图书图片
PDF
ePub

which it has been assailed, and find ample counterpoise in the sequel. The possibility that this history should be suppressed by some descendant of Gibbon, who might extravagantly suppose it his duty to stifle cold and crafty sneers aimed at the first followers of Christ, was urged—and urged with success— against me when I pleaded for the right of those descendants to the fruits of the labours of their ancestor; yet, if you sanction this attempt, any Hetherington may compel by law that suppression, the remote possibility of which has been accepted as a reason for denying to the posterity of the author a property in the work he has created . This work, invested with the peculiar interest which belongs to the picture of waning greatness, has recently been printed in a cheap form, under the sanction of a dignitary of the Established Church—a Christian Poet of the noblest aim—whose early genius was the pride of our fairest university, and who is now the honoured minister of the very parish in which we are assembled. If I were now defending Mr. Milman, of whose friendship I am justly proud, for this last and cheapest and best edition of Gibbon, I could only resort to the arguments I am now urging for Mr. Moxon, and claim the benefit of the same distinction between the tendency of a book adapted to the promotion of infidelity, and one which, containing incidental matter of offence, is commended to the student with those silent guards which its form and accompaniments supply. True it is that Mr. Milman has accompanied the text with notes in which he sometimes explains or counteracts the insinuations of the author; but what Notes can be so effectual as that which follows “Queen Mab”—in which Shelley's own letter is set forth, stating, on his authority, that the work was immature, and that he did not intend it for the general eye? Is not the publication of this letter by the publisher as decisive of his motive—not to commend the wild fancies and stormy words of the young poet to the reader's approval, but to give them as part of his biography, -as the notes of Mr. Milman are of that which no one doubts, his desire to make the perusal of Gibbon healthful? Prosper this attempt, and what a field of speculative prosecution will open before us! Every publisher of the works of Rousseau, of Woltaire, of Wolney, of Hume—of the Classics and of their Translations—works regarded as innoxious, because presented in a certain aspect and offered to a certain class, will become liable to every publisher of penny blasphemy who may suffer or hate or fear the law;--nor of such only, but of every small attorney in search of practice, who may find in the machinery of the Crown-office the facilities of extortion. Nor will the unjust principle you are asked to sanction stop with retaliation in the case of alleged blasphemy—the retailer of cheap lasciviousness, if checked in his wicked trade, will have his revenge against the works of the mighty dead in which some tinge of mortal stain may unfortunately be detected. The printer of one of those penny atrocities which are thrust into the hands of ingenuous youths when bound on duty or innocent pleasure, the emissaries of

