Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant.

Annals of a publishing house. William Blackwood and his sons, their magazine and friends (Volume v. 2) online

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the making of a certain tale of some length which ap-
peared in the Magazine for March and April 1844
may be quoted in part as showing the operations of
the literary workman in those days, when foreign
literature was still somewhat difficult to get at, and
the art of translation much more largely employed
than at the present time : —

Jf?' Hardman, sen., to Alex. Blackwood.

Kensington, 1%th September.
When I had first the pleasure of seeing you in London I
mentioned having long had in my possession the materials of a
very striking tale of Venice and the Adriatic, sketched too on a
historical background of strong interest, and (to the best of
my knowledge after 40 years of reading) never yet employed.
When my son saw these materials, which are German and of
the most rugged and difficult description, he saw at once the
difficulty of investing with life, language, and colour the dull
and pointless chapters of this discouraging volume; but ap-
preciating also, as I did, their value as raw material, he pro-
posed to me to undertake the opening of the book, which treats
of painters and painting, and to head the first chapter "The
Studio " : the second chapter, by himself and headed " The
Cavern," introduces the Istriote pirates who infested the Adri-
atic in the 16th century, and, secretly encouraged by Austria,
mainly assisted in undermining the power of Venice. The 3rd
chapter we propose to head " The Jewels " ; 5th, " The Ball " ;
6th, " The Battle on the Bridge," a festival in Venice of which
and its confusion the pirates avail themselves to attempt the
rescue of their leader, then a captive in Venice. Of this old



festival I send you an old engraving, which you can return
along with the two specimen chapters. We should prefer its
appearance in one number of ' Maga ' rather than a division,
and I think you will agree with me when you see the whole.
It will be chiefly written by my son, who will, however, leave
to me such passages as may be better suited to me than him-
self, and I shall carefully revise and frame the whole. There
are two mysteries running through this singular tale which
powerfully sustain the interest. . . . The other mystery is
the striking resemblance of two youths, Antonio, the painter,
whom you will find in the first chapter, and the young Turk,
Ibrahim, who appears in the second. They turn out eventually
to be twin brothers, which secret, however, is well kept to the
last paragraph of the book, but their resemblance is ably em-
ployed to entangle the plot. These brothers, the Painter and
the Moslem, give the proposed title — unless a better should
occur to you, or to us after the tale is completed.

Further details of this piece of work are given in
subsequent letters.

In the conception as well as the execution of this tale we
have been obliged to take liberties in each chapter with one
very ill-told and ill-constructed original [Mr Hardman writes].
Fully one-half indeed of what we now send you is our own,
having been written without assistance from our author. The
descriptions of the Proveditore Marcello and of the two beauti-
ful women painted by Giorgione and Paris Bordone are taken
from these old Venetian portraits. Of these there is not a word
in the original. . . . "We have opened the story with a not
overlong architectural description, which, from the intimate
connection of architecture with human life, is always attractive
to all readers, far more so than minute descriptions of costumes.
We have been necessarily sparing of dialogue, not only from a
recollection of Mr Eobert Blackwood's advice to that effect, but
because a customary proportion of dialogue to so much incident
would have made our first part as lengthy as a post octavo. As
this romance has given us far more trouble than an original
tale would have done, from the necessity of assisting and



balancing the rugged and barren original with inventions as
well as execution, we shall feel obliged by your opinion of it
as soon as possible.

In returning the proofs of the first part of this
tale the writer adds : " You will find only the denoue-
ment in my handwriting ; but I have not spared my
labour on the first rough copy in endeavouring to
improve my son's execution of a subject so different
from all he has hitherto attempted." The father had
his little amour propre also, and did not wish to sink
himself altogether ; yet his son's gifts are, after all,
his first theme. He continues : —

My son has made great progress in a subject after his own
heart, and in his best military style, free and dashing. It is
another Transatlantic adventure, and far more exciting than
any former one, and is to be called " Two Mghts in Southern
Mexico." It is without any exaggeration the most stirring and
exciting Magazine article I ever saw, and will excite more atten-
tion even than the " Scamper in the Prairie of Jacinto," of which
we still hear praises in all directions. This Mexican adventure
will cover about 13 or 14 pages of ' Maga,' and is sufficiently
powerful to sustain 100 pages of heavy matter. Under the title
of ' Transatlantic Adventures ' you might publish a very pleasant
and attractive volume at your own good time, including : 1st,
" The Prairie and the Swamp." 2nd, " Scenes in the Tropics : the
Havannah and Peru." 3, 4, 5, "Adventures in Texas." 6,
" Two Mghts in Southern Mexico." I throw this out as a sug-
gestion only for your future consideration. You are the best
judge of the fitting time.

