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Charles Dickens – The lost Leipzig letters

The relationship between Charles Dickens and Bernhard Tauchnitz was much closer and friendlier than is often the case between authors and publishers.  The letters between the two men were both very numerous and very cordial.   They were also preserved for a long time.  But where are they now?

“I really do not know what it would be fair and reasonable to require from you.’, writes Dickens in 1846, “But I have every reason to rely upon your honourable intentions; and if you will do me the favour to state your own proposal, I have little doubt that I shall be willing to assent to it …”.   Then in 1854, “… It was a matter of real regret to me that I was abroad when you were in London.  For it would have given me true pleasure to have taken your hand and thanked you with all heartiness for your friendship.  I hope to do so on the occasion of your next visit, and also that it will not be long before you return here.  Mrs. Dickens and her sister unite with me in best regards to yourself and family.”.

    Tauchnitz 2 frontispiece

Bernhard Tauchnitz and Charles Dickens

The two men had known each other since 1843, when Dickens was 31 and Tauchnitz just 26.  Dickens was undoubtedly the star author in the Tauchnitz series.  The Tauchnitz Editions were the only authorised editions of Dickens’ work to be published in continental Europe in English, and covered all of his novels, as well as a long series of volumes reprinted from ‘Household Words’.  So the correspondence between the two men is evidence of a long and trusting relationship.

The letters from Dickens were kept by Tauchnitz, along with correspondence from other authors.  When the firm celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1887 by publishing an anniversary history and catalogue, the book included excerpts from letters sent to Tauchnitz from various authors who had by then died, including Dickens.   A shorter anniversary publication 25 years later in 1912 gave even greater prominence to the correspondence.  This time a dedicated section on letters from Dickens preceded a general section on letters from all other authors.

Letter from Dickens in The Harvest

Facsimile letter from the Centenary publication

In 1937 the Centenary publication contained facsimiles of a small number of author letters, with pride of place again going to a letter from Dickens.   This was followed by a selection of contemporary letters of congratulation on the centenary from prominent people such as the British Prime Minister and the Archbishop of York.  At that point it seems clear that the archive of author correspondence was still in existence.  Presumably it remained the property of Tauchnitz, by then legally owned by Brandstetter, the firm that printed both Tauchnitz and Albatross books.  However Albatross, based in Paris, exercised editorial control over both firms, so it’s certainly possible that some or all correspondence had moved location.

In December 1943, the printing works of Brandstetter in Leipzig were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, and it has since been widely assumed that the archive was destroyed at that time.  On the 125th anniversary of Tauchnitz in 1962 what remained of the Tauchnitz firm, by then based in Stuttgart, published a final short Festschrift.  It again quoted extracts from two letters from Dickens, but as both of these had already been published in the earlier anniversary histories, they do not provide evidence that the archive was still in existence.  Instead, rather ominously the Festschrift (roughly translated) says that ‘… most of the documents relating to the history and development of the firm in its old home town of Leipzig were destroyed in 1943, or are currently unobtainable as a result of the unhappy division of our country’.

125th Anniversary publication

The 125th anniversary Festschrift

That unhappy division came to an end in 1990 and with it the first evidence that at least some of the documents had survived.  For that evidence we are indebted to Gunter Böhnke, who discovered and transcribed some of the letters from Dickens to Tauchnitz, and to his son, Dietmar Böhnke, a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, who has more recently published them.  Gunter Böhnke in 1991 discovered 34 of Dickens’ letters to Tauchnitz and about 30 others by various Dickens family members and other publishers, in the archive of one of the state owned publishing and printing firms that were about to be dismantled following German reunification.  He photocopied and transcribed them before handing them back.   Unfortunately they have since been lost and there is now no record of what has happened to them.

Other evidence that the archive may have survived comes from a single letter that I was able to buy at auction several years ago – see my post on A letter from Charles Dickens.  This letter was not one of those transcribed by Gunter Böhnke, and was not acknowledged in the auction as being from Dickens, so presumably it must have been separated from other letters, probably before 1991.

24. Auktion

One stray letter, separated from the archive

It appears that at some stage the Tauchnitz archive was broken up.  Large parts of it may by now have been lost or destroyed, even if they survived the 1943 attack.  But there does remain the intriguing possibility that other letters, including those seen in 1991, still exist and may turn up again some day.   That could include not only multiple letters from Dickens, but a treasure trove of letters from other leading authors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

 

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Publishing in the shadow of the Nazis. Tauchnitz, Albatross and Brandstetter in the 1930s.

By the time the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, the firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz had existed in Leipzig for almost a century and had already survived a world war as well as the hyperinflation and depression that followed it.   The printer and publisher Oscar Brandstetter, also based in Leipzig, was fast approaching its 75 year anniversary.   Although the leaders of the two firms must surely have known each other within the Leipzig book trade, they were at that point unconnected, as far as I can tell.  They were shortly to be brought together by the intervention of a third firm, Albatross, based not in Leipzig, but in Paris, and which had existed for only a few months.   They presumably had little awareness of this, but may have had more awareness of some of the complications likely to arise from Hitler’s rise to power, which were to play a significant part in the coming together of the three companies.