which—children often themselves—mount the chariot and board the steamboat to scatter that poison which may infect the soul as long as the soul shall endure—whom, to do this prosecutor justice, I know he disclaims—may obtain true bills of indictment against any man, who has sold Horace, or Virgil, or Lucretius, or Ovid, or Juvenal—against all who have solda copy of any of our old dramatists—and thus not only Congreve, and Farquhar, and Wycherley, but Fletcher, and Massinger, and Ford, and Webster, and Ben Jonson; nay, with reve. rence be it spoken, even Shakspeare, though ever pure in essence, may be placed at the mercy of an insect abuser of the press—unless juries have the courage and the virtue to recognise the distinction between a man who publishes works which are infidel or impure, because they are infidel or impure, and publishes them in a form and at a price which indicate the desire that they should work out mischief, and one who publishes works in which evil of the same kind may be found, but who publishes them because, in spite of that imperfection, they are on the whole for the edification and delight of mankind;—between one who tenders the misehief for approbation, and one who exposes it for example. And are you prepared to succumb to this new censorship? Will you allow Mr. Hetherington to prescribe what leaves you shall tear from the classic volumes in your libraries? Shall he dictate to you how much of Lord Byron—a writer far more influential than Shelley—you shall be allowed to lend to your friends without fear of his censure ? Shall he drag into court the vast productions of the German mind, and ask juries to decide whether the translator of Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, and Lessing—deal. ing with sacred things with a boldness to which we are unused—are guilty of crime! Shall he call for judgment on that stupendous work, the “Faust,” with its prologue in Heaven, which has been presented by my friend Mr. Hayward, whose able assistance I have to-day, with happy vividness to English readers—and ask a jury to take it in their hand, and at an hour's glance to decide whetheritis a libel on God, or a hymn by Genius to His praise! Do you not feel those matters are for other seasons—for another sphere?—lf so, will you, in the dark—without knowledge —without evidence—sanction a prosecution which will, in its result, impose new and strange tasks on juries who may decide on other trials; which may destroy the just allowance accorded to learning even under absolute monarchies; and place every man who hereafter shall print, or sell, or give, or lend, any one of a thousand volumes sanctioned by ages, at the mercy of any Prosecutor who for malice—for gain—or mere mischief, may choose to denounce him as a blasphemer? And now, I commend into your hands the cause of the defendant—the cause of genius —the cause of learning—the cause of history —the cause of thought. I have not sought to maintain it by assailing the law as it has been expounded by courts, and administered by juries; which, if altered, should be changed by the authority of the legislature, and neither by the violation of oaths, nor by the machinery which the prosecutor has employed to render it odious at the cost of those whom he himself contends to be guiltless; but I have striven to convince you, that by a just application of that law, you may hold this publication of the works of Shelley to be no crime. It has been fairly conceded that Mr. Moxon is a most respectable publisher; one who has done good service to the cause of poetry and wisdom; and one who could not intentionally publish a blasphemous work, without treason to all the associations which honour his life. Beginning his career under the auspices of Rogers, the eldest of a great age of poets, and blessed with the continued support of that excellent person, who never broke by one unworthy line the charm of moral grace which pervades his works, he has been associated with Lamb, whose kindness embraced all sects, all parties, all classes, and whose genius shed new and pleasant lights on daily life; with Southey, the pure and childlike in heart; with Coleridge, in the light of whose Christian philosophy these indicted poems would assume their true character as mournful, yet salutary specimens of power developed imperfectly in this world; and with Wordsworth, whose works so long neglected or scorned, but so long silently nur

turing tastes for the lofty and the pure, it has been Mr. Moxon's privilege to diffuse largely throughout this and other lands, and with them the sympathies which link the human heart to nature and to God, and all classes of mankind to each other! Reject then, in your justice, the charge which imputes to such a man, that by publishing this book, he has been guilty of blasphemy against the God whom he reveres! Refuse to set the fatal precedent, which will not only draw the fame of the illustrious dead into question before juries, without time to investigate their merits; which may not only harass the first publishers of these works; but which will beset the course of every bookseller, every librarian, throughout the country, with perpetual snares, and make our criminal courts the arenas for a savage warfare of literary prosecutions! Protect our noble literature from the alternative of being either corrupted or enslaved' Terminate those anxieties which this charge, so unprovoked—so undeserved—has now for months inflicted on the defendant, and his friends, by that verdict of Not Guilty, which will disappoint only those who desire that cheap blasphemy should have free course; which the noblest, and purest, and most pious of your own generation will rejoice in ; and for which their posterity will honour and bless you!

SPEECH ON THE MOTION FOR LEAVE TO BRING IN A BILL TO AMEND THE LAW OF COPYRIGHT,

DELIvEnrn IN The House of CoMMons, Thunsnar, MAr 18, 1837.

Mr. Speaken, Inventuring to invite the attention of the House to the state of the law affecting the property of men of letters in the results of their genius and industry, I feel that it is my duty to present their case as concisely as its nature will permit. While I believe that heir claims to some share in the consideration of the legislature will not be denied, I am aware that they appeal to feelings far different from those which are usually excited by the intellectual conflicts of this place; that the interest of their claim is not of that stirring kind which belongs to the busy present, but reflects back on the past, of which the passions are now silent, and stretches forward with speculation into the visionary future; and that the circumstances which impede their efforts and frustrate their reward, are best appreciated in the calmness of thought to which those efforts are akin. I shall therefore intrude as briefly as I can on the patience of the House, while I glance at the history of the evils of which they complain; suggest the principles on which I think them entitled to redress; and state the outlines of the remedies by which I propose to relieve them.

