Good contemporary books cannot be very cheap, unless there is stealing somewhere, for a good book is one of the most costly products of nature. Fortunately, they need not be cheap, for it is not necessary to own many of them. As soon as an International Copyright has given tone to the business of writing and publishing books and has restored the prices of them to the just standard, we shall see a great increase of those facilities for purchasing the opportunity to read a book without buying it, which have placed the whole literature of the world at the command of an English farmer who can spare a guinea or two per annum. It is not necessary, we repeat, to possess many new books; it is only necessary to read them, get the good of them, and give a hearty support to the library from which we take them. The purchase of a book should be a serious and well-considered act, not the hasty cramming of a thin, double-columned pamphlet into a coat-pocket, to be read and cast aside at the bottom of a book-case. It is an abominable extravagance to buy a great and good novel in a perishable form for a few cents; it is good economy to pay a few dollars for one substantially bound, that will amuse and inform generations. A good novel, play, or poem can be reread every five years during a long life. When a book is to be selected out of the mass, to become thenceforth part and parcel of a home, let it be well printed and well bound, and, above all, let it be of an edition to which the author has set the seal of his consent and approbation. No one need fear that the addition of the author's ten per cent to the price of foreign books will make them less accessible to the masses of the people. It will make them more accessible, and it will tend to make them better worth keeping.
When we consider the difficulties which now beset the publication of books in the United States, we cannot but wonder at the liberality of American publishers toward foreign authors,—a liberality which has met no return from publishers in Europe. The first money that Herbert Spencer ever received in his life from his books was sent to him in 1861 by the Appletons as his share of the proceeds of his "Essays upon Education"; and every year since he has received upon all his works republished here the percentage usually paid to native authors. This is so interesting a case, and so forcibly illustrates many aspects of our subject, that we will dwell upon it for a moment.
It will occasionally happen that an author is produced in a country who is charged with a special message for another country. There will be something in the cast of his mind, or in the nature of his subject, which renders his writings more immediately or more generally suitable to the people of a land other than his own. We might cite as an example Washington Irving, who, though a sound American patriot, was essentially an English author, and whose earlier works are so English that many English people read them to this day, we are told, who do not suspect that the author was not their countryman. Washington Irving owed his literary career to this fact! His seventeen years' residence abroad enabled him to enjoy part of the advantage which all great authors would derive from an International Copyright, that is to say, he derived revenue from both countries. During the first half of his literary career, he drew the chief part of his income from England; during the second half, when his Sketch-Book vein was exhausted, and he was again an American resident, he derived his main support from America. If he had never resided abroad, we never should have had a Washington Irving; if he had not returned home, he would have been sadly pinched in his old age. Alone among the American authors of his day or of any day, he had the market of the world for his works; and he only, of excellent American authors, has received anything like a compensation for his labor. The entire proceeds of his works during his lifetime were $205,383, of which about one third came to him from England. His average income, during the fifty years of his authorship, was about four thousand dollars a year. Less than any other of our famous authors he injured his powers by over-production, and it was only the unsteadiness of his income, the occasional failure of his resources, or the dread of a failure, that ever induced him to take up his pen when exhausted nature cried, Forbear! Cooper, on the contrary, who was read and robbed in every country, wrote himself all out, and still wrote on, until his powers were destroyed and his name was a by-word.
A case similar in principle to that of Irving was Audubon, the indefatigable and amiable Audubon. The exceeding costliness of his "Birds of America" protected that work as completely as an International Copyright could; and, but for this, we never could have had it. Audubon enjoyed the market of the world! The price of his wonderful work was a thousand dollars, and, at that period, neither Europe nor America could furnish purchasers enough to warrant him in giving it to the press. But Europe and America could! Europe and America did,—each continent taking about eighty copies. The excellent Audubon, therefore, was not ruined by his brave endeavor to honor his country and instruct mankind. He needed his days in peace in that well-known villa on the banks of the Hudson, continuing his useful and beautiful labors to the last, and leaving to his sons the means of perfecting what he left incomplete.
