Found in The Fingerpost: A Guide to Professions for Educated Women, with Information as to Necessary Training (Central Bureau for the Employment of Women. 1906) an article called 'Literary Catchpennies' which outlines various scams played on would be writers of the time. Some of these scams, often for bigger stakes, are still with us on the web.
The perennial literary advertisement trick is, perhaps, the most specious of all. A "Publishing Firm" will offer to consider MSS. sent to Box so-and-so at the offices of the paper in which the advertisements appears. Or the advertisement asks for some specified requires a fee; sometimes he merely swallows all the MSS. sent to him and is heard of no more. A plausible gentleman, with an office in London, extracted from a struggling authoress of my acquaintance a fee of 10s. 6d. for the purpose of making copies of a little tale of hers for the American Press. Another required a specimen of already existing work as a "proof of competency," before employment. With wary caution a printed specimen was submitted, which was duly returned, with a word of approval and with an article taken from a Nonconformist journal - a sketch of some famous preacher - which the applicant for employment was required to paraphrase and return. This being done the MSS. apparently vanished into space for upon a visit of inquiry being made to the address mentioned in the advertisement, the advertiser's name was unknown! Again, a budding composer advertised for "Lyrics." A little poem on "Daffodils" was sent to him. After a weary wait, a gentlemanly young man called on my friend to explain that out of hundreds of lyrics though which he had waded hers was the only good for anything. He asked permission to set it to music and promised to pay a small sum - with many apologies for the smallness. A few days later came - not the small sum - but a tortured love song of Elizabethan or Stuart period. That is to say a phrase here and there was given with dashes in between. These gaps were to be filled up with suitable words. This curious piece of literary patchwork being done, it joined the Daffodil lyric - in oblivion. What budding authoress has not sent precious MSS. to advertised "Literary agencies" with timid hopes that the agent's joyful acceptance of them - together with the "unusual deposit" for "placing same" - will set her free on the first step of the ladder of fame. If the MSS. is "placed" the deposit may nicely counterbalance the price secured for the article plus the commission to the agency; or, more probably at some pains and after some delays the article may be rescued by the author - minus the deposit. Since, however, no author is entirely comment to judge of the selling value of his work, it may reasonably be supposed that a properly conducted literary agency could serve a useful purpose in introducing the budding author to his public. The unfortunate thing is that the budding author generally pays dearly before he discovers that the really bona-fide agency has little need to advertise daily in a score of papers for "suitable MSS."
Other pitfalls to unwary persons "who can write" are the advertisements offering prizes in competitions for more or less intricate word spinning. It is hardly necessary to utter warnings against these, for they appeal mostly to the enterprising speculative sort of person, in whom the gambling instant is not strictly suppressed. It may be noted, however, that "prizes" won in such conceptions seldom pay the competitor for the trouble involved in winning them. They certainly do not pay the genuine work seeker.
Fortunes to Order
Answers to much-advertised offers to teach the work seeker "How to make a fortune" generally result in the return of a fascinating booklet, detailing with the utmost gravity the "trade secrets" of some industry which is sure to be entirely foreign to the fortune seeker's taste or capacity. Two such treatises are before me; one has to do with allotment gardening and the other with pastry making. When all the "ifs" and "ands" are counted the reader comes to the conclusion that although the advertiser's experiences might be genuine a fortune would be much more quickly made by writing a similar booklet and selling it in thousands at 1s. or 1s. 6d., than by rolling out any of the precepts contained therein.
A good example of the appearance of Max Beerbohm's journalistic copy. About 250 words, part of an article published in The Academy and Literature in February 1902. An essay called 'A Needed Noun' (Max wanted a word for 'a writer of prose.') The large jet black corrections are the most striking element. In the book Some Piquant People Lincoln Springfield describes this style thus: 'A mere crossing out was not enough. Everything to be taken out, whether it was one line or thirty, was obliterated to utter annihilation by deluges of ink, put on apparently with a brush giving his MSS the look of islands of words in the midst of seas of blinding blue black.'
