International Copyright


THERE is an American lady living at Hartford, in Connecticut, whom the United States has permitted to be robbed by foreigners of $200,000. Her name is Harriet Beecher Stowe. By no disloyal act has she or her family forfeited their right to the protection of the government of the United States. She pays her taxes, keeps the peace, and earns her livelihood by honest industry; she has reared children for the service of the Commonwealth; she was warm and active for her country when many around her were cold or hostile;—in a word, she is a good citizen.

More than that: she is an illustrious citizen. The United States stands higher today in the regard of every civilized being in Christendom because she lives in the United States. She is the only woman yet produced on the continent of America to whom the world assigns equal rank in literature with the great authoresses of Europe. If, in addition to the admirable talents with which she is endowed, she had chanced to possess one more, namely, the excellent gift of plodding, she had been a consummate artist, and had produced immortal works. All else she has,—the seeing eye, the discriminating intelligence, the sympathetic mind, the fluent word, the sure and happy touch; and these gifts enabled her to render her country the precise service which it needed most. Others talked about slavery; she made us see it. She showed it to us in its fairest and in its foulest aspect; she revealed its average and ordinary working. There never was a fairer nor a kinder book than "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; for the entire odium of the revelation fell upon the Thing, not upon the unhappy mortals who were born and reared under its shadow. The reader felt that Legree was not less, but far more, the victim of slavery than Uncle Tom, and the effect of the book was to concentrate wrath upon the system which tortured the slave's body and damned the master's soul. Wonderful magic of genius! The hovels and cotton-fields which this authoress scarcely saw she made all the world see, and see more vividly and more truly than the busy world can ever see remote objects with its own eyes. We are very dull and stupid in what does not immediately concern us, until we are roused and enlightened by such as she. Those whom we call "the intelligent," or "the educated," are merely the one in ten of the human family who, by some chance, learned to read, and thus came under the influence of the class whom Mrs. Stowe represents.

It is not possible to state the amount of good which this book has done, is doing, and is to do. Mr. Eugene Schuyler, in the preface to the Russian novel which he has recently done the public the good to translate, informs us that the publication of a little book in Russia contributed powerfully to the emancipation of the Russian serfs. The book was merely a collection of sketches, entitled "The Memoirs of a Sportsman"; but it revealed serfdom to the men who had lived in the midst of it all their lives without ever seeing it. Nothing is ever seen in this world, till the searching eye of a sympathetic genius falls upon it. This Russian nobleman, Turgenef, noble in every sense, saw serfdom and showed it to his countrymen. His volume was read by the present Emperor and he saw serfdom; and he has since declared that the reading of that little book was "one of the first incitements to the decree which gave freedom to thirty millions of serfs." All the reading public of Russia read it and they saw serfdom; and thus a public opinion was created, without the support of which not even the absolute Czar of all the Russians would have dared to issue a decree so sweeping and radical.

We cannot say as much for "Uncle Tom's Cabin," because the public opinion of the United States which permitted the emancipation of the slaves was of longer growth, and was the result of a thousand influences. But when we consider that the United States only just escaped dismemberment and dissolution in the late war, and that two great powers of Europe were only prevented from active interference on behalf of the Rebellion by that public opinion which "Uncle Tom's Cabin" had recently revived and intensified, we may at least believe, that, if the whole influence of that work could have been annihilated, the final triumph of the United States might have been deferred, and come only after a series of wars. That book, we may almost say, went into every household in the civilized world which contained one person capable of reading it. And it was not an essay; it was a vivid exhibition;—it was not read from a sense of duty, nor from a desire to get knowledge; it was read with passion; it was devoured; people sat up all night reading it; those who could read read it to those who could not; and hundreds of thousands who would never have read it saw it played upon the stage. Who shall presume to say how many soldiers that book added to the Union army? Who shall estimate its influence in hastening emancipation in Brazil, and in preparing amiable Cubans for a similar measure? Both in Cuba and Brazil the work has been read with the most passionate interest.

