decorative initial 'I

n the 1840s Thackeray's publishers resorted to various marketing strategies to get rid of excess copies of books for which optimism had led to overprinting: Comic Tales and Sketches published in 1841 reappeared with 1848 title pages but reissued 1841 sheets, and The Irish Sketch-Book reappeared in 1845 with new tipped-in title pages. A timid first edition (2,000 copies) of The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond sold out immediately, and the elated publisher ordered a bold second edition (2,000 more copies) but was then forced to resort to the old expedient of printing up and tipping in new title pages in recurrent attempts to unload leftover stock (in the case of Samuel Titmarsh in 1852, 1857, and 1872) [cf. chapter 5]. It is true that From Cornhill to Grand Cairo reached a true second edition in the year of its first publication, 1846, but it is quite possible that this resulted from the same phenomenon that affected Samuel Titmarsh, an unusually cautious first printing.

And yet the experience of Samuel Titmarsh probably signals a change in opportunities and strategies for Thackeray's publishers. In the 1850s they were dealing with a known and valuable property whereas in the 1840s they had a promising but uncertain commodity. Some of the advantage of this change is not reflected in reissues and new editions but is [117/118] recorded as a continuous availability of the original editions, which continued to sell with little extra effort on the part of the publishers. When in 1857 Chapman and Hall found it expedient to reset The Irish Sketch-Book, the new edition was made to look like the original, and it presumably sold for as much. In the same year the firm reissued Our Street, Doctor Birch, and Mrs. Perkins's Ball together under the title Christmas Books, but the new book looked like the original three bound together. In most of this sort of unimaginative but steady increase of wealth, Thackeray participated as the half owner of copyright and half sharer of profits. But the British book trade was set up in such a way as to maximize the publisher's potential income from initial sales of single editions. All of Thackeray's works, and one supposes this to be the common lot, fell off sharply in sales after the initial burst of enthusiasm. Therefore, initial editions were seldom cost effective as long-term steady sellers. What was needed was cheap reprints at low production costs and low retail prices aimed at a new market.

Bernhard Tauchnitz blazed the trail with the first volume of Thackeray's Miscellanies in 1849 and the second in 1851 What arrangement Tauchnitz had with Thackeray is unknown, but it is likely that one existed, for the baron had paid willingly for Vanity Fair and Pendennis though no law required it of him. In 1852, Appleton and Company of New York mounted a similar though more systematic and less friendly assault on Thackeray's earlier periodical works as well as his travel books. Though these ventures were clearly more advantageous to their publishers than to the author, they probably paved the way or at least hinted at possibilities for the slower-moving English publishers.

Bradbury and Evans was the first English publisher to issue a Thackeray work in a format designed to capture a second tank of English book buyers and thus cultivate a separate market rather than merely capitalize on the rising popularity of the author to flog additional copies of the original edition. In 1853 that firm issued a cheap edition of Vanity Fair in one volume without illustrations. It did the same for Pendennis in 1855 (dated 1856), The Newcomes in 1860, and The Virginians in 1863. Although there are no contracts for any of these, the publisher's ledgers indicate that each was published on a half-profits share agreement. Publisher and author each earned an average of over £70 per year for twelve years from Vanity Fair, £45 per year for ten years from Pendennis, £45 per year for six years from The Newcomes, and a total of £83.16.8 for the cheap edition of The Virginians in the two years before the copyrights were sold to Smith in 1865.

Smith, too, got on the bandwagon, so to speak, for his firm issued [118/119] cheap editions of Henry Esmond and The English Humourists in 1859, Smith took advantage of the format that Bradbury and Evans had established for the cheap editions of Vanity Fair and Pendennis and also used for the Miscellanies by advertising Esmond in the Athenaeum as uniform with those books. Furthermore, he tried to take advantage of the popularity of The Virginians, currently being published in serial form, by emphasizing the link between the two stories. He must, however, have asked for Thackeray's opinion or advice on the advertisement, perhaps sensing the possible impropriety of that advantage where the author is shared between two publishers. Thackeray responded:

I spoke to Evans about the paragraph you sent me and he did not ½ like it. Some such par as this might do.

" The Virginians" are the (two) twin brothers mentioned in the preface to Mr. Thackeray's novel of Esmond, where it is stated that they <espoused> ↑ took ↓ different sides in the Revolutionary War. Esmond (perhaps a puff from the Edinburgh or Quarterly here) is just issued in a cheap reprint by Messrs. Smith & Elder.

