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Letter ReferenceFindlay Family A1199/B Documents: Box 7/12
ArchiveWilliam Cullen Library, Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand
Epistolary TypeLetter
Letter Date5 October 1900
Address FromLyndall, Newlands, Cape Town
Address To254 Washington Street, Boston, Mass. U. S. A.
Who ToLittle, Brown & Co
Other Versions
PermissionsPlease read before using or citing this transcription
The Project is grateful to the William Cullen Library, University of Johannesburg, for kindly allowing us to transcribe this Olive Schreiner letter, which is part of its Historical Papers. This letter is mainly typescript, with Olive Schreiner's handwritten amendments and insertions as indicated by the chevron ^insertion^ symbols.
1 Address: - Olive Schreiner
2 c/o Hon. W.P. Schreiner Q.C.
3 Lyndall, Newlands
4 Cape Colony,
5 South Africa
6 5th Oct. 1900
8 Messrs Little, Brown and Co.
9 254 Washington Street
10 Boston, Mass. U. S. A.
12 Dear Sirs,
14 I have received your letter of the 22nd Aug. 1900, and am surprised at
15your statement that I can possibly owe your firm $213.73 for the
16electrotyping of Stray Thoughts.
18 As I have told you, I entirely fail to recognise you in this matter,
19my work having been entrusted to Messrs Roberts Bros, whom alone I
20know in this matter. But had Roberts Bros been still in existence, I
21should equally have refused to recognise this claim.
23 On my publication of an African Farm, at least sixteen American
24publishers at once brought out the work. Of this number, about nine,
25with that generosity and rectitude which I have with one exception
26found to characterise American publishers, though in no way logically
27and only in honour bound, sent a large yearly cheques in consideration
28of what they were making by the sale of my work. Among these, as I
29have before stated, was a gentleman gentleman who wrote to me under
30the name of Roberts Bros, but whose real name was Brown. The
31generosity of all others was exceeded by him, inn in sending me
32cheques for £200 and £250 £150 (pounds sterling) at a time, stating
33what a profound interest he took in my work and the honour and
34pleasure he felt in returning me something for the profit he made from
35my work. We entered int into a long and intimate literary and business
36correspondence of the most friendly and confidential nature. Many of
37my American ^friends^ further knew him personally, and apart from the
38fact that every every one who ever mentioned him spoke in glowing
39terms of this integrity and generosity as a publisher, persons who had
40met him told me repeatedly of the high terms of sympathy and
41friendship with which he spoke of me and my works. He asked me to
42consider him as long as he lived as a friend as well as a publisher,
43and said that if I had anything to publish in America serially are ^or^
44which was not suited to his firm, he would consider it an honour to
45place it for me most advantageously. I have kepy all his letters
46carefully, not only because of their business value but also because
47of their friendly sympathy, and that in writing my life in the future
48I might use them to illustrate what has been the brightest episode in
49my career as an author. I believe that since the days of George
50Elliott and Blackwood, no such sympathetic and confidential relation
51has existed between an author and a publisher; at least I have not
52heard of one.
54 I gave him the exclusive right to act as my publisher of an African Farm
55in America, and wrote to all the publishers that had generously sent
56me money, asking them as a matter of honour to discontinue publishing
57my work, as I had entrusted it to Roberts Bros; and in one case at
58least the publisher wrote most kindly assuring me he would publish no
59more copies. From that day all the American publishers discontinued
60sending me money for my work, and I have never since received a
61farthing from any one in American for an African Farm except Robert
I also put notices in the papers stating he was my accredited
63publisher and requesting the American public to deal with them only.
64The loss was a heavy one monetarily to me but I was glad I had been
65able in a manner to return Mr Brown's generous conduct towards me; and
66was resolved that while he personally lived, no large work from my pen
67should be published in America without his having had the first
68refusal. I am incline to think that not long after this time he died,
69as in a long letter he wrote me, he promised to send me his photograph.
70 The photograph never came, and from that time no more long fatherly
71letters came from him. If this was so, I was was never informed of his
72death, though from the nature of my letters to him it must have been
73clearly evident that I still believe believed him alive and was
74writing to an individual man whom I considered my confidential friend
75and not to an impersonal firm.
If this was so, the fact was carefully
76concealed from me in the replies I received. When Dreams came out,
77shortly after their publication (they are not, as you know, copyright)
78I received a truly generous offer from another firm which had before
79made me a present of £100 for publishing Dreams if I would regard
80them as my accredited publishers; but I at once refused, as I would do
81nothing to impair Mr Brown's interests.
83 When I determined to publish the series of articles called Stray
, first serially in America and England and then later or when
85they were completed in book form, I wrote to him.
87 Since I first published an African Farm nineteen years ago, I have
88been inundated with offers from American magazine editors and
89publishers, and especially newspaper editors, asking me for
90contributions. In not one single instance have I ever sent anything
91for serial publication to America of whatever nature, but is has been
92at once accepted, and most generously and liberally paid for,
