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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/June 1879/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 15‎ | June 1879


THE circular of Messrs. Harper, announcing that they will favor an international copyright measure, is justly regarded by the English press as significant in relation to the progress of the question, and they have made it the occasion of general comment. The tone of criticism is dissonant and, on the whole, encouraging, though, as has become the habit, predominantly abusive and carping. But it must be confessed that Harpers' circular was somewhat calculated to provoke hostile English criticism. The conditions under which they are willing to concede to foreign authors the legal right of property in their works, which are not only that the books shall be manufactured in this country, but by American citizens, and published within three months after their issue at home, are denounced as so illiberal as to be hardly worth entertaining. The London "Times," in a first article upon the subject, was disposed to "welcome the result" on the ground that something is gained when "the principle of piracy has been abandoned, and the black flag of literature hauled down." But in a second article the view taken is less favorable. It sees numerous difficulties, and thinks "there is very little use in discussing these farcical proposals which the publishers of the transatlantic cities have elaborated." It thinks the proposition to throw open the power of publishing books to everybody, subject to the obligation of paying a royalty to the author to be fixed by law, is "not yet sufficiently discussed." And so, on the whole, it concludes that we had better postpone the subject, and wait for something more satisfactory.

The "Times," however, is disingenuous in characterizing the plan suggested by Messrs. Harper as elaborated by the publishers of transatlantic cities. That house speaks only for itself, and does not undertake to represent other American publishers. Both the proviso that the publisher shall be an American citizen, and the time-limit assigned for reprinting, will be held by others as not essential to the American position, and as open to modification in settling the details of an international arrangement.

We speak of the "American position," and are fairly justified in doing so, for there is now wide and decisive agreement that foreign books copyrighted in this country, must be manufactured in this country. In granting the copyright to English authors, and placing them upon the same footing as our own, we yield all the rights of the case that can be demanded in the name of justice. Every nation that grants copyrights even to its own authors, qualifies and limits them by considerations of public expediency, it being assumed that the community has duties to itself as well as to authors. This country would therefore be vindicated by universal precedents in giving the new arrangements such a form that they will not be injurious to important American interests. The requirement that foreign books copyrighted in this country shall be printed in this country is dictated by the first law of nature—the principle of self-preservation. Any international copyright that did not enforce this condition would be destructive to an extensive and valuable domestic industry, and would put the American book-market at once and completely under the control of foreign publishers, thousands of miles away from us. Under a state of things which, although it may not have been just, has nevertheless been legal, the publishing interest in the United States has grown into extensive proportions. We have numerous manufacturing establishments of all kinds for every branch of the business. We have heavy investments in paper manufactories, printing-houses, binderies, and shops for making all the necessary machinery, and we have multitudes of trained mechanics to carry on the required operations.

Whether all this capital shall be sunk, and all this industry paralyzed, and a reading people shall cease to supply itself with books in accordance with its own tastes and preferences, depends upon the form of copyright adopted, if that measure is to be carried out. And when it is remembered that the foreign publisher has no claims upon us whatever, and that we discharge all our obligations in protecting the property rights of the foreign author, it is obvious that every consideration of national expediency dictates that we should take care of our own interests in this matter.

It is usual to represent the policy here maintained as inspired by the greed of mercenary and monopolizing American publishers. It is no such thing. It is life or death to the whole business. To yield the point is to transfer the American book-trade almost bodily to England. In requiring copyrighted books to be printed here, the American publisher only stipulates for an equal chance with the English publisher, which he could not have if this measure is put upon any other basis. We say let the English publisher come over and compete with us if he wishes to. All we ask is equal terms, and that he shall not be given that fatal advantage of us which he would get by an unrestricted copyright.

But it may be said that tins is an illiberal policy; and that, when all the tendencies of international intercourse are in the direction of freedom and expansion, such a scheme as this is narrow and obstructive. The "Times" virtually charges this, in saying "the gross delusions of protection may extend to cover the book-selling business as well as the making of cotton cloths and the forging of iron." And yet the burden of English complaint for the last fifty years has been that our trade in English books is quite too free, and our policy liberal and lax to a most scandalous extent. What they have demanded is, that we contravene this freedom of commerce by restrictive legislation. Copyright is the antagonist of free trade. Were perfect liberty of commerce proclaimed to-morrow between nations (as it now exists between the States of this nation), international copyright would make books an exception by protecting them from all competing production and open traffic. The author by his copyright invests his publisher with a monopoly, by which he controls and restricts the trade in his book to any extent that pleases him. With an unqualified international copyright, and the fullest freedom of trade otherwise, the London publishers would rule the market in this country for all the works of English authors. American publishers would be excluded from competition with them. We hold that the principle of copyright is wise, as it is the only practical way yet devised by which an author can have secured to him the available right of property in his book, and we demand that English authors shall have the full benefit of it, but on no principle of liberal trade arrangements can we be asked to subject our book markets to the exclusive control of English manufacturers.

