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diators, hireling scribes, and assassins of character, for the poor privilege of wearing a decent coat, and of calling themselves litteraires, the former not always so certain as the latter. We always except that class of writers who are independent of their writings, and the other, no less respectable, whose task of writing is one of periodical occurrence.
We have now fearlessly,—perhaps, for the squeamish taste of the day, too fearlessly,--stated the effect that the present order of affairs has upon authors generally as a clase. We have shown the disadvantages under which they labour, and how that, though they are greatly to be pitied, until the evils by which they are oppressed be removed, they will never be greatly respected until they be dead-a consummation of glory the most ambitious of them, we believe, would defer as long as they could. We now proceed to examine what real advantages the very few pirates gain by thus plundering the many aggrieved.
Do they gain anything? We almost think, in the long run, not. Fair play is the best play all the world over. Of all those engaged in the instance of the shabby reprint of “ Rienzi,” how much did each gain by this job of so shamefully underselling? Averaging them together, they did not gain five pounds a man: but for this act they have their plea :--let us listen to it by all means. « Certainly, we have not behaved quite nobly in this affair, but, as philanthropists, we have done a violence to our generous natures in order to serve the world at large. We wish the spread of cheap knowledge. Hundreds of thousands will read the ill-printed, badly got-up, cheap edition, that never could have afforded to have paid the value of the handsome and fairly-priced ones. Observe, what benefactors we are! Who would not, to produce a good so great and so extensive, scruple a little to do violence to our conscience, and somewhat outrage the principles of fair trading ?” But this plea of the public good, specious as it may at the first glance appear, will not avail them. For when authors like those whose works are of sufficient value to be piratically printed, find that they can be done so with impunity, will cease to write, because the unprotected purchaser of their works will cease to offer them a remunerating price, and thus many glorious books will never delight that public, for the instruction of which the surreptitious printers are so zealous. But this class, though the immediate instruments of the evil, are scarcely deserving of a thought. Roguery—and smooth down the matter as you will, the printing another man's works against his consent is a species of roguery-roguery will always find abettors as well as apologists, whilst it can be made profitable with impunity.
But the public, the last clause on which we intend to touch ; yes, that public, for whose welfare so much wickedness has been perpetrated, is perpetrating, and always will be perpetrated, that public, which is such a ready, and so ample a cover for our private vices, and the name of which is not always a transparent cloke to cover every species of injustice, we will now take under our protection, and show how much it is abused, wronged, and cheated, by those who wish to extend and perpetuate the impression that this undue and unjust multiplication of the best works is a thing so greatly to its advantage.
We will, for the sake of the argument, allow that a very great evil may be done to a few for the sake of the good of the many. We will allow, for the same laudable purpose, that authors may be ruined, and publishers, the respectable ones, beggared; yet still we deny, when all this crying injustice has been committed, that the public are benefited.
In matters of literary production, reputation is the one thing needful. No doubt, talent, or whimsicality, or position, or accident of some sort, must, in the first instance, have acquired for the author this reputation, and when once acquired, he must most assiduously and carefully apply himself to write himself down before he can divest himself of it. Who will deny this to be the case ? The mass of readers cannot judge for themselves : they think themselves, and perhaps they are, better employed: consequently, they call for what others have pronounced to be the best, and it is supplied to them in the utmost profusion at the very lowest possible rate, and at a price infinitely lower than that at which they can purchase what they may suppose to be the worst. Who, among the majority of readers, would not rather buy one of Mr. Bulwer's or Captain Marryat's novels, printed in France and America for five shillings, than expend a guinea and a half upon the almost unknown production of a totally unknown author ? Is not the thing apparent ? There is no room, no opportunity given, for rising talent. It requires, in the first instance, an independence to become an author, in the next, an accident of some sort, (and great talent is one,) to become popular; and, lastly, even these will not secure to the lucky individual a liberal or a fair return for his labours.