It is, indeed, time that literature should experience some of the blessings of legislation;

for hitherto, with the exception of the noble boon conferred on the acted drama by the bill of my honourable friend the member for Lincoln, it has received scarcely any thing but evil. If we should now simply repeal all the statutes which have been passed under the guise of encouraging learning, and leave it to be protected only by the principles of the common law, and the remedies which the common law could supply, I believe the relief would be welcome. It did not occur to our ancestors, that the right of deriving solid benefits from that which springs solely from within us—the right of property in that which the mind itself creates, and which, so far from exhausting the materials common to all men, or limiting their resources, enriches and expands them—a right of property which, by the happy peculiarity of its nature, can only be enjoyed by the proprietor in proportion as it blesses mankind-should be exempted from the protection which is extended to the ancient appropriation of the soil, and the rewards of commercial enterprise. By the common law of England, as solemnly expounded by a majority of seven to four of the judges in the case of “Donaldson v. Beckett,” and as sustained by the additional opinion of Lord Mansfield, the author of an original wor

had rom Even the sole right of multiplying copies, and a remedy by action, incident to every right, against any one who should infringe it. The jurisdiction of the Star Chamber, while it restrained the freedom of the press, at the same time incidentally preserved the copyright from violation; and this was one of the pleasurged for the power of licensing; for Milton, in his immortal pleading for unlicensed printing, states, as one of the glosses of his opponents, “the just retaining by each man of his several copy, which God forbid should be gainsaid.” In the special verdict in “Miller v. Taylor,” (1769,) it was found as a fact, “that before the reign of Queen Anne, it was usual to purchase from authors the perpetual copyright of their books, and to assign the same from hand to hand for valuable considerations, and to make them the subject of family settlements.” In truth, the claim of the author to perpetual copyright was never disputed, until literature had received a fatal present in the first act of parliament “For its encouragement”—the 8th Anne, c. 19, passed in 1709; in which the mischief lurked, unsuspected, for many years before it was called into action to limit the rights it professed, and it was probably intended, to secure. By that act, the sole right of printing and reprinting their works was recognised in authors for the term of fourteen years, and, if they should be living at its close, for another period of the same duration,-and piracy was made punishable during those periods by the forfeiture of the books illegally published, and of a penny for every sheet in the offender's custody—one-half to the use of the queen's majesty—the other halfpenny, not to the poor author, whose poverty the sum might seem to befit, but to the informer; and the condition of enjoying these summary remedies, was the entry of the work at Stationers' Hall. This act, “For the encouragement of learning,” which, like thé priest in the fable, while it vouchsafes the blesting denies the farthing, also confers a power of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other great functionaries to regulate the prices of books, which was rejected by the Lords, restored on conference with the Commons, and repealed in the following reign; and also confers on learning the benefit of a forced contribution of nine copies of every work, on the best paper, for the use of certain libraries. Except in this last particular, the act seems to have remained a dead letter down to the year 1760,

no one, as far as I can trace, having thought it worth while to sue for its halfpennies, and no one having suggested that its effect had been silently to restrict the common-law right of

authors to the term during which its remedies were to operate. So far was this construction from being suspected, that in this interval of

fifty years the Court of Chancery repeatedly interfered by injunction to restrain the piracy of

books in which the statutable copyright had long expired. This protection was extended in 1785 to “The Whole Duty of Man,” the first assignment of which had been made seventyeight years before; in the same year to the “Miscellanies of Pope and Swift;" in 1736 to “Nelson's Festivals and Fasts;" in 1739 to

