AT this time (I think it must have been in 1821) was my first appearance in print....
My brother James, then my idolized companion, discovered how wretched I was when he left me for his college after the vacation; and he told me that I must not permit myself to be so miserable. He advised me to take refuge, on each occasion, in a new pursuit; and on that particular occasion, in an attempt at authorship. I said, as usual, that I would if he would: to which he answered that it would never do for him, a young student, to rush into print before the eyes of his tutors; but he desired me to write something that was in my head, and try my chance with it in the Monthly Repository—the poor little Unitarian periodical in which I have mentioned that Talfourd tried his young powers. What James desired, I always did, as of course; and after he had left me to my widowhood soon after six o'clock one bright September morning, I was at my desk before seven, beginning a letter to the Editor of the Monthly Repository—that editor being the formidable prime minister of his sect, Revd. Robert Aspland. I suppose I must tell what that first paper was, though I had much rather not; for I am so heartily ashamed of the whole business as never to have looked at the article since the first flutter of it went off. It was on Female Writers on Practical Divinity. I wrote away, in my abominable scrawl of those days, on foolscap paper, feeling mightily like a fool all the time. I told no one, and carried my expensive packet to the post-office myself, to pay the postage. I took the letter V for my signature—I cannot at all remember why. The time was very near the end of the month: I had no definite expectation that I should ever hear anything of my paper; and certainly did not suppose it could be in the forthcoming number. That number was sent in before service-time on a Sunday morning. My heart may have been beating when I laid hands on it; but it thumped prodigiously when I saw my article there, and, in the Notices to Correspondents, a request to hear more from V. of Norwich. There is certainly something entirely peculiar in the sensation of seeing oneself in print for the first time: the lines burn themselves in upon the brain in a way of which black ink is incapable, in any other mode. So I felt that day, when I went about with my secret. I have said what my eldest brother was to us —in what reverence we held him. He was just married, and he and his bride asked me to return from chapel with them to tea. After tea he said, 'Come now, we have had plenty of talk; I will read you something;' and he held out his hand for the new Repository. After glancing at it, he exclaimed, 'They have got a new hand here. Listen.' After a paragraph, he repeated, 'Ah! this is a new hand; they have had nothing so good as this for a long while.' (It would be impossible to convey to any who do not know the Monthly Repository of that day, how very small a compliment this was.) I was silent, of course. At the end of the first column, he exclaimed about the style, looking at me in some wonder at my being as still as a mouse. Next (and well I remember his tone, and thrill to it still) his words were— 'What a fine sentence that is! Why, do you not think so?' I mumbled out, sillily enough, that it did not seem anything particular. 'Then', said he, 'you were not listening. I will read it again. There now!' As he still got nothing out of me, he turned round upon me as we sat side by side on the sofa, with 'Harriet, what is the matter with you? I never knew you so slow to praise anything before.' I replied, in utter confusion, 'I never could baffle anybody. The truth is, that paper is mine.' He made no reply; read on in silence, and spoke no more till I was on my feet to come away. He then laid his hand on my shoulder, and said gravely (calling me 'dear' for the first time), 'Now, dear, leave it to other women to make shirts and darn stockings; and do you devote yourself to this.' I went home in a sort of dream, so that the squares of the pavement seemed to float before my eyes. That evening made me an authoress.
Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, i. 177-200.
ON landing at Liverpool I found various letters from publishers awaiting me. One was from Mr. Bentley, reminding me of his having met me at Miss Berry's, and expressing his hope of having my manuscript immediately in his hands. My reply was that I had no manuscript. Another letter was from Messrs. Saunders and Otley to my mother, saying that they desired the pleasure of publishing my travels. I was disposed to treat with them, because the negotiation for the Two Old Men's Tales had been an agreeable one. I therefore explained to these gentlemen the precise state of the case, and at length agreed to an interview when I should return to town. My mother and I reached home before London began to fill; and I took some pains to remain unseen for two or three weeks, while arranging my books, and my dress and my other affairs. One November morning, however, my return was announced in the Morning Chronicle; and such a day as that I never passed, and hoped at the time never to pass again.
First, Mr. Bentley bustled down, and obtained entrance to my study before anybody else. Mr. Colburn came next, and had to wait. He bided his time in the drawing-room. In a few minutes arrived Mr. Saunders, and was shown into my mother's parlour. These gentlemen were all notoriously on the worst terms with each other; and the fear was that they should meet and quarrel on the stairs. Some friends who happened to call at the time were beyond measure amused.
