The fact that ‘Middlemarch’ never appeared in the Tauchnitz Edition, was a matter of lasting regret to its founder, Bernhard Tauchnitz. His series contained almost every other major work of English literature published in his lifetime and beyond, including all of George Eliot’s other novels, but not Middlemarch. Eliot was instead induced to publish a Continental Edition of this novel in the new ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’.
I’ve already written about this in previous posts. The story of George Eliot’s publications in Tauchnitz is covered here (Part 1 and Part 2) and the story of Asher’s Collection in these posts (Part 1 and Part 2). But I’ve recently come across other evidence that shows just how sensitive Tauchnitz was about the loss of Middlemarch.
After Eliot’s death in December 1880, her husband John Cross edited ‘George Eliot’s Life as related in her letters and journals’, published in the UK in 1885 and more or less simultaneously in the Tauchnitz Edition. Comparison of the texts of the two editions shows several small differences in the sections relating to the continental publication of Middlemarch.
I have noted before that Tauchnitz adds a footnote at one point. On 8th May 1872, in reference to Middlemarch, Eliot writes in her journal ‘Cohn is publishing an English edition in Germany’ (Albert Cohn was the publisher of Asher’s Collection). In the Tauchnitz version only, there is a footnote saying ‘ The author was subsequently induced to publish”Daniel Deronda” and her succeeding works again in the Tauchnitz Edition. Baron Tauchnitz paid £250 for “Daniel Deronda”.
Then on 25th February 1873, Eliot writes ‘Cohn of Berlin, has written to ask us to allow him to reprint “The Spanish Gypsy” for £50, and we have consented’ (The poem appeared in Asher’s Collection in 1874, under the title ‘The legend of Jubal and other poems’). Again Tauchnitz cannot resist adding the note ‘See foot-note on page 71’.
Tauchnitz it seems is prepared to allow reference to Cohn (spelled Kohn in the UK edition) provided a footnote is added, but direct references to Asher’s Collection posed more of a problem. On 24th March 1872, Eliot writes (in a letter to her UK publisher, John Blackwood) ‘I fancy we have done a good turn to English authors generally by setting off Asher’s series, for we have heard that Tauchnitz has raised his offers. There is another way in which benefit might come that would be still more desirable—namely, to make him more careful in his selections of books for reprint. But I fear that this effect is not so certain. You see Franz Duncker, who publishes the German translation of “Middlemarch,” has also begun an English series. This is really worth while, for the Germans are excellent readers of our books.’ The only bit of this whole section that survives in the Tauchnitz Edition is the phrase ‘The Germans are excellent readers of our books’.
On 4th October 1872, she writes again to Blackwood, ‘Asher’s cheap editions are visible everywhere by the side of Tauchnitz, but the outside is not, I think, quite equally recommendable and recommending.’ This might be thought more complimentary to Tauchnitz, but again the sentence just disappears in the Tauchnitz Edition. References to Asher in the Summary of Chapter 16 and in the index are also censored. The name of Asher was it seems not to be mentioned in polite society. Were these changes approved by John Cross, or was Tauchnitz censoring the books without the editor’s approval?
It is worth noting that by this point in 1885, Asher’s Collection was not in any sense a serious competitor to Tauchnitz. Just two volumes were added to the series in 1885 and only a handful more in the next few years, before it disappeared completely. Tauchnitz had recovered for his series, not only George Eliot, but almost all of the authors who had been seduced away. George Eliot had died and Asher’s Collection had been vanquished, but clearly the loss of Middlemarch 13 years earlier, still rankled with him. Perhaps even more, it was the fact that he had had to pay so highly to bring Eliot back. He was still feeling hard done by about his £250. Although as ‘Daniel Deronda’ and Eliot’s other works in Tauchnitz continued to sell well for many years to come, it seems likely that he more than recovered his investment.
At the end of Part 1, I left the story in 1882 after Hardy’s first five novels had been published in the Tauchnitz series in two volumes each. His next novel, ‘Two on a Tower’, published that year in the UK, followed in the Tauchnitz Edition in 1883.
For the previous novel, Hardy seems to have considered leaving Tauchnitz to return to the Asher’s Series, but with that unpleasantness behind him, he now expresses full confidence in the firm in a letter of 12 December 1882. The price offered returns again though to the lower level of £40, earlier paid for ‘Far from the madding crowd’. ‘Two on a tower’ appears in two volumes in February 1883, as volumes 2118 and 2119 of the Tauchnitz series.
