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.
And the aggravating circumstance of all this spoliation of the men and women who are the country's ornament and boast is, that it is wholly our fault. We force the European publishers to steal. England is more that willing, France is more than willing, Germany is quite willing, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia are willing, to come to an arrangement which shall render literary property as sacred and as safe in all civilized lands as tobacco and whiskey. All the countries we have named are now obliged to steal it, and do steal it. Who would have expected to find the Essays of Mr. Emerson a topic in the interior of Russia? We find them, however, familiarly alluded to in the Russian novel "Fathers and Sons," recently translated. If authors had their rights, a rill of Russian silver would come trickling into Concord, while a broad and brimming river of it would inundate a certain cottage in Hartford. How many modest and straitened American homes would have new parlor carpets this year, if henceforth on the first days of January to their address were to be dropped in the mail in every capital of the world which the work done in those homes intructs or cheers! Nor would new carpets be all. Many authors would be instantly delivered from the fatal necessity of over-production,—the vice that threatens literature with annihilation.
There is another aggravating circumstance,—most aggravating. The want of an International Copyright chiefly robs our best and brightest! A dull book protects itself; no foreigner wants it. An honest drudge, who compiles timely works of utility, or works which appease a transient curiosity, and which thousands of "agents" put under the nose of the whole population, can make a fortune by one or two lucky hits. There are respectable gentlemen not far off, who, with pen and scissors, in four months, manufactured pieces of merchandise, labelled "Life of Abraham Lincoln," of which a hundred thousand copies each were sold in half a year, and which yielded the manufacturer thirty thousand dollars. This sum is probably twice as great as the sum total of Mr. Emerson's receipts from his published works,—the fruit of forty years of study and meditation. It is chiefly our dear Immortals and our best Ephemerals who need this protection from their country's justice. It is our Emersons, our Hawthornes, our Longfellows, our Lowells, our Holmeses, our Bryants, our Curtises, our Beechers, our Mrs. Stowes, our Motleys, our Bancrofts, our Prescotts, whom we permit all the world to plunder. We harmless drudges and book-makers are protected by our own dullness. We are panoplied in our insignificance. The stupidest set of school-books we ever looked into has yielded, for many years, an annual profit of one hundred thousand dollars, and is now enriching its third set of proprietors. No one, therefore, need feel any concern for us. We can do pretty well if only we are stupid enough, and "study to please." But, O honorable members, spare the few who redeem and exalt the country's name, and who keep alive the all but extinguished celestial fire! If American property abroad must be robbed, let cotton and tobacco take a turn, and see how they like it. Invite Manchester to come to the Liverpool Docks and help itself. Let there be free smoking in Europe. Summon the merchants of London to a scramble for American bills of exchange. Select for spoliation anything but the country's literature.
The worst remains to be told. It is bad to have your pocket picked; but there is something infinitely worse,—it is to pick a pocket. Who would not rather be stolen from, than steal? Who would not rather be murdered, than be a murderer? Nevertheless, in depriving foreign authors of their rights, it is still ourselves whom we injure most. The great damage to America, and to American literature, from the want of an international copyright law, is not the thousands of dollars per annum which authors lose. This is, in fact, the smallest item that enters into the huge sum total of our loss.
It maims or kills seven tenths of the contemporary literature that must be translated before it is available for publication here. Charles Reade, in that gallant and brilliant little book of his, "The Eighth Commandment," quotes from a letter written in Cologne, in 1851, the following passage:—
"About thirty years ago the first translations from English were brought to the German market. The Waverley Novels were extensively read with avidity by all classes. Next came the Bulwer, and after him Dickens and other writers. Rival editions of the same works sprang up by the half-dozens; the profits decreased, and the publishers were obliged to cut down the pay of the translators. I know that a translation of Grimm pays about 6 pounds for a three-volume novel.
"These works, got up in a hurry, and printed with bad type on wretched paper, are completely flooding the market; and, as they are a serious obstacle to our national literature. Thus much for our share in the miseries of free trade [Upon this expression Mr. Reade justly remarks 'This is a foolish and inapplicable phrase. Free trade is free buying and selling, not free stealing.'] in translations.
"Now for yours. There are able men in Germany, who, were it made worth their while, could and would put the master works of your novelists and historians into a decent German garb. But under the present system these men are elbowed out of the field."
