Monday, 5 February 2018

Arthur Fifield and Chertkov: The Free Age Press

After writing my previous post I have found this article online by Holman which gives more details of Arthur Fifield and Chertkov (‘Translating Tolstoy for the Free Age Press: Vladimir Chertkov and His English Manager Arthur Fifield’, Holman, Michael J. De K., The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol 66, No 2, April 1988).  The article included information from a record written by Fifield.  “In 1933, at the request of Chertkov, with whom he had had no contact for a quarter of a century, Fifield wrote an account of his time as Manager of the FAP.  The account, a typewritten copy of which has been given to the present writer by A. Brandt Esq., bears the heading: THE FREE AGE PRESS (English Branch).  Joint Editors: V. Tchertkoff, A. C. Fifield, Manager: A. C. Fifield.  1900-1902.  A Brief Statement of Its Work, by A. C. Fifield, 1933.  Fifield’s Statement, which runs to some twenty-three closely typed pages, has been of considerable assistance to the present writer in the preparation of this article.”

“It was at Tamworth Hall that Chertkov first met Arthur Fifield.  Fifield, fourteen years Chertkov’s junior, was then in his late twenties.  He was a regular attender at the Brotherhood Church and, from September 1897, acted at Secretary for its weekly gatherings.  Of primary importance to Chertkov, however was the fact that, in addition to his Tolstoyan sympathies, Fifield had first-hand experience of the production and distribution of books in Britain. …When Chertkov left London for Essex, they remained in regular contact, exchanging letters and often coming together to discuss matters concerning  Chertkov’s translating, editing and publishing problems.  It was not until early 1900, however, that Chertkov formally rote to Fifield, inviting him to leave his work in London and join him in the country in order to establish a small publishing business initially devoted entirely to the production of cheap, un-copyrighted editions of translations of Tolstoy, asking ‘It is not a question of whether you will accept, but whether you dare refuse.’”

Fifield had been working for the James Bowden firm, which had just closed down.  His last work there had been the “manufacturing and marketing of penny editions of Charles Sheldon’s religious novels, selling three million copies in six months! Chertkov could hardly have hoped to equal these sales, but the fact that Fifield had first-hand experience of publishing literature of a quasi-religious nature for mass distribution made him a particularly valuable acquisition.  Although well aware of the difficulties of working with Chertkov, Fifield enthusiastically took up the offer, writing in his ‘Statement’:

I was not sorry to change for something much nearer to my heart.  I wanted to be a ‘good Tolstoyan’, to be useful in the world, to take little and give much, and not to compete but to originate.  I was 32 years old, had been married six years, and my wife shared my ideals.”

The Free Age Press was funded not be Chertkov but by Alexander Nikolayevich Konshin.  “According to Fifield, Konshin, who came of a family of wealthy cotton-spinners based in the textile town of Serpukhov, was the sole source of capital first providing an outright gift of £300 and a year later giving a further £200.  It was from these donations that Fifield’s own salary was paid, to begin with £2 10s. 0d. and later, at Konshin’s wish. Once the business was under way, £3 per week…

The FAP did not print ‘in-house’ and required no elaborate equipment.  The office was a back bedroom in Fifield’s home, first at Catford in South East London and later at Wick Cottage in Southbourne, Hampshire.  Thus, although the imprint on the early FAP editions was ‘Maldon, Essex’, physically there was never a Free Age Press at Maldon.    Instead, Fifield maintained regular contact with Chertkov by letter and made frequent visits to Purleigh to consult with him, but when ready to print he engaged outside printers, often the Edinburgh firm of Morrison and Gibb. 

from Open Plaques

Tolstoy wrote with his appreciation
“Dear Friends,
I have received the first issues of your books, booklets and leaflets containing my writings, as well as the statements concerning the object and plan of The Free Age Press.

The publications are extremely neat and attractive, and – what to me appears most important – very cheap, and therefore quite accessible to the great public, consisting of the working classes. 

I also warmly sympathize with the announcement on your translations that no rights are reserved.  Being well aware of all the extra sacrifices and practical difficulties that this involves for a publishing concern at the present day, I particularly desire to express my heartfelt gratitude to the translators and participators in your work, who in generous compliance with my objection to copyright of any kind, thus help to render yor English version of my writings absolutely free to all who may wish to make sue of it. 

Should I write anything more which I may think worthy of publication, I will with great pleasure forward it to your without delay.

With heartiest wishes for the further success of your efforts,
Leo Tolstoy."

"…All unused to business by nature and training as he was, even despising its claims on time and attention, and impatient with any new chains of obligations, Tcherkoff yet bowed his neck to my English yoke and subdued himself for three years sufficiently to enable me to issue no less than forty three separate publications of a total length of 2,2024 pages, in the translation of which he took a very large share, with a total circulation of 209,000 copies besides a quarter of a million leaflets.  And multiplying the page length by the circulation attained one can say that The Free Age Press put before the English-speaking world no less than 424 million of pages of Tolstoy’s writings, on a self-supporting basis, with no personal profit; besides permitting very extensive reproduction of the articles and stories in magazines and newspapers.

"The relationship was improbable, and the achievement, even when viewed from a distance of nearly ninety years, truly remarkable.  Yet a doubt still remains.  With only a few exceptions, the FAP concerned itself exclusively with Tolstoy’s political and religious works.  As such it certainly helped focus British attention in the early years of this century on Tolstoy’s unequal struggle against Russian authoritarianism.  It also made a considerable contribution to English-language pacifist and Christian-anarchist writing in the period leading up to the First World War.  It was, however, very much part of a religious and political crusade directed against current Russian conditions, and for this, and the urgency that inevitably accompanies such a crusade, there was a price to pay, especially in terms of continuing relevance and lasting value.  Conditions in Russia changed, first after the 1905 Revolution, then again, far more radically, in 1917.  And although Tolstoy did address himself to problems of a universal relevance, supreme propagandist that he was he considered them in a contemporary context that is only with difficulty accessible to the modern reader.  For this reason, if not other, when the modern reader hears the name Tolstoy, it is to War and Peace and Anna Karenina that his thoughts first turn, and not to FAP editions of The Slavery of Our Times, The Kingdom of God, and I Cannot Be Silent.”

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