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The Bibliographical Significance of a Publisher's Archive: The Macmillan Papers by William E. Fredeman
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The Bibliographical Significance of a Publisher's Archive: The Macmillan Papers [*]
William E. Fredeman

To the literary scholar publishers seem surprisingly cavalier about their records which have passed into the dead-file state. Firms not infrequently bestir themselves to produce a history, but once this is accomplished their concern is over and the archives are laid waste by dust, decay, and neglect — if, that is, they escape the ravages of destruction schedules. Busy publishing houses are not, of course, libraries, and most of them have neither the staff nor the time, and almost never the space, to maintain proper control over an ever-burgeoning mass of paper. Yet these very same


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neglected publishers' archives are fast becoming, together with the records of the periodicals of the period, almost the last major untapped reservoir of primary materials available to the scholar of nineteenth-century publishing. During the war, portions of the archives of several English publishers were dissipated into the smoke over the City. The book trade survived and the buildings were restored, but the lacunal bombsites of literary and publishing history can never be filled. That the disaster served, in part at least, to arouse a belated interest in publishers' archives is evinced both by the increasing use made of them by scholars since the war and by the institutionalizing of several major collections during this era of academic affluence.

A number of recent studies have served to put the publisher of the nineteenth-century into perspective by examining the impact of widespread literacy and the rise of a mass reading public on all phases of the cultural and sociological current of the age:[1] But there is a notable paucity of systematic studies on the publishing of the period — there are even few printed listings of books published by individual firms[2] — and bibliographical knowledge in this area is still in its infancy.[3] If, as Simon Nowell-Smith says in his new book on Victorian copyright, "the legal, commercial and general aspects of bibliography deserve as much attention as the enumerative and analytical because of the assistance they can give to . . . the understanding of writers and their texts,"[4] the cumulative value of the documentary materials to be found in publishers' archives is not simply historical. In fact, precisely because they contain such a wealth of information, especially correspondence, touching on all aspects of the book-making process — from submission and selection of manuscripts to marketing the finished product and payment of authors' fees and protection of mutual


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rights, publishers' archives are rich natural lodes for the bibliographical prospector, whether his interest be historical, enumerative, analytical, descriptive or critical.

It is not really possible to be more than speculative about the specific textual significance of a collection of papers such as the British Museum's Macmillan archive, which has not yet been systematically catalogued. However, the research potential of the archive can be projected from a survey of the publishing history of the firm, with such aids as Charles Morgan's The House of Macmillan (1943), and from published studies that have utilized portions of the firm's archive. The Macmillan archive, though vast, is not quite virgin territory. Several groups of manuscripts from its reserves have been tapped by various scholars — notably those of Matthew Arnold, Lewis Carroll, the Rossettis, Thomas Hughes, Hugh Walpole, and Henry James.[5] The five volumes relating to the company all contain extracts from the archive, but although they provide some idea of the immensity of the collection and of its ultimate significance to scholarship, these "Macmillan books,"[6] and indeed the formal research deriving thus far from the papers, have hardly made a dent in the available mass. The purpose of this paper is to describe the extent of the Macmillan archive and to relate the story of its recent dispersal, a complicated affair that provides its own object lesson for literary scholars and bibliographers alike.


On 27 June 1965, The Sunday Telegraph carried an interview with Mr. Harold Macmillan, then chairman of the firm, announcing that the firm's archives would be sold piecemeal at auction in a sale "of a kind to warm the cockles of American bibliographical hearts" (Nowell-Smith, Copyright, p. 105). The interview mentioned that Mr. Simon Nowell-Smith had been commissioned to prepare the archives for sale at Sotheby's. Unhappy that so important a documentary record of nineteenth-century publishing should be broken up, Mr. Nowell-Smith sought unsuccessfully to persuade Macmillan's to give or sell the complete archive to the British Museum, and to persuade the Museum to approach Macmillan's. Failing this, he accepted the commission, and Mr. John Carter of Sotheby's, having previously made a rough list of materials in Macmillan's basement, provided the general


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directions that would determine the preparation of the archive for auction. Since the plan was to offer the material in the most attractive and lucrative lots possible, "Sotheby's advice was that major authors' letters should be segregated, and it was made clear that they were not interested in little known or unknown authors."[7] Material not destined for the sale should be destroyed, and Mr. Nowell-Smith was given authority to destroy "anything earlier than 1939" which in his opinion would be unsuitable either for the sale or for retention by the firm.

