Arthur H. Beavan made the following survey of publishing in Imperial London, in 1901:
The subject of Publishers cannot fail to be interesting, even to non-writers. A certain indefinable mystery surrounds them.
They are supposed to be more inaccessible than other businessmen, and are pictured as perpetually ensconced in some remote office perusing manuscripts, or arranging “agreements” with eminent authors whose works are expected to bring mutual fame and fortune.
As a matter of fact, publishers in 1900 were ready to see any reasonable person by appointment; but their time was valuable, and so they fought shy of all “yarning” visitors; while, as regards finance, they often reaped but little profit, even in the case of a successful book, partly perhaps because of the system that had largely changed the character of their trade, for at the beginning of the 19th Century the publisher was a bookseller in a more literal sense than he was in 1900, when he dealt only indirectly with the public, i.e. through the retailer, to whom he disposed of his productions on wholesale terms.
Books were in 1800 a luxury, out of reach of the million; for instance, novels (sometimes in four or five-volumed form) cost from twenty to thirty shillings, and other works were proportionately dear.
Publishers’ business premises, with a few notable exceptions, – those of Murray, Cadell, and Colburn, – were grouped about Stationers’ Hall and St. Paul’s Churchyard, a locality affected by them ever since the Great Fire. Times change.
By 1900, book-shops abounded in the Row; but publishers, taking Horace Greeley’s advice, had shown so decided a tendency to “go west” that soon the neighbourhood of Charing Cross Road would be as exclusively literary as Paternoster Row and Amen Corner once were.
So large a subject as that of publishers (of whom there were as many in proportion as there were authors) can only be glanced at in this work.
To begin with the famous John Murray, whose habitat – farther west than that of any London publisher – had been since 1812, No. 50A, Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, a four-storied brick building (apparently once the abode of fashion), with no outside indication of its being a place of business, except the inscription of the name of the proprietor, Mr. Murray, at the open door.
The offices were comfortable, lofty, and roomy, and the sanctum on the first floor, approached by a fine pillared staircase, was like a cosy study, the walls hung with pictures and engravings of notabilities in the literary world.
John Murray the first – the great-grandfather of the third Mr. Murray – founded the house, which has been connected with some of the greatest names in modern English history, amongst whom that of Lord Byron, whose friend and publisher was John Murray the first, will occur most readily to the ordinary mind.
Perhaps the most widely distributed of John Murray’s many publications, were the English and Foreign Hand-books bearing his name, and containing an enormous mass of useful information, and without which, before the advent of Baedeker, no one dreamt of travelling on the Continent; and even a hundred years later they were in great demand.
In 1819, the copyright of the famous Rejected Addresses by James and Horace Smith was secured by Mr. Murray for £131, and thousands of the little volume must have issued from the noted firm in Albemarle Street.
Macmillan and Co., Ltd., formerly in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, were now housed in St. Martin’s Street, a narrow turning out of Leicester Square, close to the Dental Hospital.
With them were amalgamated R. Bentley and Son, so long known at No. 8, New Burlington Street as Queen Victoria‘s publishers; and identified with Mrs. Henry Wood’s numerous novels, of which thirty-six, represented by two million copies, had been sold.
They were also the publishers of the Rev. R. H. Barham (author of the Ingoldsby Legends), of Mrs. Gaskell, Lord Tennyson, etc.
Messrs. Macmillan’s was a plain-looking building outside, but within the appointments were almost luxurious, resembling those of an Elizabethan mansion, with broad galleried staircase and wide corridors that led to spacious low-ceilinged and panelled rooms.
The staircase and floors were covered with thick carpets, and electric light was used throughout.
One of the Directors of this Limited Liability Company (towards which form of co-operation publishing houses seem decidedly to incline) was Mr. George L. Craik, the husband of the late eminent novelist, better known by her maiden name of Dinah M. Mulock, authoress of John Halifax, Gentleman, etc.
Hurst and Blackett, 13, Great Marlborough Street, occupied premises once the residence of the great Duke whose name the street bears.
No. 13 is at the corner of Ramilies Street, the old stables of the Duke’s house having been utilized for the storage of books.
The interior of the building had been considerably pulled about and altered, but the orginal entrance-hall could still be traced, though incorporated with several rooms.
Henry Colburn carried on his business here for many years, and in the early part of the nineteenth century founded the successful magazine called after him.
The present house was formed after his death, his widow eventually marrying John Forster, the friend and biographer of Charles Dickens.
