University of Virginia Library

A publishing house," Anthony West recently remarked, "is a simple business today, and a publisher considers that his first responsibility is not to culture as an abstract idea but to the investors who have provided him with his working capital."[1] Still more recently Arthur Mizener has taken the opposite view: "Publishers are all more or less bad businessmen because they all care to some extent for good books and are forever trying to publish them. It's a mug's game and as businessmen they know it."[2] Both these knowledgeable observers of the twentieth-century literary scene cite striking examples to support their apparently irreconcilable opinions. The question remains open: is a publisher's responsibility primarily to author and public, as his own literary and social conscience may dictate? Or is it primarily to the financial success of his firm—more bluntly, to his own pocket-book? To use a Victorian distinction, is publishing a liberal profession, or a trade?

The answer cannot, of course, be drawn out in black and white. Publishers have been called Maecenas and Barabbas, perhaps with equal justice, equal inaccuracy. The answer, so far as it can be arrived at, will come from an understanding of the subtle web of interacting influences which unites author, publisher, and reader—or, if you prefer, producer, distributor, and consumer. As a step toward understanding such influences, consider a chapter in literary history in which they are to be studied with a fair amount of perspective: the fortunes and misfortunes of Victorian magazines and reviews, their publishers, editors, contributors, and readers.