He hummed and hawed

Once I thought the grandest thing in the world would be to write a
book. It appeared the acme of desire. To see one’s name on a cover, oh,
the joy of it! I trembled with fear and pride when that wondrous end
was attained. I almost took that first book to bed with me. I wasn’t
very old or very sedate, and so that little volume made me childish
with glee.

Well, I thought to myself, “I’ll never give away a single copy.
If anyone wants it they must get it from a library or spend
three-and-sixpence on it themselves.” I kept to my resolve, because
honestly afraid that if an utterly unknown young writer made presents
of her little venture, kind folk (!) would say she could not sell the
work, so distributed it amongst friends. A year or two afterwards, when
_A Girl’s Ride in Iceland_ had gone through two or three editions, and
appeared on the bookstalls at a shilling, then—but not till then—did
its author feel justified in sending presentation copies, with some
words and her name inscribed on the fly-leaf. This was not churlish,
but reasoned out. Cheap sales of goods mean deterioration; but cheap
editions of books denote the popularity of the originals. On that first
venture I received a ten per cent royalty.

And now after years of labour and experience, so many and great to me
are the hardships, the struggles, the worries, the endless detail and
annoyances of producing a book, that I always feel inclined to take off
my hat figuratively, or drop a curtsey, to every fellow-author.

Strange as it may seem, every volume of mine has caused me sleepless
nights of ever-increasing anxiety. _Hyde Park_, for instance, was
written twice over from cover to cover—a little matter of about a
hundred thousand words, re-arranged and practically rewritten.

I have generally worked myself into a perfect fever of anxiety by the
day of publication, and even when those kindly, delightful reviews
have appeared, my misery has not abated. Treated more than generously
by both critic and public, I have naught to complain of. I have made
far more money by my pen than I ever deserved—three hundred pounds
advance on a twenty-five per cent royalty, is “nae so bad,” as our
Northern friends would say. Columns of excellent reviews have appeared
in the best papers of many lands. Yet I know the anxiety of it all, the
rejection of articles, the return of “copy” from magazines, the weary,
weary waiting when weeks seem years, after one has worked at break-neck
speed; and although literature—no, I must not call anything I have
done by such a stupendous name—although writing is a feverish joy, it
is generally ill-paid, and the greater the rubbish, the more money
it brings in. It certainly has done so in everything I have written.
Serious work receives the least remuneration.

Major Martin Hume and other kind critics have told me I have “written
two books that will live.” All I can say is those books (the last two
on the list) have cost me ten times the work for less reward and much
less public acknowledgment than the others. Serious work may live, but
it seldom pays. Rubbish may pay, but it never lives.

Here is the list of thirteen books—the children of my pen—and various
editions and translations of these have been published. But the
newspaper and magazine articles number thousands, they cannot be
counted.

_A Girl’s Ride in Iceland._
_The Oberammergau Passion Play._ (Out of print.)
_A Winter Jaunt to Norway._
_Wilton, Q.C., or Life in a Highland Shooting Box._ (Out of print.)
_Danish versus English Butter-making._
_Through Finland in Carts._
_The First College for Women._ (Out of print.)
_George Harley, or the Life of a London Physician._
_Mexico as I saw It._
_Behind the Footlights._
_Sunny Sicily._
_Porfirio Diaz, Seven Times President of Mexico._
_Hyde Park, Its History and Romance._

So many people have asked me how a writer works or plans out a day,
that a sketch of an ordinary writer’s ordinary day may be of interest.

For years I have been called with a cup of tea at seven o’clock.
Between then and getting up, thoughts have chased one another in quick
succession. As a composer composes without a piano, so a writer writes
without a pen. It is the thinking that does it. The arranging of facts
and settling the sequence of events. It is the length of a book that
wears one out, the necessity of keeping up the interest and working up
to some definite end.

Breakfast at half-past eight, and a glance at the papers. To the
kitchen as the clock struck nine, and then, every order given for the
day, the flowers arranged, and so on. Nine-thirty heralded the arrival
of my secretary, and from then till luncheon I was a hard-working
woman. After luncheon, I could afford to be a “laidy,” not before.

At one time I had three secretaries, one Spanish and two English, and
kept them all busy. On other occasions, I perforce worked ten hours a
day. But as a rule four to five hours’ steady grind accomplished all
that was necessary. One can do an immense amount in that time if one
sticks to it.

It is fairly easy to give advice on how to write for the papers:
journalism can be taught as a school task to a great extent, but with
books it is different. We all have to serve our apprenticeship for
ourselves, to learn how to balance our subject, to work out our theme,
and finally to make a readable volume. It seems to me book-making is
more a gift than anything else. Artists learn to draw, but they never
learn to paint. Colour is an inspiration. Drawing requires work. The
same applies to a book. We can all learn the mechanical part; but I
don’t honestly think that anyone can write a book that people will
read, unless they have some special gift that way. Books must be
individual.