Change a few names in this passage and it describes, with considerable exactness, the state of the translation market in the United States. Works which in France charm the boudoir and amuse the whole of the educated class, sink under the handling of hasty translators and enterprising publishers, into what we call "Yellow-Covered Literature," which is to be found chiefly upon the wharves. Respectable publishers have a well-founded terror of French and German translations; since, after incurring the expense of translation, they have no protection against the publication of another version except "the courtesy of the trade,"—a code of laws which has not much force in the regions from which the literature of the Yellow Covers emanates. We are not getting half the good we ought from the contemporary literature of France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Holland, Italy, and we never shall, until American publishers can acquire property in it by fair purchase, which the law will protect. The business of furnishing the American public with good translations from the French would of itself maintain two or three great publishing houses. There is a mine of wealth there waiting for the removal of the squatters and the recognition of the rightful title-deeds. What would California have been worth to us, or to itself, or to anybody, if its treasures had been left to the hurried scratching over the surface of uncapitalled prospecters? Capital and skill wait until the title is clear. Then they go in, with their ponderous engines, and pound the rocks till the gold glitters all over the heap.
Messrs. Appleton, of New York, have recently ventured to publish good translations and good editions of Madame Muhlbach's historical novels. The name of this lady being new to America, the enterprise was a risk,—a risk of many thousand dollars,—a risk which only a wealthy house would be justified in assuming. The great expense of such an undertaking is incurred in making the new name known, in advertising it, in shouting it into the ears of a public deafened with a thousand outcries. An enormous sum of money may easily be spent in this way, when advertising costs from twenty cents to two dollars a line. Suppose the efforts of the publishers are successful, see how beautifully the present system works! The more successful they are, the more perilous their property becomes! It is safe only as long as it is worthless. Just as soon as they have, by the expenditure of unknown thousands, created for the works of this German lady a steady demand, which promises to recompense them, they are open to the inroads of the Knights of the Yellow Cover! See, too, the effects upon the Berlin authoress. Playing such a dangerous and costly game as this, the American publisher dare not, cannot treat with her in the only proper and honorable way,—open a fair bargain, so much for so much. Messrs. Appleton did themselves the honor, the other day, to send her a thousand dollars, gold, which was an act as wise as it was right. We enjoyed an exquisite pleasure in looking upon the lovely document, duly stamped and authenticated, which has ere this given her a claim upon a Berlin banker; and we have also a prodigious happiness in committing the impropriety of making the fact public. Nevertheless, it is not thus that authors should be paid for their own. All we can say of it is, that it is better than nothing to her, and the best a publisher can do under the circumstances.
This business of publishing books is the most difficult one carried on in the world. It demands qualities so seldom found in the same individual, that there has scarcely been an eminent and stable publishing house which did not consist of several active and able men. Failure is the rule, success the rare exception. The shores of the business world are strewn thick with the wrecks of ventures in this line that gave every promise of bringing back a large return. It has been proved a task beyond the wisdom of mortals, to decide with any positive degree of certainty whether a heap of blotted manuscript is the most precious or the most worthless of all the productions of human industry. Young publishers think they can tell: old publishers know they cannot. This is so true, that for a publisher to have knowledge of the commodity in which he deals is generally a point against his success as a publisher; and it will certainly ruin him, unless he has remarkably sound judgment, or a good, solid, unlearned partner, whose intuitive sense of what the public wants is unbiased by tastes of his own.
It is this terrible uncertainty as to the value of the commodity purchase, which renders publishing a business so difficult, precarious, and unprofitable; and the higher the character of the literature, the greater the difficulty becomes. Publishers who confine themselves chiefly to works of utility and necessity, or to works professional and sectarian, have an easy task to perform compared with that of a publisher who aims to supply the public with pure science and high literature. If any business can claim favorable consideration from those who have in charge the distribution of the public burdens, surely it is this. If in any way its perils can be justly diminished by law, surely that protection ought not to be withheld. We believe it could be shown that the business of publishing what the trade calls "miscellaneous books," i.e. books which depend solely upon their intrinsic interest or merit, yields a smaller return for the capital and talent invested in it that any other. The Harpers have a grand establishment,—one of the wonders of America. Any one going over that assemblage of enormous edifices, and observing the multitude of men and women employed in them, the vast and far-reaching enterprises going forward,—some of which involve a large expenditure for years before any return is possible,—the great numbers of men of ability, learning, and experience who are superintending the various departments, and the amazing quantities of merchandise produced, the mere catalogue of which is a large volume,—any one, we say, observing these things, would naturally conclude, that the proprietors must be in the receipt of Vanderbiltian incomes. The same amount of capital, force, and talent employed in any other branch of business could not fail to put the incomes of the proprietors high up among those which require six figures for their expression. Compare the returns of these monarchs of the "trade" with those of our dry-goods magnates, and our mighty men in cotton, tobacco, and railroads. A dealer in dry-goods in the city of New York has returned as the income of a single year a sum half as large as the whole capital invested in the establishment of Harpers. If the signal successes of publishing—successes which are the result of the rarest conjunctions of talent, capital, experience, and opportunity—are represented by incomes of twenty and thirty thousand paper dollars a year, what must be the general condition of the trade? But it is the difficulty of conducting the business at all, not the slenderness of its profits, upon which we now desire the reader to reflect. That difficulty, we repeat, arises from the fact that a publisher buys his pig in a poke. He generally knows not, and cannot know, whether what he buys is worth much, little, or nothing.
