In the early 1870s, when Thomas Hardy’s first novels were published, the Tauchnitz Editions were well established as the leading continental publisher of English language novels, but their position was not uncontested. The Berlin bookseller Adolf Asher started a rival series in 1872 and for the next few years the market was fiercely contested between the two publishers. The ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ tried to tempt away as many established authors as it could from Tauchnitz and of course tried to identify and sign up the most promising new authors.
Some authors, including notably George Eliot, were able to play one publisher off against the other and for a few years did very well out of it. Hardy seems to have been less successful. He was certainly not an established author when the Asher series launched and hardly even seems to have been identified as a promising new author.
But ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, published anonymously in 1872, had some success, and attracted the attention of Asher, who published it as volume 53 of the Asher’s Collection in 1873 (under Hardy’s own name). Sales were probably disappointing as neither Asher nor Tauchnitz rushed to publish Hardy’s subsequent novels. ‘Far from the madding crowd’, published in the UK in 1874, seems to have been ignored at first by both publishers.
It was Hardy himself who took the initiative to approach Tauchnitz, writing to them on 2 April 1876, after suggesting to his UK publisher that it might be useful to enter the Tauchnitz list as ‘a sort of advertisement for future works’. Tauchnitz was happy to oblige, but as usual wanted to publish the latest work, rather than bringing out one of the author’s previous novels. By 22 May, Tauchnitz was sending Hardy a cheque for £50 and an agreement to publish ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, which then appeared in two volumes as volumes 1593 and 1594 of the series in June 1876 – less than three months after the initial approach.
A damaged copy of the first printing of ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, vol. 1, dated June 1876
Emboldened by this success, Hardy pressed on, with further letters on 20th September and 22 October 1876, suggesting that Tauchnitz might follow up by publishing ‘Far from the madding crowd’. Tauchnitz agreed, but was clearly in no hurry, and was not willing to pay the same £50 fee. Noting that ‘you will be perhaps kind enough to consider that the book is not a new one and thereby has not the charm of novelty’, he proposed to reduce the fee to £40. ‘A new work of the usual length would be entitled to the same sum as for ‘The hand of Ethelberta’, he went on.
Hardy accepted. but even so, the book did not appear until early 1878, again in two volumes, as volumes 1722 and 1723. There is no recorded remaining copy of the first volume in its original wrappers, which would be dated March 1878, although a single copy of volume 2 survives at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.
As usual with Tauchnitz paperbacks from the 19th Century, copies rebound in hard bindings are easier to find, but harder to date. First printing copies should certainly list only one other Hardy title (‘The hand of Ethelberta’) on the back of the half-title of volume 1. It can’t be said with confidence that copies meeting this condition are first printings, but it’s certainly the case that any copies listing more titles are not first printings.
When Hardy shortly afterwards came out with a new novel, ‘The return of the native’, Tauchnitz was perhaps honour bound, not only to publish it, but to pay the higher fee of £50. It appeared early in 1879 as volumes 1796 and 1797 (paperback first printing dated January 1879, hardback first printing distinguished by the list of the only two earlier Hardy titles at the front of volume 2).
But still it seems that continental sales were disappointing and the upper hand in the negotiations remained with Tauchnitz. When Hardy offered ‘The Trumpet-Major’ to Tauchnitz in January 1880, he was disappointed by the offer of £50, but Tauchnitz would go no higher, noting that he was still carrying a combined loss of around £112 on the three earlier published novels. With the benefit of hindsight, we don’t need to feel too sorry for Tauchnitz – both ‘Far from the madding crowd’ and ‘The return of the native’ were still in print over 50 years later and amongst the company’s best selling books, so we can be pretty sure that he eventually turned a profit.
Hardy must have been considering a return to the Asher’s series, at that time enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of a new publisher, Grädener & Richter. But Tauchnitz issued a barely veiled threat. If he were to go elsewhere ‘I shall very much regret it – the more as it is a principle with me now, if an author gives a book of his into other hands for the Continent, not to issue also any of his future books’.
Hardy did not defect, although it is worth noting that Tauchnitz did accept back others who did. ‘The Trumpet-Major’ eventually appeared as volumes 1951 and 1952 in January 1881 and just over a year later, Tauchnitz was not only happy to accept ‘The Laodicean’ for publication, but asked to put a value on the work, offered an increased fee of £60. It appeared as volumes 2053 and 2054 of the Tauchnitz series in April 1882. As the fifth Hardy novel to appear it showed four other novels (from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘The Trumpet-Major’) on the back of the half-title in first printing.
So after his first decade as a published novelist, Hardy had five novels and a total of ten volumes in print in the Tauchnitz Edition. For a novelist whose works had frequently been controversial that represented both success and respectability of a sort. I’ll come back to the publication history of his later novels in a second post. (Follow this link for Part 2).
For almost a century, from 1840 to 1940, the Tauchnitz Editions dominated English language publishing in Europe. Almost every significant work of English Literature from the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century appeared in their familiar buff covers.
By almost any measure, George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ was one of the most significant English language novels of the 19th century, but it never appeared in a Tauchnitz Edition. At first sight this is odd, as all Eliot’s other novels did – ‘Adam Bede’, ‘The mill on the floss’, ‘Silas Marner’, ‘Romola’, ‘Felix Holt’, ‘Daniel Deronda’ – they’re all there, along with various other works. Surely Bernhard Tauchnitz, usually such a sure judge of literary merit as well as sales popularity, wasn’t blind to the merits of ‘Middlemarch’?