The article itself (never reprinted) is a plea for more lyrical prose - he mentions Pater, Ruskin, Stevenson and Newman but feels that 'the full glory of prose as a medium for beauty was not realised by them...' The article is amusing and is the product of 'intercalary reflections' or, as it turns out, browsing Mr Nuttall's dictionary looking for a word that defines a writer of prose. He rejects the word 'proser' and the nearest word he can find is a 'prosaist.' Nuttall defines this as 'a prose writer' but, to the divine Max's chagrin, adds: '...one who cannot rise above prose.'
At some point in the 1990's we bought a lot of books and papers from the Norfolk based poet George Barker. This catalogue entry is worth preserving. For some reason it seems a bit down on Barker, possibly because Barker is very hard to sell whereas novels by Julian MacLaren Ross go, as they say in Canada, 'like snow off a dyke.'
Barker, George. ( J. Maclaren Ross.) Manuscript of a review by George Barker of the autobiography of J. Maclaren Ross. 1960s. Typed MS with notes in Barker's hand and a signed note at the top saying that he wrote the review for The Tatler. 800 words with many hand written additions and corrections. It begins 'I remember him as a rather melancholy Malvolio drawling away in a high pitched nasal monotone to which no one in the Wheatsheaf, or the Highlander or the French Pub ever paid any attention at all...' Barker grudgingly admits that his memoirs are not 'entirely unmemorable'. Most of the review is spent putting the boot in and, apart from the envy a minor writer might feel for another who has become a major cult, it appears that most of GB's animosity came from the fact that JMR borrowed a tenner from him and never repaid it.
'I found reading them both evocative and faintly shameful. Evocative because Maclaren Ross really did possess a door-to-door salesmen's eye for snap evaluations, and faintly shameful because he had an eye for almost nothing else.' Barker (who got by on academic work from which, it is said, that he tended to be dismissed for drunkeness, lechery or indolence) is referring to JMR's job working for several years as a vacuum cleaner salesmen, an experience of which JMR writes brilliantly in Of Love and Hunger. SOLD
In our last posting on Notes and Queries we cited a query by one 'E.F.R.' as an example. He seems to have been an assiduous querier and soon after was asking about the Elizabethan occultist, John Dee.
Dr. Dee's petition to James I.—"E.F.R." states that he has lately discovered, in the lining of an ancient trunk, two or three curious broadsides, one of which purports to be Dr. Dee's petition to James I., 1604, against the report raised against him, namely, "That he is or hath bin a Conjurer and Caller, or Invocator of Divels." He would be glad to know whether this curious broadside has been printed in any memoir of Dr. Dee.
A valuable find. John Dee (13 July 1527 – 1608 or 1609) was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, numerology and Hermetic philosophy.
Valancourt Books have valiantly republished Claude Houghton's forgotten bestseller I Am Jonathan Scrivener (1930). This prompted us to dive into the fathomless archives where somewhere we have the manuscript.
“So remarkable in truth is this novel that I cannot understand why it is not universally known and admired.” - Hugh Walpole (1935)
“I Am Jonathan Scrivener remains a tantalizing, highly diverting philosophical novel of rare elegance and wit.” - Michael Dirda (2013)
Valancourt sum up the plot thus:
James Wrexham is thirty-nine, lonely, and stuck in a dead-end job when he comes upon an advertisement for a position as secretary to Mr. Jonathan Scrivener. Much to his surprise, he is hired at a lavish salary despite never even meeting Scrivener, and he is told to take up residence at once in the flat of his new employer, who has suddenly disappeared. Mystified by Scrivener’s strange conduct and desperate to learn something about him, it seems Wrexham will get the answers he seeks when Scrivener’s friends begin to visit the flat: Pauline Mandeville, an ethereal beauty, Francesca Bellamy, a widow who may be responsible for the death of her husband, Andrew Middleton, a disillusioned alcoholic, and Antony Rivers, a handsome playboy. But as each of them unfolds his story about Scrivener, it seems that none of them are describing the same person, though all are obsessed with finding him. Why has he hired Wrexham, and why does he seem to have thrust this unlikely group of people together? Is Scrivener engaged in an inscrutable experiment, or could he be laying some kind of trap?