The "Times" says that the great American houses have been driven into this position of favoring an international copyright, by the interference of "some Chicago men" who are cutting into and underselling the established firms of New York and Philadelphia. That cutthroat proceeding, as it is a natural consequence of the existing system, is certainly a valid reason for condemning the system and putting an end to it. But the "Times" misrepresents the facts in saying that this is the origin of the plan of international copyright now under consideration. Its own columns might have been consulted for a confutation of the statement. The project of international copyright, in behalf of English authors, was urged long before the Chicago raids referred to were undertaken, and it was explicitly presented to the English people by ah American publisher writing in the "Times" as early as 1871.

The writer objects that, by the plan proposed, "the English author is not to be allowed the rights of an ordinary possessor of property." But does it expect that the Americans will go further than the English themselves, in protecting the rights of their authors? Is it not now, and has it not long been, the policy of the English Government to deny to its authors "the rights of an ordinary possessor of property" in his literary creations, and does it not protect them as mere favors and transient privileges which are left to expire after a few years? Again, the writer in the "Times" accuses us of robbing the author of half his rights. He may, if so minded, take the remainder, as "half the recognition of a right must have some value." To be paid the full price for his work, according to contracts that he may make with any publisher among forty millions of people, thus appears to be only half what we owe to the English author. The implication is, that his right to force his foreign publisher upon us is just as clear and strong as his right of property in the book he has produced. This absurd proposition is of course assumed—not argued.



Singularly enough, the time when men know least of this world is the time when they profess to know most of the other. The primitive man is first of all a believer in ghosts. While so ignorant that he can not count ten, he yet has a theory of a future life. Strip the civilized man of his acquirements and get down to the primal core of savagery, and you find him a spiritualist. At a time when all interpretations of nature were illusive, and in fact engendered by these illusions, there arose the notion of a ghost realm, occupied by phantoms of the departed dead, who can still communicate with living men and interfere in human affairs. And, as these causes are common to the lowest tribes, so the superstitions are universal in the savage state.

And they were not mere idle speculations. The other world was held to be of far greater moment to man than this world, because of the power of its spirits over the fate of mankind. But, although potent and dangerous, the ghosts of the dead were supposed to be still accessible to human influence. It was believed that they could be propitiated by supplications, offerings, and sacrifices, which took endless forms as religious rites among the lower races. So completely, indeed, were men enslaved to their spiritualistic fancies that life itself had not the slightest value when there was supposed to be some other-world inducement for destroying it. Men were immolated without hesitation to please or appease the ghosts of another sphere. This world was ruled with the most savage ferocity in the supposed interests of the next. The amount of human sacrifice—of deliberate butchery of human beings—that has been occasioned by gross spiritual delusions relating to another life is appalling to think upon. Starting with the idea of an imaginary sphere, filled with grim shadows to be placated or honored, men, women, and children have been slaughtered by countless thousands at religious altars, at funerals, and at tombs. Their souls were sent to accompany dead chiefs, wives were burned on funeral piles to accompany their husbands, some were sent to carry messages to the spirits, some to propitiate ill-natured demons, and the whole proceeding serves to demonstrate the terrible intensity of the primitive belief that the other world is everything and this world nothing.

These practices, originating in primeval spiritualism, in the infantine stages of society, are by no means confined to those stages; they continue on as society advances. Among the Mexicans, for example, after they had become considerably civilized, such was the bloody fervor of their spiritualism that human sacrifices, on a great scale, were part of their system of religious rites. We are told that "every great man's chaplain was slain to perform for him religious ceremonies in the next life as in this"; again, "The number of victims was proportioned to the grandeur of the funeral, and amounted sometimes, as historians affirm, to two hundred." Also, in Peru, "when an Inca died, his attendants and favorite concubines, amounting sometimes, it is said, to a thousand, were immolated on his tomb."

These ideas and practices having the most terrible sincerity and severity where the darkness of human ignorance is thickest, being most widespread and deeply rooted in the lowest barbarism, we should expect that with the growth of intelligence they would disappear. But this process is very slow. The superstitions became the nucleus of organized religions, and are contained in a thousand theologies. Yet these beliefs at length lose their grosser forms; many of them are dissipated, others modified. They influence men's conduct less and less, and are finally held as mere empty traditional beliefs. Just in proportion to the increase of men's knowledge of nature, superstition has relaxed its stringency. As science grows, and the exploration and cultivation of this world become more absorbing, there is necessarily less attention given to the other world. This is deplored by many as a decline of faith. They raise loud lamentations over the decay of religion, the apathy of churches, the spread of materialism, and the extension and deepening of scientific influence. As a consequence, we now and then find men brooding over this state of things until the restraints of reason and common sense give way, and they announce themselves as divinely called upon to perform some great work that shall startle a faithless age, and kindle anew the old fervor of spiritualistic belief. Two such relapses into rank primeval superstition have recently occurred.

