Even in this time when any yahoo with a computer can self-publish a blog like this one–or perhaps especially in this time–there is still an honor in being published in a more formal way in a a recognized serial publication or by a known publisher. However, the honor comes with a price. Specifically, you need to deal with the editors at the recognized publication, who may interrupt your life with a lengthy series of requests for multiple rounds of time-consuming revisions and changes. Some of these changes may seem useful to you, and some may not. But it’s the quantity of them, arriving over a period of months or even years, that wear you out.
This process is what the English historian G.M Young was referring to when he apparently said: “Being published by the Oxford University Press is rather like being married to a duchess: the honour is almost greater than the pleasure.”
I say “apparently” because the quotation is attributed to Young in a letter from Rupert Hart-Davis to George Lyttelton in The Lyttelton Hart-Davis letters : correspondence of George Lyttelton and Rupert Hart-Davis (vol. 1, p. 122, letter of April 29, 1956).
The problem can be apparent from the publisher’s side, too. The New Yorker magazine of several decades ago was (in)famous for its detailed editing and fact-checking. The editor at the time, Harold Ross, once wrote in a letter to H.L. Mencken: ““We have carried editing to a very high degree of fussiness here, probably to a point approaching the ultimate. I don’t know how to get it under control.” The quotation can be found in Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross, edited by Thomas Kunkel (letter of November 9, 1948).
The “honor” of publication is reminiscent of the story commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, when he was asked about the “honor” of being the President of the United States during the US Civil War. Lincoln is supposed to have said: “You have heard the story, haven’t you, about the man who was tarred and feathered and carried out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked him how he liked it. His reply was that if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk.”
Here, I say “attributed” because the quotation comes from a book written many years later: that is, Emanuel Hertz, Lincoln Talks: A Biography in Anecdote (1939, pp. 258-59). I don’t know of a more contemporaneous source. Thus, I include it here in the blog, but an fussy editor might well ask me to rewrite the attribution three times, and then to leave it out altogether.