William Webster Ellsworth.

A golden age of authors: a publisher's recollection online

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GENERAL GRANT'S MEMOIRS

whether our price would have been seven dollars
and a half. I doubt if Mr. Smith meant to charge
as much.

A few years later (1894) the Webster firm, which
had issued other books including a "Life*' of the
Pope on which they had not been able to make
goody failed, and the plates of the Grant "'Mem-
oirs'' came to us. Of course the great sale had been
over long before.

It was this failure that threw upon the shoulders
of Mark Twain at sixty years of age an indebted-
ness of $93,000, a sum which he cheerfully started
to earn by a lectm^ tour of the world. Most of his
creditors, perhaps all, would gladly have forgiven
the debt, but he paid it to the last penny.

There never was any feeling in our office against
Mark Twain for taking away the Grant book. He
continued to write for The Centiury and for St.
Nicholas and he was on the best of terms with
every one about the place.

Roswell Smith had no hesitation in making an
unprecedented offer of money if it seemed best to
do so in order to secure a feature of very great value
to the world. As the War Series in The Century
was drawing to a dose, the only thing in sight that
was worth while to follow it was Nicolay and Hay's
*'Life" of Abraham Lincoln. For years editors and

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A GOLDEN AGE OP AUTHORS

publishers had known that Lincohi's two secreta-
ries were working on it and many of them had
tried to get it. lonce fomid a letter from John Hay
to Dr. Holland, written before 1880, telling him
that the work was not then ready for consideration.
Dr. Holland wrote to Gilder at this time that ^'the
Hay history is probably impracticable. It is too
long and elaborate." When it was done serious com-
petition had come down to one other house besides
oiu*selves, and then it was that during an interview
with Messrs. Nicolay and Hay in Roswell Smith's
office he made them the offer of fifty thousand dol-
lars for serial publication in The Century — the
greatest sum that had been paid for a serial up to
that time, and I do not know of any such sum paid
later — possibly Mr. Roosevelt received as much
for his African articles in Scribner's Magazine, but
as to that I do not know.

Before the offer was made Messrs. Nicolay and
Hay had not been favorably disposed to consider
serial publication at all, for they feared that edi-
tors would wish to cut a book of more than a mil-
lion words and print only the cream. But fifty
thousand dollars was a great sum. They could not
refuse it. And our editors arranged to do some cut-
ting, for the magazine had so fully covered the his-
tory of the Civil War in the War Series that it was

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NICOLAY AND HAY'S LINCOLN

not necessary to include that part of the Lincohi
"Life** and it was condensed. Not many writers
are pleased with a ^* condensation" of their work
and John Hay was no exception, as is indicated
in Thayer's " Life/' What was printed ran from
November, 1886, mitil February, 1890, more than
three years, and held the new readers who had been
first attracted to The Century by the War papers.
Roswell Smith would not guarantee General
Grant a sale of twenty-five thousand copies of his
book — that was merely a matter of dollars and
cents, but he would pay for a Lincoln "Life,**
which he beUeved to be the greatest "Life" of the
greatest American that had been or could be writ-
ten, the largest sum that had ever been paid for a
serial — a sum which many people thought at the
time was absurd. As for what was considered his
lack of business foresight in losing the book publi-
cation of the Grant "Memoirs,** he once told Gil-
der that he felt himself unfitted for book-publish-
ing, that he had no love for the detail necessary to
putting forth each individual book — he loved to
plan largely, nor was making money ever a prime
object with him. When he created The Century
Dictionary he felt confident that if he made the
greatest and best dictionary possible, the money
would come back; that is, if he considered the

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

money question at all, that would be the way his
mind would work. In the case of General Grant's
book a member of his house had thought of it, he
himself had helped to persuade the general to
write it, and that meant more to him than making
money out of its publication. And he did not see it
as money, he saw a new Caesar's Commentaries, a
great classic which he had helped to inspire. I
know there are plenty of men in the world who
could not Imderstand this, who would smile out of
a corner of their mouths and call Roswell Smith a
fool; — but I thank God that Roswell Smith left
enough poetry in me to let me honor him always,
both for what he did and for what he left undone.



