September 30, 2012

Howells and Higginson: hitherto unbroken

William Dean Howells was just 30 years old when he became editor of The Atlantic Monthly and, immediately upon taking the role, found the pressures of the role at the distinguished magazine. For one, he often received contributions from friends and had the difficult task of deciding their merit as objectively as possible. Further, Howells was a westerner (from Ohio) who suddenly found himself among the New England literary elite. Five years into his editorship, he was still fighting for respect from some.

Such was the case with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who had been a regular contributor for years. When Howells hesitated on accepting one of his submissions, Higginson fired back in an angry letter dated September 30, 1871:

I would not on any account have you print anything of mine which you thought "well enough," so I have arranged for it elsewhere — with a regret you can hardly understand, as you have not, like me, written for but one literary magazine for thirteen years & felt identified with it.

Higginson also noted he had already "foolishly" withdrawn his payment for the article before it was even accepted, "relying on an experience hitherto unbroken." He went on: "I shall not make such a mistake again, & shall in the future count on merely business relation with the Atlantic." Further, he threatened, he would happily offer his writings elsewhere.

*Information from this post comes from William Dean Howells: The Development of a Novelist (1959) by George N. Bennett.

1 comment:

  1. Rejection hissy fit: undignified! The Atlantic published a fair percentage of piffle in its early years, and took wrong sides in certain scientific debates due to chummy Harvard connections with careless writers. Thanks for the interesting post!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.