Page images
PDF
EPUB

America is a market which the fortunate extension of the English tongue has given them-to which they have a real and natural claim-and of which they ought not to be deprived.

But let us consider for a moment the effect of requiring the American publisher to pay the author for his book, and of course securing to the latter the right of taking out for it a copyright here. Would the public really pay more for the book? The affirmative is very questionable. It is well-known how great the scramble is to secure the first copy of the English work, or its first impression here. Competition increases very considerably to the publisher the expense of issuing it. This, of course, would be avoided, if more time were allowed, which would be the case to him who had fairly purchased the right from the English proprietor. There would be no necessity for the race-horse speed of publication which is now essential. But is the price paid for a book the only consideration of value? Is the care with which it is printed nothing? Is the neatness and finish of binding nothing? Is the whole style with which the book is got up nothing? Surely not. Every one accustomed to handle books knows the superiority of English printing and binding-the superior comfort in reading them-the superior pleasure in preserving them-in a word, their greatly superior value. We would immediately approximate somewhat to this. Instead of the miserably flimsy and careless editions daily issuing from the American presses, and which hardly survive their perusal, we should behold books whose outward man would be honourable to the workmanship of the country, and which there would be some ambition to preserve.

Under the present system there can scarcely be such a thing as a careful or beautiful edition of a popular work. It is printed to be read as hastily as it was issued; not to be preserved; and, after the public curiosity is gratified, there is not sufficient encouragement to authorize the issuing of a corrected, well-bound edition. It would not remunerate the publisher for his care and expenditure. Some new Cynthia of the minute demands his attention-the public is awaiting with impatience to see and skim lightly over a romance of horrors, or a tale of the affections; and as this feeling can be gratified at a trifling cost to them, and at great gain to the publisher, every other consideration is of inferior moment.

A fitting sense, then, of what is due to justice and the rights of property demands the change. Literary property, being as entirely capable of definition and just as reasonable as the ownership of any other thing, the committee very properly ask the distinction in reason between extending protection to merchandise transmitted here by its owner, and refusing it to a

There exists none whatever.

book. The owner should have the same right to trace and reclaim the one as the otherwhereas the latter is absolutely abstracted from him without his consent, and without the slightest compensation. But if a sense of justice will not grant the protection, and if the persuasions of magnanimity and courtesy are not effectual, reciprocity at least should demand attention. We should not be backward in yielding to the subjects of a foreign country the same advantages which our citizens there possess. An American author can, in both England and France, place his productions above the reach of injustice. The laws of those countries recognize this high and honourable species of property, though existing in a stranger, and allow him to make what disposition of it he may see fit. Let us not continue to enjoy from the magnanimity of foreigners what we might ask of them as a right, if we did not withhold it ourselves. Let us meet them on the lofty ground which they have assumed, and from which they have not suffered themselves to be driven by our partial legislation.

In a collateral branch of international law, we have acted more wisely and equitably. Foreign inventions or improvements may be patented here; and the committee very properly consider the proposed change as a mere extension of the same principle. Shall less regard be paid to purely literary productions than to mechanical contrivances? Shall we pay more deference to the mode and means of enriching ourselves, than to what tends to the cultivation of the mind--to the education of the youth of our country? We hope not-but, on the contrary, that a free and enlightened nation will omit no opportunity of evincing her reverence for letters and literary men.

We are pleased to see what we fancy to be a growing taste for the fine arts and the encouragement of science, in our land. It has been evident in our legislative halls, and in our national councils. Let equal and growing attention be afforded to our men of letters, and let the right hand of fellowship be extended to them the civilized world over. It is becoming to a republic -suitable to the genius of her institutions and will redound more than any other quality to her glory in all future time. It is a mark of extreme refinement-an evidence of graceful, as well as of solid acquisition.

Most of the above views, which we have very briefly hinted at, are the arguments which brought the committee of the United States senate to a conclusion favourable to the views of the petitioners. Still the report embodies but a partial consideration of the subject, preserving a total silence upon the probable benefit to our native writers, which would be produced by a provision of the description they recommend. We are

persuaded that this course was more becoming the committee of a high branch of the government, particularly upon an address of the foreign authors themselves. It was more dignified to place their conclusion upon the rights of the petitioners, and the claims of equity and courtesy, than upon any selfish ground of benefit derivable to our own citizens from the change. It would perhaps have sounded ill from the lips of distinguished senators to proclaim that American talent stood in need of protection; and we should ourselves have been very sorry to be forced to take this ground, not being disposed to consider genius and learning as tariffable commodities, either for revenue or encouragement. Whatever our sentiments might be (and we do not here express any) upon the subject of protection to American industry, we should be very averse to advocate any measures which might compel our countrymen to read American books without regard to their quality, from a mere spirit of patriotism; or deprive them of good foreign works, and place in their reach but bad domestic productions. Mind is of no particular nation--genius belongs to the universe; and that country would be barbarous indeed which should exclude the literary labours of any other people, through an apprehension of their coming into competition upon an equal footing with her own. Free, untramelled competition is the soul of talent--let the world be the theatre, and let superior genius achieve the victory and maintain the ascendency.