93whenever the agreement has been entered upon befree the manuscript wa
94was sent to America the editor has always expres expressed the highest
95approval on its arrival and asked for more. I have received as much as
96£81 (pounds sterling) for 950 words; and £12: 10: (twelve pounds
97sterling) per thousand words, I have always been able to get in
98America for an article the editor has never seen. It was not at all
99because I should have had the slightest difficulty in placing the
100articles in the American magazines or newspapers, for I should have
101had them at once received and highly paid for, but the great distance
102of Africa to America makes it a matter of months to send and receive
103answers to a few letters while the business might be accomplished in
104America in a few hours by le wire or post. I therefore wrote to Messrs
105Rob Roberts Brothers (as I believed, addressing my old trusted
106publisher Brown) telling him that I had these articles and that, if if
107If he would undertake to have them published in some paper or magazine
108in the United States
at the same time as they were published in
109England, thereby securing me the copyright of the articles in my name,
110I would, in return for this, allow him when the articles were
111completed to publish them in book form at a certain royalty for a
112period of five years from the time we signed the agreement.
I further
113added it would not be necessary to send me the articles in proof
114before they appeared in the magazine or newspaper, as I intended to
115subject the whole book to careful and minute revision before it
116appeared in book form.
I received a reply which I car carefully kept,
117in which not only were my terms accepted, but it was stated that the
118writer felt sure of obtaining me large sums for the articles, which
119should be carefully published in some American magazine or newspaper
120on the same date as in England and the copyright secured to me. Then,
121and only upon this condition
I entered upon the agreement with Roberts
giving the right to publish the articles on certain terms in book
123form, which five years end this November. I left it quite in the hands
124of Robert Roberts Bros what newspaper or magazine they should sell my
125serial rights to and on what terms. Had I been dealing with any but a
126publisher well known to me as a person of high and spotless integrity,
127I should of course have safeguarded myself in every way, and instead
128of accepting a promised royalty should have demanded a lump sum. I
129shortly afterwards sent an important article to them. For this article
130I received £92 in England where I generally receive one-third of
131one-half of what I receive in America for what I write. Long before
132sending the article I wrote to say it was coming and cabled over from
133England some time before the date on which it would appear there. You
134may imagine my astonishment, still believing my trusted publisher to
135be my correspondent, when some time after, when I was expecting a
136cheque for at least £100 or £200 or £150, I received a short letter
137from Roberts Bros saying that they very deeply regretted they had not
138been able to place the article, but & that the copyright had ben been
139carefully secured in my name; but that they made no doubt they should
140be be able most advantageously to place the next. Had I believed I
141myself dealing with any but my generous and upright friend I shoul
142should at once have written stating that as they had violated the
143primary term of our agreement I should have nothing more to do with
144the firm and that our contract was now null and void,
and I should at
145once have entered into relations with one of the numerous editors from
146whom I had at that time offer for the publication of future articles.
147But I should as soon have thought of writing to charge my father or
148brother of wilful dishonesty towards myself as the person I still
149believed to be still the head of Rober Roberts Brothers. It did not
150even strike me as possible that he was preventing the publication of
151my articles in serial form hoping thereby to add to the value of the
152book when it appeared or that, ^or^ having nothing to gain by its serial
153publication, he had never taken the trouble to canvas the magazines
154and newspapers of the United States. The only explanation I could
155think of was that he had been absent on holiday or ill and had made a
156strange oversight; and I felt convinced that the monetary loss would
157be richly made up to me when the next articles appeared. As to the
158trivial cost of printing to retain the copyright, I understood of
159course that he had failed in his obligation to get the article
160published he would pay it, but that as it would only be a matter of a
161couple of dollars it would not matter either way, and was not worth
162writing about. When the same thing happened with the next article I
163wrote rather warmly asking how it was the article had not been
164published in any magazine or newspaper when I had placed no
165restriction as to price and was myself inundated with offers for the
166serial publication of my work and asking for the names of the
167newspaper s, provincial and otherwise, and magazines to whom the
168articled had been offered, and who had refused them. To this letter
169and several others to the same effect I have up to the present day
170received no reply
. I still retained my faith in Roberts Bros and when
171my book Peter Halket came out, though I refused all offers in England
172to publish on the royalty system (only possible where you closely and
173intimately know the man you are deal with with and have an absolute ^&^
174unbroken confidence) and ^I^ accepted ^in England^ the comparatively small
175sum of £1450 (one thousand four hundred and fifty pounds). I wrote
176entrusting my work to Roberts Bros on the royalty system, expecting to
