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posal," &c., was that I thought your being a partner might be advantageous to you; and I supposed, from what I knew to be your situation, that, should the offer be made you, and by N. W. (which I expected), you would immediately reject it, if I did not give you an hint to the contrary; but that, having had the hint, and the offer being made, you would naturally enquire why I gave the hint; and I expected to be able by that time to give you a pretty accurate statement of the prospects of the proprietors. I am now writing in confidence; and, as N. W. has gone farther than I think was justifiable, I suppose myself more at liberty respecting communications to you than I should otherwise have been.
You must know that N. W. has been for some time trying to get my State Papers published, and he has generally proposed it in such a way as to have a share in them himself. Several plans were proposed, and at last the idea of the Register was started. He called on me, and told me that he had been speaking with some other gentlemen about being concerned in the American Magazine, and that they were to be concerned with him. He informed of their plan, and wished me to join them, and that my papers might be published in the Register. He intimated that he had 500 subscribers, who would continue to take the new work, and that the improvement proposed would greatly encrease the number of subscribers. I objected against being a partner, but had no objection against letting them have my papers for £500. After a variety of negociations, I consented to become a partner, — and they agreed to allow me £500 for my papers, to be paid out of the profits of the publication, — if they would yield me £50 per annum, at least, clear of my share of all expenses; if not, the other proprietors were to make up that sum to me annually; and, should the work be discontinued before I was paid, they were then to pay me as much as with my profits (all expences first deducted) would
make £500. Regular written articles were drawn, and executed by all but one partner, who has not yet signed them, nor will, 'til he sees such a number of subscribers in this city and its vicinity as will defray the actual expence of the work. The profits he is willing to risque. He is a discreet, sensible man, and will be what the sailors call our main stay. After the articles were executed, some of the proprietors observed that they had given their bond to me for £500, which must be paid at all events, and that I was to run no risque, and, in fact, to pay no expence, - which was not putting matters on a fair footing with respect to them (before this time the proposals were published). They came and stated the case to me. I immediately saw the propriety of their remarks, and without hesitation agreed to a new article, that their bond for the price of my papers should not be in force immediately upon their publishing (which was the case before), but that they might publish for three months; if they then discontinued the publication, the bond was to be of no effect; if they continued it after that period, it was to be in full force; and I agreed to furnish my proportion of the State Papers, i.e. that, as there were four proprietors, the others should pay me but £375, -the remaining £125 being my proportion of the cost of the papers. Thus relief was given on equitable principles.
In the course of our conversations, at different times, writers were talked of. N. W. mentioned you. I agreed that you would be a very suitable person, if you could be got to engage in it, but was apprehensive your situation would not admit of it. N. W. had no doubt you could be engaged, for he was very confident (or well persuaded, or something of that kind) that you wrote for the Columbian, and were paid for it; and he ascribed the biographical pieces, in particular, to you. Upon my asking the reasons of his opinion, he replied that he did not know (or believe) that anybody else possessed suitable
materials; but I suspect he has had more particular information in Philadelphia. It was suggested among the proprietors that Thomas's Magazine would interfere with us in Massachusetts, where we hoped for a number of subscribers; and N. W. afterwards hinted to me the idea of a coalition, which I was pleased with. He told me he was going to the eastward, and would talk with Thomas about it. I supposed that he would talk with you too, and gave you the hint that you might be prepared. It seems he has done so; and by last post I received proposals for an union, which I have laid before the proprietors here, and they are disapproved of. Upon this plan, the Register was to be printed here, and the Magazine in Boston. One of the proprietors here was to furnish half the matter for the Magazine monthly, and forward it to Boston, where N. W. was to act as editor, or engage Mr. Belknap, or some person of equal ability, to act for him; and this editor was to furnish the other half of the matter. As a compensation for my papers, I was to be a proprietor of a 7th of both publications; for they were to be separate. All expences, bad debts, and other losses, were to be divided equally among the partners. These proposals were signed by Noah Webster and Isaiah Thomas & Co. In a letter to me, N. W. sent a calculation, by which he attempted to prove that the value of a share would be near £200 per annum. Such an hint might have done for a person unacquainted with the nature of the business, but old birds want a more substantial temptation than chaff. A principal objection against the plan of union was the risque and expence of sending materials and publications backwards and forwards through so great a distance: one failure would be fatal to one month's magazine, and a repetition of such a disaster would discourage subscribers. The subscribers here would probably not be satisfied with a magazine printed elsewhere, and could not be furnished with one so early in the month; and, for my part, I am not
willing to give up my papers on so precarious a chance of a
N. W. (notwithstanding his obligation under hand and seal) "confesses himself unwilling to continue the Magazine and Register on our first plan;" and I am much mistaken if the other proprietors do not disappoint him by taking him at his word and releasing him from his obligations; for his being known to be concerned makes the subscription go on heavily (this, inter nos). magazine was a paltry performance, and people fear a continuation of it. We cannot find his 500 subscribers yet. We have but about 200 in this city, most of whom have been tempted by my papers, as is said. We agreed among ourselves not to let the proprietors be known, but N. W. has let the cat quite out of the bag. I am clear for going on without him, which, I think, may be done better than with him; and my plan would be that a sufficient number of literary characters should be united to make the most, if not the whole, of the magazine original. The profits upon each share (especially at first) would be but small; but so, on the other hand, would the risque. Suppose there should be no profit for a year or two, and that the work should but barely defray the expence for that time, yet it may be presumed that, if it was conducted with spirit, the public would patronize it, being sure of original entertainment, and that at length the property would become very valuable. What do you think of this idea?
Our printer has been disappointed, as to both his new types and paper, so that we shall not publish on the 1st February, as was proposed; and, indeed, the subscription list is too small yet, although it includes the principal characters in this city. Publishing before we have subscribers enough to defray the expence, or very near it, would only ensure a failure; for it will never do to depend on chance sales.
Having given you the history of the business, and its present state, I now resume my hint. At the time I gave it, my opinion was that a share in this Magazine would be valuable; and, in that view, I was desirous you should own one, and therefore did not wish you to refuse hastily. I am still of the same opinion, and, if I find that the prospect brightens, shall advise you to join us; but I shall not do this unless I see such a subscription list as will afford a rational prospect of success. If my plan is adopted, I can easily get you admitted as a proprietor; and you may without difficulty contribute your share of originality. All I wish at present is that you would bear this idea in your mind, and not engage yourself so far otherwise as that you may not be able to derive advantage from this source, should it be in your offer hereafter. I know, too, that your genius, abilities, and industry will contribute much to the success of a magazine; and therefore, if I am concerned in one, I should wish to have you along with me.
I am glad you think of finishing your History of New Hampshire. That ought not to be neglected; but I conceive you may occasionally, and not unprofitably to yourself, assist some of those who now solicit you. From what I have already mentioned, you will see great difficulties in uniting all the interests. Could it be done, I apprehend a magazine for the Union might be monopolized, and success ensured; but this I deem impracticable. This being the case, I think it will hardly be worth while to apply to Trenchard.
If I understand your connection with Spotswood rightly, I do not apprehend you have any property in your communications to him, having received a compensation for them, which, I apprehend, amounts to a bargain and sale. Nevertheless, as he has probably made all the use of them which he ever will, and perhaps can, I should think he would not object against your republishing them in a larger