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- Taken Alive - 5/66 -


true or not, I knew in any case that the critics themselves would eat my strawberries; so I made the culture of small fruits the second string to my bow. This business speedily took the form of growing plants for sale, and was developing rapidly, when financial misfortune led to my failure and the devotion of my entire time to writing. Perhaps it was just as well in the end, for my health was being undermined by too great and conflicting demands on my energy. In 1878, at Dr. Holland's request, I wrote a series of papers on small fruits for "Scribner's Magazine"--papers that were expanded into a book entitled "Success with Small Fruits." I now aim merely at an abundant home supply of fruits and vegetables, but in securing this, find pleasure and profit in testing the many varieties catalogued and offered by nurserymen and seedsmen. About three years ago the editor of "Harper's Magazine" asked me to write one or two papers entitled "One Acre," telling its possessor how to make the most and best of it. When entering on the task, I found there was more in it than I had at first supposed. Changing the title to "The Home Acre," I decided to write a book or manual which might be useful in many rural homes. There are those who have neither time nor inclination to read the volumes and journals devoted to horticulture, who yet have gardens and trees in which they are interested. They wish to learn in the shortest, clearest way just what to do in order to secure success, without going into theories, whys, and wherefores, or concerning themselves with the higher mysteries of garden-lore. This work is now in course of preparation. In brief, my aim is to have the book grow out of actual experience, and not merely my own, either. As far as possible, well-known experts and authorities are consulted on every point. As a natural consequence, the book is growing, like the plants to which it relates. It cannot be written "offhand" or finished "on time" to suit any one except Dame Nature, who, being feminine, is often inscrutable and apparently capricious. The experience of one season is often reversed in the next, and the guide in gardening of whom I am most afraid is the man who is always sure he is right. It was my privilege to have the late Mr. Charles Downing as one of my teachers, and well do I remember how that honest, sagacious, yet docile student of nature would "put on the brakes" when I was passing too rapidly to conclusions. It has always been one of my most cherished purposes to interest people in the cultivation of the soil and rural life. My effort is to "boil down" information to the simplest and most practical form. Last spring, hundreds of varieties of vegetables and small fruits were planted. A carefully written record is being kept from the time of planting until the crop is gathered.

My methods of work are briefly these: I go into my study immediately after breakfast--usually about nine o'clock--and write or study until three or four in the afternoon, stopping only for a light lunch. In the early morning and late afternoon I go around my place, giving directions to the men, and observing the condition of vegetables, flowers, and trees, and the general aspect of nature at the time. After dinner, the evening is devoted to the family, friends, newspapers, and light reading. In former years I wrote at night, but after a severe attack of insomnia this practice was almost wholly abandoned. As a rule, the greater part of a year is absorbed in the production of a novel, and I am often gathering material for several years in advance of writing.

For manuscript purposes I use bound blankbooks of cheap paper. My sheets are thus kept securely together and in place--important considerations in view of the gales often blowing through my study and the habits of a careless man. This method offers peculiar advantages for interpolation, as there is always a blank page opposite the one on which I am writing. After correcting the manuscript, it is put in typewriting and again revised. There are also two revisions of the proof. While I do not shirk the tasks which approach closely to drudgery, especially since my eyesight is not so good as it was, I also obtain expert assistance. I find that when a page has become very familiar and I am rather tired of it, my mind wanders from the close, fixed attention essential to the best use of words. Perhaps few are endowed with both the inventive and the critical faculty. A certain inner sense enables one to know, according to his lights, whether the story itself is true or false; but elegance of style is due chiefly to training, to a cultivation like that of the ear for music. Possibly we are entering on an age in which the people care less for form, for phraseology, than for what seems to them true, real--for what, as they would express it, "takes hold of them." This is no plea or excuse for careless work, but rather a suggestion that the day of prolix, fine, flowery writing is passing. The immense number of well-written books in circulation has made success with careless, slovenly manuscripts impossible. Publishers and editors will not even read, much less publish them. Simplicity, lucidity, strength, a plunge in medias res, are now the qualities and conditions chiefly desired, rather than finely turned sentences in which it is apparent more labor has been expended on the vehicle than on what it contains. The questions of this eager age are, What has he to say? Does it interest us? As an author, I have felt that my only chance of gaining and keeping the attention of men and women was to know, to understand them, to feel with and for them in what constituted their life. Failing to do this, why should a line of my books be read? Who reads a modern novel from sense of duty? There are classics which all must read and pretend to enjoy whether capable of doing so or not. No critic has ever been so daft as to call any of my books a classic. Better books are unread because the writer is not en rapport with the reader. The time has passed when either the theologian, the politician, or the critic can take the American citizen metaphorically by the shoulder and send him along the path in which they think he should go. He has become the most independent being in the world, good-humoredly tolerant of the beliefs and fancies of others, while reserving, as a matter of course, the right to think for himself.