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CHAPTER XVI

Dinner9 at the Aldine Clvb — Conan Doyle — Henry M. Stanley —
Marion Cravford — Olwer Herford — Theodore Rooeeedt — The
English Winston Churchill — Major Pond — Lectures

It was Mark Twain who called my attention to
the fact that Hamilton W. Mabie was the best
presiding officer at a dinner he had ever seen. We
were going home from a banquet which had been
given in Mark Twain's honor at the Aldine Club
(December 4, 1900). Mabie had presided, intro-
ducing the speakers most happily, although Mark
Twain himself had received the cue to his own
speech from the decorations and the remarkable
atmosphere which our Drake had created. In those
days Drake's taste and tireless work made many
notable dinners more notable. All the pillars in the
room that night were made to look like trees, with
branches growing out of them; and from the
branches and from the ceiling drooped Southern
moss sent up from Florida. Ship's lanterns of
gleaming brass, choice bits of Drake's collection,
hung, red-eyed, in the distance. Mark Twain sat
in a pOot-house, made exactly like a Mississippi
River pilot-house, except that it was open at the
front and sides. On a half-circle sign above it was

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

lettered the namd of a steamboat which our guest
had piloted, and b^ore him, on the table, was half
of a helmsman's wheel. He was much touched by
the tribute, and when he spoke he gave us whole
chapters out of ""Life on the Mississippi" which
came back to him in those surroundings.

I remember some of the other speakers who met
to honor Mark Twain that night: William Dean
Howells, Hopkinson Smith, Marion Crawford^
Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, James Lane Allen, ^^nston
Churchill, and Brander Matthews among them.
At the guest table sat one man who was somewhat
of a stranger to New York dinners, Owen Wister
of Philadelphia. Mark Twain had sent me a letter
from Wister to him saying that he wanted to go
and see Mark Twain and telling him that there was
"no Uving American of which I*m quite so proud
as I am of you. I promise not to say this when I
see you." The letter bears Mark Twain's endorse-
ment: **Dear Ellsworth: If you need another guest
don't overlook Wister. S. L. C." I am sure Wister
must have enjoyed that wonderful night.

The menu had on it portraits of Mark Twain
made at various times in his life, chiefly early por-
traits, some of them furnished by Mrs. Clemens^
who took infinite pains to find them for us.

I have often attended public dinners where the
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THE ALDINE CLUB

guest of the evening seemed to do all the work, but
in those Aldine dinners, with Mabie to preside and
Drake to decorate, the hosts did their share to
make the entertainment a success. It was imder-
stood that Mabie should not be called on for pre-
liminary work; the guests usually were invited by
Robert Bridges, now editor of Scribner's Magazine
(he was once the delightful book critic, "Droch,*'
of Life), and by me.

The Aldine Club began in 1889, chiefly as a
luncheon place for editors, artists, and publishers
whose daily work brought them into the neighbor-
hood of what was then Lafayette "Place"; and its
home was an old-fashioned house, the rooms deco-
rated in quiet colors, with quaint prints, playbills,
and autographs on the walls. Downstairs there was
a grill-room, furnished in the comfortable style
of an old English chop-house, with sanded floors,
mugs hanging on the walls, and high-backed strad-
dle-legged chairs, wherein one might sit over the
fire and smoke a "chiirchwarden" or a more mod-
em cigar if it so pleased him. In 1894 the dub fol-
lowed the uptown movement and had its quarters
at Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth Street, and here
most of its famous dinners were given. Later it
amalgamated with the Uptown Association in the
Fifth Avenue Building, and although much of its

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

unique character had been lost in the movings, yet
for a time it kept up its entertainments. Here were
given the JeflFerson and the Mark Twain dinners.

In the club-house at Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth
Street there were dinners in honor of Barrie, Conan
Doyle, Hall Caine, Marion Crawford, Thomas
Bailey Aldrich, and others. There was a "Hunter's
Night/' with Theodore Roosevelt and Dr. Rains-
ford among the speakers; "Arctic and Antarctic
Night," with Peary and Borchgrevink; "Fo'c'sle
Night," with Admiral Erben and "Fighting Bob"
Evans, Admiral Meade, Lieutenant Kelley, Wads-
worth Longfellow of Boston (a wonderful racon-
teur), John Kendrick Bangs (who read an advance
chapter of "A House-Boat on the Styx"), "Chim-
mie Fadden" Townsend, Pay Lispectors Schenck
and Billings, and, I think, still other speakers, for
oiu- entertainments were seldom over at the hour
of curfew. For the inner man, "plum-duff and grog
at six bells" were provided.

