through with the plan to publish. Whatever the case, no action was taken on that issue until 1859.

To Charles Lever, Thackeray commented in June 1859: "I leave them [Bradbury and Evans] (we remain perfect good friends) and go over to Smith & Elder. . . . [I]ndeed I have had every reason to be satisfied with both firms" [Letters 4: 144). But Thackeray's profitable dealings with George Smith (Kickleburys on the Rhine, 1850, and Henry Esmond, 1852) and the fabulous offers made him by the firm of Smith, Elder to edit the Cornhill Magazine doubtless made him eager to part company with a publisher who claimed to be losing money on his latest book.

The give-and-take between the apparently easygoing author and the [101/102] shrewd businessman publisher can be seen best in the history of the founding of the Cornhill Magazine. As early as 1854 Thackeray had proposed to Smith a periodical called Fair Play, which he would edit. Smith took to the idea and started making plans. Then in February 1855 Thackeray cried off after his Quarterly Review remark that Punch Magazine was nothing without the illustrator John Leech drew the anger of his former writing cronies. The incident made Thackeray doubt his abilities to be an editor without inadvertently making enemies. Smith's final assault and successful siege to capture complete control of Thackeray's writing may have grown out of that aborted project. On 19 February 1859 Smith approached Thackeray with a memorandum announcing his intention to "commence the publication of a Monthly Magazine on January 1st, 1860," and offering a contract specifying " 1 or 2 novels of the ordinary size" to be delivered one-twelfth at a time for monthly publication in the magazine. Thackeray would give up all rights in the novels for the magazine and one book-form publication but would share in the profits from any second or subsequent book form. He would be paid £350 each month [Letters 4: 130). Two outstanding elements of this offier are the length of the novels and the rate of pay. Smith wanted a novel in twelve parts, each "estimated to be about equal to one number of a serial," and he was willing to pay £100 per month more than the firm of Bradbury and Evans was paying for The Virginians, on which it claimed to be losing money. Smith's insurance was to be all the income from foreign editions (Harper and Tauchnitz) and one separate book edition.

Two months later, 9 April 1859, an agreement was drawn up, but the stipulations had been changed. In this agreement both men honed the clauses to suit what they thought was important. Smith now insisted on submission of manuscript exactly one month before publication date; he insisted that the scenes "are to be descriptive of contemporary English life society and manners" (i.e., not a historical narrative); he increased his leeway in book publishing by claiming all the profits from two separate book issues (though the agreement is written in such a way as to preclude either of those from being a "cheap" edition, for which Thackeray reserved the right to share half profits); and he insisted that Thackeray write for no one else for the duration of magazine serialization. Thackeray seems also to have worked over the contract. He is probably the one who insisted that the serial length be increased to sixteen numbers and the one who suggested "not less than twenty four original drawings for etchings on steel" (NLS; see Appendix A). By this contract Smith secured Thackeray's [102/103] services for thirty-six months and Thackeray secured the highest monthly income of his life (£350) for thirty-two of those months.

One stipulation did rankle Thackeray. On the afternoon of 14 February Thackeray signed the agreement and sent it to Smith with the following note: "I have written at the side of one paragraph a remark of wh you'll see the bearing. You'll see I am hankering still to write a ballad or two without my name in Punch - or do something to show my old friends that I've not quite separated from them." And the next morning he wrote a second note to Smith: "I found your note when I came home last night having meanwhile sent you from the Club the signed agreement: by wh. I propose to abide. The objections written on the other leaf may be torn off if you like; but I think I ought to write a Punch paper or ballad or so, to show that there is no disagreement between me & my old employers. This is a matter of minor importance however, <and> I consider our agreement as made" (NLS). The copy of the 9 April agreementthat Thackeray signed has brackets marking the paragraph stipulating he not publish elsewhere, and the facing page has been torn away.48 Four months later, 20 August, Smith and Thackeray signed a substitute agreement beginning: "Some of the conditions of the agreement made on 9th. of April 1859 between Mr. Thackeray and Smith Elder & Co. are to be varied as follows-" (NLS; see Appendix A). The changes were substantial; again both men were negotiating. There is still no mention of editing the magazine.

The first part of the new agreement must represent Thackeray's new demands. The starting date for beginning the first novel was postponed six months to 1 June 1860; the length of each novel was to be expandable to twenty numbers at Thackeray's option; illustrated initials would be furnished in addition to the steel engraved plates; the novels would be separate serials rather than parts of the proposed magazine; and Smith would have the full rights to only one book form in addition to the serial. No reference is made to money; so one assumes the £350 per month specified in the April contract held good. Furthermore, the new agreement makes no mention of foreign rights, a fact Thackeray picked up on in a letter that indicates he may have taken the agreement away with him to consider: "I have forgot the Agreement at Fkstone. but its all right. The American reprints are mine in this case?" (NLS). Exhausted by The [103/104] Virginians and unwell, Thackeray was giving himself room to breath. Four days earlier he had written to F. M. Evans concerning the last number of The Virginians: "I have been ill again, and am very much afraid I cant do the double number this month. The single number I can do - it is + done already. I hope the delay wont inconvenience you" (Bodleian).

