THE early readers of The Atlantic Monthly will permit me, as an acquaintance of long standing, to speak freely with them from its pages, and, as it were, face to face. They have met me often : sometimes in my avowed personality; sometimes under a transparent mask, which might be a shield, but could not be a disguise.
Twenty-five years ago I introduced myself to them, in the first number of this magazine, as The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. Twenty-five years before that time, under the same title, in the pages of the New England Magazine, I had asked the public to sit down with me at my morning refection. I should blush to think of the entertainment to which I invited the readers of that earlier periodical, had I not learned charity to myself in noting the errors of taste and judgment of other young writers, often subjecting them to pitiless criticism as the reward of their first efforts. The second board was spread more satisfactorily to the entertainer, and, I have a right to believe, to the guests. This, then, is the silver anniversary year of my wedding with the Muse of the Monthlies, and the golden anniversary year of my betrothal, if I may look upon those earlier papers as a pledge of future alliance.
During the larger part of this long period my time has been in great measure occupied with other duties. I never forgot the advice of Coleridge, that a literary man should have a regular calling. I may say, in passing, that I have often given this advice to others, and too often wished I could supplement it with the words and confine himself to it. For authorship, and especially poetical authorship, is one of the commonest signs of mental weakness, for which the best tonic is found in steady occupation, — professional, mechanical, or other, — some daily task, fairly compensated, useful, habitual, and therefore largely automatic, and thus economical of the slender intellectual endowments and limited vital resources which are so very frequently observed in association with typomania.
The time has come in which I have felt it best to resign to younger hands the duties of the Professorship I have held for more than the years of one generation. I hope, while not forgetting the natural laws, which hint to me and my coevals, as they whispered to Emerson,
To take in sail,”
— I hope, I say (for who can promise, at such a stage of life ?), to find increased leisure for these pages, to which more than any others I am accustomed. There must be some spare hours, and may be some residual energy, at my disposal, now that the lecture-room, which has known me so long, is to know me no more.
Let me venture to say something of the experiences I have had as a writer since I began a new literary career with the first number of this magazine.
I cannot deny that the kindness with which my contributions to this periodical have been received has proved a great source of gratification to me, — more than I could have expected or was prepared for. When I sat down to write the first paper I sent to The Atlantic Monthly, I felt somewhat as a maiden of more than mature efflorescence may he supposed to feel as she paces down the broad aisle, in her bridal veil and with her wreath of orange-blossoms. I had written little of late years. I was at that time older than Goldsmith was when he died; and Goldsmith, as Dr. Johnson said, was a plant that flowered late. A new generation had grown up since X had written the verses by which, if remembered at all, I was best known. I honestly feared that T might prove the superfluous veteran who has no business behind the footlights. I can as honestly say that it turned out otherwise; I was most kindly welcomed.
And now I am looking back on that far-off time as the period, I will not say of youth, — for I was close upon the five-barred gate of the cinquantaine, though I had not yet taken the leap, — but of marrowy and vigorous manhood. Those were the days of unaided vision, of acute hearing, of alert movements, of feelings almost boyish in their vivacity. It is a long cry from the end of the second quarter of a century in a man’s life to the end of the third quarter. His companions have fallen all around him, and he finds himself in a newly peopled world. His mental furnishing looks old-fashioned and faded to the generation which is crowding about him, with its new patterns and its fresh colors. Shall he throw open his apartments to visitors, or is it not wiser to live on his memories in a decorous privacy, and not risk himself before the keen young eyes and relentless judgment of the new-comers, who have grown up in strength and self-reliance while he has been losing force and confidence ?
