Magazine Manners in the Sixties

WHEN the burden of rejection slips seems too great to be borne, one should secure a copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book for the month of January, 1863, and turn to the editorial department: —

To OUR CORRESPONDENTS. — We have accepted these articles: ‘Both Sides’ — ‘Faithful to the end’ ... ‘Is Genius desirable?’ — ‘Homes and Husbands.’ . . .

How pleasant to have one’s article or story listed in this way! BUT —

These articles are declined: ‘Unreal’ — ‘A Wish’ — ‘My School’ (a stamp must be sent when an answer is requested) — ‘Music of the Heart’ — ‘Jane Archer’ — ‘The Golden Gate’ —‘Agnes Day’ (worth publishing, but we have no room) — ‘The Zephyr’ — ‘Sunrise’ — ‘My Wife’ (has some beautiful imagery and the sentiment is tender and holy, but the rhythm is defective. . . . ‘Beggars in the Street’ — and ‘Come to me’ and the other poem.

The other poem — what does that mean? The one sent with ‘Come to me’?

This list does not include all the rejections, for the editor goes on: —

We hoped to have reported on all the MSS. in our hands; but are compelled for want of time to postpone a number till next month.

And now we take pleasure in expressing our thanks to the many warm friends who have contributed to our pages during the past year. The letters which pour in their tributes of encouragement are most welcome now, when many circumstances are adverse to literary success.

That there are things worse than mere rejection is proved by this curt direction: —

We don’t return poetry even if stamps are sent; can’t afford the time. Those who send poetry must keep a copy. Consult this department and you will see whether it is accepted or rejected.

One looks vainly in the February and March numbers for those alluring lists, but they do not appear — only a vainglorious declaration that ‘the small fry of magazines ought to celebrate our birthday. . . . There is not one of their publishers who can honestly say that he has not copied every idea from our Book.’

It is not until the April number that the contributor can learn whether his poem was accepted: —

To OUR CORRESPONDENTS. — We shall use the following articles as soon as we can make room: ’Aunt Esther’s Warming-pan’

. . . ‘Engeburg’ . . . ‘Sonnet’ . . . ‘The Emigrant’s Lament.’

These articles, we are sorry to say, we can not use: ‘When I am Dead’ [no wonder] — ‘Robinhood’ and other poems (we have no room) — ‘The Stream of Time’ (very good poetry, but we are burdened with our stores) — ‘The Day of the Dead’ — ‘Good-night’ [the last is not intended as a comment on the preceding] . . . ‘Three Cheers’ . . . ‘Squeaky Boots’ (good article for a newspaper) ... ‘In Memory of the Poetess’ etc. (good poetry) — ‘The Little Shoe’ (if we had room, this would be accepted). . . .

We have many manuscripts on hand to examine.

The authoress of ‘Lily Carleton’ is requested to send us her address.

Imagine buying magazine after magazine for the dubious pleasure of finding one’s manuscripts mentioned in the rejected column! But the editor of the sixties advised intending contributors, or, if you prefer, warned them. After talking at some length on ‘the now prevailing practice of giving out long stories in small parcels,’ foisting ‘an amount of tediousness’ upon the reader of continued stories that would swamp a book, the editor berates popular writers, then turns to ‘ the multitude of inferior or unpractised writers.’ With them ‘it is quite another matter. They must take pains to please; they must not be tedious and heavy, or they will be allowed to sink without rescue. Those who are not sure of superior powers, or are new in literary efforts, should beware of trying the reader’s patience.’

The reader will finish, if the writer does not.

It is recorded that Pericles, before speaking in public, always made a prayer to the gods that he might finish when done. The significance of this example should be impressed on every young and inexperienced writer — at least.

Farther on comes A Word to Writers. The concluding sentences perhaps contain some advice that might lessen the likelihood of rejections at the present time. The final sentence, while it vies in bad structure with the sentences in some recent novels, asks in its first words for that which most story magazine editors are demanding. Whatever their methods of accepting or rejecting, editors, it seems, want what they have always wanted.

The great length of many of the articles on hand prevents our giving them an early insertion. If writers would send us short articles, they would be published much sooner. Racy and to the point, not abounding in description about the beauty of the parties, which most persons skip, but go into the story at once, and, if possible, avoid making the heroine a school-teacher or a governess.

One replaces the file of Godey’s and goes back mollified to the courtesy of the unwelcome rejection slip — perhaps to a letter from a kindly editor.