On another night General Miles and Frederic
Remington sat around a Western camp-fire and
told stories, while the lights glistened on the Na-
vajo blankets and the Mexican trappings on the
walls. Looking back, I can remember very little
that was said on those nights, but the decorations
and the good-fellowship stand out. Such occasions

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CONAN DOYLE

are reaDy a useful part of life in the magazine
world, for they bring together writers and editors,
artists and publishers, and they often bear fruit in
stories or articles or illustrations.

I remember an original Sherlock Hohnes story,
told by Conan Doyle, the night before he sailed
for home, in December, 1894. The stories that oc-
ciu* in this book are, I think, generally heretofore
impublished. I know this was printed somewhere,
but I have told it many times in a lecture and have
yet to meet the first person who has heard it before,
so it is included here.

On his arrival in Boston Doyle told us that he
had noticed a dog-eared but familiar volume peep-
ing out of his cabman's pocket. "You may drive
me to Young's or the Parker House," he said. .

"Pardon me,'* returned cabbie, "you will find
Major Pond waiting for you at the Parker House."

As they parted, the cabman asked for a pass to
the lecture instead of a fee, and Doyle said: "Now,
see here, I am not usually beaten at my own game.
How did you know who I am?"

"Well, sir, of course all members of the Cab-
men's Literary Guild knew you were coming on
this train, and, I noticed, sir, if you will excuse me,
that your hair has the cut of a Quakerish, Philadel-
phia barber; your hat shows on the brim in front

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

where you tightly grasped it at a Chicago literary
luncheon; your right overshoe has on it what is
plainly a big block of Buffalo mud; and there are
crumbs of a doughnut, which must have been
bought at the Springfield station, on the top of
your bag. And then, sir, to make assurance doubly
sure, I happened to see stenciled in plain lettering
on the end of the bag the name Conan Doyle."

We entertained Henry M. Stanley and Mrs.
Stanley at an afternoon reception at the Aldine. It
was in the old club-house on Lafayette Place. I was
on the conmiittee, and I wanted Mr. Stanley —
he was not knighted then — to stand in a certain
place near the center of the room where he could
receive the people. But he would not stay there; he
insisted on backing up against the wall. Finally I
appealed to Mrs. Stanley:

"Why will not your husband stand where I put
him?"

"Simply," she said, "because he is afraid some
one will stick him in the back with a spear."

The habit acquired in Africa of protecting him-
self by standing with his back against a wall was
too much for Stanley even in the safety of a New
York afternoon reception. Saint-Gaudens told me
^ that General Sherman was like that. In making a
bust of the general he had found it almost impossi-

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MARION CRAWFORD

ble to do the back of his head. He wanted no one
behind him.

Marion Crawford, to whom we gave one of our
dinners, was one of the most lovable of men. He
was a faithful subscriber to a f imd which I got up
for the education of the son of a literary friend
who died. He always gave fifty dollars a year, as
did Anthony Hope, Mark Twain, and many other
good literary folk. The contributors included
W. D. Howells, George W. Cable, Mrs. James T.
Fields, Charles Battell Loomis, James Whitcomb
Riley, Hall Caine, John Hay, Lyman Abbott,
Henry M. Stanley, John Watson, Robert Ball, and
others whose names I have forgotten in the years
since the fund was raised. Mark Twain became
chairman of the committee, and his advice about
getting in money was excellent. "Don't try to
raise a big f imd from which you will get only inter-
est,'* he said; **liave men agree to give so much a
year for a series of years." It worked well, and
moreover gave me a chance to find out who were
the good sports in the literary world. Mark Twain
could always be depended on.

Crawford's first book, **Mr. Isaacs," appeared
in 1882, and in his twenty-seven writing years he
published forty-five novek. Whenever a new one
came out (and how we miss them now!) I bought

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

and enjoyed it in the same way that I would enjoy
a good play, and that was just what Crawford
meant that his reader should do. In his book, *'The
Novel: What It Is," he answers the question, "It
is or ought to be a pocket-stage — scenery, light,
shade, the actors themselves, all made of words
cleverly put together/' The "purpose novel" was
to him "an odious attempt to lecture people who
hate lectures."