Tauchnitz at this point also asks Hardy to name a price for two of his earlier novels, ‘Desperate remedies’ and ‘A pair of blue eyes’. The first of these never appears in the Tauchnitz series, but ‘A pair of blue eyes’ does appear the following year as volumes 2282 and 2283 of the series. The first printing is dated September 1884 in paperback and copies in hardback should list only 6 other Hardy titles on the half-title verso of the second volume.
Front and rear wrappers of a rare first printing paperback copy of vol. 2283
After this though there’s a long gap before publication of anything further by Hardy in the Tauchnitz series. Between 1884 and 1891, Hardy publishes ‘The mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘The Woodlanders’ and ‘Wessex Tales’ in the UK, but none of these appear in continental editions. It’s not until August 1891, with publication of ‘A group of noble dames’ that Hardy is taken up again. This collection of short stories appears in a single volume as volume 2750, shortly after its UK publication.
The more significant event of 1891 though is the publication of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ in serial form in the UK publication ‘The Graphic’. Tauchnitz seems to realise quickly that this is a major work and pays Hardy £100 for the continental rights, a significant increase on earlier payments. The book appears in January 1892 as volumes 2800 and 2801 of the Tauchnitz Edition, shortly after UK publication in book form at the end of 1891. The first printing lists 8 other Hardy titles, from ‘The hand of Ethelberta’ to ‘A group of noble dames’, on the back of the half-title of volume 2. There are multiple reprints, listing different numbers of titles (usually between 9 and 12) on the half-title of either volume 1 or volume 2, over the next 40 years.
First printing copy of Tess of the D‘Urbervilles, volume 2 in original wrappers
Another collection of short stories, ‘Life’s Little Ironies’ is published in a single volume in May 1894 as volume 2985, before the appearance of ‘Jude the Obscure’ in early 1896. This is again in two volumes as volumes 3105 and 3106, only very shortly after UK publication and dated January 1896 on the first printing in paperback. Hardback copies are even harder than usual to date. They should certainly list ten other Hardy titles in the first printing, but should also show ‘Printing Office of the Publisher’ at the back (page 296 in volume 1). Copies that instead show ‘Printed by Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig’ are much later reprints, even if they list only ten, or even fewer, titles.
First printing copy of Jude the Obscure, volume 1 in original wrappers
After ‘Jude’, Hardy gave up on novel writing and concentrated on poetry, although it’s not entirely clear whether that was because of the critical reception and the controversy generated by his last novel. He wrote a handful of further short stories and in 1913 a collection of short stories was published in the UK under the title ‘A Changed Man and other tales’. Tauchnitz as usual bought the continental rights, but rather than publishing it as a single two-volume work, obtained Hardy’s agreement to use two different titles. The first seven stories were published in volume 4458 as ‘A Changed Man … ‘, dated December 1913, and the other five stories appeared under the title ‘The romantic adventures of a Milkmaid’ in volume 4461, dated January 1914.
It’s worth noting that six of the twelve stories had originally been published before 1891 and were no longer under international copyright protection by this point. In line with the practice that had originally made the reputation of Tauchnitz, there was no attempt to capitalise on this. Hardy received an advance of £30 on each volume, with an agreement to pay a further £10 for every additional 1000 copies sold over 3000.
In terms of the main Tauchnitz series, that was that. Nine novels, in two volumes each and four volumes of short stories, adding up to 22 volumes, published over a period of almost 40 years. Other than a few verses in a later student textbook, Tauchnitz never published any of Hardy’s poetry.
The full set of Hardy volumes in Tauchnitz, in the usual ragged selection of bindings
During the First World War, when Tauchnitz could publish almost no new works, they did publish a short volume reprinting an excerpt from ‘Life’s little ironies’. After the war there were also two schools volumes of excerpts from his work (volumes 4 and 20 in the Students Series, Neue Folge’), and another selection again after the Second World War (volume 8 of the Tauchnitz Students’ Series, published from Hamburg). But these were just postscripts in the long collaboration between publisher and author, from 1876 to 1914.
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).
My first post on ‘The English Library’ published by Heinemann and Balestier in the 1890s looked at the story of the partnership between William Heinemann and Wolcott Balestier and of some of their authors. But what of the books themselves?