If that feeling came over me a quarter of a century ago, it is not strange that it comes back upon me now. Having laid down the burden which for more than thirty-five years I have carried cheerfully, I might naturally seek the quiet of my chimney corner, and purr away the twilight of my life unheard beyond the circle about my own fire-place. But when I see what my living contemporaries are doing, I am shamed out of absolute inertness and silence. The men of my birth-year are so painfully industrious at this very time that one of the same date hardly dares to be idle. I look across the Atlantic, and see Mr. Gladstone, only four months younger than myself, standing erect with Patrick’s grievances on one shoulder and Pharaoh’s pyramids on the other, — an Atlas whose intervals of repose are paroxysms of learned labor; I listen to Tennyson, another birth of the same year, filling the air with melody long after the singing months of life’s summer are over; I come nearer home, and here is my very dear friend and college classmate, so certain to be in every good movement with voice, or pen, or both, that where two or three are gathered together for useful ends, if James Freeman Clarke is not there, it is because he is busy with a book or a discourse meant for a larger audience; I glance at the placards on the blank wall I am passing, and there I see the colossal head of Barnum, the untiring, inexhaustible, insuperable, ever triumphant and jubilant Barnum, who came to his atmospheric life less than a year after I began breathing the fatal mixture, and still wages Titanic battle with his own past superlatives. How can one dare to sit down inactive, with such examples before him ? One must do something, were it nothing more profitable than the work of that dear old Penelope, of almost ninety years, whom I so well remember, hemming over and over again the same piece of linen, her attendant’s scissors removing each day’s work at evening ; herself, meantime, being kindly nursed in the illusion that she was still the useful Martha of the household.
Some of my earlier friends, possibly some of my newer and younger ones, may like to get a lesson or two from the record of a writer who has been fortunate enough to secure a considerably extended circle of readers. The schooling he has had will recall to many brother and sister authors what they themselves have been through, and will show those who are beginning a life of authorship what may come to them by and by.
An author may interest his public by his work, or by his personality, or by both. A great mathematician or metaphysician may be lost sight of in his own intellectual wealth, as a great capitalist becomes at last the mere appendage of his far more important millions. There is, on the other hand, a class of writers whose individuality is the one thing we care about. The world could get along without their help, but it wants their company. We are not so very curious about the details of the life of Gauss, but we do want to know a good deal about Richter. Sir William Rowan Hamilton invented, or developed, the doctrine of quaternions ; but we do not care very particularly about his domestic annals, the migrations from the blue bed ” to the brown, and the rest. But poor, dear Charles Lamb, — we can hardly withhold the pitying epithet, since the rough Scotchman brought up against him, as one of his own kale-pots might have shivered a quaint and precious amphora, — poor, dear Charles, — he did not invent any grand formula, be certainly had not the lever of Archimedes, but be had a personality which was quite apart from that of all average humanity, and he is adopted as one of the pleasantest inmates of memory. It is enough to say of many men that they are interesting. And we are content to say of many others that they are useful, virtuous, praiseworthy, illustrious, even, by what they have achieved, but uninteresting, and we do not greatly care to hear anything about them apart from their work.
Nobody is interesting to all the world. An author who is spoken of as universally admired will find, if he is foolish enough to inquire, that there are not wanting intelligent persons who are indifferent to him, nor yet those who have a special and emphatic dislike to him. If there were another Homer, there would be another Homeroraastix. An author should know that the very characteristics which make him the object of admiration to many, and endear him to some among them, will render him an object of dislike to a certain number of individuals of equal, it may be of superior, intelligence. Doubtless God never made a better berry than the strawberry, yet it is a poison to a considerable number of persons. There are those who dislike the fragrance of the water-lily, and those in whom the smell of a rose produces a series of those convulsions known as sneezes. He (or she) who ventures into authorship must expect to encounter occasional instances of just such antipathy, of which he and all that he does are the subjects. Let him take it patiently. What is thus out of accord with the temperament or the mood of his critic may not be blamable; nay, it may be excellent. But Zoilus does not like it or the writer, — the reason why he cannot tell, perhaps, but he does not like either ; and he is in his rights, and the author must sit still and let the critic play off his idiosyncrasies against his own.
