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Twice-Told Tales is a short story collection in two volumes by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The first was published in the spring of 1837, and the second in 1842. The stories had all been previously published in magazines and annuals, hence the name.
Hawthorne was encouraged by friend Horatio Bridge to collect these previously anonymous stories; Bridge offered $250 to cover the risk of the publication. Many had been published in The Token, edited by Samuel Griswold Goodrich. When the works became popular, Bridge revealed Hawthorne as the author in a review he published in the Boston Post.
The title, Twice-Told Tales, was based on a line from William Shakespeare's The Life and Death of King John (Act 3, scene 4): "Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, / Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man." The book was published by the American Stationers' Company on March 6, 1837; its cover price was one dollar.Hawthorne had help in promoting the book from Elizabeth Peabody. She sent copies of the collection to William Wordsworth as well as to Horace Mann, hoping that Mann could get Hawthorne a job writing stories for schoolchildren.
After publication, Hawthorne asked a friend to check with the local bookstore to see how it was selling. After noting the initial expenses for publishing had not been met, he complained: "Surely the book was puffed enough to meet with sale. What the devil's the matter?" By June, between 600 and 700 copies were sold but sales were soon halted by the Panic of 1837 and the publisher went out of business within a year.
On October 11, 1841, Hawthorne signed a contract with publisher James Munroe to issue a new, two-volume edition of Twice-Told Tales with 21 more works than the previous edition. 1000 copies were published in December of that year with a cover price $2.25; Hawthorne was paid 10 percent per copy. Hawthorne complained that he still struggled financially. Editor John L. O'Sullivan suggested Hawthorne buy back unsold copies of Twice-Told Tales so that they could be reissued through a different publisher. At the time of this suggestion, 1844, there were 600 unsold copies of the book. Hawthorne lamented, "I wish Heaven would make me rich enough to buy the copies for the purpose of burning them."
After the success of The Scarlet Letter in 1850, Twice-Told Tales was reissued with the help of publisher James Thomas Fields. In a new preface, Hawthorne wrote that the stories "may be understood and felt by anybody, who will give himself the trouble to read it, and will take up the book in a proper mood."