But to return to Herbert Spencer, the author of "Social Statics"; or, as we call it, Jeffersonian Democracy, illustrated and applied. Unconnected with the governing classes of his own country, escaping the universities, bred to none of the professions, and inheriting but a slender patrimony, he earned a modest and precarious livelihood by contributing to the periodicals, and wrung from his small leisure the books that England needed, but would not buy. An American citizen, Professor Youmans, felt all their merit, and perceived how adapted they were to the tastes and habits of the American mind, and how skilfully the ideas upon which America is founded were developed in them. He also felt, as we have heard him say, that, next to the production of excellent works, the most useful thing a man can do in his generation is to aid in giving them currency. Aided by other lovers of his favorite author, he was soon in a position to bear part of the heavy expense of stereotyping Mr. Spencer's works; and thus Messrs. Appleton were enabled, not only to publish them, but to afford the author as large a share of the proceeds as though he had been a resident of the united States. Thus Herbert Spencer, by a happy accident, enjoys part of the advantage which would accrue to all his brethren from an International Copyright; and we have the great satisfaction of knowing, when we buy one of his volumes, that we are not defrauding our benefactor.
Charles Scribner habitually pays English authors a part of the profit derived from their republished works. Max Muller, Mr. Trench, and others who figure upon his list, derive revenue from the sale of their works in America. Mr. Scribner considers it both his duty and his interest to acquire all the right to republish which a foreign author can bestow; and he desires to see the day when the law will recognize and secure the most obvious and unquestionable of all rights, the right of an author to the product of his mind.
We trust Messrs. Ticknor and Fields will not regard it as an affront to their delicacy if we allude here to facts which recent events have in part disclosed to the public. This house, on principle, and as an essential part of their system, send to foreign authors a share of the proceeds of their works, and this they have habitually done for twenty-five years. The first American edition of the Poems of Mr. Tennyson, published by them in 1842, consisted of one thousand copies, and it was three years in selling; but upon this edition a fair acknowledgment in money was sent to the poet. Since that time, Mr. Tennyson has received from them a certain equitable portion of the proceeds of all the numerous editions of his works which they have issued. Mr. Fields, with great labor and some expense, collected from periodicals and libraries a complete set of the works of Mr. De Quincey, which the house published in twenty-two volumes, the sale of which was barely remunerative; but the author received, from time to time, a sum proportioned to the number of volumes sold. Mr. Fields has been recently gathering the "Early and Late Papers" of Mr. Thackeray, one volume of which has been published, to the great satisfaction of the public. Miss Thackeray has already received a considerable sum for the sale of the first edition. Mr. Browning, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Reade, the Country Parson, Mr. Kingsley, Mr. Matthew Arnold, Dr. John Brown, Mr. Mayne Reid, Mr. Dickens, have been dealt with in a similar manner; some of them receiving copyright, and others a sum of money proportioned to the sale or expected sale of their works. Nor has the appearance of rival editions been allowed to diminish the author's share of the profits realized upon the editions published with their consent. Mr. Tennyson counts upon the American part of his income with the same certainty as upon that which he derives from the sale of his works in England, although he cannot secure his Boston publishers the exclusive market of the United States. We dare not comment upon these facts, because, if we were to indulge our desire to do so, the passage would be certain "to turn up missing" upon the printed page, since Messrs. Ticknor and Fields live two hundred miles nearer the office of the Atlantic Monthly than we do. Happily, comment is needless. Every man who has either a conscience or a talent for business will recognize either the propriety or the wisdom of their conduct. Upon this rock of fair-dealing the eminent and long-sustained prosperity of this house is founded.
The following note appeared recently in "The Athenaeum":—
"May I, without egotism, mention in your paper that Messrs. Harper, of New York, have sent me, quite unsolicited, a money acknowledgment for reprinting, in their cheap series, two of my novels, 'Lizzie Lorton of Greyrigg' and 'Sowing the Wind.' At a time when so many complaints are being made of American publishers, it is pleasant to be able to record this voluntary act of grace and courtesy from so influential a house.