But there is one branch of his business which does not present this difficulty,—the reprinting of works previously published in a foreign country. He has the advantage of holding in his hand the precise article which he proposes to reproduce,—a printed volume, which he can read with ease and rapidity; and this is nearly as great an advantage as a manager has who sees a play performed before buying it. He has the still greater advantage of a public verdict upon the book. It has been tried upon a public; and it is a rule almost without exception that a book which sells largely in one country will not fail in another. Dickens, Thackeray, Reade, Miss Mulock, Anthony Trollope, George Elliot, Dumas, Hugo, George Sand, have in all foreign countries a popularity which bears a certain proportion to that which they enjoy in their own; and even the Chinese novel published some ten years ago in England was a safe speculation, because it was universally popular in China. The Russian novel before alluded to was a prudent enterprise, because Russia had previously tasted and enjoyed it. Literature of high character is always pervaded with the essence of the nationality which produced it, but it is, for that very reason, the more interesting in other nations. Don Quixote has more Spain in it that all the histories of Spain; but in the library of the German collector of Cervantes, whose death has been recently announced, there were more than twice as many foreign editions as Spanish. According to the Pall Mall Gazette, there were 400 editions in Spanish, 168 in French, 200 in English, 87 in Portuguese, 96 in Italian, 70 in German, 4 in Russian, 4 in Greek, 8 in Polish, 6 in Danish, 13 in Swedish, and 5 in Latin. Poor Cervantes! How eloquently this list pleads for International Copyright!
It is, then, in the republication of foreign works that our publishers ought to find an element of certainty, which cannot appertain to the publication of original and untried productions. But it is precisely here that chaos reigns. In the issue of native works, there is but a single uncertainty; in the republication of foreign, there are many. No man knows what his rights are; nor whether he has any rights; nor whether there are any rights; nor, if he has rights, whether they will be respected. This chaos has taken to itself the pleasant and delusive name of "Courtesy of the Trade." Before the "reign of law" is established in any province of human affairs, we generally see men feeling their way to it, trying to find something else that will answer the purpose, endeavoring to reduce the chaos of conflicting claims to some kind of rule. The publishers of the United States have been doing this for many years, and the result is the unwritten code called the Courtesy of the Trade,—a code defective in itself, with neither judge to expound it, jury to decide upon it, nor sheriff to execute it. This code consisted at first of one rule,—If a publisher issues a foreign work, no other American publisher shall issue it. But it often happened that two or three publishers began or desired to begin the printing of the same book. To meet this and other cases, other laws were added, until at present the code, as laid down by the rigorists, consists of the following rules:—
1. If a publisher issues an edition of a foreign work, he has acquired an exclusive right to it for a period undefined.
2. If a publisher is the first to announce his intention to publish a foreign work, that announcement gives him an exclusive right to publish it.
3. If a publisher has already issued a work of a foreign author, he has acquired thereby an exclusive right to the republication of all subsequent works by the same author.
4. The purchase of advance sheets for publication in a periodical gives a publisher the exclusive right to publish the same in any other form.
5. All and several of these rights may be bought and sold, like any other kind of property.
There is a kind of justice in all these rules. If we could concede that a foreign author has no ownership of the coinage of his brain,—if anything but that author's free gift or purchased consent could convey that property to another,—if foreign literature is the legitimate spoil of America,— then some such a code as this would be the only method of preventing the business from degenerating into a game of unmitigated grab. In its present ill defined and most imperfect state, this system of "courtesy" scarcely mitigates the game at all; and, accordingly, in "the trade" instead of the friendly feeling that would naturally exist among honorable men in the highest branch of business, we find feuds, heart-burnings, and a grievous sense of wrongs unredressed and unredressable. Some houses "announce" everything that is announced on the other side of the Atlantic, so as to have the first choice. Smaller firms, seeing these announcements, dare not undertake any foreign work, even though the great house never decides to publish the book upon which the smaller had fixed its attention. It is only under the reign of law that the rights of the weak have any security. In the most exquisitely organized system of piracy, no man can rely upon the enjoyment of a right which he is not strong enough personally to defend. It is not every house that can crush a rival edition by selling thousands of expensive books at half their cost. Between the giant houses that tower above him, and the yellow-covered gentry that prowl about his feet, an American publisher of only ordinary resources has a game to play which is really too difficult for the limited capacities of man. Who can wonder that most of them lose it?
