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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Ruined Season Post by :pumpkin Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3104

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Ruined Season

(_24 Dec. '08_)

In a recent number of the _Athenaeum appeared a letter from Mr. E.H. Cooper, novelist and writer for children, protesting against the publication of the Queen's Gift-Book and the royally commanded cheap edition of "Queen Victoria's Letters" during the autumn season, and requesting their Majesties to forbear next year from injuring the general business of books as they have injured it this year. That some semi-official importance is attached to Mr. Cooper's statements is obvious from the fact that the _Athenaeum (which is the organ of the trade as well as of learning) thought well to print his letter. But Mr. Cooper undoubtedly exaggerates. He states that the two books in question "have ruined the present publishing season rather more effectively than a Pan-European war could have done." Briefly, this is ridiculous. He says further: "Men and women who could trust to a sale of 5000 or 6000 copies of a novel, equally with authors who can command much larger sales, find that this year the sale of their annual novel has reached a tenth part of the usual figures." This also is ridiculous. The general view is that, while the season has been scarcely up to the average for fiction, it has not been below the average on the whole. But Mr. Cooper is nothing if not sweeping. A few days later he wrote to the _Westminster Gazette about the House of Lords, and said: "I am open to wager a considerable sum that if the Government fights a general election next year they will win back all their lost by-elections and get an increased majority besides." Such rashness proves that grammar is not Mr. Cooper's only weak point.

* * * * *

It is a pity that Mr. Cooper's protest was not made with more moderation, for it was a protest worth making. The books of the two Queens have not ruined the season, nor have they reduced the sales of popular novels by 90 per cent.; but they have upset trade quite unnecessarily. The issue of "Queen Victoria's Letters" at six shillings was a worthy idea, but its execution was thoughtlessly timed. The volumes would have sold almost equally well at another period of the year. As for "Queen Alexandra's Gift-Book," I personally have an objection to the sale of books for charity, just as I have an objection to all indirect taxation and to the paying of rates out of gas profits. In such enterprises as the vast, frenzied pushing and booming of the "Gift-Book," the people who really pay are just the people who get no credit whatever. The public who buy get rich value for their outlay; the chief pushers and boomsters get an advertisement after their own hearts; and the folk who genuinely but unwillingly contribute, without any return of any kind, are authors whose market is disturbed and booksellers who, partly intimidated and partly from good nature, handle the favoured book on wholesale terms barely profitable. I will have none of Mr. Cooper's 90 per cent.; but I dare say that I have lost at the very least L10 owing to the "Gift-Book." That is to say, I have furnished L10 to the Unemployed Fund. I share Mr. Cooper's resentment. I do not want to give L10 to any fund whatever, and to force me to pay it to the Unemployed Fund, of all funds, is to insult my most sacred convictions. L10 wants earning. And the fact that L10 wants earning should be brought to the attention of Windsor and Greeba Castles.

* * * * *

Still, I am not depressed about the general cause of serious literature. Serious literature is kept alive by a few authors who, not owning motor-cars nor entertaining parties to dinner at the Carlton, find it possible and agreeable to maintain life and decency on the money paid down by very small bands of truly bookish readers. And these readers are not likely to deprive themselves completely of literature for ever in order to possess a collection of royal photographs. The injury to serious literature is slight and purely temporary.

* * * * *

(_31 Dec. '08_)

A melancholy Christmas, it seems! According to "a well-known member of the trade," the business is once again--the second time this year--about to crumble into ruins. This well-known member of the trade, who discreetly refrains from signing his name, writes to the _Athenaeum in answer to Mr. E.H. Cooper's letter about the disastrous influence of royal books on the publishing season. According to him, Mr. Cooper is all wrong. The end of profitable publishing is being brought about, not by their Majesties, but once more by the authors and their agents. It appears that too many books are published. Authors and their agents have evidently some miraculous method of forcing publishers to publish books which they do not want to publish. I am not a member of the trade, but I should have thought that few things could be easier than not to publish a book. Presumably the agent stands over the publisher with a contract in one hand and a revolver in the other, and, after a glance at the revolver, the publisher signs without glancing at the contract. Secondly, it appears, authors and their agents habitually compel the publisher to pay too much, so that he habitually publishes at a loss. (Novels, that is.) I should love to know how the trick is done, but "a well-known member of the trade" does not go into details. He merely states the broad fact. Thirdly, the sevenpenny reprint of the popular novel is ruining the already ruined six-shilling novel. It is comforting to perceive that this wickedness on the part of the sevenpenny reprint cannot indefinitely continue. For when there are no six-shilling novels to reprint, obviously there can be no sevenpenny reprints of them. There is justice in England yet; but a well-known member of the trade has not noticed that the sevenpenny novel, in killing its own father, must kill itself. At any rate he does not refer to the point.

I have been young, and now am nearly old. Silvered is the once brown hair. Dim is the eye that on a time could decipher minion type by moonlight. But never have I seen the publisher without a fur coat in winter nor his seed begging bread. Nor do I expect to see such sights. Yet I have seen an author begging bread, and instead of bread, I gave him a railway ticket. Authors have always been in the wrong, and they always will be: grasping, unscrupulous, mercenary creatures that they are! Some of them haven't even the wit to keep their books from being burnt at the stake by the executioners of the National Vigilance Association. I wonder that publishers don't dispense with them altogether, and carry on unaided the great tradition of English literature. Anyhow, publishers have had my warm sympathy this Christmas-time. When I survey myself, as an example, lapped in luxury and clinking multitudinous gold coins extorted from publishers by my hypnotizing rascal of an agent; and when I think of the publishers, endeavouring in their fur coats to keep warm in fireless rooms and picking turkey limbs while filling up bankruptcy forms--I blush. Or I should blush, were not authors notoriously incapable of that action.

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