177receive from them for the sale in America (where the circulation of my
178books is always two or three times that of England) at least twice as
179much in the course of a couple of years as I had got in England. I
180was further glad to have one I so well knew as a publisher, because I
181knew the South African capitalists who have their powerful agencies in
182England and America would do all they could to induce any publisher to
183suppress the work; and it was all important to me to have a publisher
184who, if any offer to this effect were made, would, however large the
185sum offered offered by the capitalist agencies, immediately
186communicate with me and enable me to take action. As you know I have
187received nothing for the publication of Peter Halket in America: the
188paltry sum of a few dollars which including what was sent me on the
189receipt of the MS amounting to only fifty or sixty pounds, a sum not
190worth considering at all in such a matter. I should have received £60
191for the publication of a few pages of Peter Halket in a magazine or
192newspaper. Eight months after Pete Peter Halket was published in
193America I received an offer from an American firm to run it serially
194through the Sunday papers for £800 (eight hundred pounds sterling)
195and then to publish it in book form giving me fifteen percent royalty.
196I was of course obliged to refuse this and other almost equally
197generous offers as Roberts Brothers had the work. But the loss of
198money, crushing as it has been, was unreadable as nothing to another.
199The book was not adequately put on the market or supplied to the trade.
200 To myself who desired above all the free circulation of the work in
201America this was the most serious misfortune of a whole literary life.
202Week after week letters poured in upon me from old friends and from
203scores of persons from whom I had never heard before, begging me to
204publish Peter Halket in the United States. These letters came not only
205from the Western and Southern States where it might be supposed
206Roberts Bros had no means of circulating their books, But from Chicago,
207 New York and Boston itself. One New York magazine ^clergyman^ wrote
208begging me to have the work published freely and circulated in the
209United States, adding that he had procured three copies, which had
210been so often lent and read and re-read, that they were worn to
211tatters, so great was the demand for the work. In some instances
212persons even sent me cheques requesting me to purchase and send them
213copies of the book, which I of course did not feel myself at liberty
214to do. I could only reply that the work had been published by Roberts
in whose office thousands of copies were lying which could be
216procured by writing to them. Again and again I wrote to Roberts Bros
217remonstrating with them xx and demanding to know the reason why the
218book had not been adequately placed on the market and why the trade
219was not kept fully supplied. I further enclosed in a registered letter
220copies of letters I had received on the subject from America, some
221from well known public and literary men. None of these letters were
222return returned nor was any notice taken of my remonstrations and no
223explanation has ever up to the present day been offered of the
224non-supply of the market with my work.
226 Finally I ceased to receive even an account of the sale of Peter
, Messrs Roberts Brothers thereby violating again the explicit
228terms of our signed agreement and rendering their claim to publish
229Peter Halket null and void. The last blow came to me when a letter was
230received from an unknown firm of publishers stat stating that the firm
231of Messrs Roberts Brothers had become defunct about a year before and
232that they had transferred the control of all my valuable copyright
233property into the hands of that, to me, completely unknown firm,
234Messrs Little Brown and Co of Boston, whose names I then heard for the
235first time
237 As I have before said, I refuse to recognise you in this matter. My
238relations have been with Roberts Brothers and my accusat accusations
239are against them; but were you that firm I should demand an immediate
240relpy reply from you to the following eight questions. I should ask,
243 ^Firstly:-^ How as it that in honour and common honesty the death the
244death of the original Roberts Brothers was never intimated to me and
245the fact carefully concealed from me though it must have been manifest
246to anyone opening my letters that I still believed myself as
247addressing that definite individual, from my reference to letters he
248had written to me, the photograph he had promised me, and from the
249whole tenour of my letters which showed I believed myself writing to a
250person I trusted and knew?
252 ^Secondly:-^ Why was the primary condition of our agreement with regard
253to Stray Thoughts violated by the non-publication of the articles in a
254newspaper or magazine when I was inundated with offers for serial
255matter at that very time? And why was no list at my special request
256forwarded to me of the editors who had been written to in the United
257States with regard to the serial publication of the articles and who
258had refused to take them?
260 Thirdly:- How was it that after having violated the primary condition
261upon which alone the promise of the book for publication was based, by
262not securing the publication of the articles in a magazine or
263newspaper, that, instead of simply having the article printed for a
264couple of dollars
, they, without my consent or approval, allowed the
265articles to be electrotyped, knowing that according to our agreement
266the articles would have to be subjected by me to careful revision
267before publication in book form, and therefore knowing at the time
268they did it, that the electrotype plates could not, be of the
269slightest use to them or to myself?

