"The Bonnet Laird" - a short story (1894) - by Eva Anstruther

A 'bonnet laird' was a proprietor whose estate was so small that he worked it himself as a farmer (the term refers to his customary humble headdress).

Less than ten years after the "Scratch Society" stories, Eva Anstruther succeeded in placing a short story with the prestigious "Temple Bar" Magazine. The editor at the time of acceptance of her short story, was George Bentley, who served from 1867 to 1895. There exist records of the correspondence to this transaction although the date of the story's publication is currently unknown.

Temple Bar Magazine - is listed as "a London Magazine for Town and Country Readers" and sold for about one shilling. It was one of the leading literary magazines of the era. Founded in 1860, it flourished - through 553 issues - up to 1906. In its time, 'Temple Bar' published work by writers such as Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins, Charles Reade, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Arthur Conan Doyle and E. F. Benson. Initially the magazine achieved a circulation of some 30,000 which eventually settled at around the 13,000 mark in the late 1860s. By 1896 it had dropped to about 8,000.
The rights to the story were handled by A. P. Watt of the A. P. Watt Literary Agency. This was the world's first literary agency and was, for its first thirty years of existence, the largest as well. Alexander Pollock Watt (1834-1914) began working as a literary agent in 1875 when a friend called upon him to negotiate a contract with a London publishing company. By 1881, A. P. Watt had incorporated his business and begun to define the role of the literary agent. Watt's son, A. S. Watt, took over the literary agency after the elder Watt's death in 1914. A. S. Watt continued to attract important authors to the agency, among them Pearl Buck, G. K. Chesterton, Robert Graves, W. Somerset Maugham, Rafael Sabatini, Nevil Shute, Mark Twain, P. G. Wodehouse, William Butler Yeats, and Herbert George Wells, for whom A. S. Watt was not only personal literary agent, but close friend as well.

The following information is extracted from the A.P.Watt Collection (#11036 - General Literature) - The Manuscripts Department - CB# 3926, Wilson Library - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Chapel Hill, North Carolina U.S.A. (c/o Ms Donna Baker to whom grateful thanks are extended).

In a handwritten letter dated August 30th 1894, Bentley pleads weight of new MSS as a reason for the delay in replying to A.P. Watt and states - "I have now read The Bonnet Laird and will pay at once 20 for its use in Temple Bar. Kindly send me a line here." Then, obviously in reference to immediate previous correspondence between them in which Watt must have intimated some form of illness, or perhaps overwork, Bentley says, "I hope you have benefited by your rest."

Eva Anstruther sent a handwritten reply to A.P. Watt (who had clearly posted to her news of the offer at once) by letter on September 3rd on letterhead with the address - Gillingshill, Pittenweem, N.B. - as follows: "Dear Sir, I shall be very glad to close with Mr. G. Bentley's offer of 20 - for the use of 'The Bonnet Laird', in Temple Bar, if you think it well that I should do so. Do I retain my right to republish with other short stories in book form should I wish to do so at any future time? or is that understood 'with acknowledgement'? Would Mr. Bentley, I wonder, give us any idea of when the story is likely to appear, as it is rather interesting knowing I always think. Would you kindly forward me the cheque here, after you have made the proper deductions. I am so much obliged to you for the trouble you have taken. I hope in the course of a month or so to send you another story - in dialogue form - as an experiment. Yrs. sincerely - Eva Anstruther.

On 4th September A.P. Watt replied by typescript letter (copy of office original extant) to Bentley (at Upton, Slough, Bucks.) thus: "Dear Mr Bentley, referring to yours of the 30th ultimo, I have the pleasure of informing you that I am this morning in receipt of a note from the Hon. Mrs. Anstruther, in which she authorizes me to accept your kind offer of 20 for the exclusive use in "Temple Bar" of her new short story "A Bonnet Laird", 'copy' of which you already have in your hands. I shall be glad to receive your cheque in settlement, as kindly promised. Believe me, dear Mr Bentley, Yours very sincerely," (copy unsigned).