Complaint Department

A Letter to a Publisher  (1919) 
by Ralph Henry Barbour

Extracted from The Bookman, March 1919, pp. 43-44. Accompanying illustrations omitted. Ralph Henry Barbour gives a delicate hint to the publishers on the illustrations accompanying stories.


A Letter to a Publisher

The following communication from the distinguished and popular Mr. Backspace to the well-known publishing firm which issues his novels was brought to the attention of the Complaint Department of The Bookman through the kindness and courtesy of Mr. Ralph Henry Barbour:


"The Elms", Parachute, N. J.,
February 3, 1919.

Mr. Underwood Haskins,
Haskins, Doane & Co.,
New York City.

My Dear Mr. Haskins:

The pictures for my novel, "Priscilla's Hectic Past", go back to you today by mail. Thanks for the opportunity of viewing them. The artist, Mr. Straboni, has, I am convinced, put his best work into them, and I am sure that they will add a hundredfold to the appearance of the book. They are, indeed, such excellent examples of the illustrator's art that I hesitate to make mention of a small matter that has occurred to me with regard to them lest I sound disparaging or, at the least, critical. I beg of you not to entertain that suspicion for an instant. The matter is of only the slightest consequence, and it is that fact which gives me courage to allude to it, since I feel certain that your good sense will exonerate me from any suggestion of pettiness.

In looking over the pictures it has occurred to me that perhaps one or two alterations in the text would be advisable. I realize that it is rather late to suggest this, and that changes made now will be expensive, but in the interests of—shall we say?—concord, I shall be glad to defray the cost of the alterations: or perhaps it would be better to say corrections. The fact is that there are certain discrepancies between Mr. Straboni's charming illustrations and my text which, while of no great moment, might, I fear, wound the sensibilities of Mr. Straboni if allowed to persist. I feel that when at the expense of but little labor and money these discrepancies can be removed, neither you nor I have the right to risk a shock to so sensitive a thing as the soul of an artist.

The corrections which I propose are not many—for I have in mind only the more dissentient passages—and concern but six of the eight drawings. In the remaining two my ideas appear to accord most happily with the artist's. Indeed, in one of these, that illustrating the line: "Twilight fell softly over Threespeed Manor", the unanimity between Mr. Straboni's conception and my own is most remarkable; and I may, I think, be pardoned a slight self-gratulation. Had I not committed the unfortunate error of describing a low and rambling structure, whereas the manor is plainly tall and turreted, I should be extremely pleased with myself. In order that you may understand the nature of the corrections I give one or two examples. If you agree with me that it would be wise to make them on the page proofs I will indicate them on the duplicate set in my possession and mail at once.

On page 6, second paragraph: "Gerald Fusilage paced thoughtfully to the heavily-draped window and gazed out upon the restless afternoon activity of the Avenue. He was well over average height and carried himself with the assured erectness of the trained soldier that he was. Standing there before the long casement, with the pale winter sunlight outlining his well-knit form, he presented a fine picture of masculine beauty, a beauty no whit detracted from by the perfectly fitting uniform of an officer of the United States Air Service, etc." This should be corrected to read: "Gerald Fusilage slumped into a kitchen chair and fixed his gaze dejectedly on a pandanus standing in an oddly-fashioned jardinière just inside the doorway. He was rather under the average height and stooped with the studious stoopiness of the student that he was. Sitting there before the small open window, with its charmingly simple sash-curtain of dotted muslin, the radiant summer sunlight splashing the linoleum at his feet, he presented a striking example of the better-class burglar, and even the well-cut uniform of the New York Street Cleaning Service that he wore failed to disguise his criminality, etc."

On page 65, last paragraph: "Regal was the first word that came to Gerald as his swift glance fell upon her. From the coiled masses of her coppery hair to the last inch of her jewel-bedecked slipper she was queenliness itself. A white gown of severe simplicity followed the lithe grace of her perfect form, etc." This should read: "Fat was the first word that came to Gerald as he glanced lazily up at her. From the top of her rubber swimming cap to the tip of her black-stockinged toe she was pudginess itself. A one-piece bathing suit of some closely clinging material was slightly in advance of the generous rotundity of her perfect amplitude, etc."

These two examples will, I think, suffice. Trusting that you may agree with me as to the advisability of correcting the text of the novel to accord more delicately with the conceptions of the artist, and with the greatest esteem. Faithfully yours,

STEPHEN BACKSPACE.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.