271 Fourthly:- How, knowing this, could they dare to suggest that I should
272recoup them for what they had, without my consent or permission and in
273direct violation of our agreement, had spent in electrotyping my work?
275 Fifthly:- How was it that Peter Halket was never fully supplied to the
276American trade and that all my letters of remonstrance and demanding
277an explanation on this point remained unanswered?
279 Sixthly:- How was it that returns of sales were not forwarded to me at
280the dated specified according to the terms of our agreement?
282 Seventhly:- How - as men of honour and integrity, was it possible,
283unreadable without communicating with me or giving me the slightest
284consideration, to allow their firm to become extinct and the ha hand
285over into the hands of men of whom I knew nothing whatever the charge
286of my valuable and important copyright property.
288 Eightly:-
289 Eighthly:- Having in consideration the terrible and calamitous loss
290which has been inflicted on me by their failure to publish my articles
291in America according to our agreement, and having failed dulybto
292supply the market with Peter Halket (a loss which, supposing I could
293have received in America only what I did x in England for the
294publication of the articles and of Peter Halket, would amount to over
295£2000 sterling), I should ask to know what sum they as men of honour
296and integrity felt themselves morally bound to pay me in compensation
297for the terrible and crushing loss losses I have sustained through the
298negligence of their firm?
300 Were you the firm of Messrs Roberts Brothers, I should put these
301questions to yl you and demand a reply.
303 Understand me, my dear sirs: I bring no charge against the honour and
304integrity of your firm. I know nothing whatever of you. I have never
305been able to meet a single person who had personally met or knew a
306single member of your firm. When I visit New York and have the
307pleasure of meeting you for half an hour, I may at once be convinced
308that I am speaking to a man, or men, who possess all the honour and
309integrity of my old publisher Brown, xx the original Robert Bros. I
310have no reason to suppose it is not so. For anything I know to the
311contrary, at the time when the firm of Roberts Brothers was ruining me
312in America by their action, your firm may not even have been in
313existence. Even with regard to the non-intimation to me of the
314extinction of the firm of Roberts Bros and the transference of the
315care of my property to other hands, the dishonour lay with them; it
316was into their hands I entrusted my property; it was they in whom I
317had placed confidence.
319 The only complaint I have against you is that since you gaine gained
320control of my works you have not been able to do anything with them.
321But as I explained to you fully in my last letter I do not consider
322that this necessarily implies any want of integrity. The irreparable
323loss with regard to Peter Halket took place during the first two years
324after it was issued, when it was not properly placed on the market. It
325is evident that your firm is not fitted to deal with my work; but that
326implies no slur; there are certain honourable firms in London to whom
327I should gladly entrust a work of science or philosophy knowing they
328would do as well with it as possible; while to entrust them with a
329work of light fiction or adventure would spell irreparable loss; and
330there are cer certain firms of honour and integrity to whom I should
331never dream of giving Peter Halket or Stray Thoughts. If the personnel
332of lawyer, private doctor, or executor is a matter of cardinal
333importance, infinitely more unreadable a matter of life and death to
334the author is the personnel of their publisher. One publisher is not
335equivalent to another nor can one firm be substituted for another, as
336men substitute foot warmers in a railway carriage, without regard to