If it is impossible to measure the political effect of this work, we may at least assert that it gave a thrilling pleasure to ten millions of human beings,—an innocent pleasure, too, and one of many hour's duration. We may also say, that, while enjoying that long delight, each of those ten millions was made to see, with more or less clearness, the great truth that man is not fit to be trusted with arbitrary power over his fellow. The person who afforded this great pleasure, and who brought home this fundamental truth to so many minds, was Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Hartford, in the State of Connecticut, where she keeps house, educates her children, has a book at the grocery, and invites her friends to tea. To that American woman every person on earth who read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" incurred a personal obligation. Every individual who became possessed of a copy of the book, and every one who saw the story played in a theatre, was bound, in natural justice, to pay money to her of service rendered, unless she formally relinquished her right,—which she has never done. What can be clearer than this? Mrs. Stowe, in the exercise of her vocation, the vocation by which she lives, performs a professional service to ten millions of people. The service is great and lasting. The work done is satisfactory to the customer. What can annul the obligation resting upon each to render his portion of an equivalent, except the consent of the authoress "first had and obtained"? If Mrs. Stowe, instead of creating for our delight and instruction a glorious work of fiction, had contracted her fine powers to the point of inventing a nut-cracker or a match-safe, a rolling-pin or a needle-threader, every individual purchaser could have been compelled to pay money for the use of her ingenuity, and everybody would have thought it the most natural and proper thing in the world so to do. Revenue!—not a sum of money which, once spent, is gone forever, but that most solid and respectable of material blessings, a sum per annum! Thus we reward those who light our matches. It is otherwise that we compensate those who kindle our souls.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin," like every other novelty in literature, was the late-maturing fruit of generations. Two centuries of wrong had to pass, before the Subject was complete for the Artist's hand, and the Artist herself was a flower of an ancient and gifted family. The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher has made known this remarkable family to the public. We can all see for ourselves how slowly and painfully this beautiful genius was nourished,—what a narrow escape it had from being crushed and extinguished amid the horrors of theology and the poverty of a Connecticut parsonage,—how it was saved, and even nurtured, by that extraordinary old father, that most strange and interesting character of New England, who could come home after preaching a sermon and play the fiddle and riot with his children till bedtime. A piano found its way into the house, and the old man, whose geniality was of such abounding force that forty years of theology could not lessen it, let his children read Ivanhoe and the other novels by Sir Walter Scott. Partly by chance, partly by stealth, chiefly by the force of her own cravings, this daughter of the Puritans obtained the scanty nutriments which kept her genius from starving. By and by, on the banks of the Ohio, within sight of a slave State, the Subject and the Artist met, and there from the lips of sore and panting fugitives, she gained, in the course of years, the knowledge which she revealed to mankind in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

When she had done the work, the United States stood by and saw her deprived of three fourths of her just and legitimate wages, without stirring a finger for her protection. The book sold to the extent of two millions of copies, and the story was played in most of the theatres in which the English language is spoken, and in many French and German theatres. In one theatre in New York it was played eight times a week for twelve months. Considerable fortunes have been gained by its performance, and it is still a source of revenue to actors and managers. We believe that there are at least three persons in the United States, connected with theatres, who have gained more money from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" than Mrs. Stowe. Of all the immense sums which the exhibition of this story upon the stage has produced, the authoress received nothing. When Dumas or Victor Hugo publishes a novel, the sale of the right to perform it as a play yields him from eighty thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand francs. These authors receive a share of the receipts of the theatre,—the only fair arrangement,—and this share, we believe, is usually one tenth; which is also the usual percentage paid to authors upon the sale of their books. If a French author had written "Uncle Tom's Cabin," he would have enjoyed,—1. A part of the price of every copy sold in France; 2. A share of the receipts of every theatre in France in which he permitted it to be played; 3. A sum of money for the right of translation into English; 4. A sum of money for the right of translation into German. We believe we are fair to say, that a literary success achieved by a French author equal to that of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" would have yielded that author half a million dollars in gold; and that, too, in spite of the lamentable fact, that America would have stolen the product of his genius, instead of buying it.

