GEORGE P. BRETT
IT is with much pleasure but likewise with much diffidence, that I undertake, at the request of the editor of The American Magazine, an appreciation of my friend and publisher, Mr. George P. Brett, the president of the Macmillan Company.
I would repeat the words—friend and publisher. Mr. Brett has an undoubted genius for publishing, but he possesses likewise the higher genius for friendship. My relations with him, and those of Mr. Marion Crawford and of other authors, have been of such a quality as to recall the days of Walter Scott and the Constables, of Thackeray and Mr. George Smith. And if I w-ere called upon to give advice to a young author at the beginning of his career, I should urge him as emphatically as I could to get a good publisher and stick to him. My first glimpse of Mr. Brett’s personality made an impression upon me which has never been effaced. In the year preceding this meeting I had written half of my first book, “The Celebrity,” and had left the manuscript in the hands of a friend for safe-keeping. My friend, unknown to me, had submitted the manuscript to Mr. Brett; and he, after reading it, had declared that he would publish the book if the latter half proved to be as good as the first. I wrote two endings, both of which Mr. Brett had rejected. But he said to me, when I returned from abroad. “If you will take my advice you will continue to rewrite this manuscript until I accept it.’- I took his advice, and after a great deal of labor I submitted, two years later, a draft which he took, together with the first five chapters of “Richard Carvel.” Whereupon he signed at once a contract for “Richard Carvel.” Our business connections have continued from that day to this and have been distinguished by trust on both sides.
George P. Brett is a self-made man in the best sense of the word. Before he entered the career which, has transformed the Macmillan Company from a mere agency of Macmillan & Company of London into one of the foremost publishing houses on the American continent, he was living on a ranch in southern California. To use his own words, “Cattle and my occupation disappeared together.” An instance of the acumen which has proved to be one of the chief factors in his career may be cited. As a traveling salesman for a publisher he had read “Mr. Isaacs,” and had induced the booksellers to give heavy orders for it. I have often heard him tell of his embarrassment on subsequent visits to his customers in finding their tables piled high with a volume which the public apparently did not want. It was not until later that his opinion of “Mr. Isaacs” was amply justified.
Another instance of this power occurred only recently. A prominent publishing house had rejected a treatise on public affairs which contained some new and rather startling doctrines; it was called to the attention of Mr. Brett, who published it at once, and he has been receiving ever since letters of congratulation from prominent statesmen, educators, and publishers. Mr. Brett’s character combines boldness with caution, and this is best shown by his attitude toward the much discussed policy of advertising: if his instinct tells him that a book is good, he believes in advertising it liberally; yet on the other hand he declares that a publisher who considers the commercial value of his wares alone is not only apt to find that his published books have no value from the standpoint of time, but that a loss ensues of publishing reputation, and of ultimate commercial profit also. Another and by no means small factor in his success has been his knowledge of and belief in the innate idealism of the American man and woman.
No author who comes in contact with Mr. Brett can fail to be astonished at the range of his reading and thought. The publication lists of the Macmillan Company are large, and when it is said that he has read and formed a definite opinion of most of these books some idea of his knowledge of history, philosophy and general literature may be arrived at. In addition to a close attention to the details of a great publishing business, he contrives to keep abreast of the latest developments of modern thought, and maintains a correspondence and connection with the foremost thinkers of the day. I do not hesitate to make in public a criticism which I have often reiterated in private, that he works too hard, that he pays too much attention to detail. His amusements have been the composition of innumerable articles on such diverse topics as Poverty, Tariff on Books, The Financial Situation, and How to Enjoy a Vacation—a subject which I should suspect he knew least about, although he is able to discuss it entertainingly. His description of a trip of many hundreds of miles in a one-horse buggy, which appeared in Country Life in America, incites one to repeat the experiment even in these days of automobiles. His assertion “that Americans do not ‘loll’ half enough” has, for those who know him, an element of humor in it; and his authors, who have every reason to wish him a long life, are congratulating themselves that of late years he is showing a tendency to throw some of his characteristic energy into practical farming. It may be that he will make even of this a financial success.
From The American Magazine.
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