The Author

The Author, the publication of the Society of Authors (founded 1884) was first published in 1890 under the editorship of Walter Besant; it continues publication to this day.

Lang contributed a review of Gissing’s New Grub Street to The Author in July of 1891 (a fact I neglected to uncover in earlier versions of this page).* His only other prose that appeared there, so far as I know, is his letter objecting to George Bernard Shaw’s equating him with Judas Iscariot at the Society’s Annual Dinner in 1906). However, as I have not done an exhaustive review of this periodical, it is possible that there may be more Lang contributions to uncover. A recent site (2021) The History of the Society of Authors, 1884–1914, edited by Emily Bell and Richard Salmon, now provides full text of the publication for the years from 1890–1914, along with many other interesting features.

*In “George Gissing’s Ambivalent Realism,” Aaron Matz briefly mentions this negative review, “Realism in Grub Street,” Author, 2, no. 2 (July 1891), pp. 43–44, noting that it followed Walter Besant’s positive notice of the book in the same publication in June (“Notes and News,” Author, 2, no. 1, June 1891, p. 15). Both reviews were reprinted in Gissing: The Critical Heritage, ed. Pierre Coustillas and Colin Partridge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972, pp. 182–83.

Lang was once a well known if occasionally ambivalent member of the society. He had praised Walter Besant’s books in his “At the Sign of the Ship” columns in Longman’s, particularly Children of Gibeon, and had advocated there for Besant’s People’s Palace (July 1886). In 1888 (four years after the Society’s incorporation), in the September “At the Sign of the Ship,” Lang maintained, after reading the account of a ‘Literary Sweater,’ that “if any capitalists are really making fortunes out of this employment of penmen at starvation wages, why it is high time that a Literary Trades Union was started by the oppressed classes, the unknown toilers who write penny novels, and Sunday books, and London Correspondence, and biographies, and ‘report cricket and football matches.’ Cannot they combine not to write a three-volume novel under—any sum they please to fix? Unluckily they will be undersold by authors who willingly pay to have their novels printed, and who, if they could, would gladly subsidize a world of readers. But if Match Girls can combine, as it seems they can, into a Trades Union, Literary Hacks should not lag behind them in organised assertion of their interests” (556).

Lang’s name and his books frequently appear in The Author‘s pages: see, for instance, in October 1891 “A Heretic on Andrew Lang” (4:149). Sometimes The Author writers praise Lang’s talent, sometimes they dispute his ideas, and sometimes his name is merely listed as several on a committee for a memorial, or as steward for the annual dinner (though Lang’s name is also sometimes conspicuous by its absence from the list of people in attendance). Lang’s close friend Rider Haggard was also an active member of the society. However, Lang believed the Society too harsh towards publishers and eventually resigned after George Bernard Shaw* denounced him at the May 9, 1906 Society of Authors annual dinner. An account of Shaw’s speech is found in the June 1906 Author (Vol. XVI, No. 9), with the details regarding Lang occurring on pages 269–70. (Shaw’s review of A Publisher’s Confession, which instigated Lang’s Morning Post response and Shaw’s speech, was printed in The Author in July 1905.)

Lang responded to Shaw’s speech in a letter to The Author in July (Vol. XVI, No. 10):

Sir.—As I am the writer of the signed article in The Morning Post to which Mr. Bernard Shaw referred in his speech at the annual dinner of the Society (cf. The Author, Vol. XVI., No. 9, pp. 269, 270), I may be permitted to doubt the accuracy of Mr. Shaw’s historical parallel between myself and Judas Iscariot. If my conduct were as he said “unprofessional,” the officers of the Society might have drawn my attention to the circumstance at the moment, which is rather remote. They have still the opportunity to do so, if I “sneered at the attempt of our profession to organise itself.”
Humiliter me submitto.
Faithfully yours,
A. Lang.

Roger Lancelyn Green, in his Lang biography, quotes George Bernard Shaw on Lang and the Society of Authors on page 202 of his biography of Lang. In this account, Shaw mingles praise for Lang with his report of the infamous Society of Authors dinner. Shaw gives a slightly different (and somewhat harsher) retelling of this interaction with Lang in “Mépris de Corps, a retrospective account, written in vol. xliii, no. 2, of The Author (1932). (Both Shaw’s July 1905 review and a paragraph from “Mépris de Corps” are reprinted in Author! Author! – an anthology from The Author, Faber, 1984.)