Physically they looked much like the Tauchnitz Editions that they were set up to compete with. They were of course paperbacks, and of the same size and with the same buff-coloured typographic covers. Nothing particularly to make them stand out in the shops they were sold in, presumably in most cases alongside Tauchnitz books. Like the various publishers of the Asher’s series before them, they saw no advantage in distinguishing the look and feel of their books.
That’s a common enough strategy today for any business challenging a market leader – often followed for instance by supermarket own-brands. Make your product look very similar to the market leader’s product in the hope that buyers will believe it’s of the same quality and can be bought with the same confidence. The other part of such a strategy though is to charge a lower price. Heinemann and Balestier instead offered volumes of the English Library at 1.60 Marks or 2 Francs, exactly the same as the price of Tauchnitz Editions at the time.
Perhaps they hoped to compete simply on the attraction of the titles and the authors. Asher’s had signed up George Eliot to launch their series with ‘Middlemarch’, whereas Heinemann and Balestier chose Kipling to launch the English Library and were aggressively signing up other authors. They were successful in attracting some popular and high profile authors, but others stayed with Tauchnitz and some even split their works between the two publishers. Comparing the lists now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not obvious that either publisher had a more successful publishing programme.
The books published by Heinemann and Balestier that have become best known in the 125 years since then, are probably ‘The Jungle Book’ by Kipling, ‘Three men in a boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome, and ‘Diary of a nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith – certainly all classics, but perhaps a little on the lightweight side rather than literary blockbusters. Certainly these are books that Tauchnitz would have been disappointed not to publish, and there are relatively few other classics of English Literature that Tauchnitz missed out on throughout its entire history. Oddly the English Library also included ‘Hedda Gabler’, which was certainly a minor coup, although not one really within the remit of either series.
In comparison though over the period from mid-1891 to the end of 1892, which was the main period of competition between the two series, Tauchnitz published Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A study in scarlet’ and ‘New Grub Street’ by George Gissing, as well as other works by Hardy, Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There’s no clear winner in terms of either literary quality or popular appeal and the eventual withdrawal of Heinemann and Balestier was probably more to do with financial strength, or with the consequences of Balestier’s death.
Tauchnitz though had the huge advantage of a strong back catalogue of over 2500 volumes to support its new works. It had continuing sales of many titles by Dickens, Hardy, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Wilkie Collins and a host of other writers, most of which had been acquired for a single payment rather than continuing royalties. This must have been a daunting prospect for any competitor.
In terms of identifying first printings, the English Library books share some of the same complications as Tauchnitz. Copies surviving in the original wrappers can be dated by reference to the other books listed on the wrappers, but inevitably most surviving copies have been privately bound and the wrappers discarded. As with Tauchnitz the title page date is not a reliable indicator, often left as the date of first publication even on later reprints. The only evidence of reprints may be the presence of later-published titles by the same author listed on the half-title verso. By this evidence Kipling’s books in the series seem to have been reprinted frequently, and the first volume, ‘The light that failed’ is often seen with other, later titles listed. Given the relatively short life of the series though, many books may never have been reprinted.
One of the oddest features of the series is that as well as turning up in the usual variety of 19th century private bindings, English Library volumes are also found in several of the standard bindings used by Tauchnitz, so that they would have looked almost identical in the bookshops. The Todd & Bowden bibliography classes various generally ‘art nouveau’ bindings from the 1890s and 1900s as Tauchnitz publisher bindings in series x7. But as the same bindings exist on English Library volumes, they were presumably produced by a bookbinder independent of Tauchnitz, even if sold directly by the firm. Tauchnitz did not start its own in-house bindery until 1900.
Kipling’s ‘The light that failed’ in The English Library, alongside George du Maurier’s ‘Trilby’ in Tauchnitz
Other examples of ‘Tauchnitz style’ bindings on English Library volumes
By the end of 1892 the series was in decline, although it limped on for some time. It reached volume 199 by 1894, but the last title I have been able to identify is ‘The mystery of the sea’ by Bram Stoker, published as volumes 210 and 211 in 1903.
Even that was not the end, as sometime shortly after this, the rights to the back catalogue seem to have been acquired by the publisher F.A. Brockhaus, also in Leipzig, who had previously been the main wholesale distributor for the series. Reprints continued to appear under their imprint, sometimes combined with that of Heinemann & Balestier, right through almost until the Second World War, although only a small number of the titles were reissued. Most of the Kipling titles were reprinted by Brockhaus, but as time went on, it seems to have been really only ‘The jungle book’ together with ‘Three men in a boat’ that continued to sell. For these editions it is much easier to date them, as the title page is updated. With the decline in private bookbinding, they also mostly exist in paperbacks, usually with a bright cover illustrated with poppies.
