- Historic Sites
Historian And Publisher
One of America's most distinguished publishers writes of his personal and professional friendship with the famed historian, Samuel Eliot Morison.
April 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 3
Actually the history of the Navy in World War II preoccupied Sam, and he took much longer than expected in getting the Bradford manuscript to us. In early February of 1951, he felt certain that he was finally getting along so fast with the text that we could count on publishing it in the fall. He hoped, in the beginning, for expensive, and even colored, illustrations, but I soon persuaded him that these would be impossible because of their cost. He wrote that since new maps had to be prepared, “I should like to have them clone here in the Institute of Geographical Exploration so that I can have oversight of them, for I know by bitter experience that cartographers do not follow written directions, and they spell names wrong, etc.” In the end, the four maps were drawn by the distinguished cartographer Erwin Raisz.
Despite his February promise, I wrote as late as May 14, 1951, that I was still awaiting the arrival of the manuscript and looking forward to seeing it with the most eager anticipation and curiosity. Shortly after, he delivered it. The Morisons then went abroad, and for a while I corresponded with his long-time, and superb, secretary, Ms. Antha E. Card. The copy editor then in our employ, Raymond A. Preston, was superior to any I have ever known, and, all told, a six-page, single-spaced, typewritten letter of questions, criticisms, and suggestions went to Ms. Card from him.
There were repercussions. In July, Sam wrote me from Paris: “I am pained and astonished to learn from Miss Card that you and Mr. Preston have found my manuscript of the Bradford so difficult as to subject you to enormous and hitherto unheard of labors. I supposed that the copy was sent to you almost letter perfect. Since it is not, and since Mr. Preston has made changes, it will be necessary for me to go over it once more before you send it to the printers.”
We were still discussing the questions of maps and illustrations, but I set the eminent designer W. A. Dwiggins to work designing the book. On October 16, back in Cambridge, Sam was still working on the manuscript, “and will go straight through with it.” In the same letter, he expressed hope that I would have the maps copyrighted “so that the next writer on pilgrim history won’t steal them.” But it was November 2 before he wrote to say that he was glad to hear from Preston that the manuscript had arrived all right. He said also that if we had a few pages of the manuscript set up as samples he would like to have copies, “as I wish to instruct my seminar in the gentle art of proofreading.”
Finally, in mid-1952, Of Plymouth Plantation came from the binders. It turned out to be one of the most handsome of the very many handsome and satisfying books that Dwiggins had designed for us. When Sam received his author’s copies, he wrote, referring to his second wife, Priscilla, “We are both delighted with it. I feel that for the first time Bradford has been given a setting worthy of him.…”
But still one problem remained with Bradford , and this had to be settled on a frank and friendly basis between Sam and me. Our bill for author’s alterations made in the proofs was far greater than any contemplated by the agreement which we had signed. Sam thought that to live up to that clause in the contract would be unfair to him. that Bradford was a very special case and that we should pay the bill in full. “Neither of us can make any profit on it,” he wrote, “and I understand that the size of the edition you are printing will merely absorb the five-hundred-dollar advance that you paid to me; so my outlay is the greater and my profit the less.”
Here he was in grave error, for we had printed five thousand copies of the book, which bore a retail price of six dollars, and if we sold out that edition his royalties would amount to a great deal more than that nominal advance. I ended my response to his letter. “I don’t want to take an intransigent attitude toward an old friend and my favorite living historian, and I hope you won’t nourish any hard-boiled feelings toward me. So I am willing to split the cost of these alterations fifty-fifty, and I hope you will feel that this is more than fair in the light of what has happened.” Sam replied: “All right; I accept your generous offer … but will you please arrange to have them taken out of royalties, as I am scraping the barrel at this time of year [Christmas was in the offing].”
Some months before the book’s publication, Sam directed us to pay all royalties on Bradford, as well as on another book we were to do with him, By Land and By Sea, to Priscilla—not for tax reasons, “but simply because I wish to give her these books.”
Sam took a great interest in marketing and advertising possibilities for Bradford. On November 17, 1952, he sent me this letter: I telephoned the head of your advertising department this morning after finding that you were away, and pointed out that I think he is missing a great opportunity for pushing the Bradford by failing to cash in on the free publicity the Pilgrim Fathers are getting through (i) the film “Plymouth Adventure” now being given at Radio City; (2) the Thanksgiving season when a lot of free advertising is given to the Pilgrims. … Although you may have exhausted your budget for the usual advertising, I should think that the opportunity to sell a lot more copies should not be neglected. Here is Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers being called to the public attention daily. Would not advertisements in the public press and book displays in bookstores whenever “Plymouth Adventure” opens in a city, obtain results?