1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO FRANCIS de H. JANVIER; 14 May 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18540514-TC-FHJ-01; CL 29: 311-312


Chelsea 14 May (Sunday next?)


I wish success to your enterprise on the Copyright question.1 In the interest of human justice, and of common logic, if on no other, it seems to me, desirable.

Whether real Literature can ever be supported by Copyright; and whether imagy Literature deserves support, or the reverse, I leave as questions,—and shall not ask whether we agree upon them or not. But to forbid the Writer of a Book, what is ardently conceded (secured by treadmills, gibbets, judges fiscals, to tipstaffs and an elaborate apparatus) to the maker of a Besom, the liberty of fairly asking the world what it means to do with him, the liberty of selling his manufactures unplundered, in the public market at what he can get for it, appears to me one of the most unadulterated solecisms now current, and incapable of being supported by any argt which is not on the face of it lamentable to behold.

Among the sons of Adam protected in their rights of property, there is no one who has or can have such a right of property in any object as the Writer, or even the Scribbler, of a Book has in said Book. Writing or scribbling, that Book belongs to him as nothing else does.— Belongs as the Universe does to the Maker, not as Field A or Field B does to Jack & Tom, who did not make, or call into, existence, said fields at all, but have merely obtained possn of them (very temporary possn) by the consent of neighbours for the time being. Being an enemy to solecisms, it wd be a slight comfort to me to see that solecism, whh is a conspicuous one, choked; that, for one.

Mr Carey's similitude of the big “flowergarden” from which the Author2 makes a bouquet, big “store of bricks” from which the Author builds a house, halts fatally in one leg (if not in both); and indeed collapses altogether if examined. The fatal halt is this. No author takes away the least “flower,” or fraction of a “brick,” by making his boquet3 (well or ill) from Mr Careys flowergarden, or his house from Mr Carey's brick store:—supposing him to have added nothing whatever, is there not precisely the same stock left, for others to do better with, as before he appeared there? Precisely the same; by hypothesis (his work being zero), no change whatever, not a daisy shifted from its place, not the chip of a slate more or less. So that, as I said, the “boundless flowergarden,” “boundless brickstore,” is not a similitude that represents the object; but halts fatally (in one leg of it), and in fact falls flat,—requesting to be carried out on any shutter or wheelbarrow there may be. By the way, as to the other leg of similitude, I shd like to ask Mr Cy Where he supposes those flowers, bricks &c all came from; and whether it has not fallen within his experience as an extensive Publisher, to see such a thing as a “brick” that was not there before? Phenomena of that kind, it is said, become rarer and rarer. If they altogether cease,—then it is merely in the interest of human fair play, and to get sophisms of a conspicuously untenable charr and similitudes that fall flat, well wheeled out of the ring, that I argue on this matter.4

Sir, it is a serious enough matter this of Literature, and of Printed Thought, or even Printed Talk. Literature and what is to become of it, and of the world that lives amidst it, and sees its interests high and low getting more and more entirely embarked upon it, and Literature becoming Church and Parlt and Govt and Opera-house all united, is one of the gravest, both to America and to Europe. Rather too grave! But till these collapsed similitudes &c are well wheeled out, there is no discussing of it gravely. I have the honour to be, Your &c