Brockhaus reprints from 1928 (above) and 1921, 1922, 1924 and 1937 (below)
The firm of Heinemann & Balestier is little remembered these days, although the Heinemann part is familiar. The publisher William Heinemann still exists at least in name, as part of Penguin Random House, and the Heinemann name lives on too through its educational publishing arm, owned by Pearson. It’s come a long way from the publishing firm founded in Covent Garden in 1890 by William Heinemann, at the age of 27.
Shortly afterwards he formed a partnership with another ambitious young man, only a year or two older. Wolcott Balestier was an American writer who had come over to London in 1888 as agent of the publisher John W. Lovell. He seems by all accounts to have been a remarkable man and a very charismatic one. If his name is less remembered today, it is perhaps because he never had the time to go on and establish it in the way that Heinemann did. But in London he was quickly able to form a range of literary contacts, notably including Rudyard Kipling and Henry James.
Kipling became a close friend and married Wolcott’s sister Carrie, who had come over from America to keep house for him. Wolcott was able to help Kipling with getting his works copyrighted and published in the US, overcoming the piracy of literary works that was still common at the time. Indeed his own firm John W. Lovell, publisher of Lovell’s Library, had been one of the pirates, publishing cheap reprints of English novels in the US, without authorisation.
Balestier’s mission to London was in part an attempt to obtain authorisations from authors in advance of anticipated copyright agreements, much as Tauchnitz had done 50 years earlier. He seems also though to have promoted other strategies, including offering himself as a co-author to provide American copyright protection (an offer apparently refused by Mrs. Humphry Ward), or printing a small number of copies in the US to establish copyright there, in advance of the UK publication.
Together Heinemann and Balestier decided to mount a challenge to the dominance of Tauchnitz in publishing continental editions in English. Throughout most of the 1870s and 1880s, Tauchnitz had faced a varying level of competition from the ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’. This had originally been launched by the Berlin firm of A. Asher & Co., but was later taken on by a series of other publishers including Grädener & Richter in Hamburg. Although at certain periods this had been serious competition for Tauchnitz, it had faded by the late 1880s and Tauchnitz had been left largely unchallenged.
The firm of Heinemann and Balestier launched their new series, ‘The English Library’ from Leipzig itself, the home of Tauchnitz, in 1891, although the real base was probably in London. To start the series, Balestier was able to draw on his friendship with Kipling, to publish ‘The light that failed’ as volume 1, and an earlier collection of short stories, ‘The phantom rickshaw’ as volume 7. Kipling, who was at this stage only 25 himself, even younger than the two publishers, had already had one book, ‘Plain tales from the hills’, published by Tauchnitz in 1890, but had not formed the long-term relationship with Tauchnitz that many older writers had.
The Irish writer Margaret Hungerford was another matter. By 1891 she was a well-established and very popular writer, who had already had over 20 books published by Tauchnitz. Two of her books appeared in the Tauchnitz series in early 1891, but her next novel, ‘April’s lady’ was published as volumes 4 and 5 of the English Library, to be followed by another five of her books over the next 2 years.
She was one of the first to abandon Tauchnitz, but she was followed by many others. Given the dominant position the firm had had in English language publishing, it is hardly surprising that almost all of the writers to appear in the Heinemann & Balestier series had already had books published by Tauchnitz. Amongst the writers to defect were Rider Haggard, Hall Caine, W.D. Howells and Arthur Conan Doyle. For several, such as Florence Marryat, Mrs. Alexander, Walter Besant, Helen Mathers and Margaret Oliphant, Tauchnitz was spurned for a second time, as they had earlier had books published in the Asher’s series. Did this show an underlying dissatisfaction with Tauchnitz, or was it simply a question of money?
If Tauchnitz was effectively being outbid, he had already shown more than once in fighting off Asher’s, that he had both the determination and the financial strength to fight back. He was also keen to use his established contacts with authors and his no doubt considerable charm. Writing to one of his longest-established and best-selling authors, Charlotte Yonge, in March 1891, a few months before the launch of the English Library, Tauchnitz had this to say: ‘… At the same time permit me to mention, that a rival undertaking will be started against our Continental Series. It came perhaps already to your knowledge by insertions in different papers, which however are not correct, as almost all our first-rate authors remain attached to us and we sincerely hope that you will be among them. It will give us always a great satisfaction to include your forthcoming books in our Collection, always at terms quite convenient to you.’