the “Paradise Lost;” and in 1752 to the same poem, with a life of the author, and the notes of all preceding editions. Some doubts having at length arisen, the question of the operation of the statute was, in 1760, raised by a sort of amicable suit, “Tonson v. Collins," respecting the “Spectator,” in which the Court of Common Pleas inclined to the plaintiff, but before giving judgment discovered that the proceeding was collusive, and refused to pronounce any decision. In 1766 an action was brought, “Miller v. Taylor,” for pirating “Thomson's Seasons,” in the Court of King's Bench, before whom it was elaborately argued, and which, in 1769, gave judgment in favour of the subsisting copyright; Lord Mansfield, Mr. Justice Willes, and Mr. Justice Aston, holding that copyright was perpetual by the common law, and not limited by the statute, except asto penalties, and Mr. Justice Yates dissenting from them. In 1774 the question was brought before the House of Lords, when eleven judges delivered their opinions upon it—six of whom thought the copyright limited, while five held it perpetual; and Lord Mansfield, who would have made the numbers equal, retaining his opinion, but expressing none. By this bare majority—against the strong opinion of the chief justice of England—was it decided that the statute of Anne has substituted a short term in copyright for an estate in fee, and the rights of authors were delivered up to the mercy of succeeding parliaments' Until this decision, the copyright vested in the universities had only shared the protection which it was supposed had existed for all, and in fact their copyright was gone. But they inmediately resorted to the legislature and obtained an act, 15 George III., c. 63, “For enabling the two universities in England, the four universities of Scotland, and the several colleges of Eton, Westminster, and Winchester, to hold in perpetuity the copyright in books given or bequeathed to them for the advance. ment of learning and the purposes of education; and the like privilege was, by 41 George III., c. 107, extended to Trinity College, Dublin. With the immunities thus conferred on the universities, or rather with this exemption from the wrong incidentally inflicted on indi. viduals, I have no intention to interfere; neither do I seek to relieve literature from the obligation, recently lightened by the just consideration of parliament, of supplying the principal universities with copies of all works at the author's charge. I only seek to apply the terms of the statute, which recites that the purposes of those who bequeathed copyright to the universities for the advancement of learning would be frustrated unless the exclusive right of printing and reprinting such books besecured in perpetuity, to support the claim of individuals to some extended interest in their own. I only ask that some of the benefits enjoyed by the venerable nurseries of learning and of genius should attend the works of those whose youth they have inspired and fostered, and of those also who, although fortune has denied to them that inestimable blessing, look with reverence upon the great institutions of their country, and feel themselves in that reve

rence not wholly strangers to the great body of associations they nourish. The next act, 41 George III., c. 107, passed immediately after the Union, did little besides including Ireland in the general law of copyright; conferring on Trinity College, Dublin, the privilege of English universities; prohibiting the importation of books from abroad which had been originally printed in the United Kingdom; and increasing the penalty on piracies from 1d. to 3d. per sheet. But in the year 1814, by the statute of 54 George III., c. 156, which is the principal subsisting act on the subject of literary copyright, reciting “That it would afford further encouragement to literature, if the duration of copyright were further extended,” enlarges it to the absolute term of twenty-eight years; and if the author shall survive that time, secures it to him for the remainder of his life. Since then the legislature has extended its protection to two classes of composition which before were lest in a condition to invite piracy—to the actual drama, by the measure of 3 William IV., c. 15, and to lectures, by 5 and 6 William IV., c. 65—and has, by an act of last session, lightened the load of one of the blessings conferred by the legislature, by reducing the copies which authors are privileged to render to five ; but the term of twenty-eight years, with the possible reversion beyond that time for life, is all authors have yet obtained in return for that inheritance of which the statute of Anne incidentally deprived them. This limitation of the ancient rights of authorship has not been compensated by uniformity in the details of the law, by simplicity in the modes of proving the right or of transferring it, or by the cheapness or adequacy of the remedies. The penal clauses have proved wholly worthless. Engravings, etchings, maps, and charts, which are regulated by other statutes, are secured to the author for twentyeight years, but not, like books, for the contingent term of life. Instead of the registration at Stationers' Hall, which has been holden not necessary to the right of action, the work must bear the date and the name of the proprietor; but no provision is made in either case for cheap transfer. Now, I propose to render the law of copyright uniform, as to all books and works of art; to secure to the proprietor the same term in each ; to give one plan of registration and one mode of transfer. As the stationer's company have long enjoyed the control over the registration of books, I do not propose to take it from them, if they are willing to retain it with the increased trouble, compensated by the increased fees which their officer will be entitled to receive. I propose that, before any proceeding can be adopted for the violation of copyright, the author, or his assignee, shall deposit a copy of the work,