Smith, however, was not losing his man. Thackeray agreed to supply a very short novel in six parts for the magazine, each only sixteen pages long, half the size of a normal serial monthly. In addition, The Four Georges would be serialized. Each work would belong to Smith for one book issue. The price for this magazine work was £1,500, to be paid in three installments. No date was stipulated for submission of the lectures manuscript, and in fact it began its appearance in the magazine in June after the short novel, Lovel the Widower, had run its course. Gordon Ray has suggested that the reduced writing load was a result of Smith's decision to ask Thackeray to become the magazine's new editor49, but this seems unlikely in view of the lack of any mention of editorial duties in the 20 August contract and the possible interpretation of the contract that would have put both Lovel the Widower and The Four Georges in the first issues. George Smith's own account of his decision is undated: "We were then living at Wimbledon, and I used to ride on the Common before breakfast. One morning, just as I had pulled up my horse after a smart gallop, that good genius which has so often helped me whispered into my ear, 'Why should not Mr Thackeray himself edit the magazine, and you yourself do what is necessary to supplement any deficiencies on his part: as a man of business? . . .' After breakfast I drove straight to Thackeray's house in Onslow Square, talked to him of my difficulty, and induced him to accept the editorship, for which I was to pay him a salary of £1000 a year. " [Huxley, p. 95] The first clear indication in Thackeray's letters that he was the editor comes on 7 September when he reported to Smith on recruiting articles and remarked: "As I think of the editing business I like it. But the Magazine must bear my cachet you see and be a man of the world Magazine, a little cut of Temple Bar, or Charles I on the outside?" [Letters 4: 149-50).

The changes in the August contract reveal some important things about the hard-nosed Smith and the easygoing Thackeray. Smith was careful in the details of each contract but apparently easily induced to [104/105] change or abandon provisions at the author's request; Thackeray was fairly eager to please the man with the money but insisting on changes both for health's and for art's sake. As far as money is concerned, there is a change from £350 per month to an average of £214 per month for the first six months.51 What Thackeray bought with these contractual changes was time - time that the tiring author felt he needed - but simultaneously he assured himself a continuing income, since the two substantial novels were merely postponed. On his side, George Smith obtained the services of one of the day's two foremost writers of fiction for his magazine and the prospect of a continuing relationship that amounted almost to ownership of the talent, for Thackeray was not allowed to publish anything with other publishers during the life of the contract.

With the addition of the editorial salary, Thackeray's monthly income came to just over £297 per month. And then in another undated contract, Smith and Thackeray agreed to include twenty-four five-page essays, The Roundabout Papers, for another £1,000, or about £42 per month. Then because Cornhill Magazine did so well, Smith doubled Thackeray's salary, bringing the total at least briefly to £422 per month.52 In the actual event, the first of Thackeray's larger novels was postponed until January 1861; so in effect, his income for the second half of 1860 consisted of his editorial salary and payments for Roundabout Papers - about £209 per month. Thackeray had never been so thoroughly controlled by contracts, nor had he ever been so well and regularly paid. Smith had his literary giant, he had the grace and flexibility to change agreements, and he had the financial wherewithal to keep his giant happy.

Thackeray took to his new duties with enthusiasm and vigor. His letters to Smith in November and December 1859 are full of accounts of meetings with contributors and comments on their articles and poems. George Augustus Sala's work on Hogarth, about which Sala, Thackeray, and Smith had corresponded in September 1855, turned up as a contribution that needed extensive reworking. Thackeray wrote of operating, amputating, cutting, and correcting material for the first number, and early on he suggested that "a boy ought to be set on to call at my house at 2 o'clock every day" (NLS). Commentators on the editing of the Cornhill have frequently noted the powerful hand Smith maintained in editorial [105/106] matters, and it is true that he exercised his right of veto to an extent only a coeditor would. But Thackeray insisted on his own decisions as well, persuading Smith to back down on his objections to articles by Robert Bell and General John Fox Burgoyne and poems by for the first two numbers. But the pressure of editorial decisions and continuous correspondence with Smith soon reached a climax. "In the name of Allah let go!" Thackeray exclaimed in December. "I can't pretend to correct the other contributors proofs - and wouldnt, no not for 10000 a year. What a man that Reader is! but there must be a reason for him, as I never should have seen the notable blunder of the Naids until you pointed it out" (NLS). Apparently Smith was trying to get as much for his money as he could. Friction there was, from time to time, and Thackeray finally resigned in March 1862 in terms that suggest it was not only the exigencies of the job that became too much but the difficulty of working with Smith himself. But their disagreements were kept strictly it control, and their personal and business relations continued to their mutual financial benefit [cf. Eddy for a more general account of Thackeray's role as the magazine's first editor].