There was perhaps an element of wishful thinking here given the number of authors who did defect, but Charlotte Yonge was one of those who remained. As when Tauchnitz had been faced with the first challenge from Asher’s Collection 20 years earlier, he responded by redoubling his efforts. From publishing around 70 volumes a year, the number published in 1891 increased to just over 100, in comparison to the 75 or so issued by Heinemann and Balestier in just the later part of the year. In 1892 the two firms were roughly level at around eighty volumes each, but the challenger was already fading.
In December 1891 Wolcott Balestier had died suddenly from typhoid fever in Dresden, a week before his 30th birthday. His death probably robbed Heinemann & Balestier not only of his youthful dynamism but also of his editorial and literary contacts, although William Heinemann himself must have had considerable strengths in both areas. The publishing programme of the firm in 1892 remained a strong one, and included various works as a tribute to Balestier.
For the 100th volume in the series, they published his early work, ‘The average woman’, together with a Biographical Sketch written by Henry James. This publication also announced as ‘In the press’, two other works. Volume 150 of the series was ‘The Naulakha’ a novel on which Kipling and Balestier had collaborated, with Kipling writing scenes in India and Balestier scenes in America. The other work referred to was Balestier’s novel ‘Benefits forgot’, published posthumously in London by Heinemann and also in New York by Appleton, but I have not been able to find any evidence to confirm its appearance in the English Library. The series did though publish Kipling’s ‘Barrack-room ballads, and other verses’, which opens with a poem and a dedication to Balestier.
Without Balestier, and facing a competitor as formidable and as financially strong as Tauchnitz, the challenge of The English Library could not be sustained. The volumes issued in 1893 fell to only around 20 and most of the authors returned to Tauchnitz, later including even Kipling. A smaller number of volumes were published in 1894 and then intermittently right through to at least 1903, although rarely more than 2 or 3 a year. Might it have been different if Wolcott Balestier had survived?
As it turned out, it was the last great competitive challenge for Baron Tauchitz himself. By the time he too died in 1895, he could be confident of having seen off this competitor as he had so many previous competitors. He had run his firm for almost 60 years, publishing over 3000 volumes in his ‘Collection of British Authors’, and left it once again in a dominant position in the continental European market.
I’ll come back in another post to some of the more bibliographical points about the Heineman & Balestier series and to a slightly odd later revival of it under the imprint of F. Brockhaus of Leipzig. (Follow this link for part II)
My first post on Asher’s Collection of English Authors covered the period from launch in 1872 through to 1874 when the publisher’s name changed from A. Asher & Co. to Albert Cohn. It was a story of early success, tempting large numbers of authors away from Tauchnitz, followed by a gentle pulling back as the harsh economic realities started to bite. It was never going to be easy competing against Tauchnitz with its massively entrenched position. Asher had a good go at it, but sales were probably not high enough to justify the high advances paid to authors to convince them to switch.
I can only guess at the financial position of Asher, but a record of around 50 volumes in 1872, 37 volumes in 1873 and 12 in 1874 tells its own story. And the fact that the firm was divided and part of it sold off in 1874 suggests there may have been financial pressures. A small number of books in late 1874 appeared under the name of Albert Cohn as publisher (Cohn was the owner of A. Asher & Co.) and then there was another change.
Over the next few years, volumes of ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ appeared under two different publisher’s names – Julius Engelmann in Berlin and Paul Ollendorff in Paris. I can’t tie down exact dates for either of them, but I suspect Engelmann came first, taking the series on from volume 99, possibly the last volume published by Albert Cohn in 1874, to around volume 120 in 1877. There seem also to be volumes in this same number range with Ollendorff’s name as publisher, dated 1875 or 1876, but these may be later reprints, still showing the original date. Or possibly both publishers collaborated, contributing different titles to the series.
Half-title and Title page of volume 109, published by Julius Engelmann
Ollendorff’s involvement with the series also seems to have largely ended in 1877. Volume 123 in 1877 (‘Eugénie’ by Beatrice May Butt) appears with his name on, as does a single later novel, ‘Proud Maisie’ by Bertha Thomas, published as volume 133 and 134 in 1878. Possibly this was a hangover, already in the pipeline before the series moved on to another publisher. There seem to be only a handful of new volumes published under Ollendorff’s imprint, together with reprints of some earlier volumes. Although he went on to build a substantial publishing business, in 1877 Paul Ollendorff was just 26 and at the start of his publishing career.