There is a converse to all this, which it is much pleasanter to contemplate and to experience. Let us suppose an author to have some distinguishing personal quality, which shows itself in what he writes, and by which he is known from all other writers. There will be individuals — they may be few, they may be many — who will so instantly recognize, so eagerly accept, so warmly adopt, even so devoutly idolize, the writer in question that self-love itself, dulled as its palate is by the hot spices of praise, draws back overcome by the burning stimulants of adoration. I was told, not long since, by one of our most justly admired authoresses, that a correspondent wrote to her that she had read one of her stories fourteen times in succession.
There is a meaning, and a deep one, in these elective affinities. Most things which we call odd are even in the economy of nature. Each personality is more or less completely the complement of some other : of some one, perhaps, exactly ; of others nearly enough to have a special significance for them. A reader is frequently ignorant of what he wants until he happens to fall in with the writer who has the complemeutary element of which he is in need. Then he finds the nourishment he wanted in the intellectual or spiritual food before him, or has his failing appetite revived by the stimulus of a mind more highly vitalized than his own. The sailor who has fed on salted provisions until he is half crystallized wreaks his hunger upon a fresh potato as if it were a fruit of the tree of life. The dumb cattle who feel their blood getting watery make for the salt-licks, and season their diluted fluids. So with many readers : they find new life in the essay or poem which the reviewer, treating de hunt en has, as is his wont, has condemned from his lofty eminence, in reality only because it was not of the kind that his own need, if he felt any gap in his omniscience, called for. An epicure might as well find fault with the sailor’s potato because it was not properly cooked, — in fact, not cooked at all ; or order the herds to he driven from the salt-lick, because it was not a succulent pasture.
It should never he forgotten by the critic that every grade of mental development demands a literature of its own ; a little above its level, that it may be lifted to a higher grade, but not too much above it, so that it requires too long a stride, — a stairway, not a steep wall to climb. The true critic is not the sharp captator verborum ; not the brisk epigrammatist, showing off his own cleverness, always trying to outflank the author against whom he has arrayed his wits and his learning. He is a man who knows the real wants of the reading world, and can prize at their just value the writings which meet those wants. I remember, many years ago, happening to speak, before a certain clergyman, of the great convenience I had found in having Mrs. Cowden Clarke’s Concordance to the plays of Shakespeare always at hand. He spoke scornfully, naso adunco, of the poor creature who could require an index to such familiar productions. No doubt he remembered every line and every word of the distinguished author, — at least it was fair to presume so, — but there are some who might not feel quite certain about every passage, and would not be ashamed to consult the volume he could dispense with. The organs of criticism swarm with just such prigs and pretenders, and the young author must be prepared to run the gauntlet through a double row of them. Happy for him if he can keep his temper, and profit by their rough handling; satisfy them he never can.
In spite of the positive verdicts of the soundest criticism, we must not forget that each individual has always his right of peremptory challenge, his right to like or dislike, for the simple reason that he is what he is, and none other. The writer who attains a certain measure of popularity, so as to reach a considerable variety of readers, must be ready for a trial more dangerous than that running the gauntlet just spoken of. He will he startled to find himself the object of an embarrassing devotion, and almost appropriation, by some of his parish of readers. He will blush, at his lonely desk, as he reads the extravagances of expression which pour over him like the oil which ran down upon the beard of Aaron, and even down to the skirts of bis garments, — an extreme unction which seems hardly desirable. We ought to have his photograph as he reads one of those frequent missives, oftenest traced, we may gress, in the delicate slanting hand whica betrays the slender fingers of the sympathetic sisterhood. A slight sense of the ridiculous at being made so much of qualifies the placid tolerance with which the rhymester or the essayist sees himself preferred to the great masters in prose and verse, and reads his name glowing in a halo of epithets which might belong to Bacon or Milton. Wo need not grudge him such pleasure as he may derive from the illusion of a momentary revery, in which he dreams of himself as clad in royal robes and exalted among the immortals. The next post will very probably bring him some slip from a newspaper or critical journal, which will strip him of his regalia, as Thackeray, in one of his illustrations, has disrobed and denuded the Grand Monarque. He saw himself but a moment ago a colossal figure, in a drapery of rhetorical purple, ample enough for an emperor, as Bernini would clothe him. The image-breaker has passed by, belittling him by comparison, jostling him off his pedestal, levelling his most prominent feature, or even breaking a whole ink-bottle against him, as the indignant moralist did on the figure in the vestibule of the opera-house,— the shortest and most effective satire that ever came from that fountain of approval and condemnation. Such are some of the varied experiences of authorship.