None are more ready than ourselves to do honour to the writers who now possess the pavé of literature ; but, for the respect we have for our common nature, we must affirm that, though they are the best that have appeared, we do not think they are the best that exist. That they should be the best, even in a numerical point of view, the chances are infinitely against them. Thus young and aspiring genius is overlaid and crushed, not by a monopoly, but by something, though the very reverse, more cruel, and more oppressively efficacious. Reputation, for the time being, thrusts aside merit of all kinds, and thus the world is defrauded of some of the finest monuments which the human mind could raise, and raise with it the intellectual glories of the race.
The operation of this cause is most prejudicial in America : there, the influx of English works of notoriety is so great, that native talent actually has hardly a chance of being heard. An American, conscious of a superior mind, consequently, comes over to England and publishes there in the first instance.
Our beloved brother Jonathan, (and, notwithstanding a few peculiarities he possesses, to which we are not yet reconciled, we love him dearly,) is not so soft as to buy a copyright of his own countryman, when he can publish the best works of the English press without handing out the dollars for that exacting fellow, the author. We really believe, though we are not quite certain as to the American law upon the case, but we really believe that our brother contrives to make John Bull pay for the copyright of American authors, which he reprints in the United States, as the vulgar have it, gratis, free, and for nothing. Of this we are certain, that the gentlemen who published Cooper's novels, and Willis's “Pencillings,” did not acquire the right to do so merely for the trouble of doing it.
The American public, however, is one, let its worst enemies say what they will, that has always its eyes open. They are more alive to the importance of this subject than ourselves. Already do they talk of bringing out a law of international copyright. We rejoice at this, but feel a little shame that this boon, or rather this justice, should not have originated with the parent country. However, as a very able writer has expressed himself, though we do but follow in the path, “ Our transatlantic brethren will do themselves honour by such an act of justice to the commonwealth of literature.”* They will do more-they will do themselves great good-they will foster the latent genius of their fine country—they will excite among themselves that best of all ambitions, the intellectual—they will cultivate their taste, refine their manners, and ornament their wealth and their worth by those graces that make the one valuable and the other dignified.
If we cordially unite with America in achieving this great good, its effect upon the world at large will be incalculable. Our glorious language will then become the depôt of all the treasures of the human mind, and thus gradually encroaching upon the use of the others, finally become the universal organ of civilisation-more general than ever was the boasted Latin, even when at its zenith. This will be the sooner effected if other European nations are slow to enter into this benign compact.
We think that France is too liberal, and much too alive to her own interests, to be long before she follows the example that England and America will give her so speedily. We well know, that while the instances are but few in which we reprint a French work, the publishers of that nation are daily re-issuing cheap English editions, and, therefore, that as the case now stands, the advantages are all their own; but if their rulers will but think a little, they will discover that they are employing unjustly an engine that will itself avenge the injustice, by wounding that tenderest of all tender things, their national pride, in thus widely extending the use of a rival language that they, at least, wish never to see, or will never acknowledge to be universal.
If but the three great nations of the civilised world, England, France, and America, will but cordially unite in establishing a just, efficient, and comprehensive law of international copyright, other states must inevitably follow the example, and writers may then hope to possess the property which they have with so much labour created, and publishers feel no hesitation in purchasing it.
But, as the case now stands, for the want of an international law on this momentous subject, robbery of the worst description, and the most extensive in its ramifications, is committed not only with impunity, but without even the visitation of shame on the heads of the perpetrators; and the fact may be familiarly, perhaps a little coarsely, illustrated as follows.
* Vide the voluminous works of Mr. Saunders.
Between the author and the publisher, the selling and the buying of a book, is, up to one point, exactly similar to the selling and the buying of a horse. The horse necessarily is taken, like the book, with all faults; you can warrant the horse, of course, but the publisher takes, instead of a warrant for his book, the author's previous success, the nature of the work, and his own very fallible judgment. The horse may die in a week, or may live and work well till a good old age. The book may never live at all, but fall still-born from the press. These are all fair matters of speculation; the thing is done with open eyes, and the buyer generally employs them with tolerable success. But-and in this lies the gist of the question—who would buy a horse, when it was understood that if the animal turned out an uncommon good ’un to go, any blackguard that was worth (worthy ?) à halter, might fling it over the head of the steed, and ride him to the devil? Such a contingency, however, the publisher is forced to take into consideration when he purchases a work. But he is still worse off than the hypothetical purchaser of the horse ; for it is not his own countryman that does him the injury, but an alien, a foreigner, and perhaps an enemy; and the gain of the nefarious transaction circulates, not in his own country, but in that of a jealous rival of our trade, and of a bitter enemy to our commercial welfare.