Whatever the exact history of the series in this period, it seems unlikely that it was a major threat to Tauchnitz. A total of around 30 volumes between the two publishers over three and a half years would have made little difference to Tauchnitz’s output of nearer 300 volumes over the same period. But Baron Tauchnitz would no doubt still have been disappointed to see occasional titles appearing by novelists that he had published regularly in his own series – Anthony Trollope and Mary Braddon among them.
A greater threat was to come when Asher’s Collection acquired yet another new owner. The first appearance of the name Karl Grädener on the title page of a newly published volume seems to have been around volume 124 in 1877, although reprints of earlier volumes are again a complicating factor that makes it difficult to be precise. Certainly Grädener added several volumes to the series in late 1877 and 1888, before striking off in a slightly different direction in 1879.
Up to early 1879, all volumes appeared under the series title ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’ and followed a consistent numbering sequence from 1 up to around 150. From around this point though a new numbering sequence starts again at 1 and a new series name makes its appearance. The series is now referred to as ‘Asher’s Continental Library’ on the half-titles, although oddly the front wrapper still refers to the old series title. It’s also slightly odd that the half-titles refer to a series ‘in one-shilling volumes’. The books could not be sold in Britain or the British Empire, so a price in shillings is of little relevance, and the German price of 1.50 Marks corresponded then I think to one shilling and sixpence.
The new series grew quite rapidly over the next two to three years, but confusingly, novels that had already appeared in the original series, were now reprinted with different numbers. So ‘Erema’ by R.D. Blackmore, having been first published as volumes 130 to 132 of ‘Asher’s Collection’ in 1878, then appeared as volumes 22 to 24 of the new ‘Asher’s Continental Library’. It was followed as volumes 25 to 27 of the ‘Continental Library’ by a reprint of ‘Comin’ through the rye’ by Helen Mathers, which had previously been issued as volumes 105 to 107 of the original series, during Engelmann’s time in charge.
Grädener was still trying to tempt authors away from Tauchnitz. On 4 October 1880, Macmillan, the British publisher of Henry James, wrote to him that ‘One Grädener of Hamburg who publishes “Ashers Collection of English Authors” has written to say that he would like to buy the right to print ‘The portrait of a lady’. I fancy however that your books are published by Tauchnitz and will tell him so if you like. I hope the Baron pays you well …’. James did feel that he was better off with Tauchnitz and was one of those to stay loyal.
It looks as if the ‘Continental Library’ (later described as ‘Asher’s Continental Library of Favourite Modern Authors’) got up to about 55 volumes through a mixture of new publications and reprints by early 1881, before the emphasis switched back again to the original series name and numbering. This change seems roughly to coincide with yet another change in the name of the publisher for the series. The name of Karl Grädener is replaced in 1881 with Grädener & Richter, apparently because of a merger of the two firms.
Was it Richter who killed off the ‘Continental Library’ and proposed going back to ‘Asher’s Collection of English Authors’? Anyway that seems to be what happened. Numbers between 149 and 158 were allocated for 10 volumes of Shakespeare plays, which may have been published over a period of several years, and the original series got going again from volume 159 in 1881. Around 20 volumes were added in 1881 and another 20 or so in 1882, but 1883 saw over 40 new volumes.
The authors in that year included not only Anthony Trollope and Robert Louis Stevenson, but a string of other authors previously published by Tauchnitz, including James Payn, Bret Harte, William Black, W.E. Norris, Emma Marshall and Mrs. Alexander. Clearly Tauchnitz was again in a fight, at risk of losing both authors and sales, but as in the early years of Asher’s Collection, it held firm. It was to be Grädener & Richter that blinked first.
1884 saw a reduction to just under 20 volumes and for 1885 there was just a single 2 volume novel. Occasional volumes continued to be added for another 6 or 7 years, and there were still two more changes of publisher name to come, first to just J.F. Richter and then to Verlagsanstalt und Druckerei (vormals J.F. Richter). Over the 20 year history of the Asher’s Collection it had appeared under at least 8 different publisher imprints.
Both in the early years from 1872 to 1874 under A. Asher & Co. and then again around 1883 under Grädener & Richter, it had seriously challenged the dominance of Tauchnitz, without ever quite managing to dethrone it.
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.