The obvious reason behind the sale of the archive was Macmillan's abandonment of their premises in St. Martin's Street, which they had occupied since 1897, for more spacious and modern warehouse accommodation in the country, near Basingstoke. With an assistant, Mr. Nowell-Smith began to work his way through the more than half million letters in the archive. The material was roughly organized into 400-500 chronological boxfiles, "mostly falling to pieces," of letters arranged alphabetically from authors, agents, and the general public, to 1950 and beyond; the other side of this correspondence, consisting of some 130,000 copyletters in about 450 bound volumes, to 1939; some sixty copy-letter volumes and boxfiles containing letters to printers and binders, 1892-1923; readers' reports copied into forty-six notebooks, 1866-1912,[8] and sixteen bound volumes of autograph reports by individual readers and on related subjects;[9] twenty-two "editions books," between 1892-1930; twenty-seven volumes of "Records of Manuscripts" with indexes; nine volumes of "Agenda Books," 1931-1937, which record decisions whether or not to publish; a contributors' index to Macmillan's Magazine;[10] some haphazardly accumulated proofs of books by Yeats, Kipling, Edith Sitwell, and other authors; a sizeable correspondence of Daniel and Alexander Macmillan with author-friends, mounted in albums; family correspondence and letters between the Macmillans on business matters; a vast quantity of letters, mainly nineteenth-century, between Macmillan's New York and Macmillan's London, with copies of replies, bound in volumes;[11] and, finally, a miscellaneous collection of legal and other documents concerning partnership agreements, building leases, action concerning violations of copyright, and the like.

Since the object of the sorting, it will be remembered, was to segregate letters of authors of some renown into attractive lots for sale by auction,


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the task facing the sorters was overwhelming. However, as massive as the extant archive appears, it clearly is not a complete publishing record of the firm. As Mr. Nowell-Smith says in the Introduction to Letters to Macmillan, the correspondence files "began to be preserved, at first somewhat haphazardly, in the eighteen-fifties" (p. 11), so that many early records were not retained. Faced with endemic problems of storage, many publishers regularly destroy correspondence, business records, vouchers, and printing orders according to predetermined regulations and schedules in order to reduce the sheer bulk of accumulated papers, though some kinds of documents are classified "Not to be destroyed," or "Keep Always." Destruction schedules probably account for the absence of correspondence relating to Macmillan's Magazine and other periodicals which were published by the firm.

Most prominent among missing papers in the archive are the letters by Tennyson and Lewis Carroll. A frequent contributor to Macmillan's Magazine, Tennyson did not publish books with Macmillan until 1884. By this date, most of his correspondence was conducted by his son, Hallam, from whom there are many letters in the files. Since we know that Alexander Macmillan was so staunch a Tennyson admirer that he thought originally to entitle Macmillan's Magazine, "The Round Table," and since there are in the archive "copies of many long and lively letters from the publisher to the poet laureate" (SN-S: Notes), a reciprocal side to this correspondence must at one time have existed. That the letters may have been destroyed piecemeal according to destruction schedules, previous to the packing up of the journal in 1907, is suggested by the fact that although letters to the Laureate appear in both the privately printed Letters of Alexander Macmillan (1908) and Graves's Life and Letters (1910), none from the poet are included in either volume. Another explanation has been suggested in the TLS review of Mr. Nowell-Smith's Letters to Macmillan, namely that the letters were lent to Hallam Tennyson for the preparation of his Memoir of his father and never returned. If so, they should be among the papers and manuscripts at the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincoln, but Professor Cecil Lang, one of the editors of Tennyson's letters, informs me that he is unaware of any surviving collection of letters to Macmillan.[12] Less mystification surrounds the Lewis Carroll letters, which were sold to the Rosenbach Foundation in 1957, the single instance known to me of such a transaction.