All this perhaps sounds pedantic, but the dozens and dozens of young
men and women, who have written to me asking for advice, show how many,
from milk-maids to hotel-lift boys, are interested in the subject.
People, who can neither write nor spell, have strange ideas that God
has sent them special literary powers, and hope to sit on the top of
the ladder of fame without putting a foot on the bottom rung. ’Tis a
laborious ladder to climb in all the arts; but it has its rewards.
Public praise counts for little, the real pleasure is the knowledge
within ourselves that we have given of our best. It does not satisfy;
but it pleases.

To produce a book or a picture is a stupendous effort. It claims all
the power of thought and of concentration that is in us. It demands
enthusiasm, determination, the conquest of idleness and self. We may
not produce a great book or a great picture, but it is our supremest
effort at that time, and when done, we feel like a squeezed lemon.

“Writers are so dull,” is a frequent remark. So they may well be—at
times. So are artists, or musicians, or any creative workers. Their
life’s blood is given to their work.

Another saddening result of giving one’s self wholly (as a worker
should) to a task until success crowns one’s efforts is that it often
arouses the envy of onlookers, and mostly of those who would not take
the least trouble to compete.

Yes: it is fairly certain that the more one achieves in any walk of
life, the more jealousy one encounters. A pretty woman is called
hideous by some; a woman with charm—that indefinable attraction we all
love—is dubbed a minx. Brilliant wit calls forth much condemnation.
Success of work and brain is belittled by the envious. So while nothing
succeeds like success, no one makes more enemies than the one who wins.

Every little victory brings a new enemy. When one hears the “catty”
things people say, one can but wonder what catty things are said about
one’s self. People say malicious things, suggest improprieties without
foundation, assert motives that have never been born. In fact, Society
is often cruel and hard. It eats and drinks too much, gets overwrought
and tired, and says nasty things it does not mean.

The life of many an ordinary Society man or woman is despicable. They
are the people who are “too busy” to do anything useful, whose lives
are no good to anyone, and therefore boring to themselves.

Better work and be busy with something tangible, than idle life away in
social dissipation. Yet how good and kind and generous most people are,
and how hard many of them work for the good of others!

The vicissitudes of writers are many. I once suffered the loss in the
post of an entire chapter of a manuscript. That missing link never
turned up, and as I stupidly had kept no copy, while the rough notes
thereof were of the roughest order, it was considerably difficult to
rewrite the passages; indeed, impossible to remember the exact details
of what the missing fragment formerly contained. Oh, the exasperation
of it!—it was a thankless, dreary task.

How on earth Carlyle ever wrote his _French Revolution_ over again is
a marvel which fills me with admiration, whenever anything brings back
the memory of all that labour which the second edition of that silly
little chapter of an ordinary book cost me.

Work, too, is often wasted. Full of enthusiasm, after a peep at the
gorgeous Eastern life on my return from Morocco in the ’nineties, I
started a novel, which was nearly completed when the agent discovered
there was already a somewhat similar book on the market. The appended
letters speak for themselves and show the generosity of a man like
Grant Allen in replying to a young and almost unknown author:

“DEAR MR. GRANT ALLEN,

“I am much distressed! I was in Morocco this spring, and took
copious notes, which I have since been busily writing up into a
story, now nearing completion.

“Telling the plot to my host the other night, he exclaimed, ‘That
is very like Grant Allen’s _Tents of Shem_.’ He found the book, and
I have just read it, and put it down feeling very sad.




“You make English characters play the drama in Algiers, I do the
same in Tangier.

“You have a naturalist, F.R.S.; I have a Science Professor from
Cambridge.

“A Moorish girl falls in love with an Englishman.

“A Moorish man falls in love with my heroine.

“Indeed, the similarity of idea is in many ways extraordinary. I
don’t see what to do unless I rewrite the whole thing, the work of
some months, and even then, your story is splendid and your name
famous; mine is simple and my name more or less obscure.

“It is altogether very disquieting.

“Being an author yourself, I felt I must tell you of my woes.”

“MY DEAR MADAM,

“I really don’t think you need trouble yourself excessively. Pretty
much the same thing has happened to most of us—myself included.
Besides, the number of people who have read _The Tents of Shem_ is
not so very great; nor did the book make stir enough to be well
remembered by reviewers. My advice to you would be, go on and
publish, and you will probably find nobody else is struck by the
undesigned coincidence. Nor does it seem to me, from what you say,
to be particularly close. If you will kindly send me a copy of
your book when it appears, I will try to prevent any suggestions
by reviewing it myself (if editors will permit me) over my own
signature. If _I_ am not struck by the supposed resemblance, nobody
else need be. One little hint: don’t say anything about it to the
publisher to whom you offer the book; never anticipate possible
objections; ten to one, if _you_ don’t, nobody else will raise them.