E. LYNN LINTON"
Complaints, then, are made of American publishers! This is pleasant. We say again, that, after diligent inquiry, we cannot hear of one instance of an English publisher sending money to an American author for anything but advance sheets. Mr. Longfellow is as popular a poet in England as Mr. Tennyson is in America, and he has, consequently, as before remarked, received considerable sums for early sheets, but nothing, we believe, upon the annual sale of his works, nothing from the voluntary and spontaneous justice of his English publishers. We have no right, perhaps, to censure men for not going beyond the requirements of law, but still less can we withhold the tribute of our homage to those who are more just than the law compels, and this tribute is due to several publishers on this side of the Atlantic. But then there remains the great fact against us, that England is willing to-day, and we are not, to throw the protection of international law around this most sacred interest of civilization.
Would that it were in our power to give adequate expression to the mighty debt we owe, as a people, to the living and recent authors of Europe! But who can weigh or estimate the invisible and widely diffused influence of a book? There are sentences in the earlier works of Carlyle which have regenerated American souls. There are chapters in Mill which are reforming the policy of American nations. There are passages in Buckle which give the key to the mysteries of American history. There are lines in Tennyson which have become incorporated into the fabric of our minds, and flash light and beauty upon our daily conversation. There are characters in Dickens which are extinguishing the foibles which they embody, and pages of Thackeray which kill the affectations they depict. What a colossal good to us is Mr. Grote's "History of Greece"! Miss Mulock, George Eliot, Charles Reade, Charlotte Bronte, Kinglake, Matthew Arnold, Charles Kingsley, Ruskin, Macaulay,—how could we spare the least of them? Take from our lives the happiness and the benefit which we have derived from the recent authors of Europe; take from the future the silent, ceaseless working of their spirits,—so antidotal to all that remains in us of colonial, provincial, and superstitious,—and what language could state, ever so inadequately, the loss we and posterity should experience? And let us not lay the mean unction to our souls that money cannot repay such services as these. It can! It can repay it as truly and as fully as sixpence pays for a loaf of bread that saves a shipwrecked hero's life. The baker gets his own; he is satisfied, and holy justice is satisfied. This common phrase, "making money," is a poor, mean way of expressing an august and sacred thing; for the money which fairly comes to us, in the way of our vocation, is, or ought to be, the measure of our worth to the community we serve. It is honor, safety, education, leisure, children's bread, wife's dignity and adornment, pleasant home, society, an independent old age, comfort in dying, and solace to those we leave behind us. Money is the representative of all the substantial good that man can bestow on man. And money justly earned is never withheld without damage to the withholder and to the interest he represents.
We often think of the case of Dion Boucicault, the one man now writing the English language who has shown a very great natural aptitude for telling a story in the dramatic form. For thirty years we have been witnessing his plays in the United States. A fair share of the nightly receipts of the theatres in which they were played would have enriched him in the prime of his talent, or, in other words, have delivered him from that temptation to over-production which has wellnigh destroyed his powers. He never received any revenue from us until he came here and turned actor. He gets a little money now by associating with himself an American friend, who writes a few sentences of a play, then brings it to New York and disposes of it to managers as their joint production. But what an exquisite shame it is for us to compel an artist to whom we owe so many delightful hours to resort to an artifice in order to be able to sell the product of his talent! Our injustice, too, damages ourselves even more than it despoils him; for if we had paid him fairly for "London Assurance" and "Old Heads and Young Hearts," if he had found a career in the production of plays, he might not have been lured from his vocation, and might have written twenty good plays, instead of a hundred good, bad, indifferent, and atrocious. We cheat him of our part of the just results of his lifetime's labor, and he flings back at us his anathema in the form of a "Flying Scud." Think of Sheridan Knowles, too, deriving nothing from our theatres, in which his dramas have been worn threadbare by incessant playing! To say that they are trash is not an infinitesimal fraction of an excuse; for it is just as wrong to steal paste as it is to steal diamonds. We like the trash well enough to appropriate it. Besides, he really had the knack of constructing a telling play, which, it seems, is one of the rarest gifts bestowed upon man, and the one which affords the most intense pleasure to the greatest number of people.