Mrs. Stowe received for "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the usual percentage upon the sale of the American edition; which may have consisted of some three hundred thousand copies. This percentage, with some other trifling sums, may have amounted to forty thousand dollars. From the theatre she has received nothing; from foreign countries nothing, or next to nothing. This poor forty thousand dollars—about enough to build a comfortable house in the country, and lay out an acre or two of grounds—was the product of the supreme literary success of all times! A corresponding success in sugar, in stocks, in tobacco, in cotton, in invention, in real estate, would have yielded millions upon millions to the lucky operator. To say that Mrs. Stowe, through our cruel and shameful indifference with regard to the rights of authors, native and foreign, has been kept out of two hundred thousand dollars, honestly hers, is a most moderate and safe statement. This money was due to her as entirely as the sum named upon a bill of exchange is due to the rightful owner of the same. It was for "value received." A permanently attractive book, moreover, would naturally be more than a sum of money; it would be an estate; it would be an income. This wrong, therefore, continues to the present moment, and will go on longer that the life of the authoress. While we are writing this sentence, probably, some German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, or English bookseller is dropping into his "till" the price of a copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the whole of which he will keep, instead of sending ten percent of it to Hartford on the 1st of January next.

We have had another literary success in these years,—Mr. Motley's Histories of the Dutch Republic and of United Netherlands. As there are fifteen persons in the world who can enjoy fiction to one that will read much of any other kind of literary production, the writers of fiction usually receive some compensation for their labors. Not a fair nor an adequate compensation, but some. This compensation will never be fair nor adequate until every man or woman who buys a copy of a novel, or sees it played, shall, in so doing, contribute a certain stipulated sum to the author. Nevertheless, the writers of fiction do get a little money, and a few of them are able to live almost as well as a retired grocer. Now and then we hear of an author who gets almost as much money for a novel that enthralls and enchants two or three nations for many months, as a beardless operator in stocks sometimes wins between one and two P.M. It is not so with the heroes of research, like Motley, Buckle, Bancroft, and Carlyle. Upon this point we are ready to make a sweeping assertion, and it is this. "No well-executed work, involving original research, can pay expenses, unless the author is protected in his right to the market of the world. This is one of the points to which we particularly wish to call attention. Give us international copyright, and it immediately becomes possible in the United States for a man who is not rich to devote his existence to the production of works of permanent and universal value. Continue to withhold international copyright, and this privilege remains the almost exclusive portion of men of wealth. For, in the United States, there is scarcely any such thing as honest leisure in connection with business or a salaried office.

Now, with regard to Mr. Motley, whose five massive volumes of Dutch History are addressed to the educated class of all nations,—before that author could write the first sentence of his work he must have been familiar with six languages, English, Latin, Dutch, French, German, and Spanish, besides possessing that general knowledge of history, literature, and science which constitutes what is called culture. He must have spent five laborious years in gaining an intimate knowledge of his subject, in the course of which he must have travelled in more that one country, and expended large sums in the purchase of books and documents, and for copies of manuscripts. Living in the cheap capitals of Continental Europe, and managing his affairs with economy, he may have accomplished his preparatory studies at an expenditure of ten thousand dollars,—two thousand dollars a year. The volumes contain in all about three thousand five hundred large pages. At two pages a day, which would be very rapid work, and probably twice as fast as he did work, he could not have executed the five volumes, and got them through the press (a year's hard labor in itself), in seven years. Here are twelve years' labor, and twenty-four thousand dollars' necessary expenditure. Mr. Motley probably expended more than twelve years, and twice twenty-four thousand dollars; but we choose to estimate the work at its necessary cost. Two other items must be also considered;—1. The talents of the author, which, employed in another profession, would have brought large returns in money and honor; 2. The intense and exhausting nature of the labor. The production of a work which demands strict fidelity to truth, as well as excellence in composition,—which obliges the author first, to know all, and, after that, to impart the essence of his knowledge in an agreeable and striking manner,—is the hardest continuous work ever done by man. It is at times a fierce and passionate joy; it is at times a harrowing anxiety; it is at times a vast despair; but it is always very hard labor. The search after the fact is sometimes as arduous as the chase after the deer, and it may last six weeks, and it may be valueless. And when all is done,—when the mountain of manuscript lies before the author ready for the press,—he cannot for the life of him tell whether his work is trash or treasure. As poor Charlotte Bronte said, when she had finished Jane Eyre, "I only know that the story has interested me." Finally comes the anguish of having the work judged by persons whose only knowledge of the subject is derived from the work itself.