In appealing to the intelligent American public, choosing for itself among the multitude of books now offered, it is my creed that an author should maintain completely and thoroughly his own individuality, and take the consequences. He cannot conjure strongly by imitating any one, or by representing any school or fashion. He must do his work conscientiously, for his readers know by instinct whether or not they are treated seriously and with respect. Above all, he must understand men and women sufficiently to interest them; for all the "powers that be" cannot compel them to read a book they do not like.

My early experience in respect to my books in the British Dominions has been similar to that of many others. My first stories were taken by one or more publishers without saying "by your leave," and no returns made of any kind. As time passed, Messrs. Ward, Locke & Co., more than any other house, showed a disposition to treat me fairly. Increasing sums were given for successive books. Recently Mr. George Locke visited me, and offered liberal compensation for each new novel. He also agreed to give me five per cent copyright on all my old books published by him, no matter how obtained, in some instances revoking agreements which precluded the making of any such request on my part. In the case of many of these books he has no protection, for they are published by others; but he takes the simple ground that he will not sell any of my books without giving me a share in the profit. Such honorable action should tend to make piracy more odious than ever, on both sides of the sea. Other English firms have offered me the usual royalty, and I now believe that in spite of our House of Mis-Representatives at Washington, the majority of the British publishers are disposed to deal justly and honorably by American writers. In my opinion, the LOWER House in Congress has libelled and slandered the American people by acting as if their constituents, with thievish instincts, chuckled over pennies saved when buying pirated books. This great, rich, prosperous nation has been made a "fence," a receiver of stolen goods, and shamelessly committed to the crime for which poor wretches are sent to jail. Truly, when history is written, and it is learned that the whole power and statesmanship of the government were enlisted in behalf of the pork interest, while the literature of the country and the literary class were contemptuously ignored, it may be that the present period will become known as the Pork Era of the Republic. It is a strange fact that English publishers are recognizing our rights in advance of our own lawmakers.

In relating his experience in the pages of this magazine, Mr. Julian Hawthorne said in effect that one of the best rewards of the literary life was the friends it enabled the writer to make. When giving me his friendship, he proved how true this is. In my experience the literary class make good, genial, honest friends, while their keen, alert minds and knowledge of life in many of its most interesting aspects give an unfailing charm to their society. One can maintain the most cordial and intimate relations with editors of magazines and journals if he will recognize that such relations should have no influence whatever in the acceptance or declination of manuscripts. I am constantly receiving letters from literary aspirants who appear to think that if I will use a little influence their stories or papers would be taken and paid for. I have no such influence, nor do I wish any, in regard to my own work. The conscientious editor's first duty is to his periodical and its constituents, and he would and should be more scrupulous in accepting a manuscript from a friend than from a stranger. To show resentment because a manuscript is returned is absurd, however great may be our disappointment.

Perhaps one of the most perplexing and often painful experiences of an author comes from the appeals of those who hope through him to obtain immediate recognition as writers. One is asked to read manuscripts and commend them to publishers, or at least to give an opinion in regard to them, often to revise or even to rewrite certain portions. I remember that during one month I was asked to do work on the manuscripts of strangers that would require about a year of my time. The maker of such request does not realize that he or she is but one among many, and that the poor author would have to abandon all hope of supporting his family if he tried to comply. The majority who thus appeal to one know next to nothing of the literary life or the conditions of success. They write to the author in perfect good faith, often relating circumstances which touch his sympathies; yet if you tell them the truth about their manuscript, or say you have not time to read it, adding that you have no influence with editors or publishers beyond securing a careful examination of what is written, you feel that you are often set down as a churl, and your inability to comply with their wishes is regarded as the selfishness and arrogance of success. The worried author has also his own compunctions, for while he has tried so often and vainly to secure the recognition requested, till he is in despair of such effort, he still is haunted by the fear that he may overlook some genius whom it would be a delight to guide through what seems a thorny jungle to the inexperienced.

In recalling the past, one remembers when he stood in such sore need of friends that he dislikes even the appearance of passing by on the other side. There are no riches in the world like stanch friends who prove themselves to be such in your need, your adversity, or your weakness. I have some treasured letters received after it had been telegraphed throughout the land that I was a bankrupt and had found myself many thousands of dollars


Taken Alive - 5/66

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