To be known as a writer is to become public property. Every book a writer publishes — say, rather, every line he traces — is an open sesame as good as a latch-key for some one ; it may be some score, or hundreds, or thousands. The already recognized author, with whom his affinities may be more or less strong, takes his hand as a brother, — after the public has accepted him. — sometimes before. The unsuccessful authors, whose efforts find their natural habitat in the waste-baskets of the magazines and newspapers, seeing that he is afloat, struggle to the surface through the dark waves of oblivion, and grasp at him, in the vain hope that he can keep their heads, as well as his own, above water. The hitherto undiscovered twentieth cousin starts up in the huckleberry bushes, and claims him as a relative. That citizen of the world, the borrower whose remittances have failed to reach him, is at hand to share the good fortune of his literary friend, whose works, as he says, have been his travelling companions from China to Peru. The poet with his manuscript, the reader with his larynx, invade his premises, and he must read and listen, perhaps to his own verses, until
E’en at the lines himself has made.
Rejoice, O man of many editions! You have sold your books, — yes, and you have sold your time, your privacy, your right hand, if that is the one you hold your pen in, and a slice of your immortal soul with it! For if you do not sooner or later explode in all the maledictions of Ernulphus and Athanasius, you are gifted with a patience that Job the all-enduring might have envied.
There is one more trial which touches the finest sensibilities of an author. The reader who has adopted him as his favorite, or his object of admiration, has formed an ideal of his person, his expression, his voice, his manner. How rarely does an author correspond to this ideal picture ! How often is the visitor who has made a pilgrimage to the shrine of his demigod disappointed, disenchanted, and sent off regretting that he has exchanged his false image for the real presence ! Let every pilgrim on his way to his idol’s temple read Miss Edgeworth’s “ Angelina, or L’Amie Inconnue.”
Now as to all these troubles of authorship, there are two ways of dealing with them. An author has a perfect right to say, “ I am not on exhibition, like the fat boy or the double-headed lady. If I were, I should charge the usual price for admission to the show. It is not my profession to write letters to strangers, who consult me on all manner of questions involving their private interests. If it were, I should keep an office and one or more secretaries to help me attend to the wants of applicants, and I should expect the fees of a lawyer or a physician. I will not be ‘ in-
This is one way of looking at the question, and I am by no means sure that, hard and almost churlish as it seems, it is not, on the whole, the wisest for all concerned. Sooner or later the burden of correspondence becomes so heavy as to be insupportable, unless some short and easy method can be found of dealing with epistolary aggressions; such, for instance, as a printed formula, or a number of such formulæ, which the author can sign by the dozen, and which will in the large majority of cases answer every purpose. This is the plan Willis adopted and announced, long ago. He had the name of being very kind to his correspondents, but he found their exactions were wearing him out, — an experience which others have had since his time. One of our most recent foreign visitors, a very distinguished person, told me that he made use of a lithographed form of answer to his correspondents. terviewed ’ by persons of whom I know nothing. I will not answer letters from all parts of the country and far-off lands, from those who have no personal claim upon me. These people have no right to invade my premises, and appropriate my hours of labor, and I will have my rights, even if I am an author.”
