Mad Man Turned Publisher
After a failed business venture in toilet paper (Pick-Quick Papers), Horace Liveright took a temporary job in a New York advertising agency while contemplating his next entrepreneurial move. Co-worker Albert Boni provided the concept for Liveright's latest venture: a publishing firm that would reprint modern classics by British and European authors in inexpensive editions--The Modern Library of the World's Greatest Books. Boni contributed $4,000 to the start-up, and Liveright put in $12,500, money borrowed from his father-in-law. From 1917 to 1930 the publishing house of Boni & Liveright (renamed Horace Liveright, Inc. in 1928) championed innovative American writers, such as Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill, and Dorothy Parker. In 1918 Albert Boni lost a coin toss with Liveright for control of the company, and in 1925 Liveright sold The Modern Library side of the business to Bennett Cerf, who renamed the company "Random House" two years later.
Although 1928 was a banner year for sales, the next two were dismal. The combination of low sales and the 1929 stock market crash left Liveright financially destitute. He tried his hand in the movie industry in California and thought to write his autobiography. Although never completed, this typescript was recently donated to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library by his daughter, Lucy Liveright Koch. Noting in pencil that he wants the following to appear in the first three pages of the book, Horace begins:
I will often speak of the effect that alcohol has always had on my friends and me. . . . When I speak about temperance, I do not mean that I feel that people should be temperate about things largely outside themselves. In their extraverted interests in life I feel that flaming passion, intemperate enthusiasms, single-tracked fixity of purpose, ideas and ideals invariably accomplish finer results that a carefully balanced, temperate, open-minded, liberal attitude.
The unfinished memoir is accompanied by several correspondence files--material that Liveright took home from the office as he was writing his autobiography. The Liveright children, Herman and Lucy, donated many other correspondence files in 1962; this collection has been fully processed and cataloged as Ms. Coll. 4. Lucy's gift includes scarce letters from Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), an American poet who wrote about the central California coast and is considered a pioneer of the environmental movement. There is a substantial amount of correspondence with architectural critic Lewis Mumford, whose papers are housed in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library as Ms. Coll. 2. Another item is a telegram from Liveright about Freud: "Kindly quote us best terms on Sigmund Freud's new book regarding futility of life." And from the Hogarth Press Leonard Woolf responds to a letter from Liveright about Freud's books and a dispute between the two publishers.
To see more of the Liveright memoir and correspondence, request Ms. Coll. 896 in the reading room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Horace Liveright, Inc. Catalog, Fall 1929
On Being a Drunk, from Liveright's unfinished autobiography
Current and previous stories:
Frank L. Wright's Paternal Family