337their individual qualities. A large firm in London published two works
338of a noted English writer on the royalty system, and the writer was
339receiving a few pounds yearly for their work. When th the time for
340which it had been granted to that firm expired and the work was
341removed to another, not larger, firm, their royalties at once rose to
342two or three times the old amount and have continued at that rate ever
343since. I have known an instance where the mere death of the head of
344the firm and the substitution of another individual at once sent up
345the royalties received by several authors publishing with that firm to
346two or three times the figure they had stood at before. This in no way
347implied dishonesty on the part of the firms, but merely that the new
348men were better able, by advertising and placing wisely on the market,
349to dispose of the works of those authors. I mention this because a
350sentence in your letter almost seems to ^imply^ that you imagine that I
351cast a slur on your y honour and integrity. This is in no wise the case.
352 Had my royalties risen up as soon as you took control of my works and
353I had found it most advantageous to give all writi writings to you, it
354would not have altered the conduct of Roberts Brothers. As it is you
355are gaining nothing; and the publication of my works by you spells
356absolute rin ruin to me. Certain class classes of firms are not, as
357you publishers know well, able to deal satisfactorily with certain
358classes of literature.
360 I have entered, my dear sirs, into this long and wearisome explanation
361of my relations with the late firm of Messrs Roberts Brothers that you
362might be in full command of all the facts; and I believe when you have
363carefully and impartially considered them you will feel I have been
364deeply wronged. I trust you will write fully and frankly to me, as I
365should not like to feel we parted company in any spirit of bitterness.
366If you considered yourselves as the representatives of the firm of B
367Roberts Bros, I should be glad to know what amount of compensation you
368feel, as me of integrity, is owing to me for the terrible and now
369quite irreparable losses inflicted on me by that firm through their
370breach of our contracts.
372 The only excuse I can think of for the firm of Roberts Bros is that
373after the death of the old head the firm fell into a state of
374disorganisation which may have approached bankruptcy, a supposition
375which would appear not impossible improbable from their attempting to
376dispose of their valuable rights to you. This would not exonerate them;
377 but I should be glad to think that mere negligence and not ^any^ wilful
378dishonour had been the source of my loss; the more so, as with this
379one exception all my relations with American publishers have been
380uniformly of the most satisfactory and cordial kind.
382 An immediate reply to this letter will oblige me, as I should like to
383hear from you before concluding arrangements with other firms in
384America for the republication of my work Peter Halket and the
385publication of Stray Thoughts. Believe me, my dear sirs, I make no
386charge against the firm of Little Brown and Co. Roberts Bros may have
387duped you as much in pretending they had the right t to transfer the
388charge of my work to you ^&^ that they had fulfilled the terms of their
389contracts with me, as they unreadable have duped me.
391 Yours faithfully,
392 Olive Schreiner
394 ^P.S. It is not necessary for me to say, that in writing to American
395firms I shall not refer to my treatment by Roberts Bros; I simply
396state that the old head of the firm lay dead & Roberts Brothers
397defunct. I wish to place my work with a new firm and I shall most
398carefully abstain from saying anything that might reflect on your^
400 ^firm, in any way what so ever
401 Olive Schreiner^
The Little, Brown & Co letter to Olive Schreiner which is referred to here is as follows:


P.O. Box 2158
Little, Brown, & Company,
254 Washington Street, Boston

Publishers, Booksellers, and Importers of Law, and General Literature.

Aug. 22, 1900.

Mrs. Olive Schreiner,
Lyndall, Newlands,
Cape Town, S. A.

Dear Madam:

Your letter has just reached us. We infer from it that you cannot have received out letter of May 19th, 1899 in which we replied fully to yours of Apr. 16th, for if you had, we think you would have replied to it. Nor have we received receipts for the amounts remitted to you, and must therefore conclude that some of them have failed to reach you.

We enclose herewith copies of our letters of May 19, 1899, and Feb. 21, 1900; also a statement of amounts credited and remitted to you since your letter of April 16, 1899 was received. We can go back of this if it is necessary and send a statement of royalties credited since we purchased Messrs. Roberts Bros. publishing business.

As stated in our previous letter, no author other than yourself has objected to the transfer of the Roberts Brothers? publications and contracts to us, and in many instances we have increased the sales of the books. We have faithfully carried out the contracts with you and the error of a clerk in omitting to make up the account of Peter Halket upon one occasion hardly justifies a cancellation of the contract. The remittances in our statement have been made by American Express order. If you have not received them, we will be obliged if you write us to that effect so that we may have any missing ones traced. It is possible that if our other remittances have not reached you that you think the credit of Jan. 1st, 103 copies of Peter Halket, $12.89 covers all the sales we have made. Our statement will show that this is not the case; we have credited since your letter of April 16th, royalties on 382 copies amounting to $47.77.

We would call your attention to the fact that we have paid the University press, Cambridge, $213.73 for composition and electrotyping of 'Stray Thoughts on South Africa,' a liability assumed by us under your contract with Roberts Bros. This sum should be refunded to us if we are not to continue to act as your publishers. We are perfectly willing to transfer all our rights in your books and the stock and plates of the same for a sum which will reimburse us our expenditures. You can then make arrangements with another firm.

Permit us to state, however, that we cannot believe that you will find a house whose reputation for integrity and ability to successfully conduct a publishing business is higher than our own, and if you care to make inquiries in England we believe you can have this statement confirmed.

We cannot accord with your view that it is just to attempt to repudiate a contract upon copyright books of yours and ask us to pay royalty upon books which could not be copyrighted in America and which anyone can print without payment of royalty. We find in a catalogue issued in 1899, sixteen editions of The Story of An African Farm, and eight editions of Dreams, issued by houses chiefly engaged in the publication of books upon which there is no copyright. Of course these editions compete seriously with ours, the only ones upon which you receive a royalty.

We trust that you will consider the matter carefully and let us hear from you at an early day. Awaiting your reply, we will hold the express order you returned to us.

Yours truly,
Little, Brown & Co.

We have mailed a duplicate of this letter to John Brown, M.D. Stockbridge House, Padiham, Lancaster England
(Findlay Family A1199/B Documents: Box 7/9)

The following handwritten note by Olive Schreiner is on the final page: 'To Hudson, return this to me when read, Olive'.

As a consequence, 'Stray Thoughts on South Africa' was not published.