Of course the answer is no. He would have loved to publish ‘Middlemarch’ but he was denied the opportunity. It went instead to a rival publisher, A. Asher & Co. in Berlin, who presumably outbid Tauchnitz and used the novel as the basis on which to launch a new series of English language novels in competition to Tauchnitz.
‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors – British and American’ was launched in 1872 with the first two books of ‘Middlemarch’ as Volumes I and II. The title of the series was perhaps a bit of a dig at Tauchnitz, whose own ‘Collection of British Authors’ failed to give any recognition to the nationality of the many American authors in its ranks. However, other than a token appearance of one novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne (who had died several years earlier), the early authors published seemed to be almost all British, and the American reference was later quietly dropped.
There was no doubt that ‘Middlemarch’ was Asher’s trophy asset and the firm must have paid heavily to acquire it. The novel is split into eight ‘books’ and each of them was published as a separately numbered volume in the series, spread out over the following year, with each volume priced at a premium 20 Groschen (2/3 Thaler), compared to 15 Groschen (1/2 Thaler) for all other volumes in the series. So the price for all eight volumes was over 5 Thalers, compared to 1 Thaler for the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Felix Holt’, or 2 Thalers for the later 4-volume edition of ‘Daniel Deronda’.
Confusingly, the eight books of ‘Middlemarch’ were also grouped in twos into four ‘volumes’. This resulted in an almost surreal numbering system, where for instance book 7 of the novel is also part 1 of the 4th volume, but is volume 52 of the Asher series.
However peculiar the numbering, the series was a serious rival to Tauchnitz. In its first year in 1872 it published around 50 volumes, almost all of them by authors who had previously had works published by Tauchnitz. As well as Eliot, other authors who defected to the new series in that first year included George Whyte-Melville, Henry Kingsley, George MacDonald, Rhoda Broughton, Ouida, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Margaret Oliphant, Louisa Parr, Harriet Parr (Holme Lee), Sheridan Le Fanu, William Hepworth Dixon and Matilda Betham-Edwards.
And yet Tauchnitz survived, and rather more than survived. In 1871 the firm had published a total of 66 volumes in its series, many of them by the authors listed above. Despite their defection, it managed in 1872 a total of 93 new volumes, which seems to have been a record number. Presumably there was some loss of sales, and it had to increase payments to authors to avoid losing more, but Tauchnitz clearly wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Bernhard Tauchnitz was certainly determined not to lose Bulwer Lytton, to whom he wrote in a letter on 3 October 1872 ‘I could not bear the thought to see your name in any other publisher’s hand’. As a result he paid Bulwer a record 8000 Marks (£400) for ‘Kenelm Chillingley’, published in early 1873 and recorded in the 50 year history of the firm as being the largest fee paid for a single novel. To protect margins, the price to customers was effectively increased by spreading the novel out over four volumes. To achieve this, the number of lines to a page went right down to 23, from a more normal 30 or so.
There was no immediate let up in the pressure on Tauchnitz in the early part of 1873. Further defections included Annie Thomas, Anthony Trollope and Charlotte Riddell, but gradually the outflow was stemmed. The number of volumes published by Asher in 1873 reduced a little to around 37, while Tauchnitz’s total remained around 90. Perhaps even more encouragingly, authors started to return. Some like Rhoda Broughton, Holme Lee, William Hepworth Dixon and Margaret Oliphant, having flirted briefly with Asher, came back to the Tauchnitz fold. Others like Trollope, Mary Braddon and Henry Kingsley continued to play one off against the other, publishing books under both imprints.
In 1874 the number of volumes published in the Asher series reduced again to 12 and it began to look as though it might have shot its bolt. Tauchnitz wouldn’t have been pleased though to see that the books published included one by Florence Marryat, who had previously been loyal to his firm, and whose father had been published by Tauchnitz since 1842.
In the later part of 1874, the books started to feature the name of Albert Cohn as publisher on the title page in place of A. Asher, although the series title continued to be ‘Asher’s Collection’. Adolf Asher himself had died long before and the business had been run by Albert Cohn for many years, but some of the business seems to have been sold in 1874, with other parts continuing under Cohn’s name. Could the sale have been partly the result of losses from the new venture?
Adolf Asher had been an antiquarian bookdealer and bibliographer as well as a publisher. He seems to have had a particular attachment to England and became one of the principal suppliers of books to the British Museum, so it was appropriate enough that the series bore his name. Albert Cohn too was a book dealer and literary scholar as well as a publisher and may have concentrated more on his antiquarian interests after 1874. After a brief period during which the books carried his name on the title page, they re-appeared in 1875 under yet another new name.
The first phase of ‘Asher’s Collection’ was over. It had certainly given Tauchnitz a scare, and forced it to pay higher fees to its authors. It had cost it ‘Middlemarch’ and a handful of other titles that it would regret, perhaps most notably ‘Lorna Doone’ and ‘Under the greenwood tree’. But it had failed to end the domination of Tauchnitz in continental Europe.
And if the first phase had ended, the full story of Asher’s Collection certainly had not. It would still be adding books, and causing irritation to Tauchnitz more than 15 years later. I’ll come back to the second phase of its story in another post.