But we do advocate (particularly, let it be borne in mind, when the contrary is of no benefit, but the reverse, to the authors themselves) the placing of the productions of American talent upon an equal footing with those of British writers. How are they not so? We will give the reason, if it be not already apparent. The American bookseller can publish the work of an English_author without paying him a farthing for it. He can select the production of a gentleman whose established reputation is a sufficient guaranty of the sale of his book; and having all this within his reach, what inducement is held out to any publisher to attempt the experiment of buying the manuscript of a native author, unknown, perhaps, as yet to fame, and of undergoing the additional expense of its publication? The hazard of remuneration in the one case is very great in the other, profit is almost certain. The native manuscript is therefore thrown by, neglected; and native genius depressed, because it is not the interest of American publishers and booksellers to encourage its efforts. It would be expecting too much of patriotism in these days, to look for a different course of conduct, nor should we be disposed to ask it of any man of business. This is no fanciful sketch-the case must be of constant recurrence.

Take again the instance of American periodicals. What encouragement is extended to a publisher to undertake the issuing of a monthly, or quarterly, containing original articles, when he can republish the best British Reviews at the mere cost of paper, printing, and binding? Nothing is paid to the editors-nothing to the contributors-nothing to the English publisher. Whereas, in the case of a native production, editors must receive an equivalent for their services-original articles must be compensated-the risk must be incurred of the work not being a favourite with the public. With the other, on the contrary, its former reputation is a sufficient warrant-it may be, a sure one-of its present value; or, at least, is esteemed so by that numerous class who take all things upon trust, provided they are of foreign origin.

Under this state of things, then, American genius languishes -American enterprise is depressed. The preference is given to foreign literature, not from regard to foreign literati, nor, as a general rule, because the publications themselves are of a higher order, (we speak now in reference to publishers,) but because they can be got at a cheaper rate, or rather for nothing, while the efforts of native talent must be paid for.

That these are facts, no one acquainted with the subject can deny. What, then, is asked? To foster American productions at the expense of foreign? By no means. But to place them upon an equality, and by doing so, to render justice to their authors, at the same time that we spare the sacrifice of our

own.

Every thing which has been said with respect to the claims of literary men upon the public-the encouragement they should receive in an enlightened republic-and the just equivalent which they should reap for their labours-may be urged with additional force, and a freedom, too, from the charge of national selfishness, when applied to the case of our own writers. It is the duty of every government to protect and foster her own citizens-if in the arts, or sciences, or manufactures, then eminently so in literature. Especially is this a duty in a comparatively young nation, with an infant literature; where men, whose minds are directed to such pursuits, have much to contend against, and who have a right to expect that their country will at least adopt no line of policy which will subject them to additional embarrassments and difficulties.

We would, however, not stop at an alteration even of the kind proposed. To do complete justice both to British authors and to our own countrymen, all duties upon the importation of books, in the English language, should be abolished. This would render the system uniform and complete. Every con→ sideration of public policy and regard to the interests of litera

ture requires this course. The present is a period when difficulties arise not from a deficient but a redundant treasury. The ingenuity and the skill of our legislators are constantly taxed to devise measures towards the reduction of the public income, without material injury to vested interests. The duty upon foreign books is called for by no motive either of revenue or of encouragement to domestic industry. It is a tax-and a most unrighteous one--upon literature. It prevents the most careful and the most beautiful editions of books, which would be in the hands of a great portion of our people who are now deprived of them, from being generally disseminated; and it shuts up a market of great extent against the foreign publishers, who, if it were opened, and of course the demand proportionately increased, would be able to issue their editions at a much cheaper rate. It may be said that it operates as an encouragement to our own printers and book-binders. We do not think so; nor, if it did, do we consider their interests paramount to those of the class who purchase and read the books. Books are (unfortunately, it may be said,) with the great mass of the people not considered as necessaries. The cheaper form therefore in which they may be presented, the more acceptable are they to them. They will of course always give the preference to the less expensive and necessarily inferior editions, which answer their purpose of being read just as well as the most costly editions-the demand for the latter being confined to the more wealthy classes, to men of refined tastes, and to public institutions. The American publisher has therefore but little inducement to issue the finer editions of works, and seeks rather to supply the popular demand in a way suited to it. Those who choose to furnish themselves with works in a more elegant dress ought not to be prevented from doing so by a heavy tax. The arts in England are, in this branch, ahead of ours; not at all owing to our fault, nor admitted to our shame; for doubtless in time we shall rival our British brethren in this particular as we have in many others. But before this happens, a general taste must be encouraged, and must become prevalent, for the ornamental and finer branches of book-making, and nothing would conduce more to this than the general dissemination of English editions in this country. All tastes thus would have the means of gratification within their reach. The English edition would be procured by those who preferred it; and the American, and cheaper, by such again as were influenced by other and equally praiseworthy motives. The competition, too, between the two issues would cheapen both; and in progress of time, from natural causes easy to be perceived, the ability of American publishers to compete with foreign in the style of their editions would be securely established. This competition that we speak of seems

« PreviousContinue »