It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, that all human beings have a certain claim on each other. The writer who has attained success owes something to those who are struggling to attain it. It is perfectly true that the greatest number of young persons who write to noted authors are entirely destitute of any exceptional talent which gives them a claim to be encouraged to devote themselves to literary pursuits. Still, they are fellow-creatures, and if Nature has denied them the gifts which they fondly believe themselves to possess, they are entitled, not to our scorn and ridicule, but to our tender consideration. We never laugh at the idiot, but we are too ready to make sport of the weakling. On the whole, it is better to handle a feeble literary aspirant gently, and let him print his little book, — for that is the natural crisis of his complaint. Let him, did I say ? The powers of the universe could not prevent him from doing it. He asks your advice, and all the time he has his proof sheets in his desk or his pocket. And it must never be forgotten that in the midst of the weeds of vanity and folly, at any time, in some unexpected way, in the place where you never thought of looking for it, may spring up the shoot which will flower by and by as genius. Fortunately, as a general rule, mediocrity betrays itself in the first line or the first sentence of its manifesto. The aspiring author expects his successful elder brother to read a dozen of his poems, or the whole of his story ; he does not remember, if he knows, that ex linea Barium is as true as ex pede Herculem.
Between the author’s just right to his time and the claims which a kind heart makes it impossible not to listen to, many writers who have gained the ear of the public, and who pass for amiable and well-disposed persons, in this country, as doubtless in others, have found themselves not a little perplexed. The late meeting of those interested in the subject, of which many of our readers may not have heard, seems to have adjusted these conflicting interests in a manner which, it may be hoped, will prove satisfactory to all concerned. It only remains to carry out the provisions which, after long deliberation, were unanimously agreed upon as expressing the sense of the meeting. Some extracts from the minutes of the proceedings have been put in my hands by the secretary, and are here reproduced, being now printed for the first time. It is hoped that they will be generally read by the two classes of persons to whom their provisions more especially apply, namely, authors aud their visitors and correspondents.
Abstract of the Record of Proceedings of The Association of Authors for SelfProtection, at a Meeting held at Washington, September 31, 1882.
Whereas there is prevalent in the community an opinion that he or she who has written and published a book belongs thenceforward to everybody but himself or herself, and may be called upon by any person for any gratuitous service for which he or she is wanted; and Whereas we believe that some rights do still remain to authors (meaning by that term writers of both sexes), notwithstanding the fact of such writing and publication; and Whereas we have found it impossible to make a stand in our individual capacity against the various forms of tyranny which have grown out of the opinion above mentioned, we do hereby unite aud constitute ourselves a joint body for the purpose and by the title above named.
OF TOE PROPERTY OF AUTHORS.
This does not consist, for the most part, of what is called real, or of what is called personal, estate, but lies chiefly in that immaterial and intangible possession known in its general expression as time, or in special portions, as days, hours, minutes, and seconds. If the author is fortunate enough to own the piece of mechanism commonly called a clock, his timepiece will be found to mark and measure sixty seconds to the minute, sixty minutes to the hour, and twenty-four hours to the day, and no more, like the timepieces of other owners ; which fact is contrary to the apparent belief of many of his visitors and correspondents.
OF THE PERSONS OF AUTHORS.
It is not to be considered that authorship entirely changes the author to a being of a different nature. He or she is entitled to the common kind of consideration which belongs to humanity in general. Bodily defects and infirmities are not fit subjects for public comment, especially in the case of women, to whom the spretce injuria form&3339; is an unforgivable offence. And so of all the ordinary decencies of life; the author is to be considered as having the same rights as the general public.
OF VISITS OF STRANGERS TO AUTHORS.
Visits of Curiosity or Admiration. These are not always distinguishable from each other, and may be considered together. The stranger should send up his card, if he has one ; if he has none, he should, if admitted, at once announce himself and his object, without circumlocution, as thus: “ My name is M. or N. from X. or Y. I wish to see and take the hand of a writer whom I have long admired for his,” etc., etc. Here the Author should extend his hand, and reply in substance as follows: “ I am pleased to see you, my dear sir, and very glad that anything I have written has been a source of pleasure or profit to you.” The visitor has now had what he says he came for, and, after making a brief polite acknowledgment, should retire, unless, for special reasons, he is urged to stay longer.