The advantages of such a copartnership, when the
father in his benevolent retirement from literary work
could yet lend a hand to the polishing of an article, or
work out a plot when necessary, or write a denouement,
as well as recommend, with a warmth which no one


(except Samuel Warren) could use when speaking of
himself, and of his son's productions, will be readily
appreciated. And the explorations of the pair into
all kinds of unknown literature, out of which articles
could be made, is both interesting and amusing. The
elder Hardman kept his eye upon all the book-lists :
he pounced upon the obscurest books, sure of finding
something in them that might be handy for after-use.
Here is another trouvaille : —

I have been dissecting the works of a Teutonic- American
writer, and especially his Mexican romances, one of the earliest
and published about ten years since. Now although you have
heard that his name is Seedsfield or something very like it,
which has an English character, I find in his Mexican work
unquestionable evidence that he is either a German or one
of the numerous descendants of old German settlers to be
found in the agricultural districts of Pennsylvania.

The style of his Mexico is not only pure and faultless, but
in the more historical portions resembles those sections of
Schiller's ' Eevolt of the Netherlands ' which are as difficult
as the Latin of Tacitus. In short, no Englishman could write
such German as is to be found in portions of every work by
this extraordinary writer, who is still unknown in Germany,
as you may see from the enclosed pages of a German Christmas
Catalogue (1844) lately sent to me, and in which are advertised
second editions of several of his works, under the heading of
" Schrif ten vom Verfasser der Legitimate und der Virey " —
Writings by the Author of, &c.

I am not surprised [he writes in a subsequent letter] to see
that my son's specimens of the German " Unknown " Mexican
romance have made a sensation in Edinburgh, nor that doubts
exist as to their being translations. But his translations are
done according to the spirit rather than the letter, without,
however, any unfair deviation from the latter. And such
translations are no easy undertaking, requiring as much
thought and more labour than many original compositions. I
think that if you have room you cannot do better than en-


courage Frederick to send you a similar notice and specimens
of another of the three-volume romances of our mysterious
German ; and one of them, a tale of Indian life and the back-
woods, far exceeds any of Cooper's in material and in power. By
this time, however, you must be well qualified to form a true
estimate of the value of these anonymous tales. You have
seen more than the foot of the statue, and need no hint from
me to understand the value of such a writer for the purposes
of a Magazine.

It is pretty to find that this good father, who had
held back, though flattered by it, from the j^roposal
to republish two volumes of his own past contribu-
tions to the Magazine, presses for a like advantage to
his son's. " The eager demand," he says, " for new
books at the libraries, and the difficulty of getting
them at this reading and stay-at-home season, has
recalled and strengthened my impression that you
might give a very pleasant brace of volumes to the
public, and benefit yourselves as well as my son, by
publishing his North and South American articles in
two volumes, under the title of ' Rambles and Ad-
ventures in the two Americas.' " It is altogether a
charming and touching combination, — the common
workshop, the father on the watch for new subjects,
and his complete abnegation of his own pretensions
in favour of his son, is good to see. Literary men,
even for their sons, are slow to make such sacrifices.

Frederick Hardman himself appears in August
1843, free of all disguises, beginning his letter "Dear
Sirs ! " as Germans do, and thus betraying his long
and frequent expatriations, — he had newly come
from Heidelberg. He was not quite so genially
submissive to his publishers as his father had been,
and at once objects, though quite courteously, to


certain expressions in their letters. " Candidly
speaking," he says, "I do not quite understand
what you mean by not giving myself scope enough."

