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prepared with a solution, but, if not, I trust he will give us “the benefit of the doubt," and make an author's copyright heritable property, only subject to alienation by his own act, or in satisfaction of the claims of creditors. Such a measure will tend to retrieve our worldly respectability: instead of being nobodys with nothing, we shall be, if not freeholders, a sort of copyholders, with something between the sky and the centre, that we can call our own. It may be but a nominal possession, but if it were of any value, why should it be made common for the benefit of the Company of Stationers ? They drink enough out of our living heads, without quaffing out of our skulls, like the kings of Dahomey. As to the probability of their revivals of authors who were adored, but have fallen into neglect and oblivion, remembering how the trade boggled at Robinson Crusoe, and the Vicar of Wakefield-there would be as much chance of a speculative lawyer reviving such dormant titles. For my own part, I am far from expecting, personally, any pecuniary advan. tages from such an arrangement; but I have some regard for the abstract right. There is always a certain sense of humiliation, attendant on finding that we are made exceptions, as if incapable or undeserving of the enjoyment of equal justice. And can there be a more glaring anomaly than that, whilst our pri. vate property is thrown open and made common, we daily see other commons enclosed, and made private property ? One thing is certain, that, by taking this high ground at once, and making copyright analogous in tenure to the soil itself-and it pays its land tax in the shape of a tax upon paper—its defence may be undertaken with a better grace, against trespass at home, or invasion from abroad. For, after all, what does the pirate or Bookaneer commit at present, but a sort of practical anachronism, by anticipating a period when the right of printing will belong to everybody in the world, including the man in the moon!
Such, it appears to me, is the grand principle upon which the future, law of copyright ought to be based. I am aware that I have treated the matter somewhat commercially : but I have done so, partly because in that light principally the legislature will have to deal with it; and still more, because it is desirable,
for the sake of literature and literary men, that they should have every chance of independence, rather than be compelled to look to extraneous sources for their support. Learning and genius, worthily directed and united to common industry, surely deserve, at least, a competence; and that their possessors should be something better than a Jarkman ; that is to say, one who can write and read, yea, some of them have a smattering in the Latin tongue, which learning of theirs advances them in office amongst the beggars.” The more moderate in proportion the rate of their usual reward, the more scrupulously ought every particle of their interests to be promoted and protected, so as to spare, if possible, the necessity of private benefactions or public collections for the present distress, and “Literary Retreats” for the future. Let the weight and worth of literature in the state be formally recognized by the legislature :-let the property of authors be protected, and the upholding of the literary character will rest on their heads. They will, perhaps, recollect that their highest office is to make the world wiser and better ; their lowest, to entertain and amuse it without making it worse. For the rest, bestow on literary men their fair share of public honors and employments,-concede to them, as they deserve, a distinguished rank in the social system, and they will set about effacing such blots as now tarnish their scutcheons. The surest way to make a class indifferent to reputation is to give it a bad name. Hence Literature having been publicly underrated, and its professors having been treated as vagabonds, scamps, fellows “without character to lose or property to protect,” we have seen conduct to match, -reviewers, forgetful of common courtesy, common honesty, and common charity, misquoting, misrepresenting, and indulging in the grossest personalities, even to the extent of ridiculing bodily defects and infirmities-political partizans ban. dying scurrilous names, and scolding like Billingsgate mermaids -and authors so far trampling on the laws of morals, and the rights of private life, as to write works capable of being puffed off as club books got up amongst the Snakes, Sneerwells, Candors, and Backbites, of the School for Scandal.
And now, before I close, I will here place on record my own obligations to Literature: a debt so immense, as not to be can
celled, like that of nature, by death itself. I owe to it something more than my earthly welfare. Adrift early in life upon the great waters--as pilotless as Wordsworth's blind boy afloat in the turtle-shell—if I did not come to shipwreck, it was, that, in default of paternal or fraternal guidance, I was rescued, like the ancient mariner, by guardian spirits, “ each one a lovely light," who stood as beacons to my course. Infirm health, and a natural love of reading, happily threw me, instead of worse society, into the company of poets, philosophers, and sages—to me good angels and ministers of grace. From these silent instructors who often do more than fathers, and always more than godfathers, for our temporal and spiritual interests,-- from these mild monitors-no importunate tutors, teazing Mentors, moral taskmasters, obtrusive advisers, harsh censors, or wearisome lecturers-But, delightful associates, I learned something of the divine, and more of the human religion. They were my interpre. ters in the House Beautiful of God, and my guides among the Delectable Mountains of Nature. They reformed my prejudi. ces, chastened my passions, tempered my heart, purified my tastes, elevated my mind, and directed my aspirations. I was lost in a chaos of undigested problems, false theories, crude fancies, obscure impulses, and bewildering doubts—when these bright intelligences called my mental world out of darkness like a new creation, and gave it “two great lights," Hope and Memory—the past for a moon, and the future for a sun.
