We sold about 100,000 copies of Richardson's F. D. and E. ('Field, Dungeon and Escape'), and are now printing 41,000 of 'Beyond the Mississippi', and large orders ahead. If you have any thought of writing a book, or could be induced to do so, we should be pleased to see you, and will do so. Will you do us the favor of reply at once, at your earliest convenience.
Very truly etc.,
E. BLISS, JR., Secretary.
After ten days' delay this letter was forwarded to the Tribune bureau in Washington, where Clemens received it. He replied promptly.
WASHINGTON, December 2, 1867.
E. BLISS, JR., ESQ., Secretary American Publishing Co.
DEAR SIR,--I only received your favor of November 21st last night, at the rooms of the Tribune Bureau here. It was forwarded from the Tribune office, New York where it had lain eight or ten days. This will be a sufficient apology for the seeming discourtesy of my silence.
I wrote fifty-two letters for the San Francisco Alta California during the Quakes City excusion, about half of which number have been printed thus far. The Alta has few exchanges in the East, and I suppose scarcely any of these letters have been copied on this side of the Rocky Mountains. I could weed them of their chief faults of construction and inelegancies of expression, and make a volume that would be more acceptable in many respects than any I could now write. When those letters were written my impressions were fresh, but now they have lost that freshness; they were warm then, they are cold now. I could strike out certain letters, and write new ones wherewith to supply their places. If you think such a book would suit your purpose, please drop me a line, specifying the size and general style of the volume--when the matter ought to be ready; whether it should have pictures in it or not; and particularly what your terms with me would be, and what amount of money I might possibly make out of it. The latter clause has a degree of importance for me which is almost beyond my own comprehension. But you understand that, of course.
I have other propositions for a book, but have doubted the propriety of interfering with good newspaper engagements, except my way as an author could be demonstrated to be plain before me. But I know Richardson, and learned from him some months ago something of an idea of the subscription plan of publishing. If that is your plan invariably it looks safe.
I am on the New York Tribune staff here as an "occasional," among other things, and a note from you addressed to Very truly, etc., SAM. L. CLEMENS, New York Tribune Bureau, Washington will find me, without fail.
The exchange of those two letters marked the beginning of one of the most notable publishing connections in American literary history.
Consummation, however, was somewhat delayed. Bliss was ill when the reply came, and could not write again in detail until nearly a month later. In this letter he recited the profits made by Richardson and others through subscription publication, and named the royalties paid. Richardson had received four per cent. of the sale price, a small enough rate for these later days; but the cost of manufacture was larger then, and the sale and delivery of books through agents has ever been an expensive process. Even Horace Greeley had received but a fraction more on his Great American Conflict. Bliss especially suggested and emphasized a "humorous work--that is to say, a work humorously inclined." He added that they had two arrangements for paying authors: outright purchase, and royalty. He invited a meeting in New York to arrange terms.
Clemens did in fact go to New York that same evening, to spend Christmas with Dan Slote, and missed Bliss's second letter. It was no matter. Fate had his affairs properly in hand, and had prepared an event of still larger moment than the publication even of Innocents Abroad.