Pecuniary Botheration (Part 2)

(continued from yesterday’s post)

Louisa May Alcott’s letters are filled with references to her financial situation, money owed to her, and possibilities of sales of her stories. In 1856, twelve years before the publication of Little Women, she wrote to her sister Anna, “You ask about funds, &c. I have eight cents in the bank at present, $10 owing me, & a fortune in prospect. I shall this week dispose of another story, & ask Jewett about a book of collected tales.”

In 1863, Alcott wrote in a letter to her editor and publisher James Redpath, “If you can let me have ten or twenty dollars, it would be a great favor…for sundry expenses must be incurred and I rather depend on ‘my works’ to supply the necessary funds.”

Five years later, in 1868, just months before starting, finishing, and publishing Little Women she wrote to her mother Abigail May Alcott, “Things look promising for the new year. Ford paid $20 for the little tales & wants two every month. Gazette $25 for the ‘Bells.’ Loring $100 for the two Proverb stories. So my plan will work well & I shall make my $1000 this year in spite of sickness & worry. Praise the Lord and keep busy sez I.” And further, “I asked Putnam if he wanted a story, & he at once said ‘yes.’ So I sent him ‘The Blue & Grey.’ He pays $7.00 a page, so there is another iron in the fire. Allyluyer!”

Not one to rest comfortably on her writing laurels, however, six years after Little Women was published she wrote to Boston Globe editor Edwin Munroe Bacon, “I find that I must make hay while my sun shines, & so wish to earn all I can before Fortune’s wheel takes a turn & carries me down again.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson would likely be a sought-after literary luminary today, fraternizing on the talk show circuit and guesting on NPR; but as America’s first lecturer known to receive a fee, he got only $5.00 for himself and oats for his horse as payment.

Bret Harte, who found fame as a writer of stories in the late 19th century American West included worries about finances in nearly all of his correspondence to his wife and others close to him. He spent many years traveling and lecturing to support his literary aspirations, as his fortunes went up and down. In a letter to his wife in 1877, at the age of forty-one, he wrote, “Dear Nan, I have had no money since I have been here (Washington, D. C.). I shall have none until the story is finished. I do not blame them. But it is hard. But it is not so terrible to me as the reflection that you are left alone, penniless, at that strange hotel, with no money. If I could do anything by being there, more than I am doing here, I would come. But I must come with money.”

Harte had friends and supporters who tried to secure him various positions to help free him from financial worry. Writing from England in 1878, he wrote of a dreaded lecture tour procured for him by a London agent, “If I can only get a couple of thousand dollars in this way, ahead, I’ll go through the agony and misery of the lecture work.”

(To be continued tomorrow in new blog post.)

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