*One other interaction between Andrew Lang and George Bernard Shaw may be of interest, as it shows both of them in a somewhat different light: In the article “Literature in 1900,” in the Academy (8 December 1900), the reporter describes in the events of the month of January the Society of Authors’ “scheme of a pension fund for authors” and notes that a “somewhat kindred topic of the month was the question of the Duration of Copyright, which had been raised in connexion with Lord Monkhouse’s new Copyright Act. Mr. Andrew Lang was in favour of perpetual copyright, a proposal which George Bernard Shaw called ‘a piece of rapacious impudence.’ No one was angry. It became evident, however, that an extension of the period of copyright to fifty or sixty years was generally desired” (569).

Mentions of Andrew Lang in The Author

Entries related to Andrew Lang are listed in the index of The Author available here. I would like to thank Kate Pool of the Society of Authors for providing these scans of the index.

The first two volumes of The_Author were available in a full-text scan on Google Books at the time of first writing of this page. Lang is mentioned several times in the first two volumes, as can be seen from the index above, and at a future date I hope to explore his presence in later volumes. A search for his name in the PDF will also find a few other notices of Lang and his books. Perhaps the most interesting of the references is on page 165 of the “News and Notes,” where the writer (Besant) objects to Lang’s views on publishers in a recent “utterance” (Lang’s “Literature as a Trade,” published in the St. James’s Gazette).  Lang believes publishers risk a lot on authors; the writer believes the publisher “very, very seldom knowingly runs any risk at all.” The writer also notes that many women authors were particularly offended by Lang’s statements:

“Lastly, I have had many letters from ladies calling indignant attention to one clause which I regret to see at the close of [Lang’s] paper. “As far as I can see, the authors who do suffer are those who should receive £3 10s. 6d. and only get 7s. 4d. . . .* Their work is worth very little, and they get even less. . . . Generally, they are women easily ‘put upon’ and rather unreasonable.” “Why,” ask my correspondents, “should not even a woman demand and receive justice? Why should she take 7s. 4d. when £3 10s. 6d. is due to her?” Really, one cannot give any reason. And considering that the poor wretch who steals a handkerchief worth twopence is sent to prison as much as the bold burglar who robs a bank, there does seem no reply to this question.” (165)

*The lines Besant elides are the following:

“. . . get 7s. 4d. Their case, like that of the fag-end of labour generally, is hard because they are employed by the fag-end of capital. Their work is worth very little, and they get even less. The Society of Authors seems to fight their cause in a gallant and meritorious way; but the pity of it is that they are authors at all. Generally, they are women easily ‘put upon’ and rather unreasonable. The author who has wares worth selling has only himself to blame if he is unsuccessful when so many publishers are competing for his merchandise. Like other authors, he is seldom a man of business, though publishers know that he is sometimes quite sufficiently shrewd. The end of the matter is that literature is an art, with all the pleasures and advantages of an art, to set off against the poverty and the uncommercial character of the artist. He makes many friends among his readers; he may win his share of fame or notoriety; he is happy in his labour; and I venture to think that, if he chooses, he need not be underpaid. And he can always grumble at the Americans.” (“Literature as a Trade,” St. James’s Gazette, 22 Oct. 1890, p. 5)

On page 173, under the “In Grub Street” notices, there is another interesting short paragraph on Lang, which demonstrates his popularity:

“I believe the fashion of writing confessions in ladies’ albums exists no longer, but if anyone was asked now who was their favourite writer, after the favourite novelist and favourite poet had been decided on, the favourite writer would be Mr. Andrew Lang. But Mr. Lang is a poet as well, and this month in collaboration with Mr. Haggard, he has become a novelist too, “The World’s Desire” having just been issued in one volume. His fairy book (red this time) gives a number of stories which will be new to a great many of us. There are two from the Russian. Has Mr. Lang reconsidered his strictures on the Russian novelists? He has written a preface to a translation of Langisms which has given occasion for the Scotch to make a bad joke. Homer sometimes nods, but Mr. Lang never seems even to wink.”