We fear that we have a little too much elaborated this part of our subject; but we felt it a duty imperative upon us to show the distressing nature of the evil under which the author, the publisher, and the public labour, through the existing state of things. We will now say a few words upon the nature of the remedy, and, first, suggest what it is that the author should demand.
He has, at present, by the law of England, the right in his work secured to him and to his assignees, for a certain number of years. We think that the term should have been longer—we cannot see why the descendants or assignees of Shakspeare should not now enjoy the mental and eternal estate that he created, as well as the descendants and assignees of any other man who made a fortune at the same time, or had acquired a patrimony by public services, should now enjoy his ; but we suppose that houses and lands are of so much less value than epics and plays, that we can afford to abstract the former for ever from the use of the public, whilst the latter is much too precious to be private preperty for more than twenty-eight years. The legislature, who are composed by-the-bye of more landholders than authors, have, in their wisdom, thought otherwise. As good subjects ought, we bow to their decision, and now only ask them to secure to us by treaty the boon that they have vouchsafed to us. Is it asking too much, if the American law should grant us poor authors a longer right in our properties, that we also might be permitted to partake of the same advantage? We also think that, in case of war between the contracting countries, this treaty, or international law, should still be held inviolable; for even in invasions, private property is always respected.
We are also of opinion, that were this law established, it would be an infringement of it, without the author's permission, or that of his assignee, to translate his work into another language. The thoughts and the material of the work will always be that, if properly rendered, of the original author. As, of course, there would be considerable time and trouble expended on the part of the translator, we think that the author or assignee should not be empowered to ask more than half the price for the permission to translate, of that sum which was originally paid for the copyright. But of this we have no doubt, that those in whom the copyright was vested, should have a 'veto in the case; for what author of talent could patiently suffer himself to be misrepresented or travestied by any blundering dunce who fancied that he understood his original ?
There is also, in this matter, another question that requires a serious consideration; it is, whether the holder of the copyright should possess the right to withhold it from the public altogether. Though, hitherto, it may have appeared that we have been pleading, and perhaps too specially, for the authors and their agents, the booksellers, we assure the public, that we have their interests more at heart than that of any individual class whatever. We will suppose that an international copyright law between ourselves and America was fully ratified and in active and beneficial operation, and that Mr. A., the author, has sold to Mr. B., the publisher, his entire copyright of a work,-of course at an advanced price, for now Mr. B. would have the supply of the whole world :-the work has a great success, and the American public are athirst for it, and, consequently, the American publishers are eager to purchase the privilege of printing and publishing; but, Mr. B. either asking too high a price for it, or withholding the permission altogether, should he not be compellable to come to reasonable terms ? It may be replied, that Mr. B. will undertake to furnish the whole of America with exported copies; but, we think, that this would never be endured, because the same book then would be dearer in America than in England, by all the charges of agency, customhouse duties, and freight; and it would be a great solecism in political economy, as well as an absolute loss and injury to the American public at large, by enforcing upon them all that is odious in a foreign monopoly. The same, vice versa, would apply to England. It was never our intention, in vindicating the rights of authors, to create a scarcity of books, or a denial of instruction and amusement to extensive classes of society. It therefore would seem advisable, that if the publishers of a foreign state did not choose to import the finished book of the country of the author, that it might be permitted to them to compel the author or his assignee to sell them the privilege of printing and publishing any work in their own country. Indeed, as regards América and ourselves, if the international copyright law made it imperative on them to take our ready-finished books or none, untaxed Jonathan would have to pay, as far as the imported book was concerned, on that book all the taxes of over-taxed England; for in the producing of a volume every tax that bears upon our industry, bears upon the volume also.
What to us appears fair, is this : let the author or his consignee, the bookseller, say to the foreigner, “ If the demand for this work be but small in your country, of course it would answer your purpose much better to take an assignment of the ready-made books; but if large, you must purchase of me the right to print and publish yourselves,