“Yours very faithful,

“GRANT ALLEN.

“Writers’ cramp, not discourtesy, compels typewriting. My right
hand is useless, and even this machine I work with my left only.”

Still, that book was never finished. I had lost heart.

The same thing happened again in regard to a play in 1907. Everyone
seemed to be making vast sums by writing plays and naturally an
energetic woman wished to have a shot, too. I sketched out a most
elaborate plot, laid partly in England and partly in America, and was
brimming over with enthusiasm about it. Then I went gaily to the first
night of Sutro’s play, _John Glayde’s Honour_, at the St. James’s
Theatre, and lo and behold, the whole of my story unfolded itself on
the stage.

Sutro’s play ran for about a year. Mine was never completed.

After one has passed the critical age of twenty—I say critical, as
many a man and woman have made or marred their future by that time—the
love of books, the real honest pleasure of reading, the insatiable
craving for knowledge takes fast hold of us, and we begin to realise,
as we study even one single subject, what a vast field lies open before
us. Unfortunately, the enormous number of cheap newspapers that have
appeared on every side within the last few years have done much to
interfere with more profound reading; but it is quite unnecessary for
this to be the case, for there ought to be time for both. Newspapers
are excellent amusement, and sometimes afford much information in odd
moments, such as on journeys by train, or long rides in omnibuses, and
at other periods of the day’s existence. But there are the evenings,
and unless people are professionally engaged during that time, there
is no greater pleasure or amusement than in the perusal of some sound
book. Literature is so cheap nowadays, that it is within the scope of
everyone.

Besides, what a great field is Literature! A vast mass of education can
be gleaned from the pleasantest reading. It is a poor book, indeed,
from which we can obtain neither amusement nor instruction.

It is strange how even a humble writer like myself gets quoted; more
often than not, without payment or acknowledgment. A certain well-known
author wrote a book which was literally a réchauffé of one of mine;
but beyond my name appearing in the preface as “one of the works
consulted,” no further acknowledgment was made. Whole articles have
appeared with new headlines. Pages and pages have been embodied in
other people’s work without any acknowledgment whatever.

I remember two instances, however, where I was most graciously asked
for the right of reproduction. I say “graciously” advisedly, because
I should never have seen the publications, and never have known the
articles were used.

One was a letter from the head teacher of the great Military College
near Berlin, Lichtenfelde, who asked if an article on Mexico might be
used in the new _English Reading-book_, then in preparation for the
students.

The other was a request for permission to transcribe an article on the
_Silent Sisterhood_ at Biarritz into Braille for the blind. That again
was a thing I should never have been likely to come across.

Speaking of translations reminds me of the lack of emancipation of
Germany as recently as Christmas, 1906. _Porfirio Diaz_ had just been
translated. It was being well advertised and well reviewed, all the
result, probably, of a long article that had appeared a few months
before in the _Preussische Jahrbücher_, the leading political magazine
of the Fatherland, which had suggested that the book was of such value
they hoped to see a German translation.

Having many friends in Germany, I thought I would go over for a month,
let my boys join me for Christmas at Bonn, where we would visit Dr. von
Rottenburg (mentioned in an earlier chapter), and afterwards snow-shoe
and skate in the Thüringian Mountains.

On my dressing-table when I arrived in Berlin was a copy of _Diaz_,
with the publisher’s compliments. It was charmingly and most
artistically got up, and what cost a guinea here was only twelve
shillings there.

But I at once noticed the name attached was _Alec Tweedie_. There was
no “Mrs.” nor “Frau.” I peeped inside. Again the man’s name, without
the feminine prefix.

Next morning my esteemed publisher, who represented one of the most
important houses in Germany, called to make my acquaintance.

I congratulated him on the get-up of the book, and the excellent
translation. “But why,” I said, “did you put ‘Alec Tweedie’ on the
volume without a prefix?”

He hummed and hawed.

“That is a man’s name,” I continued, “my husband’s name, and I am a
woman.”

“That is true, Gnädige Frau, we preferred to put a man’s name on the
cover. You see a big historical, biographical work like that with a
woman’s name upon it would be seriously handicapped in Germany. Fifty
years ago, aye, twenty years ago in England, you women were hiding
your identity under the manly names of George Eliot, George Trafford,
George anything. Well, we are still in that condition in Germany, not
as regards novels, but as regards more serious work.”

True, O publisher, and yet with all this female emancipation, with all
the _Reform Kleider_ which stand for advancement in Germany, it really
was amusing.

Five years later the girls of the Fatherland were reading risky books
and taken to see risky plays, such was the rapidity with which the
pendulum of ultra-propriety swung the other way.

You may also like