An entire chapter could be written about that
most modem of modems, Oliver Herford, except-
ing that one might infringe some of Herf ord's copy-
rights by doing so. He is the man who is credited
with having referred to the Waldorf-Astoria as
"the hotel which caters to the exdusiveness of the
masses," and who altered a very old saw into,
"Many are called but few get up." Herford came
in one day and wanted to know if I would give him
an advertisement for a little paper which he and
Gelett Burgess were starting. I told him that I
thought not. He wanted to know why.
"Oh, because it will be too ephemeral."
"Why should it be ephemeral?"
"You will get sick of it and it will stop."
"Nonsense," said Herford; "I got sick of The
Century long ago, and it did n't stop."
I remember when Mr. Roosevelt came into the
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THEODOBE ROOSEVELT .

office on his way from the convention at Phila-
delphia, sat down on a box> and told us all about
his nomination for the Vice-Presidency. And I wish
I could remember just what he said, but I have a
decided impression that he told us that he meant
to make that office more important than it ever
had been made before.

I was crossing Union Square one hot August
day with Will Carey, years before, when we met
Roosevelt hm-rying through the Square. It was in
the days when he was police conunissioner, and I
had been reading in the morning paper of some of
his wanderings at night, looking after his force.

"Are n't you going to take any vacation, Mr.
Roosevelt? '* I asked, bromidi^y.

"Where do you suppose I could have as good a
time as I am having right here in New York? '^ was
the reply, with snapping teeth. With him the bigger
the job the better the time. He had none of the
old-fashioned New England theology in his make-
up, with its rewards for duty. The doing a worth-
while job well was its own reward.

Major Pond, greatest of lecture managers, had a
way of bringing what he called his " talent '* into
our office, and leaving them there to be enter-
tained — Anthony Hope, Ian Madaren, Zangwill,
Hall Caines the English Winston Churchill^ and

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

many more — very easy men to entertain. I am
siu-e they must have given a great deal more than
they received. We helped the major to get lecturers
and he sometimes helped us to get authors. Church-
ill came to America to tell the story of his escape in
the Boer War, and the major made a contract with
him to pay so much for each lecture and to pay all
of his expenses. **And do you know what that
young man did?" said the major; ^^he drank a pint
of champagne for breakfast every morning, and I
had to pay for it.'*

Telling this story once in Indianapolis, a gentle-
man present remarked that perhaps this propen-
sity to drink champagne in the morning was
merely because Churchill wished to run up an ex-
pense accoxmt of more than ordinary proportions.
He said that Chiu-chill lectured in Indianapolis in
a very large hall to a very small audience, and his
ire over the management of his lectures, which
evidently were not being well advertised, was very
apparent. His anger was» of course, directed chiefly
at Major Pond, and it is not impossible that after-
wards, to get even, he drank the major's health at
the major's expense as he partook of his morning
meal.

Major Pond was a man who was very much
beloved by many people who lectured under his

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MAJOR POND

management, and disliked by others. Henry Ward
Beecher, who had traveled scores of thousands of
miles with Major Pond, loved him. So did Marion
Crawford. But when Israel Zangwill came over
here he would not allow the major to travel with
him at all. Hopkinson Smith had a falling out with
Major Pond and never would have anything to do
with him afterwards. Smith told me that he had
received a letter from a man in a small town of a
few thousand inhabitants, saying that the writer
had tried to get Hopkinson Smith for a lecture, but
on writing to his manager he had been advised
to let the manager lecture and at a considerably
lower price. On confronting Major Pond with this
letter, Hopkinson Smith said that the major de-
clared it was not from the man with whom he him-
self was in correspondence. But how two men of
the same name in a small town could be getting up
lecture courses was always too much for Smith,
and he never would allow Major Pond to place him
again. I always believed that there was a mistake
somewhere.

It was unfortunate that the major got the lecture
bee in his bonnet, because he was a splendid man-
ager and a very indiflferent lecturer. The headmas-
ter of one of the greatest boys' schools in the coun-
try told me that he had never had to apologize to

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

his boys for a lecture but once and that was Major
Pond's. The lecturer talked about the people he
had managed, with stereopticon portraits — per-
son after person, a picture, a short biography, no
continuity; many of the boys went to sleep. Even
the major became sleepy, and looking up at a pic-
ture said slowly, "Why, I don't believe I know
who that is!" "Seton-Thompson," called out a boy
who was awake. "Oh, yes, Seton-Thompson'' —
and then he went on with his interminable biogra-
phies.