By the time Lovel and the Four Georges were completed in the Cornhill, both men must have considered the contracts signed in 1859 to be ancient history, for instead of reverting to them for terms on Thackeray's next major novel, The Adventures of Philip, they drew up a new contract in December 186o, stipulating 250 guineas as the monthly rate with Smith getting all the profits from magazine and two book forms (NLS; see Appendix A). This represents nearly £100 per month less than the earlier contract specified, but with Thackeray now also receiving £166a month as editor and £42 for each Roundabout, the total of over £45054 must have struck the amazed author as adequate. This contract stipulates the name of the novel, which suggests that its historical character was known to both parties. Earlier contracts had stipulated an unnamed novel with scenes from contemporary English life. Although the contract also specifies "sixteen consecutive numbers" as the length, Thackeray's previously negotiated option to increase the total to twenty numbers probably was omitted by oversight rather than conscious agreement, for an undated postscript on the contract, written in Thackeray's hand, adds: "The terms of this agreement apply to 'Philip' as about to be extended to twenty [106/107] numbers of the Magazine" (NLS). Other changes are also significant; the length of each installment was to be twenty—four rather than thirty—pages, and instead of two steel engraved plates and one initial vignette, there would be one full-page illustration and two vignettes.

Publication of Philip concluded in the August 1862 issue of the magazine, four months after Thackeray's resignation as editor. On 4 March Thackeray wrote Smith:

I have been thinking over our conversation of yesterday, and it has not improved the gaiety of the work on wh. I am presently busy.

To day I have taken my friend Sir Charles Taylor into my confidence; and his opinion coincides with mine that I should withdraw from the Magazine. To go into bygones now is needless. Before ever the Magazine appeared, I was, as I have told you, on the point of writing such a letter as this: And whether connected with the CornHill Magazine or not, I hope I shall always be Sincerely your friend W M Thackeray

And two days later he continued in the same vein.

I daresay your night, like mine, has been a little disturbed: but Philip presses and until this matter is over, I can't make that story so amusing as I would wish.

I had this pocket pistol in my breast yesterday but hesitated to pull the trigger at an old friend. My daughters are for a compromise. They say "It is all very fine Sir Charles Taylor telling you to do so and so Mr. Smith has proved himself your friend always." Bien. It is because I wish him to remain so, that I and the Magazine had better part company. 55

What the specific row was about, we do not know, but it concerned editorial policy, for Thackeray obviously continued both as Smith's friend and as main contributor to the magazine with Roundabout Papers and Philip.

A new contract for The Roundabout Papers was drafted in the month Philip concluded, for the twenty-four essays called for in the original contract had appeared. The new agreement reiterates the provisions of the contract signed in December 1859, but it spells out more specifically the essays covered. Some of Thackeray's occasional pieces had been published without the rubric "Roundabout Papers," and these were now included in the agreement by name; in all twenty-six essays are assumed to have been covered by the original contract. Furthermore, the rate of remuneration [107/108] for any new essays is specified at £12.12, or one guinea, a page; and a seven-page limit is imposed. Far from rigorous, this contract is of a piece with the previous ones and includes an escape clause whereby "either Mr Thackeray or Smith Elder & co are to be at liberty to terminate this Agreement as far as it relates to the publication of further 'Round-about Papers' in the 'Cornhill Magazine' at my period after the end of the present year" (NLS; see Appendix A). Thackeray provided four more monthly Roundahouts in T862 (skipping October), but in 1863 he wrote only five essays for the magazine.

The final contract between Smith and Thackeray concerns Denis Duval. Whether the terms of the August 1859 contract were still lingering in the consciousness of author and publisher can only be guessed. It had specified two novels for the magazine at £350 per month, and Philip represented the first of these. In his farewell letter as editor to the readers of the Cornhill on 25 March 1862., Thackeray anticipated his next novel: "Whilst the present tale of Philip is passing through the press, I am preparing another, on which I have worked at intervals for many years past, and which I hope to introduce in the ensuing year" [Letters 4: 260). Ray suggested that the work Thackeray had in mind was "The Knights of Borsellen," a fifteenth-century romance which in fact he never completed. Having finished Philip in August, Thackeray did not turn his attention for some time to any new work except the Roundabouts. On 14 January he wrote to Smith, "I have been thinking over a story wh. might do but it had much better be in 8 numbers than in 4. No moral reflections and plenty of adventures." He then lapsed into the voice of what was to become Denis Duval and gave a 750-word sketch of the life of that hero, concluding with "and lived happy ever after but I could hardly do all this in one volume[.] Couldn't we make two of it? Of course not in Old English- " [NLS] The name Denis Duval does not appear in this letter, nor does it appear in the contract signed nearly one month later on 11 February, where the work is referred to merely as "a story of eight parts of twenty four pages each" (NLS; see Appendix A). Smith's usual stipulation that it contain scenes from contemporary life is also conspicuously absent. Submission date for the first part was "on or before the 1st of March," but that deadline came and went without any apparent anxiety on the part of either author or publisher. In [108/109] May, Thackeray wrote a partly facetious letter to a Mrs. James claiming, "I have done nothing for a WHOLE YEAR and I MUST go to my horrible pens & paper" (Letters 4:287).

Thackeray frequently referred, in his 1863 correspondence, to the time he spent writing for the printers, but five essays for Cornhill and Denis Duval appear to have been his only work that year. When he died on 23 December, he had completed about half of the projected eight-number or two-volume work, which appeared in four monthly installments in the Cornhill commencing in March 1864.

Last modified 29 November 2021