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A Note on John McNeillie’s First Publisher

Putnam & Co

John McNeillie’s first publisher was PUTNAM & CO of London and New York. The man who discovered Wigtown Ploughman: Part of his Life and its young author was Boston-born and Harvard-educated, Constant Huntington (1876-1962). Huntington had joined Putnam (New York) in 1902 and three years later was despatched to run their London office.

As his obituarist put it in The Times in 1962, he was ‘a soldierly-looking, strikingly handsome man, patrician in taste, radical in outlook’. He was one of the very last individualist publishers and under his control Putnam almost certainly never published a book he hadn’t read and with which he didn’t personally deal in every detail.

It’s not exactly clear when John McNeillie’s book was typed up from manuscript and sent to Putnam. But it is highly probable, judging from dates in the manuscript, that it was ready by the end of the summer of 1937 (at which date he was twenty-one). Huntington took great pains to direct and promote his young author, to widen his horizons and introduce him to the great world. But McNeillie would never be anyone’s man, for better or worse. Besides which the war intervened to disrupt the world. The break with Putnam came with McNeillie’s fourth book, No Resting Place (1948). Huntington suggested revisions and these were resisted. Thereafter John McNeillie became Ian Niall and William Heinemann his publisher, while No Resting Place (billed as Ian Niall’s first book) went on to be filmed by Paul Rotha and to be taken up in America by Knopf.