One effect of this courtesy system is, that many excellent works, which it would be a public benefit to have reprinted here are not reprinted. Another is, that corrected or improved editions cannot be given to the American reader without bringing down upon the publisher the enmity or the vengeance of a rival. It is not common in Europe for the first editions of important works to be stereotyped; but in America they always are. The European author frequently makes extensive additions and valuable emendations in each successive edition; until, in the course of years, his work is essentially different from, and far superior to, the first essay. We cannot have the advantage of the improved version. There is a set of old and worn stereotype plates in the way, the proprietor of which will not sacrifice them, nor permit another publisher to produce the corrected edition, which would as completely destroy their value as though they were melted into type metal. Who can blame him? No one likes to have a valuable property suddenly rendered valueless. "It is not human nature." Mr. Lewes is not justified in so bitterly reproaching Messrs. Appleton for their cold entertainment of his offer to them of the enlarged version of his "History of Philosophy."
"I felt," says Mr. Lewes, "that Messrs. Appleton, of New York, had, in courtesy, a prior claim, on the ground of their having reprinted the previous edition in 1857. Accordingly I wrote to them, through their London agent, stating that I considered they had a claim to the first offer, and stating, further, that the new edition was substantially a new book. [As this is an important element in the present case, allow me to add, that the edition of 1857 was in one volume 8vo, published at sixteen shillings; and the work is so considerably altered and enlarged that a new title has been affixed to it, for the purpose of marking it off from its predecessors.] Questions of courtesy are, however, but ill understood by some people, and by Messrs. Appleton so ill understood that they did not even answer my letter. After waiting more than three months for an answer, I asked a friend to see their London agent on the subject, and thus I learned that Messrs. Appleton—risum teneatis, amici?—'considered they had a right to publish all future editions of my work without payment,' because ten years ago they had given the magnificent sum of twenty-five pounds to secure themselves against rivals for the second edition."
The omission to answer the author's letter, we may assume, was accidental. It is not correct to say that the publishers founded their claim to issue the new edition upon their payment of twenty-five pounds. The real difficulty was, that Messrs. Appleton possessed the plates of the first edition, and could not issue the enlarged edition without first, destroying a property already existing, and, secondly, creating a new property at an expenditure about four times as great as the sum originally invested. The acceptance of Mr. Lewes's offer would have involved an expenditure of several thousand dollars, at a time when, for a variety of reasons, works of that character could hardly be expected to return the outlay upon them. The exclusive and certain ownership of the work might well justify its republication, even now, when it costs exactly three times as much to manufacture a book in the United States as it did seven years ago. But nothing short of this would warrant a publisher in undertaking it. The real sinners, against whom Mr. Lewes should have launched his sarcasm, are the people of the United States, who permit their instructors both native and foreign, to be robbed of their property with impunity. Thus we see that a few hundred pounds of metal are likely to bar the entrance among us of a work which demonstrates, in the clearest and most attractive manner, the inutility of all that has hitherto gone by the name of "metaphysics," and which also indicates the method of investigation from which good results are to be rationally hoped for.
It is the grossest injustice to hold American publishers responsible for the system of ill-regulated plunder which they have inherited, and which injures them more immediately and palpably than any other class, excepting alone the class producing the commodity in which they deal. There are no business men more honorable or more generous than the publishers of the United States, and especially honorable and considerate are they toward authors. The relation usually existing between author and publisher in the United States is that of a warm and lasting friendship,—such as that which subsisted for so many years between Irving and Putnam, and which now animates and dignifies the intercourse between the literary men of New England and Messrs. Ticknor and Fields, and which gathers in the well-known room of the Harpers a host of writers who are attached friends of the "House." The relation, too, is one of a singular mutual trustfulness. The author receives his semiannual account from the publisher with as absolute a faith in its correctness as though he had himself counted the volumes sold; and the publisher consigns the manuscript of the established author to the printer almost without opening it, confident that, whether it succeeds or fails, the author has done his best. We have heard of instances in which a publisher had serious cause of complaint against an author, but never have we known an author to be intentionally wronged by a publisher. We have known a publisher, in the midst of the ruin of his house, to make it one of the first objects of his care to save authors from loss, or make their inevitable losses less. How common, too, it is in the trade for a publisher to go beyond the letter of his bond, and, after publishing five books without profit, to give the author of the successful sixth more than the stipulated price! Let every one speak of the market as he finds it. For our part, after fifteen years of almost daily intercourse with publishers, we have no recollections of them that are not agreeable, and can call to mind no transaction in which they did not show themselves to be men of honor as much as men of business. We have not the least doubt that Mr. Peterson honestly thought he had acquired a right, by fair purchase, to sell the property of Charles Dickens in the United States as long as he should continue in business, and then to dispose of that right to his successor. We are equally confident that Messrs. Harper felt themselves completely justified in endeavoring to crush the Diamond Edition of Thackeray. All this chaos and uncertainty, all these feuds and enmities, have one and the same cause,—the existence in the world of a kind of property which is at once the most precious, the easiest stolen, and the worst protected.
