Henry Vizetelly's Account of the Bringing Out of the First English Edition
It must have been in April, 1852, that I brought out in conjunction with Salisbury, the printer, and Clarke, who bound the volumes, the first edition published in England of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's world-famous romance, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." A year or two ago I found it necessary to tell the history of this reprint in a letter to The Literary World, the principal passages of which may here be quoted:
"I fail to see that any particular honor or merit is due to the person who first introduced 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' to the English public; still it may be as well to correct the misstatements contained in the letter you have published signed Charles M. Clarke, who, if born at the time the incidents occurred, of which he speaks so positively from his own personal knowledge, could only have been a baby in long clothes, or, at most, a little boy in knickerbockers.
"The true circumstances connected with the issue of the English reprint of the book are these: In the first place, no advance copy of the work was submitted to any London publisher; but Mr. Bogue received an ordinary copy of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' from a young man in Putnam's New York house, accompanied by a letter stating that the book was selling rapidly in the States, and suggesting that Mr. Bogue should reprint it and send him a trifle for his pains. Mr. Bogue, however, not caring to embark in cheap reprints of American authors, offered me the work for my series of 'Readable Books.'
"The American edition of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' being in two stout volumes, I hesitated to run the risk of issuing the work at a shilling, and while I was considering what to do with it I received a visit from Messrs. Salisbury and Clarke, who, being well aware of the great success of the Readable Books Series, were constantly bothering me to suggest some further literary venture, which would provide work for their establishments and might be undertaken in partnership. To get rid of their importunities, I offered them to join with me in reprinting 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and it was agreed to produce an edition of the book on shares, each of us being responsible for a third of the cost.
"Mrs. Stowe's second title, 'Life Among the Lowly,' was changed by me to 'Negro Life in the Slave States of America,' and a writer, then little known, but who is now widely appreciated, both as journalist and essayist, wrote a preface to the work for the modest sum of 2 guineas. The book was printed crown octavo size, and the price was half a crown.
"Although well advertised, the volume—of which 2, 500 copies had been printed—proved a failure, but a rather singular circumstance contributed to its eventual success. In the Readable Books Series I had reprinted Curtis's 'Nile Notes,' much to the annoyance of Mr. Richard Bentley, who had a half-guinea edition of the work. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' being advertised with both my own and Clarke's imprint, Mr. Bentley, by way of retaliation against me, I imagine, announced a shilling edition of the book.
With a view of checkmating him, I had a cover printed with 'Price one shilling' on it, and got Clarke to do up a copy of our edition in paper boards, trimming it as near to a foolscap octavo as could be managed. I then sent the volume to Mr. Bentley, with my compliments, and a notification that the accompanying shilling edition of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was on the eve of publication. This induced Mr. Bentley to hold his hand, and as there was scarcely any sale for the book at half a crown in cloth, it was determined to work off the remaining sheets in paper boards at a shilling.
"Shortly after this had been decided upon I went abroad with Mr. Birket Foster, and was absent for two or three months. On my return I found that 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' had been and still was the book which everybody was reading and talking about. After a reasonable delay I applied to Clarke for an account of the sales, when he referred me to Salisbury and Mr. S. O. Beeton, who, in the interim had joined Clarke and Salisbury in partnership.
"These gentlemen laughed at the idea of my asking for an account, told me that during my absence abroad they had paid my clerk for the work I had done in connection with the volume, and had also repaid to him the 5 pounds which had been forwarded to Putnam's young man, and that they declined to recognize me any further in the matter.
"I made short work of this impudent repudiation, told them I would give them a few hours to decide what they would do, but that if I did not receive a satisfactory proposal by noon, next day, I would at once file a bill in Chancery for an account.
At 11 o'clock the following morning, Mr. S. O. Beeton called upon me, and offered me first 200 pounds, and then 300, provided I would waive an account. I replied that the extremest sum I had ever hoped to make out of my share of the 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' reprint was 500 pounds, and that after the dishonorable way in which I had been treated, I was determined not to accept a penny less. Before the day expired I received the acceptance of Clarke, Salisbury and Beeton for the sum in question, and my connection with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' thereupon ceased."