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Memoirs of a Trait in the Character of George III. of these United Kingdoms/Appendix 10

No. 10.

OBSERVATIONS ON THE INJURIOUS AND OPPRESSIVE EFFECTS OF A CLAIM UNDER THE COPY-RIGHT ACT FROM ELEVEN COLLEGES OR LIBRARIES.



It is to be lamented that a leayen of the same meanness apparent in the jealousy of the mathematical Professors, at the success of the Mechanics, still pervades the proceedings at Cambridge and Oxford; in the assertion of their abstract right each to a copy, not only of books properly so called, but of copper or steel plate prints, either plain or coloured, published with letter-press explanations of the subject—a class of works entirely unknown when the privilege was granted, to have a copy of all printed books. In the case of prints expensively got up, these copies become a prohibition on the publication; and by consequence have a decidedly injurious effect on the progress of the arts in these kingdoms; and take the bread out of the mouths of numbers of industrious and enterprizing individuals.

To make the injury more apparent, suppose a publication of this class is sold at as low a price as can be afforded, say ten pounds. The prime cost, together with the charges of the trade, advertising, &c., come to nine pounds, ten shillings: leaving ten shillings for the net proceeds on each copy sold. Eleven such copies, the number this impost exacts, reckoned by the outlay sunk in them, apart from any profit, are equivalent to one hundred and four pounds, ten shillings; which makes it necessary that two hundred and nine copies should be sold, before the proprietors can derive any advantage from the speculation.

To so plain a statement, sundry logicians by trade, (who reason no better than the first old woman we may light on) oppose their abstract right, just as Shylock does to his pound of flesh, without the least regard to any consequences, when he produces his knife and scales. If they are not like that caitiff virtually conspiring against the life of a citizen of Venice (or of London) yet it matters naught to these philosophers in professorial gowns, if, with the Jew, they uphold the selfish principle which learning is supposed to fortify the mind against;

nor yet if they contravene, by this practice, the injunction so frequently heard from them in set discourses, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do unto them."—When the copy-right Act was revised, the two Universities (it is understood) deputed each one of their body to town to prevent prejudice to their rights—to wit, the privilege of levying so unfeeling a tax on authors, proverbially an unfortunate race altogether—and of extending the same, as if by tile advice of Ignatius Loyola, to the labours of the painter and the engraver, till, as we have said, it operates absolutely aa a veto on various works that would do honour to the state of the arts in the country, and the sale of which on the continent would be beneficial to all concerned.

That knowledge is power, has been often said, and we will not disturb the proposition; but that it is synonymous with liberality of sentiment in corporations aggregate, it would be doing violence to the commonest sense of equity to admit—while the example of our two elder Universities is wanting to do away with the mercenary privilege that brings them so often in hostile contact with ingenious men, engaged in those arts that—

Soften the rude, and calm the savage mind.

It was not to have been expected, in the nineteenth century, that the respectable class of persons concerned in those speculations would be constrained, by this odious exaction, to resort to such expedients as the following, which refers to a set of picturesque views of English cities, superintended by Mr. Britton, who says—'This volume I published as a collection of prints, alone, without any letter-press, for the purpose of escaping the unjust penalty of giving eleven copies to certain public and private institutions, some of which are rich, and ought to purchase every new literary work, for the encouragement of authors.'

Setting aside the recommendation in the conclusion; to the indiscriminate encouragement in which there are manifest objections, will the gentlemen pointed at, continue, in forma pauperis to hold out the sportula (or dole basket) for the reception of all new works, having a few lines of letter-press; and, like the sturdy beggar in Gil Blas, making no distinction between authors and artists, put all parties in bodily peril on non-compliance?

That so glaring an impediment to the progress of what are emphatically called the polite arts, should be found in the seats of classic lore, and where (at Cambridge) a statue of Ceres is shown, believed to be the same described by Pausanias, argues less the predominance of a real interest and good taste, than an awkward affectation in these "halls of grey renown."—The literati we have brought forward are probably shy of claiming fellowship with their brethren at Aberdeen, whose degraded spirit, which disposed them to pocket the best price to be got for a gift they could not enjoy—a present never designed for an article of traffic, gave occasion for some remarks from the Bishop of London (in Parliament) on the absurd and unequal pressure of this impost 'Eleven copies,' said his Lordship, 'were to be given, whether a work was worth one guinea or ten; so that a publisher who printed one thousand copies of a work which sold for one guinea, had to pay only eleven guineas out of one thousand; whereas another who might publish only one hundred copies of a work worth ten guineas, had to pay a tax of one hundred and ten guineas, out of the same sum of one thousand.' The distinguished Prelate also stated that he considered the sum (£500) intended to be paid to the College of Aberdeen, to be too great, as he knew that some of the Colleges would accept of £300 for relinquishing the right.

[1] Which were the Colleges that emulated the one of Aberdeen, by illustrating the maxim in Hudibras,

———what's the value of a thing
But so much money as 'twill bring?

we do not know; but the Principals, if not distinguished by their abilities in the Professor's chair, were clever at a bargain.—Like Wolsey's list of his costly plate, it is enough to spoil the breakfast of those graduates whose humanity would recoil at the idea of precluding artists, with numerous families, from finding employ in works too expensive to be got up consistently with the heavy duty exacted in this obnoxious shape.—Which makes the motives of the gentlemen of Oxford and Cambridge extremely questionable, in delaying to take the lead in relinquishing a claim so injurious to men of letters in general, and to he arts in particular, as is a copy of all new works, however expensive.—When we read, in the diurnal papers, that the Dean and Chapter of Durham have parted with £94,000 of their available property, in behalf of the University founded there—we are induced to ask, is there something in the air of the northern English counties more favourable to manly and liberal sentiments than that of the midland districts, where Oxford and Cambridge are situated?—or how is this striking contrast to be explained?


Notes

  1. The eleven copies claimed under the Act, are—two at London, by the British Museum (on large paper) and Sion College; two in Edinburgh, by the University and the Advocate's Libraries; two in Dublin, by Trinity College and the King's Inns; one goes to the Bodlean Library at Oxford, and the other four to the Universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Perth.—In the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1832, page 160, are some interesting observations on this subject; concluding with a recommendation that the eleven copies should be reduced to three in number, severally for London, Edinburgh and Dublin, which the Editor supposes would satisfy authors and publishers—but we apprehend it would not those persons concerned In prints, often expensively engraved and tinted, and which, though having letter-press explanations, are no ways books in the sense contemplated by the original grant.