Though the boy is waiting & I know this isn't good

Faithfully yours       [NLS]

I have not found an advertisement using Thackeray's proposed paragraph, and Smith may have contented himself with the uniformity of size and brown cover. However, Smith was not so circumspect in the promotional ads included in his own publications. The advertisement of Esmond at the back of the cheap edition of The English Humourists quoted from a review of The Virginians in the Leader saying, "'Esmond' must be read just now as an introduction to 'The Virginians.' It is quite impossible fully to understand and enjoy the latter without a good knowledge of 'Esmond."' The cheap edition of Esmond was published on half shares from which Thackeray realized £143.9 by June 1863. For reasons that remain unknown, the cheap edition of The English Humourists took a totally new look with black printed covers and spine on slick buff-colored cloth. Smith paid Thackeray a lump sum of £200 in 1857 and earned for his company £252 by 1864.

Some of the publishers' efforts to reap a second harvest were conducted without firsthand assistance from the author. Thackeray's second tour of the United States began in October 1855 and lasted till May 1856. In his absence his amanuensis, George Hodder, undertook, apparently in good faith but without sufficient care, to see the second volume of the Miscellanies through the press. From a financial point of view the venture [119/120] was a success. A first printing of 2,000 copies of volume 1 had been followed immediately with a second and then a third printing of 2,000 copies each - all within two months. In addition, Bradbury and Evans issued the contents of volume 1 simultaneously in four wrappered parts: The Book of Snobs, Major Gahagan, Fatal Boots and Cox's Diary, and Ballads, each with a first printing of 2,000 copies and a reprint within a month of 1,500 copies for the first three and 1,000 for Ballads. The second volume, the one "edited" by Hodder, was printed within a month of the first and had a 5,000 copy first printing. As with the first volume, the contents of Volume 2 were issued simultaneously in three paper-wrappered parts: Novels by Eminent Hands, Sketches and Travels, and Yellowplush Papers, each in a first printing of 3,000 copies. Although there was no initial payment for the Miscellanies, Thackeray received two-thirds of the profit, which began accruing immediately; his January 1856 share on profits in 1855 came to £98.15.4, and six months later his share was £221.3.2. In the same period he got £260 more from the separate publications of the contents of those two volumes.

However, all was not well. Although it is probable that Thackeray had reviewed and approved the contents of the first volume before he left for America on 13 October, he had not reviewed the contents for the second volume, having indicated only that it should be made up from the Appleton volumes of reprints made in 1852 and 1853. George Hodder apparently thought he was to see to the publication of all four volumes, for Bradbury and Evans wrote to Thackeray in America asking him to approve proofs for a third volume, to which he replied on 18 December, "I regret very much that I cant send you corrected proofs of B. Lyndon, Shabby Genteel & Catherine: but I cannot find time to write a letter much more to do any careful & continuous work: & the publication of these must be delayed until my return, or till quieter times" (Bradbury Album). Publication of volume 3 was delayed until Thackeray's return, and Catherine was not included.

It was not until after this December letter that Thackeray realized volume 2 had been produced and mismanaged - to his embarrassment. John Forster evidently wrote to Thackeray (who was in New Orleans) in January 1856 to ask how he could allow such a piece as "Epistles to the Literati" to be reprinted. "Epistles" was first published in Frasers Magazine in 1839 and republished twice in 1841 (in Comic Tales and an English reprint in France). Those were Thackeray's early struggling years when his daughters were babies, his wife's mental illness was just beginning to reveal itself, and the next meal was still in the inkwell, Thackeray did not [120/121] know Bulwer Lytton apart from his writings, and that writer's pomposity seemed fair game. By 1852 Thackeray had virtually forgotten the lampoon and in any case had outgrown that sort of tomfoolery, but the lampoon surfaced in the unauthorized collected early works which Appleton and Company of New York issued in 1852-53 to coincide with Thackeray's first lecture tour of the United States. Discovering the book already printed but offered the chance (and £100) to write a preface to a subsequent volume in Appleton's series, Thackeray lamented the reprinting of "Epistles" and apologized publicly to Bulwer Lytton. He wrote in the introduction of Mr. Brown, "there are two performances especially ... which I am very sorry to see reproduced, and I ask pardon of the author of the 'Caxtons' for a lampoon, which I know he himself has forgiven, and which I wish I could recal." On his return to England, Thackeray wrote to Bulwer Lytton, quoting the apology from his preface.