Why, we may ask in passing, did the English stage languish for so many years? It was because the money that should have compensated dramatists enriched actors; because the dramatist that wrote "Blackeyed Susan" was paid five pounds a week, and the actor that played William received four thousand pounds during the first run of the play. In France, where the drama flourishes, it is the actor who gets five pounds a week, and the dramatist who gets the thousands of pounds for the first run; and this just distribution of profits is infinitely the best, in the long run, for ACTORS.
There is still an impression prevalent in the world, that there is no connection between good work and good wages in this kind of industry. There was never a greater mistake. A few great men, exceptional in character as in circumstances, blind like Milton, exiled like Dante, prisoners like Bunyan and Cervantes, may have written for solace, or for fame, or from benevolence; but, as a rule, nothing gets the immortal work from first-rate men but money. We need only mention Shakespeare, for every one knows that he wrote plays simply and solely as a matter of business, to draw money into the treasury of his theatre. He was author and publisher, actor as well, and thus derived a threefold benefit from his labors. Moliere, too, the greatest name in the literature of France, and the second in the dramatic literature of the world, was author, actor, and manager. Play-writing was the career of these great men. It was their business and vocation; and it is only in the way of his business and vocation that we can, as a rule, get from an artist the best and the utmost there is in him. Common honesty demands that a man shall do his best when he works for his own price. His honor and his safety are alike involved. All our courage and all our cowardice, all our pride and all our humility, all our generosity and all our selfishness, all that can incite and all that can scare us to exertion, may enter into the complex motive that is urging us on when we are doing the work by which we earn our right to exist. Nothing is of great and lasting account,—not religion, nor benevolence, nor law, nor science,—until it is so organized that honest and able men can live by it. Then it lures talent, character, ambition, wealth, and force to its support and illustration. The whole history of literature, so far as it is known, shows that literature flourishes when it is fairly rewarded, and declines when it is robbed of its just compensation. Mr. Reade has admirably demonstrated this in his "Eighth Commandment," a little book as full of wit, fact, argument, eloquence, and delicious audacity as any that has lately appeared.
There has been but one country in which literature has ever succeeded in raising itself to the power and dignity of a profession, and it is the only country which has ever enjoyed a considerable part of the market of the world for its literary wares. This is France, which has a kind of International Copyright in its language. Educated Russia reads few books that are not French, and in every country of Christendom it is taken for granted that an educated person reads this language. Wherever in Europe or America or India or Australia many books are sold, some French books are sold. Here in New York, for example, we have had for many years an elegant and well-appointed French bookstore, in which the standard works of French literature are temptingly displayed, and the new works are for sale within three weeks after their publication in Paris. Many of our readers, too, must have noticed the huge masses of French books exhibited in some of the second-hand bookstores of Nassau Street. French books, in fact, form a very considerable part of the daily business of the bookstores in every capital of the world. Nearly one hundred subscribers were obtained in the United States for the Nouvelle Biographie, in forty-six volumes, the total cost of which, bound, was more than two hundred of our preposterous dollars. Besides this large and steady sale of their works in every city on earth, French authors enjoy a protection to their rights at home which is most complete, and they address a public accustomed to pay for new books a price, in determining which the author was considered. Mr. Reade informs us that a first-rate dramatic success in Paris is worth to the author six thousand pounds sterling, and that this six thousand pounds is very frequently drawn from the theatre after a larger sum has been obtained for the same work in the form of a novel.
What is the effect? Literature in France, as we have said, is one of the liberal professions. Literary men are an important and honorable order in the state. The press teems with works of real value and great cost. The three hundred French dramatists supply the theatres of Christendom with plays so excellent, that not even the cheat of "adaptation" can wholly conceal their merit. Great novels, great histories, great essays and treatises, important contributions to science, illustrated works of the highest excellence, compilations of the first utility, marvellous dictionaries and statistical works, appear with a frequency which nothing but a universal market could sustain. In whatever direction public curiosity is aroused, prompt and intelligent efforts are made to gratify it. Nothing more surprises an American inquirer than the excellent manner in which this mere task-work, these "booksellers' jobs," as we term them, are executed in Paris. That Nouvelle Biographie of which we have spoken is so faithfully done, and is so free from any perverseness or narrowness of nationality, that it would be a good enterprise in any of the reading countries to publish a translation of it just as it stands. French literature follows the general law, that, as the volume of business increases, the quality of the work done improves. The last French work which the pursuit of our vocation led us to read was one upon the Mistresses of Louis XV., by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. We need not say how such a subject as this would be treated by the cheated hirelings of the Yellow Cover. This work, on the contrary, is an intelligent historical study of a period when mistresses governed France; and the passages in the work which touch upon the adulterous tie which gave fair France over to these vampires are managed with a delicacy the most perfect. The present hope of France is in her literature. Her literary men are fast educating that interesting and virtuous people to the point when they will be able to regain their freedom and keep it safe from nocturnal conspirators. They would have done it ere now, but for the woful fact that only half of their countrymen can read, and are thus the helpless victims of a perjured Dutchman and his priests.
