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5 1887–96 “The literary profession is no sinecure” When Julian was fired by the World, he was thrown back upon his own resources. He had discovered during his stint with the newspaper the influence of the accounting room, or the extent to which expectations of subscribers , and especially advertisers, may shape the contents of a publication. “In reality the advertisers are the formers of our literature,” he concluded. They “refuse to advertise” in a publication that “does not reach the class of people with whom they trade.”1 In tacit recognition of the point, he penned a pair of stories—“The Heart of Amunuhet” and “A Thousand Years Are but as Yesterday”—exclusively for Strawbridge and Clothier’s Quarterly, an advertising circular, to the chagrin of critics. No serious author would stoop to such a scheme to sell his work, and the Boston Herald deplored “his prostitution of talents.”2 Julian was untroubled; after all, his father had been the target of similar accusations in 1852 when he wrote Franklin Pierce’s campaign biography. Even as Julian pitched his prose to more general readers, he doubled down on its price, increasing his rates from fifteen dollars per thousand words in 1884, to twenty dollars in 1886, to twenty-five dollars in 1887. By comparison, Howells earned about one hundred dollars per thousand words.3 Moreover, Julian averaged between five hundred and one thousand dollars in royalties on each of the books, no matter how poorly they were reviewed.4 A case in point is the series of five detective novels he wrote in collaboration with Thomas F. Byrnes, the New York City chief inspector, in 1887–88. Julian did all the writing, and Byrnes supplied the plots and some local color. Among the earliest “true crime” or police procedurals, these novels proved to be extremely popular. Each of them was syndicated by McClure in some twenty newspapers; they sold in aggregate over a million copies in cheap editions; and they were translated into German, Swedish, and Dutch.5 124 part ii: the hack Julian considered Byrnes “the greatest detective in the world,”6 although in the novels he seems more like Poe’s commonsensical prefect of police than the shrewd Dupin. Byrnes is best known today for inventing“the third degree,” what might be described as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to Jacob Riis, he“was unscrupulous. . . . His famous‘third degree’ was chiefly what he no doubt considered a little wholesome ‘slugging.’”7 Although he accepted no bribes, Byrnes made a fortune in real estate while in the New York Police Department by following the investment advice of Jay Gould and other financiers. He was finally forced to retire in 1895 by the new police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt. Each of the five novels recounts the events surrounding an actual crime— for example, A Tragic Mystery (1887) was based on the Mike McGloin murder case of 1881, and The Great Bank Robbery (1887) centered on the New York bank heist of October 27, 1878. Together they introduce a rogues’ gallery of criminals and construct a hierarchy of crime, with forgery in An American Penman (1887) the most prestigious felony, followed by robbery, then blackmail in Section 558; or, The Fatal Letter (1888) and Another’s Crime (1888), then murder. Byrnes is a dogged investigator—he solves one mystery, for example, by the simple expedient of placing 118 post office boxes under simultaneous surveillance. He would have discovered a purloined letter had it been dropped in the mail. Despite their commercial success, however, the ostensible thrillers were critical disasters. The Kansas City Star again accused Julian of “prostituting genius.” The San Francisco Bulletin complained they introduced readers to “a good deal of very lowlife society” and “bear every mark of mere hackwork.”The Literary World considered them“unfit for the reading of young people,”at best good stories “of a bad kind.”8 Julian’s reputation had fallen so low by the late 1880s that he was no longer considered up-and-coming but down-and-going. A reviewer in Current Literature echoed a famous libel in its dismissal of his fiction. John Ruskin scorned one of Whistler’s nocturnes in 1877: he had “never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.”Whistler sued Ruskin and won.Yet Current Literature declared with impunity a decade later that Julian had “reached a point where he no longer has to write...


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