F. Hardman to Messrs Blackvjood.

Is it that you consider I compress too much, giving less de-
scriptive dialogue or detail than the amount of incident re-
quires ? I have always studied to make my articles as short
as possible, having understood that you held brevity to be
a great recommendation in the papers sent to you. I shall be
very happy to send you longer articles if you wish it.

On another occasion he speaks with hesitation of the
pay, which he does not think enough. His father had
bargained for twelve guineas a sheet, but the young
man himself found that "the London Magazines" —
meaning, I presume, the ' New Monthly,' ' Bentley's
Miscellany,' «&c. — paid more.

Since I have been in England, and also during my last
visit to this country, I have occasionally sent an article to
one or other of these London Magazines, in some instances
because I have been particularly solicited so to do. My best
articles, however, have always been for you, nor have I ever
sent anything elsewhere which I thought you would consider
a material loss to your Magazine. Yet for these articles I have
been in every instance hetter 'paid than for the best of those
I sent to you. I don't know how you find it, but I can tell
you that the London Magazines are often at their wits' ends,
I won't say for good, but for decent articles.

My connection with your Magazine has been all along far
too agreeable to me for a trifling matter to interrupt it, as
far as I am concerned ; and I am certain you will see nothing
wrong or unjustified by circumstances in the observations
I have just been making. The fact is, my dear sir, I am
not a sufficiently rich man to write for less than I can get.
Whatever I send you costs me a great deal of time and labour,
and my receipts are by no means all profit, owing to heavy


expenses I am frequently put to for importation and purchase
of books for reference and material, many of which when
received prove of little or no use.

This letter contrasts amusingly with another letter
from an Edinburgh contributor, Mr George Moir, re-
ceived about the same time, who writes to thank the
brothers for the "extreme of liberality" which had
characterised some literary proposal made to him.
" But I am sure," adds this gentleman, " you will not
be offended if I say that I really cannot allow you to
overestimate so much any services I have had it in my
power to offer," and he requests that a smaller sum
than that proposed should be put to his credit. "You
know I have been coquetting with no other," he contin-
ues — so that the one letter is in every way a contradic-
tion of the other. Evidently, however, the difficulty
with Hardman was immediately overcome. After all, it
was no more than fourteen guineas he wanted, and this
with a reminder that "your manuscript-devouring,
double- columned, close-lined page is to the average
page of the London magazine as at least 16 to 13 !"

A note that follows is rather interesting from its
notice of Borrow, the as yet little known but brilliant
adventurer, of whom the succeeding age has been more
appreciative than his own. Our polyglot friend is
sending a paper on "Spain as it is": —

I don't like to be hard on Borrow, whose books, to have been
written by a missionary, contain very little methodistical cant.
He appears to me rather a fine fellow, much more cut out for
a soldier than a tract-vendor. If you have the book by you,
refer to vol. iii. page 273, where he gives utterance to some
martial and sanguinary aspirations, rather diverting as coming
from an agent of the Bible Society.


Borrow as a missionary, though he certainly was an
agent of the Bible Society by some strange chance, is
diverting indeed.

The next subject of the indefatigable critic of foreign
literature was Dumas, out of whose delightful Neapoli-
tan books he made one or two amusing papers, and on
whom he remarks in his letter with the freedom of a
contemporary. " I don't wish to overdose the public,
even with such an amusing dog as Dumas," he says
out of the heart of a period which scarcely knew even
' Monte Christo,' and to which the ' Trois Mousque-
taires ' was as yet unrevealed. It was the ' Corricolo,'
that most delightful of travel books, which Hardman
treated — a work which, I imagine, would be as novel
to the public now if it were again treated in the same
way as it was then. When our writer went to Paris
there are several more remarks about Dumas. Hard-
man's mind was full of Parisian sketches, and the best
means of extracting new " copy " from all that he read
and saw. " I read as many French novels as I have
time to do," he says. " They are very clever many of
them, but few afford convertible material."