I have already referred to Mark Twain's feel-
ings about having his manager a lecturer. If I may
be permitted to speak for a moment of my own
affairs, I always found Major Pond kindly, square,
and generous. He took me up more than twenty
years ago, the veriest amateur, and began to place
me on the lecture platform, and he and his son
after him have continued it all these years, nor has
the shadow of a misunderstanding ever come be-
tween us. My lecturing began with "An American
in Egypt," a record of personal experience which I
made for the Y.M.C.A. and some chiurches and
schools in Yonkers. Will Carey heard it, told the
major about it, and through him the engagements
began to come in. I was busy in those days at The
Century OflSce and could not go far from New York.

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LECTURES

My first historical lecture came about through a
suggestion to Elbridge Brooks made by some one
in the office that he should write a book for young
people about the American Revolution — the rec-
ord of the trip of a party of boys and girls to the
battle-fields with a wise uncle who knew it all.
Brooks said he would do it, but would I go with
him to take pictiu'cs and be a companion? He
would undertake the r6le of the wise uncle if I
would be the girls and boys. So I studied up the
battle-fields and we started in at Lexington and
came out at Yorktown. He made a book, "The
Century Book of the American Revolution.^' I
thought I would utilize my photographs, besides
printing them in the book, for a lecture; I knew of
the Thomas Addis Emmet collection of old prints
and manuscripts in the Lenox Library and of other
collections whose owners my magazine work had
brought me in touch with. I had enjoyed giving
"An American in Egypt'' and later a travel lecture
with pictm^es, "Prom Gib to Joppa." So I pro-
duced "From Lexington to Yorktown," illustrated
with photographs of present scenes combined with
contemporaneous prints and manuscripts. Major
Pond took it up and in the first season placed it
with more than sixty societies of the Daughters
of the American Revolution and similar patriotic

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A GOLDEN AGE OF AUTHORS

bodies. A few years later I made ** Arnold and An-
dr6/' having the help of Dr. Emmet, who had
gathered about all there was that shed light on the
treason story. My friend, Charles T. Carruth of
Cambridge, who was at that time an amateur
photographer of great skill, went with me to the
scenes of the treason and we took photographs.
Later we went to Virginia together, where I un-
dertook "Captain John Smith and Old Virginia'*
just before the season of the Jamestown celebra-
tion.

I have given "Arnold and Andr6'' four times,
four years apart, at the West Point Military Acad-
emy; General Mills, when superintendent, said
that it should be seen there every four years as
long as he had anything to say about it, so that the
story of the universally despised American general
and the brilliant young British officer, admired
even by his enemies, who planned together to give
up that very spot to the English forces, should be
known to every American officer before his gradua-
tion.

The creation of historical lectures, uniting in the
illustrations the old and the new, has always been
a harmless hobby of mine. Each lectiu-e is associ-
ated with some kind-hearted collector who helped
me; "Lincoln" with the late Major Lambert, who

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LECTURES

gathered so many rare objects and manuscripts
associated with Lincohi; "Washington/' with Paul
Leicester Ford and with William F. Havemeyer,
whose collection of Washingtoniana was unsur-
passed.

During the summer of 1918, just ended as I
write, I have been devoting every other week to
the Y.M.C.A. giving an illustrated lecture, "The
Hun: A Study of Prussia," in the soldiers' camps
and in forts and naval bases. It has been a great
pleasiu-e and a great privilege to help to interest
these young men in European history and in the
causes of the Great War. It has seemed sometimes
as if the other historical lectiures were only a prepa-
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CHAPTER XVn

Owrge Kennan — Alexander Oraham BM
Or the many lecturers managed by Major Pond,
the record for number of consecutive nights is still
held by George Kennan — two hundred nights,
not including Sundays. The torn- was undertaken
just after the conclusion of Kennan's articles on
"Siberia and the Exile System" which appeared in


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Online LibraryWilliam Webster EllsworthA golden age of authors: a publisher's recollection → online text (page 14 of 18)