In volume three (August 1892), Walter Besant has what seems, for a member of the Society of Authors, a misguided argument with Lang. Besant preferred that authors publish with one house while Lang advocated for the scattering of an author’s books among the publishing houses that best fit each book. (Interestingly, Bernard Shaw’s review of A Publisher’s Confession, the review that began the spiral leading to Shaw’s denunciation of Lang and Lang’s resignation, also spent considerable time on Shaw’s belief that authors should not be tied to one house, though Shaw’s reasons were based on business acuity rather than the publisher’s specialty.) Besant writes,

Mr. Lang refers to my complaint—not mine alone, but that of everybody who wants to complete the works of a favourite author—on the scattering of books among various houses. He says that different publishers issue different kinds of books. True. But in the case of popular and distinguished writers, I do not know any publisher who would not willingly issue all the books, whatever the subject, which that writer might choose to put forth.” (93)

Prolific writers like Andrew Lang and Margaret Oliphant knew very well that no single publisher would be willing to publish their works—they needed to spread their wares among various houses. On the other hand, it is true that this scattering of their wares contributed to each of these Scottish writers falling out of the canon: no publisher could or would reprint their collected works.

Walter Besant also addresses Andrew Lang’s opinions in “Notes and News” for the September 1893 issue of The Author. The future conflict with the Society of Authors is foreshadowed here, though Besant (who died in 1901, before the rupture) believes that Lang will come around.

“I find that during my absence in America I have been the object of some delicate and appreciative courtesies from the delicate and courteous pen of Mr. Robert Buchanan in the Daily Chronicle, and, by an interesting coincidence, at the same time, the subject of certain pages in Longman’s Magazine from the pen of Andrew Lang. It is not often that one can enjoy the privilege of coupling these two writers together. Indeed I never remember any instance before in which the opinions of Mr. Lang or his methods coincided with those of Mr. Buchanan. It would be interesting to discover, if one could, the mental process which could lead these two poets to this simultaneous attack—surely, a coincidence—upon the Society which does its best to maintain the interests of those who follow, as they themselves follow, literature as a profession. What Mr. Buchanan says, however, is what one expects from Mr. Buchanan. What Mr. Lang says is not what one expects from Mr. Lang. That is the main difference. . . . Mr. Lang says that he does not dispute the existence of literary property. He assumes, however, that the average author knows what it means. For he depicts the author saying airily, as one strong in the possession of full and accurate knowledge, “You offer me too much—or too little.” But the author must know what literary property means, else how should he be able to say ‘too much’ or ‘too little?’ . . . .
“The author’s independence will be secured for him from the moment that his pay—the commercial side of his work—is put, once for all, on such a footing of recognised terms and proportions as will make him absolutely independent of the publisher and dependent solely on the public. . . . This can be done, and will be done, by the arrival at an understanding between honourable publishers and leading writers. . . . Our efforts have been all along directed to showing the literary profession the meaning of their property so that they may see the necessity of coming to such an understanding.
“Mr Lang does his best—Mr. Buchanan does his best—to retard this most desirable condition of things; the former by representing the author as already, and actually, dependent upon the public alone; and by supposing him already possessed of so much technical knowledge as to enable him to know what he should receive for an unpublished book. The latter does his little best to darken counsel by prating foolishness about Literature and Lucre. When we do come to that attempt, however, I have hopes that we may find Mr. Andrew Lang in the conference—or congress—or committee—or meeting. Mr. Buchanan, I am sure—that is, I hope and trust—will not be present. Meantime we are not dependent on the public—no–no—a thousand times NO—we are dependent on the publishers, which is the reason why some of us dispose of our wares through the agency of a third person” (vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 131–32).

In volume 5, Andrew Lang is most frequently mentioned in letters from correspondents, who object to various statements he has made in various places, including an objection to Lang’s calling a New Yorker’s point that Americans were unlikely to find British publishers “a grievance” (10), the idea “that English literature cannot be taught” (107), and a bookseller’s desire that Andrew Lang take his place for a week so that he might “have a better opinion of booksellers” (178). The full text of volumes 5 and 6 of The_Author is available from Google Books, and, although Lang is not listed as appearing in volume 6 in the Society of Authors index above, a quick search of the PDF will find several mentions of Lang, including one in a letter to the editor and others that demonstrate Lang’s ubiquity in the publishing world.

Read The Author at the History of the Society of Authors, 1884–1914.

Return to all of Lang’s known periodical writings.

Learn more about Lang’s contributions to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Folk-Lore, Longman’s Magazine, and The Morning Post.
This page was last edited on 17 Sep. 2022.