Hence have I genial seasons—hence have I
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ATHENÆUM :
Five years ago I ventured in your popular journal to publish my private thoughts on the nature and laws of Literary Property. In those letters, without underrating the International Question, it was recommended that we should begin at home, and first establish what Copyright is in Britain, and provide for its protection against Native Pirates or Bookaneers. It was contended, therefore, that the author's perpetual property in his works should be formally recognized, and that “ by taking this high ground at once, and making Copyright analogous in tenure to the soil itself, its defence might be undertaken with a better grace against trespass at home or invasion from abroad.”
The fate of the Bill subsequently framed by Serjeant Talfourd is well known. An opposition was set up by publishers, stationers, binders, printers, journeymen, devils, and hawkers; and Mr. Tegg even so far discomposed himself as to compose a pamphlet, in which the earnings and emoluments of Scott, Byron, Moore, Southey, Hook, &c., were summed up as if they had been so many great sinecurists fattening in idleness at the cost of our dear public. Messrs. Wakley and Warburton chimed in with the pamphleteer, and even one or two country gentlemen, who had set their ridge and furrow faces against cheap food for the body, were all in favor of cheap food for the mind, as if it were desirable to see the public like a huge ricketty child with its head a great deal bigger than its belly. Nevertheless, even this opposition might have failed if the tone of the House had remained at its original pitch. The eloquent speech of the learned Serjeant, on introducing his Bill, had a thrilling effect. And when he ceased, “those airy tongues that syllable men's names
filled up the pause, till the very walls seemed whisper. ing “Chaucer !” “Spenser!” “Shakspeare !” “ Milton !” whilst sadder echoes responded with Chatterton, Otway, and Burns ! Every head with a heart to it, and every heart with a head to it, answered to the appeal. The accomplished nobleman, the gentleman of cultivated mind, the man of taste, the well-educated commoners, at once acknowledged, as debts of honor, their
deep obligations to literature. They recalled with affectionate interest and honorable respect the poets of their youth and the philosophers of their manhood—their intimates of the closettheir familiars of the fields and forests—the intellectual ministers from whom they had derived amusement in leisure, wisdom in action, society in solitude, and consolation in travel. They remembered the friends of their souls. Even the opponents of the measure confessed the national importance and value of lite. rature, and its beneficial influence on the community, by their very struggles to make it cheap for the public at the expense of all liberal feeling and common justice. Moreover, the question involved, more or less, nearly the hereditary principle—the law of property--the nature of freehold and copyhold—the protection of a native interest—and, in some opinions, the national honor. But, alas! the argument had fallen on evil days! The question did not suit the temper of the times or the ordinary tone of the place. It contained no political Ode to the Passions. There was no ardent overproof unrectified party spirit in it to excite a parliamentary delirium tremens. There was no side. bone of contention for Whig or Tory. It was a subject whereon political Montagues and Capulets might shake hands. Faction overcame Fiction. The accomplished nobleman, the gentleman of cultivated mind, the man of taste, the well educated commoners had other fish to fry-hotter broils and stews to arrangeand their gratitude and good will to literature chilled as rapidly as mutton gravy on a cold plate !
Since then, the reprinting of English works in America has progressed with steam celerity: whilst the King of the Belgians has openly recommended this literary piracy to his subjects, as a profitable branch of the national industry :-a speech, by the way, for which his Majesty deserves an especial address from our literati, whenever he thinks proper to revisit this country. The importation of the foreign reprints has also increased, and to an extent that has made our publishers quite as alarmed as the farmers and graziers, when they recently fancied themselves surrounded by outlandish bulls of Bashan, and bellowed out for protection against foreign oxen, all ready to invade Smithfield, and drive our own beasts, without drovers, clean out of the mar.