whether book or engraving, and cause an entry to be made in the form to be given in the

act of the proprietorship of the work, whether

registered in like manner in a form also to be. given by the act; that such transfer shall be proved by a similar copy; and that in neither case shall any stamp be requisite. At present great uncertainty prevails as to the original right of property in papers supplied to periodical works or written at the instance of a bookseller, and as to the right of engraving from original pictures. However desirable it may be that these questions should be settled, it is impossible to interfere with the existing relations of booksellers and authors, or of patrons of art and artists. Neither, for the future, do I propose to lay down any rule as to the rights which shall originally be expressed or implied between the parties themselves; but that the right of copy shall be registered as to such books, pictures or engravings, only with the consent of both expressed in writing, and when this is done shall be absolute in the party registered as owner. At present, an engraver or publisher, who has given a large sum for permission to engrave a picture, and expended his money or labour in the plate, may be met by unexcepted competition, for which he has no remedy. By making the registration not the condition of the right itself, but of the remedy by action or otherwise, the independence of contracting parties will be preserved, and this evil avoided for the future. A competent tribunal will still be wanting; its establishment is beyond the scope of my intention or my power; but I feel that complete justice will not be done to Literature and Art until a mode shall be devised for a cheap and summary vindication of their injuries before some parties better qualified to determine it than judges who have passed their lives in the laborious study of the law, or jurors who are surrounded with the cares of business, and, except by accident, little acquainted with the subjects presented to them for decision. But the main object of the bill which I contemplate is—I will not use those words of ill omen, “the further advancement of learning.” but—for additional justice to learning, by the further extension of time during which authors shall enjoy the direct pecuniary benefit immediately flowing from the sale of their own works. Although I see no reason why authors should not be restored to that inheritance which, under the name of protection and encouragement, has been taken from them, I feel that the subject has so long been treated as matter of compromise between those who deny that the creations of the inventive faculty, or the achievements of reason, are the subjects of property at all, and those who think the property should last as long as the works which contain truth and beauty live, that I propose still to treat it on the principle of compromise, and to rest satisfied with a fairer adjustment of the difference than the last Act of Parliament affords. I shall propose—subject to

modification when the details of the measure

absolute or limited ; and that a copy of such shall be discussed—that the term of property

entry, signed by the officer, shall be admitted in all courts as primá facie evidence of the pro

in all works of learning, genius, and art, to be produced hereafter, or in which the statutable

perty. I propose that any transfer should be copyright now subsists, shall be extended to 21 -

[ocr errors]

