January-July 1842

The Collected Letters, Volume 14


TC TO CHARLES DICKENS ; 26 March 1842; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18420326-TC-CHDI-01; CL 14: 92-94


Templand (for London) 26th. March 1842.

My Dear Sir.

We learn by the Newspapers that you everywhere in America stir up the question of International Copyright, and thereby awaken huge dissonance where all else were triumphant unison for you.1 I am asked my opinion of the matter,2 and requested to write it down in words.

Several years ago, if memory err not, I was one of many English Writers who, under the auspices of Miss Martineau, did sign a petition to Congress, praying for an International Copyright between the Two Nations3—which, properly, are not Two Nations, but one—indivisible by Parliament, Congress, or any kind of Human Law or Diplomacy; being already united by Heaven's Act of Parliament, and the Everlasting Law of Nature and Fact. To that opinion I still adhere, and am like to continue adhering.

In discussion of the matter before any Congress or Parliament, manifold considerations and argumentations will necessarily arise; which to me are not interesting, nor essential for helping me to a decision. They respect the time and manner in which the thing should be; not at all whether the thing should be, or not. In an ancient Book, reverenced I should hope on both sides of the ocean, it was Thousands of Years ago, written down in the most decisive and explicit manner, “Thou Shalt not Steal”.4 That thou belongest to a different “Nation” and canst steal without being certainly hanged for it, gives thee no permission to steal. Thou shalt not in anywise steal at all! So it is written down for Nations and for Men, in the Law Book of the Maker of this Universe. Nay, poor Jeremy Bentham5 and others step in here, and will demonstrate that it is actually our true convenience and expediency not to steal; which I for my share, on the great scale and on the small, and in all conceivable scales and shapes, do also firmly believe it to be. For example, if Nations abstained from stealing, what need were there of fighting—with its butcherings and burnings: decidedly the most expensive thing in this World? How much more two Nations which, as I said, are but one Nation, knit in a thousand ways by Nature and Practical Intercourse; indivisible brother elements of the same great SAXONDOM, to which, in all honorable ways, be long life!

When Mr Robert Roy M'Gregor6 lived in the district of Menteith on the Highland Border, Two Centuries ago, he, for his part, found it more convenient to supply himself with beef by stealing it alive from the adjacent glens, than by buying it killed in the Stirling butchers' Market. It was Mr Roy's plan of supplying himself with beef in those days, this of stealing it. In many a little “Congress” in the district of Menteith there was debating, doubt it not, and much specious argumentation this way and that, before they could ascertain that, really and truly, buying was the best way to get your beef; which, however, in the long run, they did with one assent find it indisputably to be: and accordingly they hold by it to this day.7

Wishing you a pleasant voyage, and a swift and safe return,

I remain always, My Dear Sir
Yours very sincerely


To / Charles Dickens Esquire / In / The United States