Almost to a man, our publishers are in favor of an International Copyright. We have been able to hear of but one exception, and this is the publisher of but one book,—Webster's Dictionary,—the work of all others now in existence that would profit most from just protection in foreign countries. There is an impression in many circles that the Harpers are opposed to it. We are enabled to state, upon the authority of a member of that great house, that this is not now, and never has been, the case. Messrs. Harper comprehend, as well as we do, that they would gain more from the measure than any other house in the world; because it is the natural effect of law, while it protects the weak, to legitimate and establish the dominion of the strong. International Copyright would benefit every creature connected with publishing, but it would benefit most of all the great and wealthy houses. The Harpers have spent tens of thousands in enforcing the observance of the courtesy of the trade, but they cannot enforce it. It is a work never done and always beginning. It cost them four hundred of our ridiculous dollars for the advance sheets of each number of Mr. Dickens's last novel; and within forty-eight hours of the publication of the Magazine containing it, two other editions were for sale under their noses. The matter for "Harper's Magazine" often costs three or four thousand dollars a number; can any one suppose that the proprietors like to see Blackwood and half a dozen other British magazines sold all over the country at a little more than the cost of paper and printing? They like it as little as the proprietors of Blackwood like it. This is a wrong which injures two nations and benefits one printer; and that printer would himself do better if he could obtain exclusive rights by fair purchase. No; Messrs. Harper, we are happy to state, are decidedly in favor of an International Copyright, and so is every other general publishing house in the country of which we have any knowledge.
Consider the case of our venerable and beloved instructor, "The North American Review," conducted with so much diligence, energy, and tact by the present editors. Not a number of it has appeared under their management which has not been a national benefit; and no country more needs such a periodical than the United States, now standing on the threshold of a new career. The time has passed when a review could consist chiefly of the skillfully condensed contents of interesting books, which men could execute in the intervals of professional duty, and think themselves happy in receiving one dollar for a printed page, extracts deducted. At the present time, a review must initiate as well as criticize, and do something itself as well as comment upon the performances of others. We believe that no number of the North American Review now appears, the matter of which costs as little as a thousand dollars. But it has to compete, not only with the four British Reviews sold here at the price of paper and printing, but with several periodicals made up of selections from the reviews and magazines of Europe. Nor is this all. A public accustomed to buy books and periodicals at a price into which nothing enters but manual labor and visible material is apt to pause and recoil when it is solicited to pay the just value of those commodities. A man who buys a number of the Westminster Review for a half a dollar is likely to regard a dollar and a half as an enormous price for a number of the North American, though he gets for his money what cost a thousand dollars before the printer saw it. For forty years or more we have all been buying our books and reviews at thieves' prices,—prices in which everybody was considered except the creators of the value and the consequence is, that we turn away when a proper price is demanded for a book, and regard ourselves as injured beings. How monstrous for a volume of Emerson to be sold for a dollar! In England and France, when the price is to be fixed upon works of that nature, the mere cost of paper and printing is hardly considered at all. Such trifles are felt, and rightly felt to have little to do with the question of price. The publisher knows very well that he has to dispose of one of those rare and beautiful products which only a very few thousands of his countrymen will care to possess, or could enjoy if it were thrust upon them. He fixes the price with reference to the facts of the case,—the important facts as well as the trivial, the rights of the author as well as the little bill of the printer,—and that price is half a guinea. The want of an International Copyright, besides lowering and degrading all literature, has demoralized the public by getting it into the habit of paying for books the price of stolen goods. And hence the North American Review, which would naturally be a most valuable property, has never yielded a profit corresponding to its real value. People stand aghast at the invitation to pay six dollars a year for an article, the mere unmanufactured ingredients of which cost a thousand times six dollars.
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.
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