#0399: Willa Cather to Ferris Greenslet, November 24 [1917]

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FG RLS Dear Mr. Greenslet1;

Mr. Scaife4 put me in an awkward position when he was here2, and as I have not been able to get any work done since, and the first of December appraoches, I think I had better write and tell you my troubles.

You will remember that illustration was not my idea at all. When Mr. Scaife was here last spring, he urged it very strongly. I told him then I didn't want a mere conventional frontispiece; unless I could get a set of decorations done that would have some character and interpret and embellish the text5, I didn't want anything. He distinctly said that I could go ahead and see what I could do.

I selected Benda6 as a man who knew both Bohemia7 and the wWest,; and because he has imagination. He has already given me a great deal of time, making preliminary sketches and trying to get exactly what I want. Our plan was for twelve line drawings, which would print on text paper, to be scattered through the book where there were blank half-pages at the ends of chapters. Three of the completed drawings are already inc; they are admirable and give the tone of the text better than I could have hoped for.

For the price Mr. Scaife named when he was here, I can't let Benda do any more than these three. Now three tailpieces8, scattered in a book would look hap-hazard and mean. These three were meant to be a part of a developing scheme of decoration. One can't ask a man to do twelve difficult draw compositions in an exacting medium, for $150.

Mr. Scaife told Benda over the telephone that he was indifferent to this scheme of illustration, anyway, and would much prefer one dull full page picture which he could use in advertisements.

Of course, it would be much easier for Benda to do one conventional wash drawing9, which is his usual medium, than to work out sympathetic compositions in pen and ink which require a careful study of the text and some work from models. I am clearly the one who is making the trouble.

I know, now, that I should have got a definite figure of expenditure from you office before I proceeded at all. But I knew Benda would do the work more cheaply than anyone else for me-- for one, thing I knew he would like the story-- and a figure like $150 did not occur to me. We seldom had an art editor at McClures10, and when we hadn't, I usually arranged for the use of our the illustrations made for our serials and sets of stories by book publishers. We always asked one third of the original cost of the drawings, and got it without any trouble.

The misunderstanding, apparently, has come on the meaning of the word "illustration." But I told Mr. Scaife last spring that if I had any pictures at all, I wanted real illustraions, not a conventional frontispiece11. He also said that illustrations "enriched" a book, which I think, since he had only a frontispiece in mind, was misleading. The scheme of decoration which Benda and I have worked out does, I think, enrich the book, but three tailpieces won't do anything but make it look shabby.

This is my position: If Benda's first drawings had been unsatisfactory, I could say so, and get out of the whole thing. That was my understanding with him. But they are more satisfactory that I could reasonabley have hoped, and he has put a great deal of consciencious work on them, besides special knowledge. I can't throw thaem back at him and say they are not good. He must be paid for them.

On tThese three drawings, however, three lone tailpieces, would make the book look patchy---- would be worse than no pictures. But I can't ask Benda to do twelve difficult compositions in line for $150!

It's a misunderstanding, and I am willing to admit that I am to blame for it. I absolutely misunderstood Mr. Scaife's language and his meaning.

If you can see your way to write Benda a polite letter, offering him $200 and telling him you know it is very little for his work, I will try to get him to do eight, or perhaps even ten of the decorations as originally planned. - These decorations, you understand, are each pictures, like old woodcuts in effect, and evolved out of close study of the text and western photographs which I have been at great pains to get.--- That, it seems to me, would only be evidence of good will on the part of the publishers. It wouldn't by any means pay for Benda's the work Benda began at my solicitation, but it would somewhat cover my retreat.

If this is impossible, then we will have to pay Benda for three dr drawings and not use them. I don't see anything else to do, unless Mr. Scaife wishes to withdraw entirely from the responsibility of the is boolt[?]book, for which I am now, as always, perfectly ready. In any case, please do not go ahead with the dummy until you have told me what you can do. I don't think it was quite fair play of Mr. Scaife to repudiate, without examination, a scheme of decoration which I had worked out with so much pains, or to destroy the zeal of the artist. He said something to me over the telephone about little "little pictures" not being worth as much as big ones! Why, doesn't he know that I know that a na Steele12 gets more or for one pen drawing than artist's usually get for several wash drawings?

Faithfully Willa Cather

An inquiry from Philadelphia13 says the bookseller there cannot get "Song of the Lark."14 Is it out of stock with you?