Hurst and Blackett’s great “hit” was with Miss Mulock, who, even after her marriage to Mr. George Craik, steadfastly adhered to the house that had helped to make her fame, although her husband was connected with the then private firm of Macmillan.
At 15, Waterloo Place, formerly at 65, Cornhill, were the offices of Smith, Elder and Co., whose long roll of success (Mrs. Gaskell, Thackeray, etc.) in the past, culminated in the completion in 1900, at immense expense, of that colossal work, the Dictionary of National Biography, commenced in 1882.
Chapman and Hall, Ltd., founded circa 1835, of 11, Henrietta Street (formerly of 193, Piccadilly), are famous throughout the world, wherever the English language is spoken, as having been the publishers of Charles Dickens’ works, of which they had brought out many editions in various forms, the one then in progress being taken from original sources to which they only had access.
The offices were not remarkable for size, nor had they any peculiarity of arrangement.
Their Directors had numbered amongst them the well-known writer, Mr. Oswald Crawfurd; and Mr. W. L. Courtney, the genial critic and reviewer of the Daily Telegraph, and editor of their Fortnightly Review, had had a seat on their Board for some time past.
Under an archway and up a very narrow and inconvenient lane on the left-hand side going up Ludgate Hill, is Belle Sauvage Yard.
This yard was occupied by the big building of Cassell and Co., whose publications are so numerous, and so universally known.
Sufficient to mention the Quiver, Little Folks, Chums, and the cheap editions of novels by R. S. Stevenson, J. M. Barrie, Stanley Weyman, etc.
The house of Sampson Low, Marston and Co., Ltd., originated with a Mr. Sampson Low, who began business as a publisher in Soho, 1793.
Thence he removed to Lamb’s Conduit Street, and afterwards to Fleet Street.
In 1852 his firm went to No. 47, Ludgate Hill, but these premises being required by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, they had to remove once more, and so returned to No. 188, Fleet Street, near St. Dunstan’s Church.
It was a somewhat difficult task to discover, without guidance, where any particular section of the business was located, the head of each having a room or set of rooms to himself.
It was best, therefore, to be well informed as to whom one ought or ought to see, before consulting the porter in the entrance-hall.
Mr. E. Marston, the veteran, stated that during his fifty-five years’ experience as a publisher, he had had dealings with innumerable authors, amongst them being R. D. Blackmore, Wm. Black, Charles Reade, O. Wendell Holmes, R. Waldo Emerson, Victor Hugo, Wilkie Collins, Lord Lytton, General Gordon, Harrison Ainsworth, Charles Dickens, and H. M. Stanley, whose Darkest Africa was one of the biggest, as well as one of the most successful enterprises the firm ever undertook.
In connection with Lorna Doone, it is interesting to recall the fact that Sampson Low, Marston and Co., convinced of the rare qualities of the book, secured the copyright for a term of years at a good price, and, though at first they lost money by it, one need not say that they were soon recouped.
All over the world Mr. R. B. Marston, the son, was known as the editor of the Fishing Gazette, and the little he did not know about the “gentle art” was hardly worth remembering.
For considerably over a century, the publishing firm of Longmans was located in four houses, Nos. 38 to 41, Paternoster Row, built shortly after the Great Fire.
Adjoining was a candle factory, which was destroyed by fire, and the flames so damaged Longmans’ that they had to have new premises; the modern spacious ones (which include Blackwoods’) at the western corner of the Row being built for them. The old place was curiously rambling and low-pitched, the rooms appropriately resembling the ‘tween-decks of an ancient ship, the sign of the firm to this day.
Longmans were the originators of the Cyclopedia, upon which Dr. Rees based a similar work; and as the publishers of Macaulay, Scott, Southey, Moore, etc, they justly earned a world-wide fame, which they have retained.
H. Rider Haggard, Andrew Lang, A. C. Doyle, Stanley J. Weyman, the Earl of Beaconsfield, G. J. Whyte-Melville, Robert L. Stevenson, Edna Lyall, Anthony Hope, Mrs. Oliphant, Anthony Trollope, Bret Harte, J. K. Jerome, etc, were all represented in their famous Badminton Library and Longman’s Magazine.
Longmans, Green’s premises were in Renaissance style, and in the spandrels of the central arch was carved their cognizance, the Ship and the Swan.
They were roomy, light and handsomely fitted up.
Mr. Norton Longman’s father purchased in 1851 an estate of 275 acres, with a small, old-fashioned house attached called Windmill Hill, at Farnborough, Surrey, near the Aldershot Camp.