Visits of Interviewers. The interviewer is a product of over-civilization, who does for the living what the undertaker does for the dead, taking such liberties as he chooses with the subject of his mental and conversational manipulations, whom he is to arrange for public inspection. The interview system has its legitimate use ; is often a convenience to politicians, and may even gratify the vanity and serve the interests of an author. In its abuse it is an infringement of the liberty of the private citizen, to be ranked with the edicts of the Council of Ten, the Decrees of the Star-Chamber, the Lettres de Cachet, and the visits of the Inquisition. The Interviewer, if excluded, becomes an enemy, and has the columns of a newspaper at his service, in which to revenge himself. If admitted, the Interviewed is at the mercy of the Interviewer’s memory, if he is the best meaning of men ; of his inaccuracy, if he is careless; of his malevolence if he is ill-disposed ; of his prejudices, if he has any ; and of his sense of propriety, at any rate.
In consideration of the possible abuses arising from the privilege granted to, or rather usurped by, the irresponsible individuals who exercise the function of domiciliary inspection, it is proposed to place the whole business under legal restrictions, in accordance with the plan here sketched for consideration, and about to be submitted to the judgment of all our local governments.
— A licensed corps of Interviewers, to be appointed by the municipal authorities.— Each Interviewer to wear in a conspicuous position a Number and a Badge, for which the following emblems and inscriptions are suggested : Zephyrus with his lips at the ear of Boreas, who holds a speaking-trumpet; signifying that what is said by the Interviewed in a whisper will be shouted to the world by the Interviewer through that brazen instrument. For mottoes, either of the following : Fcenum habet in cornu ; Hunc tu, Romans, caveto. — No person to be admitted to the Corps of Interviewers without a strict preliminary examination. — The candidate to be proved free from color-blindness and amblyopia, ocular and meutal strabismus, double refraction of memory, kleptomania, mendacity of more than average dimensions, and tendency to alcoholic endosmosis. — His moral and religious character to be vouched for by three orthodox clergymen of the same belief, and as many deacons who agree with them and with each other. — All reports to be submitted to the Interviewed, and the proofs thereof to be corrected and sanctioned by him before being given to the public.
Until the above provisions are carried into effect, no record of an alleged Interview to be considered as anything more than the untrustworthy gossip of an irresponsible impersonality.
OF UNKNOWN CORRESPONDENTS.
Of Autograph-Seekers. The increase in the number of applicants for autographs is so great that it has become necessary to adopt positive regulations to protect the Author from the exorbitant claims of this class of virtuosos. The following propositions were adopted without discussion : —
— No author is under any obligation to answer any letter from an unknown person applying for his autograph. If he sees fit to do so, it is a gratuitous concession on his part.
— No stranger should ask for more than one autograph.
— No stranger should request an author to copy a poem, or even a verse, He should remember that he is one of many thousands; that a thousand fleas are worse than one hornet, and that a mob of mosquitoes will draw more blood than a single horse-leech.
— Every correspondent applying for an autograph should send a card or blank paper, in a stamped envelope directed to himself (or herself). If he will not take the trouble to attend to all this, which he can just as well do as make the author do it, he must not expect the author to make good his deficiencies. [Accepted by acclamation.]
Sending a stamp does not constitute a claim on an author for an answer. [Received with loud applause.] The Stamp may be retained by the author, or, what is better, devoted to the use of some appropriate charity, as, for instance, the Asylum for Idiots and Feeble-Minded Persons.
— No stranger should expect an author to send him or her his photograph. These pictures cost money, and it may not be convenient to an impecunious celebrity to furnish them to the applicants, who are becoming singularly numerous.
— Albums. An album of decent external aspect may, without impropriety, be offered to an author, with the request that he will write his name therein. It is not proper, as a general rule, to ask for anything more than the name. The author may, of course, add a quotation from his writings, or a sentiment, if so disposed ; but this must be considered as a work of supererogation, and an exceptional manifestation of courtesy.
— Bed-quilt Autographs. It should be a source of gratification to an author to contribute to the soundness of his reader’s slumbers, if he cannot keep him awake by his writings. He should therefore cheerfully inscribe his name on the scrap of satin or other stuff (provided always that it be sent him in a stamped and directed envelope), that it may take its place in the patch-work mosaic for which it is intended.