What the general knowledge of the French language has done for French literature, all of that, and more than that, an International Copyright law would do for the literature of Great Britain and the United States. Here are four great and growing empires, Great Britain, the United States, the Dominion of Canada, and the states of Australia, in which the same language is spoken and similar tastes prevail. In all these nations there is a spirit abroad which will never rest content until the whole population are readers, and those readers will be counted by hundreds of millions. Already they are so numerous, that one first-rate literary success, one book excellent enough to be of universal interest, would give the author leisure for life, if his right were completely protected by international law. What a field for honorable exertion is this! And how can these empires fail to grow into unity when the cultivated intelligence of them all shall be nourished from the same sources, and bow in homage to the same commanding minds? Wanting this protection, the literature of both countries languishes. The blight of over-production falls upon immature genius, masterpieces are followed by labored and spiritless repetitions, and men that have it in them to inform and move mankind grind out task-work for daily bread. One man, one masterpiece, that is the general law. Not one eminent literary artist of either country can be named who has not injured his powers and jeoparded his fame by over-production. We do not address a polite note to Elias Howe, and ask him how much he would charge for a "series" of inventions equal in importance to the sewing-machine. We merely enable him to demand a dollar every time that one conception is used. Imagine Job applied to for a "series" of Books of Job. Not less absurd is it to compel an author to try and write two Sketch-Books, two David Copperfields, two Uncle Toms, two Jane Eyres, or two books like "The Newcomes." When once a great writer has given such complete expression of his experience as was given in each of those works, a long time must elapse before his mind fills again to a natural overflow. But, alas! only a very short time elapses before his purse empties.
It was the intention of the founders of this Republic to give complete protection to intellectual property, and this intention is clearly expressed in the Constitution. Justified by the authority given in that instrument, Congress has passed patent laws which have called into exercise an amount of triumphant ingenuity that is one of the great wonders of the modern world; but under the copyright laws, enacted with the same good intentions, our infant literature pines and dwindles. The reason is plain. For a labor-saving invention, the United states, which abounds in everything but labor, is field enough, and the inventor is rewarded; while a great book cannot be remunerative unless it enjoys the market of the whole civilized world. The readers of excellent books are few in every country on earth. The readers of any one excellent book are usually very few indeed; and the purchasers are still fewer. In a world that is supposed to contain a thousand millions of people, it is spoken of as a marvel that two millions of them bought the most popular book ever published,—one purchaser to every five hundred inhabitants.
We say, then, to those members of Congress who go to Washington to do something besides make Presidents, that time has developed a new necessity, not indeed contemplated by the framers of the Constitution, yet covered by the Constitution; and it now devolves upon them to carry out the evident intention of their just and wise predecessors, which was, to secure to genius, learning, and talent the certain ownership of their productions. We want an international system which shall protect a kind of property which cannot be brought to market without exposing it to plunder,—property in a book being simply the right to multiply copies of it. We want this property secured, for a sufficient period, to the creator of the value, so that no property in a book can be acquired anywhere on earth unless by the gift or consent of the author thereof. There are men in Congress who feel all the magnitude and sacredness of the debt which they owe, and which their country owes, to the authors and artists of their time. We believe such members are more numerous now than they ever were before,—much more numerous. It is they who must take the leading part in bringing about this great measure of justice and good policy; and, as usual in such cases, some one man must adopt it as his special vocation, and never rest till he has conferred on mankind this immeasurable boon.