Although it was based in Germany, sold books only outside Britain and the British Empire, and continued right through to the Second World War, the Tauchnitz Edition was in many ways a Victorian series. Bernhard Tauchnitz was just three years older than Victoria and founded his firm in 1837, the year she came to the throne. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Tauchnitz ‘Collection of British Authors’ had reached almost 3500 volumes. Although it was to continue for another 40 years, the high point of the series came in Victoria’s reign and it was essentially on Victorian literature that it built its reputation.
Tauchnitz was undoubtedly an admirer of Victoria and of Victorian Britain and he cultivated links with the Royal Family as assiduously as he cultivated links with all his British Authors. Perhaps surprisingly, both Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were part of that select group, his British Authors. It’s true that neither of them had much of a reputation for literary prowess, but then that was probably not the criterion for their inclusion in the series.
It helped that Albert was German (and Victoria, his cousin, was at least half-German). Indeed arguably Prince Albert and Bernhard Tauchnitz were the two most prominent Anglophile Germans of the Victorian era, building their respective businesses on the closeness of their links with Britain. It is said that the hereditary Baronage granted to Tauchnitz in 1860, was arranged indirectly by Prince Albert, who would surely have been well aware of the impact made by Tauchnitz in continental Europe. The Baronage was granted by Ernst, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was Prince Albert’s brother.
Albert died though in 1861, leaving Victoria to 40 years of widowhood and leaving as a literary legacy only 20 years of formal speeches. ‘The principal speeches and addresses of His Royal Highness the Prince Consort’ were published in the UK in 1862 by John Murray, along with an exceptionally fawning introduction. The Tauchnitz Edition followed in 1866 as volume 850 of the series, with the same introduction and frontispiece and with a further preface written by Tauchnitz himself. This refers to the necessity of including in the series a volume, which ‘contains the results of an essential portion of the intellectual life of a Prince whose memory is honoured not only in England, but in every civilised country of the Globe, and above all in Germany, the land of his birth’. The wrappers of the original paperback edition were marked with the royal insignia.
It seems unlikely that the book was a bestseller in continental Europe. A relatively small number of copies are found in the main library collections, in comparison to other volumes from the same period. They do though include a copy in Cornell University with wrappers dated August 1884, so it was clearly still selling some copies at that time.
In 1868, Victoria too became a published author in the UK when extracts from her journal were published by Smith, Elder & Co. under the title ‘Leaves from the Journal of our life in the Highlands’. This covered her visits to Scotland with Prince Albert from 1848 to 1860. ‘Our life’ here seems to mean both Victoria and Albert, rather than the royal we. Publication in a Tauchnitz Edition did not immediately follow, although it’s hard to say whether this was because Tauchnitz could not obtain the rights, or because he did not want them.
But then in 1884, when Smith Elder brought out a second selection called ‘More leaves from the journal of a life in the Highlands …’, Tauchnitz was able to secure rights to both this and the earlier book. In the second book, the extracts cover the period after Albert’s death, from 1862 to 1882 and the title refers to ‘a life’ rather than ‘our life’. This later book is volume number 2228 in the Tauchnitz series and in paperback copies the rear wrapper is dated February 1884. The earlier book is volume 2227, but was published by Tauchnitz about two weeks later and the rear wrapper is dated March 1884. For both volumes, the first printing is distinguished in bound copies by having nothing on the back of the half-title at the front of the book. Later reprints of each have a reference to the other book on the half-title verso.
Oddly neither book shows Queen Victoria’s name as the author. No-one can have been in any doubt as to whose journal this was, so this must have been some obscure point of royal protocol, rather than an attempt to disguise the true author. The first volume is dedicated to Albert, again without mentioning him by name, while the second is dedicated to ‘my devoted personal attendant and faithful friend John Brown’ and is signed by Victoria.
To complete the picture, it should be noted that two of Victoria and Albert’s daughters were also honoured as Tauchnitz authors. ‘Letters to her Majesty the Queen’ by Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, appeared in 1885 as volumes 2348 and 2349 of the series. Alice was Victoria’s second daughter, who had married a German prince and gone to live in Darmstadt. Her marriage and departure came just after her father’s death and she wrote home regularly to her widowed mother, careful not to appear too happy. In 1877, her husband became the Grand Duke of Hesse, but Alice died the following year. As well as Alice’s letters, the book contains a 75 page memoir written by her sister Helena, who had married another German prince.