f sixty years, to be computed from the death of the author; which will at least enable him, while providing for the instruction and the delight of distant ages, to contemplate that he shall leave in his works themselves some legacy to those for whom a nearer, if not a higher duty, requires him to provide, and which shall make “death less terrible.” When the opponents of literary property speak of glory as the reward of genius, they make an ungenerous use of the very nobleness of its impulses, and show how little they have profited by its high example. When Milton, in poverty and in blindness, fed the flame of his divine enthusiasm by the assurance of a duration coequal with his language, I believe with Lord Camden that no thought crossed him of the wealth which might be amassed by the sale of his poem; but surely some shadow would have been cast upon “the clear dream and solemn vision” of his suture glories, had he foreseen that, while booksellers were striving to rival each other in the magnificence of their editions, or their adaptation to the convenience of various classes of his admirers, his only surviving descendant—a woman— should be rescued from abject want only by the charity of Garrick, who, at the solicitation of Dr. Johnson, gave her a benefit at the theatre which had appropriated to itself all that could be represented of Comus. The liberality of genius is surely ill urged as an excuse for our ungrateful denial of its rights. The late Mr. Coleridge gave an example not merely of its liberality, but of its profuseness; while he sought not even to appropriate to his fame the vast intellectual treasures which he had derived from boundless research, and coloured by a glorious imagination; while he scattered abroad the seeds of beauty and of wisdom to take root in congenial minds, and was content to witness their fruits in the productions of those who heard him. But ought we, therefore, the less to deplore, now when the music of his divine philosophy is for ever hushed, that the earlier portion of those works on which he stamped his own impress—all which he desired of the world that it should recogmise as his—is published for the gain of others than his children—that his death is illustrated by the forfeiture of their birthright? What justice is there in this? Do we reward our heroes thus? Did we tell our Marlboroughs, our Nelsons, our Wellingtons, that glory was their reward, that they fought for posterity, and that posterity would pay them : We leave them to no such cold and uncertain requital; we do not even leave them merely to enjoy the spoils of their victories, which we deny to the author; we concentrate a nation's honest feeling of gratitude and pride into the form of an endowment, and teach other ages what we thought, and what they ought to think, of their deeds, by the substantial memorials of our praise. Were our Shakspeare and Milton less the ornaments of their country, less the benefactors of mankind 1 Would the example be less inspiring if we permitted them to enjoy the spoils of their peaceful victories— if we allowed to their descendants, not the tax assessed by present gratitude, and charged on

the Future, but the mere amount which that Future would be delighted to pay—extending as the circle of their glory expands, and rendered only by those who individually reap the benefits, and are contented at once to enjoy and to reward its author? But I do not press these considerations to the full extent; the Past is beyond our power, and I only ask for the present a brief rever. sion in the Future. “Riches fineless” created by the mighty dead are already ours. It is in truth the greatness of blessings which the world inherits from genius that dazzles the mind on this question; and the habit of repaying its bounty by words, that confuses us and indisposes us to justice. It is because the spoils of time are freely and irrevocably ours—because the forms of antique beauty wear for us the bloom of an imperishable youth—because the elder literature of our own country is a free mine of wealth to the bookseller and of delight to ourselves, that we are unable to understand the claim of our contemporaries to a beneficial interest in their works. Because genius by a genial necessity communicates so much, we cannot conceive it as retaining anything for its possessor. There is a sense, indeed, in which the poets “on earth have made us heirs of truth and pure delight in heavenly lays;" and it is because of the greatness of this very boon—because their thoughts become our thoughts, and their phrases unconsciously enrich our daily language—because their works, harmonious by the law of their own nature, suggest to us the rules of composition by which their imitators should be guided—be. cause to them we can resort, and “in our golden urns draw light,” that we cannot fancy them apart from ourselves, or admit that they have any property except in our praise. And our gratitude is shown not only in leaving their descendants without portion in the pecuniary benefits derived from their works, but in permitting their fame to be frittered away in abridgments, and polluted by base intermixtures, and denying to their children even the cold privilege of watching over and protect. ing it! There is something, sir, peculiarly unjust in bounding the term of an author's property by his natural life, if he should survive so short a period as twenty-eight years. It denies to age and experience the probable reward it permits to youth—to youth, sufficiently full of hope and joy, to slight his promises. It gives a bounty to haste, and informs the laborious student, who would wear away his strength to complete some work which “the world will not willingly let die,” that the more of his life he devotes to its perfection, the more limited shall be his interest in its fruits. It stops the progress of remuneration at the moment it is most needed, and when the benignity of Nature would extract from her last calamity a means of support and comfort to survivors. At the season when the author's name is invested with the solemn interest of mortality—when his eccentricities or frailties excite a smile or a sneer no longer—when the last seal is set upon his earthly course, and

« 上一页继续 »