Some letters had already been segregated for various scholars, but according to Mr. Nowell-Smith, the searching had been very unsystematic. For example, the late Professor Lona Mosk Packer was not shown all the


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Rossetti letters in the files, nor told that copies of the Macmillan letters to the Rossettis had survived. The condition of the files was such that direct access could not be given to scholars working on individual authors, and untrained searchers can easily miss treasures which the professional eye would spot. A singular instance recounted to me by Mr. Nowell-Smith was a Henry James letter filed alphabetically under "T"; the filing clerk had simply misread the signature and written "Turner" on the back.

Through a more conservative interpretation of his mandate to segregate and destroy, Mr. Nowell-Smith managed to forestall the mutilation of the archive that would have been the inevitable result of following literally his original instructions. A large number of authors of lesser calibre was salvaged by grouping them together under such headings as "miscellaneous poets and novelists," "economists," "statesmen and soldiers," "musicians," etc., and these lots were eventually accepted as suitable for the Sotheby sale. Other letters were grouped under "copyright, net book agreement, The Times book war," and would, had the sale been conducted, have gone to Bodley (SN-S: Notes). Approaches were made to the directors of Macmillan's by Mr. D. T. Richnell, then the Librarian of Reading University, to present the residue of letters surviving after the sorting of major authors to the Reading University Library. "His feeling was," writes the Archivist of the Library, Mr. J. A. Edwards, "that even if all the literary items had been removed, the collection would still possess interest for students of publishing history, copyright and the book trade."[13] In November 1965, Mr. Nowell-Smith "obtained authority to hand over to Reading University 'residual material . . . on the basis that none of it (or any information derived from it) should be published in any form or sold or otherwise disposed of (except by destruction)' . . . without Macmillan's consent" (SN-S: Notes). The amount of material from the archive that was actually destroyed under the option exercised by Mr. Nowell-Smith was thus minimal, and in the main it consisted of certain runs of copyletters, such as those to travellers and agents, which existed in a dozen or more duplicates, and abstracts of publishing information that was more fully set out in other documents.

By February 1966, the letters intended for the sale had been extracted and placed in author packets, and the residual collection, consisting of tens of thousands of letters, passed to Reading. The letters grouped for sale lots included the correspondence of about two thousand authors and others in addition to the groups of readers' reports, printers' and binders' correspondence, family papers, manuscript registers, and proofs, already detailed. At this state, presumably, the truncated archive was ready to be catalogued and described and assembled into lots for the projected sale. That some of the extracted material was ultimately deemed unsuitable for the sale


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is indicated by the fact that some 195 author packets were sent to Reading to join the residual collection early in 1967.[14] Before Sotheby's had started cataloguing the material for sale, however, and largely through the vision of John Carter — a member of Sotheby's but also a dedicated scholar and bibliographer — negotiations began in another direction (SN-S: Notes).

In June 1966, Macmillan's offered to the British Museum their general copyletter file from c. 1855 to 1939, together with a few other items. In August, the Museum, which had thus far displayed little interest in the archive, declined the offer but indicated that it would be interested in the complete archive, which by this time, of course, no longer existed. Macmillan's replied that it was too late to reverse their decision to sell the collection at auction. Through the combined efforts of Macmillan's and Sotheby's, negotiations continued with the Museum, and in the fall of 1967 the extracted author packets and other archive material were sold to the Museum and "passed into the keeping of the Department of Manuscripts," which has now bound the collection into volumes and produced an index file of the more then two-thousand authors represented.

