Pushkin A.S. Eugene Onegin. Spb. 1833.
Pushkin A.S. Eugene Onegin. A novel in verse. Work by Alexander Pushkin. [Chapters I-VIII], St. Petersbourg, in A. Smirdin’s printing-house, 1833. 8° (21,5х13,0 cm). Second edition. (First in full). Contemporary red morocco, covers with frames in gilt, spine is richly gilt, white watered-silk endpapers, borders, top edge gilt. Fine copy!
N.P. Smirnov-Sokolskiy wrote about the history of Eugene Onegin published in 1833:
«Pushkin lived in Petersburg from the end of 1831 to the first months of 1833. The material affairs of the poet were far from excellent. He issued very few books for this period, but the life with his wife in Petersburg required very great expenses. Neither the state salary nor the allowance from Smirdin was sufficient. He had to undertake something to live not only on borrowings, bills and pledges.
It could happen that Smirdin gave the poet an opportunity to improve his material affairs by issuing the first complete edition of Eugene Onegin. Though the chapters of this novel printed in separate books were not yet sold and held by Smirdin, they were few and expensive and also not always complete. Smirdin was certainly interested in a new and complete publication of Eugene Onegin.
However, Pushkin decided initially to print the complete issue of his novel with the help of Pletnev. There is a very interesting draft sheet in the book Pushkin's Handwriting with the poet's calculations of the expected issue. These calculations were made already in Boldino, about September 1830. In this sheet, he wrote the dates of finishing the work on each chapter in Eugene Onegin and made the total calculation of time spent for this writing. According to Pushkin's calculations, he spent «7 years 4 months 17 days». This calculation is followed by number 45, which is referred to by the compilers of the book Pushkin's Handwriting as the total price of all the nine chapters of this novel (at that time Pushkin was not going yet to combine the eighth and ninth chapters in one), 9 chapters of 5 roubles each = 45 roubles.
Then this calculation gives number 15; in the opinion of commentators, this is the new price proposed by the author for the complete edition of Eugene Onegin (it also seems true for me) and then there is multiplication of this price by the projected circulation of 2400 copies that resulted in the total issue price of 36000 roubles. Further, there is a Pushkin's handwriting in the calculation: number 25 in a circle. The authors of comments tend to consider this number as a new price proposed by the author for complete Eugene Onegin, i. e., twenty-five rather than fifteen roubles per a copy. I dare to disagree. It seems to me if a book-selling discount and printing costs are deduced from the total issue price of 36000 roubles, then number 25 written by Pushkin will mean the net profit from the issue, which the author could expect.
Most probably, this issue would take place in these terms but Pushkin timely reminded that the right to re-issue all the chapters in Eugene Onegin (with the exception of the last eighth chapter) was not held by him due to the known agreement, which he concluded on May 01, 1830 with Smirdin. Under this agreement, Pushkin was entitled for four years to publish any new books but «not to touch anything printed before the agreement». Seven chapters of Eugene Onegin were included in the number of the latter. Pushkin had to wait more than one year until the end of this term but his need in money was great and, therefore, whether the author of Eugene Onegin would like or not, he had to negotiate with Smirdin about a new complete edition of his novel.
Instead of Pushkin's projected profit of 25000 roubles from this issue, Smirdin proposed the royalty of 12000 roubles that is the most common «half», which was already referred to several times in the preceding stories. At the same time, certainly, all the costs of this publication were undertaken by Smirdin. The price of complete Eugene Onegin was fixed at twelve rather than fifteen roubles as Pushkin would like; as to the circulation, it remained the same as was projected by the author: 2000 or 2400 copies. From one issue of 1200 copies, Smirdin could not pay the author the royalty of 12000 roubles. However, at that time, the control over the circulation of this issue was not held either by Pushkin or by Pletnev. Under the agreement, Smirdin was the publisher of complete Eugene Onegin rather than the purchaser of its full issue. That is why for the first time Smirdin put on Pushkin's book his trademark Published by Book-Seller Smirdin and printed this book at his own printing house.
Eugene Onegin was published by Smirdin very finely though simply. Probably, he published the major part of this issue in the publisher's covers because there are very rare copies in printed covers, which are made roughly, without a usual type-set frame and decorations. The only printing is Eugene Onegin on the face cover and Sold at A. Smirdin's Book Shop. Price 12 roubles on the back cover. To some extent, such a cover was almost equal to a «dumb» colour wrapping, in which some books were published at that time. This novel was published without dedications, preface and Dialogue of Book-Seller and Poet. In the end, after the notes, Fragments from Onegin's Travel were printed. This full publication of the novel was greeted in such words by Moscow Telegraph:
«Until now Onegin was sold at a price, which was not heard in the book-selling annals: 40 roubles to be paid for eight parts! One can judge about the extra charge because now Onegin with appendices and notes is sold at 12 roubles. Praise the poet, who took compassion upon the thin pockets of reading people! Cheer to Russia, where rich people buy so few books, while it was so difficult for poor ones to buy Onegin!...»
Along with all the appearing friendliness of this article, there is a biting hint to very expensive separate parts of Eugene Onegin.
I have already said that this issue was extremely annoying for Pushkin. His Denials to Critics contain such answer to this accusation, which was not printed during the poet's life: «In addition to other literary accusation, I was reproached for a too high price of Eugene Onegin, in which they saw my awful self-interest. It is good to say so for those who have not sold the own works at all or whose works have not been sold but how could this nice accusation be repeated by the publishers of North Bee? The price is fixed by the book-sellers rather than by the writer. With respect to verses, the number of demanders is limited. It consists from the same persons, who pay 5 roubles for a seat at the theatre. Having purchased the whole issue, for example, at one rouble per copy, the book-sellers would sell still at 5 roubles. However, in this case, the author could start the second issue cheaper, but the book-seller could then reduce the own price and this drop the new issue. These trade turnovers are well known by us, common writers. We know that a cheap book does not prove that the author is unselfish, but evidences either a great demand for this book or absolute termination of sale. I ask what is more profitable: to print 20000 copies of a book and sell them at 50 kopecks or to print 200 copies to be sold at 50 roubles? For example, fables and novels are read by writers, merchants, gentlemen, ladies, chambermaids, and children as well. But a lyrical poem is read only by those who love poetry. Are they numerous?»
1. Smirnov-Sokol’skii, Biblioteka, vol. I, №1016.
2. Kilgour (to be absent).
3. Smirnov-Sokol’skii, Rasskazy o prizhiznennykh izdaniyakh Pushkina, №31, p.p. 309-320.
4. Tsyavlovskii, Pushkin in Print, 1814-1837, №908.