Circumstances and forgetfulness, however, again combined to perpetuate the piece in Bradbury and Evans's Miscellanies, volume 2 (1856). The instructions Thackeray left with Hodder may have been vague and in any case were misunderstood. Hodder's recollection of the event was that on the day he left, Thackeray "was enabled to attend to several money transactions which it was necessary he should arrange before leaving and to give me certain instructions about the four volumes of his 'Miscellanies' then in course of publication, and which he begged me to watch in their passage through the press, with a view to a few footnotes that might be thought desirable."(Hodder, p. 266) Thackeray recounted the events and his reaction in a letter to John Blackwood in 1858 when, as a part of the controversy over Edmund Yates's lampoon of Thackeray, the Bulwer Lytton satire — and particularly its repeated appearances — was raised against Thackeray:

I learn through a friend who had it from Edwin James a queer piece of news, Bulwer has been applied to (by my indefatigably kind friend Dickens11 I suppose,) and an attempt is to be made to show "my monstrous ingratitude" to E.L.B.L.- on acct I suppose of that unlucky reprint of the Bulwer-Lardner buffoonery written 20 years ago.

I talked to you I think about it: & of the ludicrous annoyance it must give the writer & the subject too.

When I went first to America I found a whole edition of my works reprinted malgré moi, and among them that article: wh. I said never [121/122] should have appeared had I had any control over the reprint, and for wh. I apologized (in a general preface) as "an unworthy lampoon." When I came home, I wrote to Sir B.L. quoting the words of this preface, and he replied, in a very civil friendly letter saying all was forgotten & forgiven-compfiments on both sides — shake hands — salute — We had been introduced & spoken 20 words before, but, I think, no more.

Bradbury & Evans now undertook a republication of my early works and a volume was published under my eyes and before I went to America for the second time (in 55, wasn't it?) - These American reprints were the text books for the English republication, as the works were here all to my hand12, and when I went away, I sent a bundle of them to B&E, by an amanuensis of mine - who if he was not one of the greatest donkeys in the wide-world, would have read that preface, and of course have cancelled the pages for wh. I myself had apologized. No arrangement was concluded for any publication in my absence and I never thought any would be made - but the publishers thought themselves authorized, the amanuensis thought he was left as the Editor of my works, & that cursed Lardner-Bulwer article made its appearance again before the public. The first word I heard of it was at New Orleans I think where I got a letter from Forster asking me how I could ever have allowed the thing to reappear? I wrote to B. &Evans to cancel it if they could: but it was too late - the mischief was done - the cup was thrown down, & all the kings horses & all the kings men couldnt mend it - and there was no use explaining or apologizing - better not - in such a matter. I was in hopes Sir EBL too had condoned it, & understood my position, when he asked me to dine at his house last year.

I daresay a different story has been told him, and he may have been made to fancy it was of malice prepense I published the article - for wh. I am sorry not only in America but in England. If you can, & see - fit, I think you might disabuse him. I am as clear of personal malice or artifice towards him, as I am towards Lord Byron: and upon my word I am more annoyed than he could be at the reappearance of that piece of unworthy personality. All this I suppose I shall have to say in the Witness-box, where Dickens, & Bulwer too for what I know, & the deuce knows who besides, may be lugged in this astounding case.
[Morgan; partly quoted by Ray, Adversity, p. 286; see also Harden, Miscellanies]

Though Thackeray did not mention it, and may have forgotten by 1858 when he wrote to Blackwood, he also had written concerning the Lardner [122/123] article to Baron Tauchnitz in Leipzig on 16 May 1856, one week after his return to England: "There is a paper about Bulwer & Lardner wh. was printed by mistake, wh. is an unworthy lampoon, for wh. I apologized in the American edition & wh. I hope you'll omit in the Leipzig."(MS, Pennsylvania State Univ. Library; the copy in Letters 3: 607 taken from a published source, omits the quoted passage, which is a postscript). His request was too late; the article appeared in the Tauchnitz edition of the Miscellanies in the same year.

Despite these problems the reissue in England of his 1840s works in four volumes of Miscellanies was by far the most ambitious and for Thackeray the most lucrative reworking of his copyrights. A total sale of 33,500 volumes by June 1865 brought Thackeray and his estate an income of £1,606.4.3. In addition each volume was simultaneously issued in yellow-wrappered fascicles selling at a shilling each - four for volume 1 and three each for the others. In this form 66,000 copies were sold by 1865 for an additional income to Thackeray of £1,064.5.0 so that his total income from reworking old copyrights in the Miscellanies was £2,670.9.3. By comparison the cheap editions of the four big serial novels netted Thackeray in the same period £1,779.9.1. Since the original editions continued selling just a few copies a year, the cheap editions clearly reached a different market. Comparable information on the cheap edition of Esmond is only partially available. A single printing of 10,000 copies was prepared, and this stock lasted until 1866 when a new printing of 1,000 copies was run off - in the first eighteen months Thackeray's share was £98, which compares with his first eighteen months' income from the cheap edition of Pendennis of £25. Smith charged a 5 percent commission on all sales income; Bradbury and Evans did not.

Last modified 29 November 2021