Thus the story to date, with one exception. Save for the Lewis Carroll letters in the Rosenbach Foundation, certain marginal material which was destroyed, and documents and letters (mainly post 1939) retained by Macmillan's, the papers sorted at Basingstoke have now passed to the libraries of the University of Reading and the British Museum. This account does not, however, include a large cache of letters, originally a part of the archive, now in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. Acquired in 1967, the vast bulk of the Berg collection consists of letters from Victorian theologians, though it also contains important literary names, including the Kingsleys, Thomas Hughes, Matthew Arnold, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Morris, Allingham, Patmore and Palgrave. Significantly, the letters in the Berg Macmillan collection were not among the letter-files entrusted to Mr. Nowell-Smith, though the Berg has the originals of a series of Thomas Hughes letters which exist only in typescript copies in the archives now in the British Museum. The provenance of these letters is not at this time available, but the narrowness of their range — most of them date between 1852-1863 — suggests that they may have been segregated for some purpose a good many years ago, perhaps for


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a project such as C. L. Graves' Life and Letters of Alexander Macmillan (1910).[15]


In 1966, the correspondence files of the Macmillan Company of New York were presented to the New York Public Library. Had a similar, simple arrangement been followed in disposing of the vast archive of Macmillan & Company of London, the story just recounted would be less interesting, but the convenience to scholarship would be infinitely greater than it now is. In the broadest and most charitable sense, scholars must be grateful that a correspondence file of such importance and magnitude has been made more generally accessible in public collections. We can take some consolation from the fact that a public sale, which would have dispersed the materials from Texas to Timbuctoo, was forestalled, but, clearly, the decisions taken regarding the London archive have in a very real sense violated a major collection of primary documents. Imagine for the moment the scholarly significance of so extensive an archive retained intact, properly housed, preserved, and catalogued, and fully indexed, calendared, and crossreferenced so that complete retrieval by subject, author, and chronology was instantly achievable. The collection could then have been used by the widest possible assortment of scholars in a dozen fields of pursuit. Dispersed to four libraries on two sides of the Atlantic, and stripped of its chronological sequence, the Macmillan archive can never again be consulted as a unified historical record.

All too little has been said about the specific textual significance of the Macmillan papers. To the bibliographer, their special interest must inevitably reside in those documents which in any way touch upon the text of a given author. Even without a detailed examination of the uncatalogued archive, it is possible to anticipate material which would be bibliographically crucial in the reciprocal correspondence files which discuss matters of emendation and revision. Correspondence with printers confirming these points, cancel orders, invoices for type corrections charged to authors, surviving proof (especially corrected), printers' copies of manuscripts, stock reports, even binding details which might assist in establishing priorities — all are documents which might illuminate or elucidate the text by providing direct or indirect evidence to the bibliographer which reinforces the legal, commercial, and general aspects of bibliography that is the strength of the whole collection.

The archives of Macmillan & Company offer an interesting example of the care that must be maintained in preserving, cataloguing, and disposing of important manuscript documents. Through an unfortunate comedy


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of errors, for which no one was really responsible, the archive has been disengaged, dismembered, and dispersed, making it virtually impossible ever to reassemble it in its original state. The loss is both practical and historical, for the fragmentation of the collection violates the continuity that it once possessed. The handling of the Macmillan archive, in this age of relative bibliographical sophistication, provides its own moral that should serve as a warning to both scholars and publishers of the priority of claim which the preservation of primary documents must be given. To those scholarly explorers concerned with surveying the vast tracts of uncharted territories, the literary dark continents, of the nineteenth-century, Simon Nowell-Smith offers wise counsel in the conclusion of his new book on Victorian copyright (p. 105): "Move quickly":
The intricacies of international law are fully documented even though bibliographers may not have fully studied the documents. But the documents vital to the historian of nineteenth-century publishing, such as survive, are fast being destroyed or dispersed. . . . It would be regrettable if other Victorian records of the kind were to be allowed to disappear or to disintegrate. Time for the bibliographer is running out.