Letters of Admiration. These may be accepted as genuine, unless they contain specimens of the writer’s own composition, upon which a critical opinion is requested, in which case they are to be regarded in the same light as medicated sweetmeats : namely, as meaning more than their looks imply. Genuine letters of admiration, being usually considered by the recipient as proofs of good taste and sound judgment on the part of his unknown correspondent, may he safely left to his decision as to whether they shall be answered or not.
Questioning Letters. These are commonly fraudulent in their nature, their true intent being to obtain an autograph letter in reply. They should be answered, if at all, by a clerk or secretary ; which will be satisfactory to the correspondent, if he only wishes for information, and will teach him not to try to obtain anything by false pretences, if his intent was what it is, for the most part, in letters of this kind.
Letters asking Advice. An author is not of necessity a competent adviser on all subjects. He is expected, nevertheless, to advise unknown persons as to their health of body and mind, their religion, their choice of a profession ; on matrimony, on education, on courses of reading ; and, more especially, to lay down a short and easy method for obtaining brilliant and immediate success in a literary career. These applicants, if replied to at all, should be directed to the several specialists who are competent to answer their questions. Literary aspirants commonly send a specimen of their productions in prose or verse, oftenest the latter. They ask for criticism, but they want praise, which they very rarely deserve. If a sentence can be extracted from any letter written them which can help an advertisement, the publisher of their little volume will get hold of it. They demoralize kindhearted authors by playing on their goodnature, and leading them to express judgments not in conformity with their own standards. They must be taught the lesson that authors are not the same thing as editors and publishers, whose business it is to examine manuscripts intended for publication, and to whom their applications should be addressed.
— No stranger whose letter has been answered by an Author should consider himself (or herself) as having opened a correspondence with the personage addressed. Once replied to, he (or she) should look upon himself (or herself) as done with, unless distinctly requested or encouraged to write again.
Invitations. An Author cannot and must not be expected to accept most of the invitations he is constantly receiving. The fact of noted authorship should be considered equivalent to a perpetual previous engagement. A formal answer to an invitation shall discharge him from further duty, and he shall not be taxed to contribute in prose or verse to occasions in which he has no special interest, or any other, unless so disposed.
— Private Letters of Authors. No private letter of any Author, and no extract from such letter, shall be printed without his permission, or without giving him the opportunity of correcting the proof as in the case of any other publication of what he has written. If any letter, or extract from a letter, of an Author is printed in violation of these obvious rights and duties, the Author shall not be held responsible for any statement such letter or extract may be alleged to contain ; and those who publish any such alleged statement as having been made by the Author in question shall be considered as taking part in the original violation of confidence, unless they defend the Author against all unfavorable inferences drawn from said letter or extract.
Of Books sent to Authors. An Author is not bound to read any book sent him by a stranger. He is not under any obligation to express his opinion of any book so sent, whether said opinion is to be used as a Publisher’s advertisement or not. An acknowledgment, with thanks, is to be reckoned a discharge of all obligations to the sender.
Of Remembering introduced Strangers. Strangers who have had an introduction to an Author have no right to expect that their faces will be remembered by him as well as they remember his. This is especially true of persons of the female sex who are youthful and comely, and for this reason have a certain resemblance to each other. If such youthful and comely individuals identify the Author before he shows, by the usual mark of courtesy, that he recognizes them, they need not think themselves intentionally slighted, but may address him freely, and he will not take offence at being spoken to before speaking.
The above rules are to be considered applicable only to strangers having no special claim upon the author.
The Association may be found fault with for passing these resolves, some of which may sound harshly in the ears of certain readers, who have not acted in accordance with their precepts. But it must be remembered that it is almost a question of life and death with Authors. This cannot be considered too strong an expression, when we remember that Pope was driven to exclaim, a century and a half ago, —
Tie up the knocker; say I’m sick, I’m dead.”
In obtaining and giving to the public this abstract of the Proceedings of the Association, I have been impelled by the same feelings of humanity which led me to join the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, believing that the sufferings of Authors are as much entitled to sympathy and relief as those of the brute creation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.