Wednesday, May 14, 2008

deserting one's colours

22a, Dorset Street W.
August 13th [1866].

Dear Lord Lytton,
I am much obliged by the letter of advice you wrote me, and if Lord Houghton had not gone off to Vichy, I should certainly take counsel with him. As it is, I am compelled to decide without further help. I have no relation with Messrs. Moxon except of a strictly business character, and considering that the head of this firm has broken his agreement by refusing to continue the sale of my poems, without even speaking to me on the matter, I cannot but desire, first of all, to have no further dealings with anyone so untrustworthy. The book is mine. I agreed with him to issue an edition of 1,000 copies, he undertaking to print, publish and sell them, and if the edition sold off, I was to have two-thirds of the profits. He does not now deny the contract which he refuses to fulfil; he simply said to a friend who called on him as my representative, that on hearing there was to be an article in The Times attacking my book as improper, he could not continue the sale. As to the suppression of separate passages or poems, it could not be done without injuring the whole structure of the book, where every part has been as carefully considered and arranged as I could manage, and under the circumstances, it seems to me that I have no choice but to break off my connection with the publisher.

I have consulted friends older than myself, and more experienced in the business ways of the world, and really it seems to me I have no alternative. Before the book was published, if my friends had given me strong and unanimous advice to withdraw or to alter any passage, I should certainly have done so in two instances I did, rather against my own impulse, which is a fair proof that I am not too headstrong or conceited to listen to friendly counsel. But now to alter my course or mutilate my published work seems to me somewhat like deserting one's colours. One may or may not repent having enlisted, but to lay down one's arms, except under compulsion, remains intolerable. Even if I did not feel the matter in this way, my withdrawal would not undo what has been done, nor unsay what has been said.
Yours truly,
A. C. Swinburne.

-from The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne Edited by Edmund Gosse, G.B. and Thomas James Wise (London : William Heinemann, 1918.) vol. 1.

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