On 10th May 1933, in the Opernplatz in Berlin, German students and brown-shirted stormtroopers gathered to burn books that they considered un-German.  It was followed by ceremonial book-burnings in other German university towns, including Leipzig.  Did a collective shiver pass down the spine of the German book trade, for so long based in Leipzig?

book-burning 2

The Opernplatz in Berlin – 10 May 1933

As well as the works of many prominent German authors, books by a long list of English and American authors were banned, many of them published by Tauchnitz, including H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser and John Dos Passos.  All of these writers had books published by Tauchnitz before May 1933.   No further books by any of them were published after that date, although a few reprints with later dates exist, possibly only for sale outside Germany.

Several of the banned authors had in any case already defected to Albatross, whose books were vastly more attractive than the Tauchnitz volumes, and had quickly established the upper hand in the marketplace.   So in the face of a formidable competitor, Tauchnitz was being asked to compete with one hand tied behind its back.   To make matters worse, Albatross was led by Max Christian Wegner, who had previously managed Tauchnitz in Leipzig, where he had tried to push through various changes, before the Board, finding his changes too radical, decided to part company with him.

At Albatross he found a Board, led by the Italian publisher Arnoldo Mondadori, that was more attuned to his way of thinking and he was able to implement many of his ideas, with striking success.  Amongst those ideas was the separation of the printing from the publishing side of the business.  Unlike Tauchnitz Editions, Albatross books were never printed in-house.  The first few were printed at Mondadori in Italy, but from volume 21 onwards, most were printed by Brandstetter, or more specifically by the Jakob Hegner department of Brandstetter in Leipzig.

printing colophon volume 29

Colophon for an early Albatross book printed by Hegner

How did the contact with Brandstetter / Hegner come about?   Had Wegner already had discussions with them when he was at Tauchnitz, possibly with the thought of them taking over the printing work for Tauchnitz?   Up to the point when he left, in May 1931, Tauchnitz books had always been printed in-house, but by the end of the following year books were being printed by the Bibliographisches Institut in Leipzig or by the Offizin Haag-Drugulin.  Was that one of the changes he had proposed?

It would take more than a change of printer to save Tauchnitz though, and by mid-1934 its financial situation had deteriorated to the point where it was put up for sale.   Although it was effectively unable to compete with Albatross, it had a back catalogue of over 5000 volumes that would have some value in the hands of the right owners, and in particular would have some value for Albatross.

But it was not Albatross who bought Tauchnitz, despite the rumours circulating at the time.  Albatross had too many Jewish links, both in terms of its owners and its managers, for that to be allowed in the political climate of the time.   Instead there was an effective partnership between Albatross and Oscar Brandstetter, where Brandstetter became the new owner of Tauchnitz and took on all the printing work, while editorial control was taken on by Albatross.

 Brandstetter Oscar    Brandstetter printing machine

Oscar Brandstetter                               The Brandstetter printing works

So Brandstetter may have been reluctant and largely nominal owners of Tauchnitz, there only to satisfy the authorities, happy to benefit from the substantial printing work, but with little interest in the publishing side of the business.   It’s hard to know for sure.  They were certainly not just printers.  They did have other publishing interests, but publishing contemporary English literature would be quite a specialised area that they might not have felt able to take on.  They surely would not have wanted anyway to go into direct competition with Albatross, one of their major printing clients.  A partnership where Brandstetter were the legal owners of Tauchnitz, but Albatross controlled the editorial side, would tie the two companies together and guarantee a substantial volume of printing work from both businesses.

But if that arrangement suited Brandstetter, other changes under way were more threatening.  The department of Brandstetter dealing with Albatross was run by Jakob Hegner, who despite converting to Christianity, came from an Austrian Jewish family and was strongly opposed to National Socialism.  He had been a publisher in Vienna, but his firm had run into difficulties in 1930 and was acquired by Brandstetter, with Hegner himself moving to Leipzig.  In 1936 though he was excluded from the Reichsschrifttumskammer, which effectively barred him from the book business in Germany, and he moved back to Vienna, before fleeing to England in 1938 after the Anschluss.  Interestingly Brandstetter published a short volume in 1937 celebrating the work of the Jakob Hegner business, with the title ‘Wirklichkeit und Wahrheit’ (Reality and Truth).  The title came from a work by Josef Pieper published by the firm, but could it also have been a commentary aimed at the German authorities that had effectively driven the founder of the firm out of the country?

Jakob Hegner book title page

Albatross had similar problems to deal with.  The distribution business of the company was run from Hamburg by Kurt Enoch, who was also Jewish.  Although a decorated officer in the German Army from the First World War, he was effectively required under the Aryanisation programme to sell his business, and he too emigrated, first to Paris and then in 1940 to the US, where he went on to work for Penguin Books and to found the New American Library.   Max Wegner moved back to Germany from Paris to take on Enoch’s role in distribution, leaving John Holroyd-Reece in charge of the editorial side.

Holroyd-Reece is rather demonised by the Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, but almost certainly unfairly.   He did have some potentially difficult decisions about which books to publish under the Albatross brand, and which in the Tauchnitz Edition, but did so in a way that distinguished the brand images – Albatross more edgy and modern, Tauchnitz more conservative and traditional.  While Todd & Bowden accuse him of unfairly favouring Albatross, his decisions were restricted by censorship in Germany, and in any case the reality is probably that without the intervention of Albatross, Tauchnitz would have had no new publishing programme at all after 1934.   They had failed commercially and anyone else would have struggled to compete with Albatross in anything other than reprinting previous successes from their back catalogue.  Brandstetter, as legal owners of Tauchnitz would have had little cause for complaint about Holroyd-Reece’s stewardship of the company in the few years before the Second World War.