F. Hardman to Alexander Blackwood.

Dumas has got into an odious way of writing three or four
books forming a suite to each other. I understand he is at
work on ' Dix Ans Apres/ a continuation of ' Vingt Ans Apres,'
which, as you remember, continued the ' Mousquetaires.' He
has written such a library that there is a shop opened solely
for the sale of his books. . . .

I have been wading and skimming through oceans of French
novels, and rare trash they are, the greater part of them
crammed with nauseous sentiments, false feeling, and lament-
ably deficient in incident and point, De Balzac, who now and
then used to write good things, has sunk into bookmaking.


Soulie has become dull. Scribe is one of the best; but he
writes little except plays. I really think our ally Alexandre
is the cleverest of them. No depths, no originality in striking
out character; but so smart and dramatic, fertile of incident,
and vivid in dialogue.

By the by, since the duel, the term applied to the Paris
d^gants is nolonger lion, hnt gentilhomme, in the style of the 18th
century. You will perhaps have observed in the report of the
trial that the hopeful young mulatto and sucking dramatist, M.
Alexandre Dumas, fils, a youth of twenty, deposed to M. Beau-
vallon being trds gentilhoinme. This was taken up. Arnal
made an allusion to it a night or two after at the Vaudeville
amidst thunders of applause, and the satirical papers, of which
there are three or four, rang the changes on it for a fortnight.
And gentilhomme is therefore the consecrated form till some-
thing newer or more piquant turns up.

It is almost cruel ta quote these naive remarks of a
critic in his dressing-gown — for Hardman was laid up
with severe rheumatism and wrote under disadvan-
tages. He was at the same time translating a Ger-
man novel, and writing an account of personal ad-
ventures in South America elsewhere ; indeed nothing
seems to come amiss, the wildest Scam'per or the
mildest review. All countries and languages were the
same, one more easy and familiar than another. If
fun and frolic were necessary to enliven a weighty
number, he was ready to supply them ; if a book had
to be gravely reviewed, he was equally ready. Never
was a man so furnished on all sides to make himself
universally useful. And here is an instance of another
kind of criticism in respect to a work which had been
offered for the Masrazine, on which Hardman's advice
had evidently been asked : —

I return your MSS. from New York, and thereanent have
sundries to say.


Its author is decidedly a very clever fellow, with a deal of
fun and Yankee humour about him, and I think the book, of
which he gives a synopsis, might be made a most excellent card
for the Mag., independently of the benefit to be derived from
the copyright plan. There are one or two things to consider.
First, the substance. Up to the 39 th chapter he professes to
have mixed up a good deal of truth, or at least not to have
launched into the extravagant. After that he changes his tack,
and gets rhodomontading and inventing fabulous countries — so
I understand, at least, from the passage above referred to, and
the subsequent extracts. This sort of thing may be made
capital if well done, but I am not sure of the wisdom of passing
in the same story or book from a narrative of adventure which
might be true, to a tissue of exaggerated fable which the reader
must at once discern not to be so. It is difficult, however, to
judge of all this by the bare skeleton submitted to us, and I
should think the writer too shrewd a fellow to commit any
glaring inconsistencies in the general plan of his book. . . . The
Lion story must be greatly exaggerated as regards dimensions
of the beast, &c. It might be made wonderfully effective, but
he has not made the most of it. Secondly, as to style. Mayo
is a loose sort of a writer, and often misses or injures the point
by prolixity and by not knowing how to make the most of it.
Eead pp. 12, 13. A capital story ; but the effect marred by
his verbose and unvigorous way of coming to it. Tom Cringle
or Scalsfield would have made a deal of such an incident, and
I flatter myself it might gain considerably by passing through
the hands of the translator of the latter [himself]. In short, I
now think what I was not sure of when I had only read the
letter, which is excellent, that the thing would be unavailable
without rewriting. The materials are capital, and it would be
a great pity to lose them if they can possibly be obtained, for
I am pretty sure, even from the little I have seen, that I might
make something deuced good out of them. If you have not
read the MS. through, do so. It is very good, and I hope you
will be able to get it, and that the Yankee's conceit won't take
fire at the idea of a man who has written "crack articles,
elaborate essays, critical reviews, love tales," and half-a-dozen
other things, having his labours deemed to require revision.