No matter for all that: we are speaking of money. This work, we repeat, cost the author twenty-four thousand dollars to produce. Messrs. Harper sell it at fifteen dollars a copy. The usual allowance to the author is ten percent of the retail price, and, as a rule, it ought not to be more. Upon works of that magnitude, however, it often is more. Suppose, then, that Mr. Motley receives two dollars for every copy of his work sold by his American publishers. A meritorious work of general interest, i.e. a book not addressed to any class, sect, or profession, that costs fifteen dollars, is considered successful in the United States if it sells three thousand copies. Five thousand copies sold in the lifetime of the author, as all the success that can be hoped for. Ten thousand copies would yield to the author twenty thousand dollars less than it cost him.

But Mr. Motley's work is of universal interest. It does not concern the people of the United States any more than it does the people of Spain and Holland. Wherever, in the whole world, there is an intelligent, educated human being, there is a person who would like to read and possess Motley's Histories, which relate events of undying interest to all the few in every land who are capable of comprehending their significance. Give this author the market of the world, and he is compensated for his labor. Deny him this right, and it is impossible he should be. England buys a greater number of fifteen-dollar books than the United States, because, in England, rich men are generally educated men, and in the United States the class who most want such books cannot buy them. Our clergy are poor; our students are generally poor; our lawyers and doctors are not rich, as a class; our professors and schoolmasters are generally very poor; our men of business, as a class, read little but the daily paper; and our men of leisure are too few to be of any account. Nor have we yet that universal system of town and village self-sustaining libraries, which will, by and by, abundantly atone for the ignorance and indifference of the rich, and make the best market for books the world has ever seen. England would readily "take" ten thousand copies of a three-guinea book of first-rate merit and universal interest. A French translation of the same would sell five thousand in France, and, probably three thousand more in other Continental countries. A German translation would place it within the reach of nations of readers, and a few hundreds in each of those nations would income possessors of the work. Or, in other words, an International Copyright would multiply the gains of an author like Mr. Motley by three, possibly four. 20,000 X 3 = 60,000.

We are far from thinking that sixty thousand dollars would be a compensation for such work as Mr. Motley has done. We merely say, that the reasonable prospect of even such a partial recompense as that would make it possible for persons not rich to produce in the United States works of universal and permanent value. The question is, Are we prepared to say that such works shall be attempted here only by rich men, or by men like Noah Webster, who lived upon a Spelling-Book while he wrote his Dictionary? Generally, the acquisition of an independent income is the work of a lifetime, and it ought to be. But the production of a masterpiece, involving original research, is also the work of a lifetime. Not one man in a thousand millions can do both. Give us International Copyright, and there are already five publishers in the United States who are able and willing to give an author the equivalent of Gibbon's sixteen hundred pounds a year, or of Noah Webster's Spelling-Book, or Prescott's thousand dollars a month; i.e. maintenance while he is doing that part of his work which requires exclusive devotion to it. Besides, a man, intent upon the execution of a great work can contrive, in many ways, to exist—just exist—for ten years, provided he has a reasonable prospect of moderate reward when his task is done. There are fifty men in New England alone who would deem it an honor and a privilege "to invest" in such an enterprise.

