After dinner in Paris many months ago.
After cables from publisher to author and author to lawyer.
After phone calls from lawyer to publisher.
After numerous letters from author to lawyer to editors to publishers.
Finally, corporate attorney, supporter of artists and writers, John Quinn, 52, has managed to get Horace Liveright, 37, owner of Boni and Liveright publishing company, and Gilbert Seldes, 29, managing editor of The Dial magazine, sitting together here in his law office to work out who is going to be first to publish The Waste Land, the latest poem by T. S. Eliot, 33, living in London.
Liveright first expressed interest when he was introduced to Eliot by another American ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound, 36, in Paris over dinner at the beginning of the year.
They began corresponding and Liveright was interested in publishing the poem but concerned it wouldn’t be long enough to be a book on its own. Quinn wanted Eliot to add four or five more poems, but Eliot refused.
The Dial magazine has published Eliot’s poetry before, and he has been writing a “London Letter” column for them when he is feeling up to it.
Seldes and one of the owners, James Sibley Watson, Jr., 28, are both keen to have The Waste Land debut in The Dial. But the other owner, Scofield Thayer, 32, currently living in Vienna, is not impressed with Eliot or his work.
Eliot estimates that the finished poem will be 450 lines. Figuring 35 to 40 lines to a printed page, and standard payment of $10 per page for poetry, paid upon acceptance, and adding in a little extra, Thayer offered Eliot a generous $150. Eliot was not impressed. He cabled that he wanted $250.
Thayer hadn’t seen the poem yet but wrote to his staff that it might be a good thing if they don’t get to publish it. He’d rather publish classics like Edith Wharton, 60, who currently has a hit novel, The Glimpses of the Moon.
But Seldes is worried that he doesn’t have enough material for his upcoming issues, and so he wants to get this agreement nailed down.
Pound assured Thayer, by letter, that The Waste Land is Eliot’s best work. And he has pulled it off while working full-time at a bank and nursing a depressed wife.
Meanwhile, Liveright mailed Eliot a contract for publishing the book—and the poet didn’t like those terms either. He asked Quinn to negotiate for him, giving him power of attorney to make whatever decision he feels is best.
Quinn is happy to help because he likes Eliot. He’s not always begging Quinn for money the way Irish novelist James Joyce, 40, does.
Quinn received the typescript from Eliot at the end of July, read it, had it typed up professionally, and sent it over to Liveright—although at that point he couldn’t remember what the final title was—before leaving on a month-long vacation in the Adirondacks.
Now he is back in his office, well rested, facing the editor of the only magazine that wants to publish The Waste Land and the owner of the only book publishing company that wants to publish it.
Why has it taken so long?!
Quinn and Seldes convince Liveright that the best plan is to publish the poem in The Dial first, in the November issue which will be on newsstands around October 20th.
To entice Eliot, Seldes promises that the magazine will announce in the December issue that the poet will receive the second annual Dial award of $2,000, in addition to the regular fee of $150.
Boni and Liveright will then follow up with publication of The Waste Land as a book before the end of the year, with copious notes which Eliot is adding, that won’t be in the magazine version. They will pay him $150 upfront plus royalties.
The Dial also agrees to buy 350 copies of the $2 book version, at a 40% discount, to use as promotional items for subscribers, thereby guaranteeing that Boni and Liveright won’t lose money on the deal.
Everyone agrees to keep the news about the Dial prize a secret until it is officially announced in the magazine.
Then they all sign the agreement and go to lunch.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later in the year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.