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)