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.
My first post on this subject covered the early George Eliot novels published in Tauchnitz from 1859 to 1863. After this early burst of creativity in her writing career, there was a longer pause before her next novel, ‘ Felix Holt the Radical’, was published in the UK in 1866. The continental edition did not immediately follow and Eliot had to write to Blackwood, her UK publisher, in February 1867 to pass on comments of ‘deep regret that Felix Holt is not published in the Tauchnitz Edition’.
Tauchnitz had perhaps hesitated following disappointing early sales of ‘Romola’, but he needed no second prompting. Terms were agreed the following month and ‘Felix Holt’ appeared in May 1867 as volumes 897 and 898 of the Tauchnitz series. The first printing is distinguished by a list of Eliot’s five previously published titles on the half-title verso of volume 2. Later printings list other titles published later than 1867.
Perhaps Eliot remembered the initial lack of enthusiasm from Tauchnitz over ‘Felix Holt’ when her next novel, Middlemarch’ was published in 1870. She might also have had in mind that Tauchnitz had purchased the rights to ‘The lifted veil’, but had still not published it. Or perhaps we need no reason other than money to explain why she decided to abandon Tauchnitz and entrust her novel to a untested publisher launching a new series.
A. Asher & Co. was an established German publisher in Berlin, run by Albert Cohn, a literary scholar and Anglophile, but it had no track record in publishing English literature in the original language. It must have paid heavily to acquire the rights to ‘Middlemarch’, probably significantly more than Tauchnitz had ever offered, and used it as the basis to launch a series in competition to Tauchnitz. To recoup its costs, Asher split Middlemarch into 8 separate volumes and charged a premium price for them. For a period it was a very significant competitor and tempted many authors away, but in the end most of them, including Eliot, returned to the Tauchnitz fold.
In 1874, Asher’s Collection, by then under the imprint of Albert Cohn, also published ‘The legend of Jubal’ and other poems. By 1876 though, when ‘Daniel Deronda’ was published, the series had been taken on by a new publisher and was no longer a serious competitor for Tauchnitz. It was probably at this point unable to offer the same level of advance payment, whereas the generosity of Tauchnitz had been stimulated by the loss of Middlemarch.
In a section of George Eliot’s letters, referring to the continental edition of Middlemarch, there is a footnote in the Tauchnitz Edition to record that ‘The author was subsequently induced to publish “Daniel Deronda” and her succeeding works again in the Tauchnitz Editions. Baron Tauchnitz paid £250 for “Daniel Deronda”.’. Does the eagerness of Tauchnitz to record this betray his pain at the loss of Middlemarch, or at the subsequent cost of recovering the author for his series? Certainly the amount paid was considerably higher than the £50 he had paid for Adam Bede, and the £100 for ‘The mill on the Floss’, although these were when Eliot was much less well-known.
On the other hand, it’s a long novel, and Tauchnitz could cover his costs by stretching it out into four volumes, and so it appeared in December 1876 as volumes 1617 to 1620 of the Tauchnitz series. No first printing copies in the original wrappers are known to have survived, but privately bound copies in the original state are less difficult to find, listing 6 other titles by Eliot on the half-title verso of volume 2.
Deronda was the last of Eliot’s novels, but not the last of her writing, and first there was some unfinished business for Tauchnitz. He had bought ‘The lifted veil’ back in 1859, but still not published it, and now saw the opportunity to put it together with another earlier work, ‘Brother Jacob’. The two appeared together as volume 1732 in April 1878, and were followed in June 1879 by ‘Impressions of Theocrastus Such’ as volume 1828. Paperback first printings of both are pictured below, and bound copies are identified by listing 7 titles and 8 titles respectively on the half-title verso, in each case only the titles previously published.
First printings in original wrappers of ‘The lifted veil / Brother Jacob’ (above – from March 1878) and ‘Impressions of Theophrastus Such’ (below – from June 1879)
Eliot died in 1880, but interest in her work and her life continued. As well as continuing to reprint earlier works, Tauchnitz in 1884 (volume 2229) published ‘Essays and Leaves from a note-book’ – mostly early essays that had been published in the ‘Westminster Review’. The first edition lists 9 previous works by Eliot on the half-title.
Then the following year Tauchnitz published in four volumes ‘George Eliot’s Life as related in her letters and journals’, edited by John Cross, the husband she had married shortly before her death. This is volumes 2318 to 2321 of the series and as it is the last of her works to be published, all ten previous titles are listed on the half-title (of the second volume). There is therefore no easy way of recognising later reprints of privately bound copies, although it’s likely that it was reprinted.
Overall from 1859 to 1885, Tauchnitz published 22 volumes of George Eliot, including almost all her significant works other than Middlemarch, which remains an unsightly gap in the record.
George Eliot’s works in the Tauchnitz Edition, in the usual mix from luxurious private bindings to scruffy (but rare) copies in the original wrappers
There’s still one minor footnote to record. In 1886 Tauchnitz launched a new ‘Students’ Series for School, College and Home’, made up of English texts with German footnotes and and a German introduction. He chose ‘The mill on the Floss’ as volume 2 of this series, although it is considerably longer than most other volumes and sold at a premium price of M1.70 for the paperback edition. Like most of the George Eliot works it was reprinted regularly over the next 40 years.
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 – now on this link.