He had the house pulled down, and replaced by a fine mansion with a bewildering succession of gabled roofs, and the grounds laid out with excellent taste.
Years passed; the battle of Sedan was fought and lost; the Emperor Napoleon III came as an exile to England and died, and the widowed Empress, after negotiations with Mr. Longman, acquired the property – now known as Farnborough Hill – in 1881, and she permitted the Ship and Swan to remain in situ outside the mansion as a perpetual memento to the famous publishers.
Blackwoods’ was more of an agency for the head-office in Edinburgh than an established London publishing firm; but as a branch of the great historical house it must be referred to.
The office was contained in the corner of Longmans’ building that abuts on Warwick Lane, and was comparatively small.
Blackwoods were the publishers of the records of certain famous travellers, viz. Burton, Speke, Grant, and Wilson; while Bulwer Lytton, Kinglake, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Charles Reade, Sir Theodore Martin, and Mrs. Oliphant contributed to the pages of Blackwood’s Magazine, and thus added to their own and to the firm’s reputation.
We were told by Mrs. Gerald Porter, his daughter, that John Blackwood was born in 1818, and that at an early age he was called by his family “the little editor,” because of his love of books, and that he settled in London to take charge of the branch, then located at Pall Mall, until 1845, when he was recalled to Edinburgh to take supreme charge of Maga, as the periodical was called.
He died in 1879 after a career of uninterrupted success.
The junior Mr. Blackwood, invariably accompanied by his sister, made periodical visits to London, generally “putting up” in Albion Street, Hyde Park, when he renewed old acquaintanceships and interviewed authors and others desirous of transacting business with the celebrated firm.
At No. 33, the Warwick Lane corner of the Row, were the offices of Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co., a combination of two well-known firms; and at No. 47 was the old-established house of W. R. Chambers, whose Edinburgh Journal and other popular publications circulated throughout the globe.
Besides these historic publishing firms, there were a host of most reputable houses dealing more or less widely in special forms of literature, religious and secular.
Amongst the former, S. W. Partridge and Co. and the Religious Tract Society (both in the Row) may be quoted as typical; for works on natural history, Frederick Warne and Co.; and for illustrating the picturesque side of England, the esteemed publishers of this book.(J. M. Dent & Co.)
Amongst a host of booksellers, Quaritch, No. 15, Piccadilly, and H. Sotheran, Strand and Piccadilly, were conspicuous examples of depots where the rarest of books were dealt with.
Before quitting the subject of publishers, it is interesting to learn from their own lips in what light they regard authors.
Mr. John Murray, in 1900 at the Authors’ Club Dinner, said, “The craft to which I have the honour to belong, has been called the obstetric branch of the literary profession.”
And, similarly, Mr. R. B. Marston, when speaking of his firm’s vocation to an author, said, “You know, Mr. X-, we are midwives!” Publishers may bring to the birth, but they cannot ensure life to their proteges.
Even lavish outlay in advertising was, in the opinion of the most experienced, more often than not, money thrown away, Sampson Low, Marston and Co. stating that, roughly speaking, their firm had expended £300,000 in advertising, much of it being absolutely fruitless.
The judgment of publishers was generally sound, but there have been historic cases amongst them of the reverse.
Thus, Jane Eyre went the whole round of the trade.
Blackwoods could not appreciate Thackeray, and rejected The Great Hoggarty Diamond and the Irish Sketches; while Chapman and Hall declined Mrs. Henry Wood’s East Lynne.
There is always much curiosity as to the sums paid for great literary works; and Mr. George M. Smith, in the pages of the Cornhill Magazine in 1900, revealed a few secrets of the early days of this periodical, showing the unconventional manner in which business was often transacted.
“Trollope,” he related, “came to me in Pall Mall, where we now had a branch office, to arrange for a new serial. I told him my terms, but he demurred to my offer of £2000, and said that he had hoped for £3000.
I shook my head. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘Let us toss for that other £1000.’
I asked him if he wished to ruin me, and said that if my banker heard of my tossing authors for their copyright, he would certainly close my account; and what about my clerks? How I should demoralize them if they suspected me of tossing with an author for his manuscript!
We ultimately came to an agreement on my terms, which were sufficiently liberal.
But I felt uncomfortable – I felt mean – I had refused a challenge. To relieve my mind, I said, ‘Now that is settled, if you come over the way to my club, where we can have a little room to ourselves for five minutes, I will toss you for £1000 with pleasure.’
Mr. Trollope did not accept the offer.”