The New York Times
20 May 1878

  The majority of authors and writers of every kind are notoriously poor, but if anybody prints a paragraph that any one of them has received $10,000, $20,000, or even $30,000 for a book of an ordinary sort, the paragraph is reproduced everywhere, and quite generally believed. The latest story of this kind going the rounds is that HARRIET BEECHER STOWE made $300,000 by Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Why not put the amount at $3,000,000? One set of figures is not more improbable than the other and not very much wider of the truth. Mrs. STOWE has never got over $25,000 to $30,000, say those in a position to be informed, from her great anti-slavery novel, although likely it has sold more largely in the time following its first publication than any work since the invention of printing. GEORGE ELIOT has been repeatedly credited with fabulous sums for her novels. She has been most handsomely paid, albeit her pay has been increased by gossip from five to ten fold. DICKENS would have left an estate worth millions if one tithe of the pen-earnings he has been charged with could have been substantiated. TENNYSON, princely as his compensation has been, has been treated niggardly by his publishers, compared with the reports circulated concerning it. VICTOR HUGO’S earnings—and some of his publishers have dealt so liberally with the poet that they lost heavily by him—have been so exaggerated that were they correct, he would be one of the richest citizens of France. TAINE, RENAN, DUMAS, FEUILLET, ANGIER, AUERBACH, SPEILHAGEN, COLLINS, READE, LONGFELLOW, EMERSON, LOWELL, HOLMES, if public rumor might be trusted, would be rolling in wealth. But it is not of the eminent poets, novelists, philosophers, and historians, alone that these fables are narrated. Authors of merely respectable talents and quite mediocre capacity have thousands accorded to them where they have not received hundreds, or perhaps nothing at all. Bookmaking is very profitable compared with what it once was, but still, it is, for the most part, the reverse of lucrative. The great majority of books do not get out of their first edition—usually 1,000 copies—and they that are reckoned as fair successes seldom yield to the authors more than $1,000. The man or woman who derives $3,000 or $4,000 from a work is exceptional; and they who render themselves independent by writing are the black swans of literature. The highest financial aim of most writers is to live by their calling; and how many of them fail!