Mr. Bentley began business. Looking hard into the fire, he 'made no doubt' I remembered the promise I had made him at Miss Berry's house. I had no recollection of having promised anything to Mr. Bentley. He told me it was impossible I should forget having assured him that if anybody published for me, except Fox, it should be himself. I laughed at the idea of such an engagement. Mr. Bentley declared it might be his silliness; but he should go to his grave persuaded that I had made him such a promise. It might be his silliness, he repeated. I replied that indeed it was; as I had a perfect recollection that no book of mine was in question at all, but the Series, which he had talked of putting among his Standard Novels. He now offered the most extravagant terms for a book on America, and threw in, as a bribe, an offer of a thousand pounds for the first novel I should write. Though my refusals were as positive as I could make them, I had great difficulty in getting rid of him: and I doubt whether I was so rude to Mr. Harper himself as to the London speculator.—Mr. Colburn, meantime, sent in his letter of introduction, which was from the poet Campbell, with a message that he would shortly return. So Mr. Saunders entered next. I liked him, as before; and our conversation about the book became quite confidential. I explained to him fully my doubts as to the reception of the work, on the ground of its broad republican character. I told him plainly that I believed it would ruin me, because it would be the principle of the book to regard everything American from the American point of view: and this method, though the only fair one, was so unlike the usual practice, and must lead to a judgement so unlike what English people were prepared for, that I should not be surprised by a total condemnation of my book and myself. I told him that after this warning, he could retreat or negotiate, as he pleased: but that, being thus warned, he and not I must propose terms: and moreover, it must be understood that, our negotiation once concluded, I could listen to no remonstrance or objection, in regard to the contents of my book. Mr. Saunders replied that he had no difficulty in agreeing to these conditions, and that we might now proceed to business. When he had ascertained that the work would consist of three volumes, and what their probable size would be, the amusing part of the affair began. 'Well, Ma'am,' said he, 'what do you propose that we should give you for the copyright of the first edition?' 'Why, you know,' said I, 'I have written to you, from the beginning that I would propose no terms. I am quite resolved against it.'—'Well, Ma'am; supposing the edition to consist of three thousand copies, will you just give me an idea what you would expect for it?'—'No, Mr. Saunders: that is your business. I wait to hear your terms.'
So I sat strenuously looking into the fire, Mr. Saunders no less strenuously looking at me, till it was all I could do to keep my countenance. He waited for me to speak; but I would not; and I wondered where the matter would end, when he at last opened his lips. 'What would you think, Ma'am, of £900 for the first edition?'—'Including the twenty-five copies I stipulated for?'—'Including twenty-five copies of the work, and all proceeds of the sale in America, over and above expenses.' I thought these liberal terms; and I said so; but I suggested that each party should take a day or two for consideration, to leave no room for repentance hereafter. I inquired whether Messrs. Saunders and Otley had any objection to my naming their house as the one I was negotiating with, as I disliked the appearance of entertaining the proffers of various houses, which yet I could not get rid of without a distinct answer to give. Apparently amused at the question, Mr. Saunders replied that it would be gratifying to them to be so named.
On the stairs, Mr. Saunders met Mr. Colburn, who chose to be confident that Campbell's introduction would secure to him all he wished. The interview was remarkably disagreeable, from his refusing to be refused, and pretending to believe that what I wanted was more and more money. At last, on my giving him a broad hint to go away, he said that, having no intention of giving up his object, he should spend the day at a coffee-house in the neighbourhood, when he should shortly send in terms for my consideration. He now only implored a promise that I would not finally pass my word that day. The moment he was gone, I slipped out into the park to refresh my mind and body; for I was heated and wearied with the conferences of the morning. On my return, I found that Mr. Colburn had called again; and while we were at dinner, he sent in a letter, containing his fresh terms. They were so absurdly high that if I had had any confidence in the soundness of the negotiation before, it would now be overthrown. Mr. Colburn offered £2,000 for the present work, on the supposition of the sale of I forget what number, and £1,000 for the first novel I should write. The worst of it was, he left word that he should call again at ten o'clock in the evening. When we were at tea, Mr. Bentley sent in a set of amended proposals; and at ten, Mr. Colburn arrived. He set forth his whole array of 'advantages', and declared himself positive that no house in London could have offered higher terms than his. I reminded him that I had been telling him all day that my objections did not relate to the amount of money; and that I was going to accept much less: that it was impossible that my work should yield what he had offered, and leave anything over for himself; and that I therefore felt that these proposals were intended to bind me to his house—an obligation which I did not choose to incur. He pathetically complained of having raised up rivals to himself in the assistants whom he had trained, and concluded with an affected air of resignation which was highly amusing. Hanging his head on one side, and sighing, he enunciated the sentiment: 'When, in pursuing any praiseworthy object, we have done all we can, and find it in vain, we can but be resigned.' With great satisfaction I saw him lighted down stairs, and heard the house-door locked, at near midnight, on the last of the booksellers for that day.. I went to bed that night with a disgusted and offended feeling of having been offered bribes, all day long, with a confidence which was not a little insulting.
Harriet Martineau, Autobiography, ii. 95-100.
|« NEXT »||« Anecdotes 1800-1829 »||« All Anecdotes »||« Humour »||« Library »|