Mr. Bancroft's is another case in point. Mr. Buckle remarks, that there is no knowledge until there is a class who have conquered leisure, and that, although most of this class will always employ their leisure in the pursuit of pleasure, yet few will devote it to the acquisition of knowledge. These few are the flowers of their species,—its ornaments and benefactors,—for the flower nourishes and exalts the whole. We are such idle and pleasure-loving creatures, and civilization places so many alluring delights within the reach of a rich man, that it must ever be accounted a merit in one of his class if he devotes himself to generous toil for the public good. George Bancroft has spent thirty years in such toil. His History of the United states has stood to him in the place of a profession. His house is filled with the most costly material, the spoils of foreign archives and of domestic chests, the pick of auction sales, the hidden treasure of ancient bookstores, and the chance discoveries of dusty garrets. His work has been eminently "successful," and he has received for it about as much as his material cost, and perhaps half a dollar a day for his labor. When the third volume of the work was about to appear, a London publisher offered three hundred pounds for the advance sheets, which were furnished, and the money was paid. The same sum was offered and paid for the advance sheets of the fourth volume. Then the London publisher discovered that "the courtesy of the trade" would suffice for his purpose, and he forbore to pay for that which he could get for nothing. Six hundred pounds, therefore, is all that this American author has received from foreign countries for thirty years' labor. His work has been translated into two of three foreign languages, and it is found in all European libraries of any completeness, whether public or private; but this little sum is all that has come back to him. Surely, there cannot be one reader of this periodical so insensible to moral distinctions as not to feel that this is wrong. The happy accident of Mr. Bancroft's not needing the money has nothing to do with the right and wrong of the matter. No man is so rich that he does not like to receive money which he has honestly earned; for money honestly earned is honor as well as reward, and it is not for us, the benefited party, to withhold his right from a man because he has been generous to us. And the question again occurs, Shall we sit down content with an arrangement which obliges us to wait for works of permanent and universal interest until the accident occurs of a rich man willing and able to execute them? It is not an accident, but a most rare conjunction of accidents. First, the man must be competent; secondly, he must be willing; thirdly, he must be rich. This fortunate combination is so little likely to occur in a new country, that it must be accounted honorable to the United States that in the same generation we have had three such men,—Bancroft, Motley, and Prescott. Is it such persons that should be singled out from the mass of their fellow citizens to be deprived of their honest gains? Besides, riches take to themselves wings. A case has occurred among us of a rare man devoting the flower of his days to the production of excellent works, and then losing his property.

It will be no avail to adduce the instance of Dr. J. W. Draper. We have had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Draper relate the history of his average day. Up at six. Breakfast at seven. An hour's ride to the city. Busy at the New York University from nine to one. Home in the cars to dinner at three. At four P.M. begins his day's literary work, and keeps steadily on till eleven. Then, bed. Not one man in many millions could endure such a life, and no man, perhaps, ought to endure it. Draper happens to possess a most sound and easy-working constitution of body and mind, and he has acquired a knowledge of the laws which relate to his well-being. But, even in his case, it is questionable whether it is well, or even right, to devote so large a part of his existence to labor. It is probable, too, that an International Copyright would, ere this, have released him from the necessity of it, or the temptation to it.

Few of us are aware of the extent to which American works are now reprinted in England. We noticed, the other day, in an English publication, a page of advertisements containing the titles of thirteen volumes announced to be sold at "1s." or "1s.6d." Twelve of the thirteen were American. Among them, we remember, were Mrs. Stowe's "Little Foxes," Dr. Holmes's "Humorous Poems," Mr. Lowell's "Biglow Papers." The cheap publication stores of Great Britain are heaped with such reprints, the sale of which yields nothing to the authors. We have even seen in England a series of school writing books, the invention of a Philadelphia writing-master, the English copies of which betrayed no trace of their origin. Nor have we been able, after much inquiry, to hear of one instance in which the English publisher has paid an American author, resident in America, for anything except advance sheets. Mr. Longfellow, whose works are as popular in England as in America, and as salable, has derived, we believe, considerable sums for advance sheets of his works; but, unless we are grossly misinformed, even he receives no percentage upon the annual sale of his works in Great Britain.

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