The Collected Letters, Volume 4


TC TO WILLIAM TAIT; 3 October 1826; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18261003-TC-WT-01; CL 4:145-146.


Scotsbrig 3d October 1826—

My Dear Sir,

I yesterday received your letter, the contents of which did not fail to surprise me. Far from suspecting that the Book fell short of the size you expected, I had actually used considerable exertions to contract it in bulk (that I might save printing), and I may truly say, at least of the 3d and 4th volumes, that I could with less labour have made them fifty pages longer each, than of their present size. The Italian Nove[ll]ists1 I had not thought it necessary to consult more than very vaguely; and here in my seclusion, I recollected only that in our primary verbal agreement, you spoke of 350 pages (of these Novellists), of two volumes of a Waverl[e]y Novel, and one of Wilhelm Meister, as about the size we had to aim at,—and generally that quality much more than quantity was to be my object. This measure of 350 pages I find accordingly that, without much attending to it, I have actually come within 24 of, or 6 pages per volume (as you will see by allowing for the additional line); and as to Wilhelm Meister, which makes three very handsome volumes at 10/6 each, we have considerably more pages here (only the paper is thinner), and I believe between ⅓ and ¼ more matter. The Italian Novellists I understood to be our precursor and suggester, not our pattern or ideal; and I hope our Book will be found to differ from it in many particulars besides size.

Nevertheless, true it is, the Italian Novellists stands mentioned in the minute of agreement; and if books are to be estimated, like various other manufacted products, by weight and measure, I have failed in executing the spirit of my engagement, by twenty-four pages; and the letter of it by a considerably larger quantity. True it is, also, that these volumes look excessively thin and meagre; nay that within their long lank sides, two might very handsomely be contained in one. For this, however, Mr Cowan2 has to answer equally with me, and I am sure not more innocently.

The great question next comes: What is to be done? If you insist upon it, I can very easily supply you with letter-press to the required amount (I have 100 good pages lying by me translated at this moment, and before rejected), to be appended to the 2nd and 3d volumes, especially the latter; a process which will cost us nothing more than the loss of the last leaf in each of the last sheets in those volumes, and some detriment to the unity of the work; an encumbrance with which, I suspect, the Editor of the It. Nov. has not been much fettered in his proceedings. Or I have another plan, which I reckon better, and which is certainly far cheaper:

The 3d volume (that containing Richter) looks much the worst, containing only 309 pages: I will subjoin to it an Appendix containing farther particulars of Richter's Life (learned since the first part of that volume was printed) to the extent of some sheet and a half or so; and thereby make the 3d as large as any of its predecessors. This I think much the better way: for this Appendix was a thing I had partly resolved upon before, and given up from fear of wanting room; and this addition would make the whole 4 volumes look alike—all that we can do for them; since no addition that we can possibly have any right to will ever make them look thick.

Now I beg you to choose between these two: either of them I can easily accomplish; the former more easily; the latter with much more cheer— [incomplete]3