It was in effect a scathing reply to those who, three years, before, had denounced Twichell and himself for standing by their convictions.--[ Characteristic paragraphs from this paper will be found under Appendix R, at the end of last volume.]
SOME FURTHER ACCOUNT OF CHARLES L. WEBSTER & CO.
Flood-tide is a temporary condition, and the ebb in the business of Charles L. Webster & Co., though very deliberate, was not delayed in its beginning. Most of the books published--the early ones at least-were profitable. McClellan's memoirs paid, as did others of the war series.
Even The Life of Pope Leo XIII. paid. What a statement to make, after all their magnificent dreams and preparations! It was published simultaneously in six languages. It was exploited in every conceivable fashion, and its aggregate sales fell far short of the number which the general agents had promised for their first orders. It was amazing, it was incredible, but, alas! it was true. The prospective Catholic purchaser had decided that the Pope's Life was not necessary to his salvation or even to his entertainment. Howells explains it, to his own satisfaction at least, when he says:
We did not consider how often Catholics could not read, how often, when they could, they might not wish to read. The event proved that, whether they could read or not, the immeasurable majority did not wish to read The Life of the Pope, though it was written by a dignitary of the Church and issued to the world with sanction from the Vatican.
Howells, of course, is referring to the laboring Catholic of that day. There are no Catholics of this day--no American Catholics, at least--who do not read, and money among them has become plentiful. Perhaps had the Pope's Life been issued in this new hour of enlightenment the tale of its success might have been less sadly told.
A variety of books followed. Henry Ward Beecher agreed to write an autobiography, but he died just when he was beginning the work, and the biography, which his family put together, brought only a moderate return. A book of Sandwich Islands tales and legends, by his Hawaiian Majesty King Kalakaua, edited by Clemens's old friend, Rollin M. Daggett, who had become United States minister to the islands, barely paid for the cost of manufacture, while a volume of reminiscences by General Hancock was still less fortunate. The running expenses of the business were heavy. On the strength of the Grant success Webster had moved into still larger quarters at No. 3 East Fifteenth Street, and had a ground floor for a salesroom. The force had become numerous and costly. It was necessary that a book should pay largely to maintain this pretentious establishment. A number of books were published at a heavy loss. Never mind their titles; we may forget them, with the name of the bookkeeper who presently embezzled thirty thousand dollars of the firm's money and returned but a trifling sum.
By the end of 1887 there were three works in prospect on which great hopes were founded--'The Library of Humor', which Howells and Clark had edited; a personal memoir of General Sheridan's, and a Library of American Literature in ten volumes, compiled by Edmund Clarence Stedman and Ellen Mackay Hutchinson. It was believed these would restore the fortunes and the prestige of the firm. They were all excellent, attractive features. The Library of Humor was ably selected and contained two hundred choice drawings by Kemble. The Sheridan Memoir was finely written, and the public interest in it was bound to be general. The Library of American Literature was a collection of the best American writing, and seemed bound to appeal to every American reading-home. It was necessary to borrow most of the money required to build these books, for the profit made from the Grant Life and less fortunate ventures was pretty well exhausted. Clemens presently found a little drift of his notes accumulating at this bank and that--a disturbing condition, when he remembered it, for he was financing the typesetting machine by this time, and it was costing a pretty sum.