That they do so is most certain, and one ought to have a certain
latitude to cut and chop, abbreviate, lengthen, or condense,
whensoever it may seem advisable, besides correcting his errors
orthographical, logical, and so forth. But for the copyright
project, it would perhaps have been no bad plan to have offered
him so much for the manuscript and done what one liked
with it.

The advice very likely v^as good ; but it is whim-
sical to note how every piece of literary work which
comes into his hands appears to Mr Hardman as
material, so accustomed was he to cut and carve upon
the foreign works which he translated and remoulded
to suit his fancy. I find no further indication of this
manuscript, which probably the "Yankee" (obsolete
word !) did not care to put into Mr Hardman' s mill ;
but the letter gives us a glimpse into the methods of
the publisher's adviser which is amusing. The friend-
ship which originated between this exceedingly ener-
getic young literary man and the young publisher,
the "Branch" in London, — arising in the partitioned
corner in Pall Mall which the brothers in Edinburgh
had so gravely provided for as a sanctum sanctorum
for serious and dignified literary consultation, but
which often, we fear, disturbed the decorum of Mr
Langford and his satellites in the outer office by peals
of laughter and the hruyant conversation of young
men, — and which was cemented by many merry din-
ners and " tumblers," lasted long into the graver years
when Mr John Blackwood in the course of events
came to be the head of the house in Edinburgh and
Mr Frederick Hardman was the all-responsible 'Times'
correspondent. He no longer manipulated foreign lit-
erature when he assumed that important post, but


never ceased to be the warm friend, adviser, and
brother-in-arms of this friend of youth.

The next of the new men who now appeared upon
the horizon was one whose story is almost complete in
the little bundle of dusty letters which lie before me,
— a story full of vicissitudes, but eventually successful
to a degree which few young men damaged in health
and unknown in literature have ever attained. In
the little sketch of Samuel Phillips in the ' National
Biography ' the connection is made to begin in a sen-
sational manner, which we fear is not quite justified
by truth. We learn there that the young author,
very ill and very poor, reduced indeed to his last
sovereign or something like it, wrote in his despair
from the Isle of Wight to the firm — unknown to
him — in Edinburgh, to whom he had neither in-
troduction nor recommendation, sending the first
chapters of a story, enough for a single number in
the Magazine, with an appeal to their consideration ;
and that he received from them by return of post
an acceptance of his tale and a cheque for £50,
which immediately set the poor young author on his
feet. I do not find any trace of the £50 ; nor was the
beginning of the intercourse sensational in any way.
Phillips' enclosure was so far encouragingly received
that he wrote again, sending a second and a third
instalment of his story. He was a Jew, or at least,
as it is common to say of those who have become
Christians, " of Jewish extraction," and very undis-
tinguished parentage ; and at this moment he was at
the end of all his resources, married, and with constant
severe attacks of haemorrhage from the lungs, so that
his situation was piteous and his hopes were few. The


Blackwoods, if they gave him no sensational reception,
gave him hope, which was perhaps better ; but not
any definite engagement as yet, as will be seen from
the following anxious and subdued note : —

Samuel Fhillips to Messrs Blackwood,

Ventnor, Isle op Wight, December 24, 1841,
According to the intention expressed in my note of the 21st
inst. [not preserved] I beg to hand you the third part of the
Stukely papers; and I pray you to read it before you decide
upon rejecting the whole.

If you think that the interest is sustained up to the present
writing, I can venture to promise you that it will not flag. I
have an abundance of good matter to carry me on.

You will gather from my last note that I am most anxious to
become your contributor, and I can only hope that my labours
will suit your Magazine! An early answer will greatly oblige

The next letter, dated March 25, 1842, shows that
the story, still in fragment, had been accepted for the
Magazine ; and perhaps the £50, or some other sum,
had changed all the firmament and the circumstances
of the young author. We cannot but remark on the
courage and daring of these publishing days, which
induced a publisher to embark cheerfully upon the

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret) OliphantAnnals of a publishing house. William Blackwood and his sons, their magazine and friends (Volume v. 2) → online text (page 23 of 42)