This paper, now considerably shortened, was presented at the meeting of the Modern Language Association of America, 27 December 1968. I am most grateful for the assistance given me by Mr. Simon Nowell-Smith, whose role in the preparation of this paper has been virtually that of a collaborator.


See for example Richard D. Altick's The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900 (1957).


See A Bibliographical Catalogue of Macmillan and Co's Publications from 1843 to 1889 (1891); Richard Bentley II privately printed after his retirement, A Selection of the More Prominent Books Published Each Year in New Burlington Street During the Sixty Years, 1829-88. See also Books Published by James Maclehose from 1838-1881 and by J. Maclehose and Sons, to 1905 (Glasgow, 1905).


Rauri Maclean's synoptic index to his Victorian Book Design and Colour Printing (1963) provides a convenient entree to nineteenth-century publishing. Fredson Bowers treats the technical aspects of nineteenth-century bibliography in the last section of his Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949). Michael Sadleir, John Carter, and Percy Muir have basic studies in the Bibliographia series, Muir on bibliographical Points (two series, 1933, 1934), Carter on Binding Variants (1932), and Sadleir on The Evolution of Publishers' Binding Styles (1930). See also Sadleir's monograph in Studies in Retrospect 1945); and Nineteenth-Century English Books: Some Problems in Bibliography 1952), with essays by Gordon Ray, Carl J. Webber, and John Carter.


International Copyright Law and the Publisher in the Reign of Queen Victoria (1968), p. 104.


The letters of Lewis Carroll and Henry James have been used in several books. For the remaining four authors see especially William E. Buckler, Matthew Arnold's Books: Toward a Publishing Diary (Geneva, 1958); Lona Mosk Packer. The Rossetti-Macmillan Letters (1963); E. G. Mack and W. H. G. Armytage, Thomas Hughes (1952); Rupert Hart-Davis, Hugh Walpole: A Biography (1952).


Thomas Hughes' Memoir of Daniel Macmillan (1882); Letters of Alexander Macmillan (1908); C. L. Grave's Life and Letters of Alexander Macmillan (1910); Charles Morgan's The House of Macmillan (1943); and Simon Nowell-Smith's Letters to Macmillan (1967). All except the second, which was privately printed, were published by Macmillan.


Much of the quoted material in this section is taken from notes provided me by Simon Nowell-Smith. Hereinafter cited as SN-S: Notes.


Several readers' reports which would be of extreme interest are not present, such as those for A Shropshire Lad, but these may, of course, never have existed.


There was no general series of reports between 1912-1930; those after 1930 were retained by Macmillan's.


This index has been used by the Rosenbergs for the Wellesley Index. No correspondence record for the magazine is extant.


Letters relating to the split between the two firms were retained by Macmillan's.


Two letters from Tennyson to George Grove and one to Alexander Macmillan (all dated 1868) appear in Nowell-Smith, Letters, pp. 111-116; those to Grove are from the Berg Collection, that to Macmillan (reproduced in facsimile) belongs to W. S. G. Macmillan.


Notes on the Reading Macmillan collection were kindly prepared for me by Mr. Edwards, Archivist in the University Library.


A list of author-packets was prepared in February 1966. The annotated list which was sent me by Mr. Edwards contains over one hundred authors not on the original list, including some important ones such as André Gide which were missed by the sorters. Unfortunately, there is as yet no index to the Reading collection. Mr. Edwards writes, "In order to trace letters from an individual author . . . the inquirer must consult the alphabetical sequence of files relating to the period in which the author is known to have been active. For an author whose writing life covers a very long period, the enquirer may have to examine several alphabetical sequences of files."


SN-S: Notes. Mr. Nowell-Smith feels that the survival of this cache may invalidate his assertion, quoted above, that the early correspondence files were preserved 'somewhat haphazardly.'