Charles F. Freeman, of Cape Cod, the other day piously sacrificed the life of his little daughter, in obedience to what he supposed to be a spiritual mandate from the other world. He was a Second Adventist, and full of intense belief in the miraculous coming of Christ to rescue the world from unbelief. Whether he attended the great Second Advent Convention that was held in New York last year we do not know, but he evidently laid to heart its inculcation of the duty of literally interpreting the Scriptures. He is reported as an assiduous Bible student, who quotes Scripture with great fluency, and is ready with an apposite text for every doctrine that he maintains. The old Hebrews indulged in the same sanguinary practices as other barbaric tribes. In their books there are records of one father sacrificing his daughter, and of another father preparing to immolate his only son. Freeman had, no doubt, often heard these transactions discussed in the pulpit, and Abraham applauded for the strength of his faith. If such a test was ever necessary, he thought it a thousand times more necessary in this faithless age than ever before; so he killed his child, at what he claims to be the peremptory requirement of the Deity he worshiped, that a miracle might be performed, and his faith displayed before an unbelieving generation. The whole ghastly affair is simply an instance of survival of one of the spiritual usages of savagery, when bloodthirsty devils were regular objects of worship.

Another case of falling back into the mental condition of barbarism has been recently afforded by the Superintendent of Schools of the City of New York, Mr. Henry Kiddle. Yielding to that morbid craving after the marvelous, which is a distinctive mark of undeveloped or retrograded natures, he had been exploiting mediums, and comes forward with what he calls a revelation from the spiritual sphere. Two members of his family have been for some time talking to him the most demented drivel, which he accepts as spiritual communications, or messages from the ghostly inhabitants of another world; all of which he has minutely written down and published in a book. Kiddle, like Freeman, as the newspapers avouch, is "very conscientious," "thoroughly sincere," "profoundly in earnest," etc., and there is no doubt of the genuineness of his credulity. We have looked over his book, and found it to consist of the merest rubbish. Mr. Kiddle says of these communications, in his preface, that he "knows they are not the offspring of imposture or delusion. They come from the world of spirits. This is solemnly attested as a fact undeniable and irrefutable." Now, when Mr. Kiddle declares that he knows there is no delusion in the matter, he simply means that he solemnly believes it, which is the basis on which the mysteries of another world have been revealed from the earliest origin of these superstitions. He gives exactly the kind of evidence that would require us to believe all the insane hallucinations of our lunatic asylums, for no man is so undeniably and irrefutably sure that he is not deluded as a madman.

Freeman had a mission, and regarded himself divinely chosen for a great work. So does Kiddle. He is commissioned to open new relations with' the unseen world. He announces "a new spiritual revelation," a "a new dispensation of religious light," showing "the existence of a future world." Under an "obligation imposed upon the editor by Divine Providence," he promulgates "a revelation of the future destiny of mankind, of transcendent importance to them both here and hereafter." And so all the old spiritual revelations are failures; the existence of a future world remained still to be proved; and the human race having struggled in vain for thousands of years to arrive at this truth of transcendent moment, Mr. Kiddle arrives at it by the aid of a couple of green mediums in the space of about nine months! Fortunate Mr. Kiddle!

Curiously enough, the Superintendent of Schools of the City of New York, who has given his life to the interests of knowledge, now gives notice that he has not a very high opinion of the later tendencies of science, and in this he is not alone. But he further intimates that his revelations of a supersensuous world may be designed by Heaven to thwart the influence of this bad science. We quote a passage from his introductory chapter, and beg the reader to notice that what follows is not from a spirit, but from Kiddle himself:

"When distinguished scientists sneeringly ask: ‘Who has ever seen the soul with the very best microscope that can be made? What physiologist has ever found any human spirit in his most minute dissections?’—when the proud scientist, filled with vainglory by the discovery of some of the laws of light and heat, or puffed up with vanity because he has caught a vision of something which he daringly calls the ‘physical basis of life,’ and, ready to fall down in adoration before his newfound deity, Protoplasm, announces that he finds in matter the ‘promise and potency of every form of life;’ or when he cries 'Amen' to his brother scientist who has traced, by the law of evolution and the ‘survival of the fittest,’ to a common origin himself and all the rest of the animal creation, and glories in his quadrumanous ancestry—when such is the age in which we live—an age characterized by the worst forms of irreligion—is it improbable that the All-Merciful Father should come again to the rescue of his benighted creatures, and for this purpose should in part unveil the glories of the supersensuous world to which all are tending?"

Mr. Kiddle's book, as this extract alone illustrates, is a very debilitated piece of intellectual work. Our first impression was that the man had undertaken to perpetrate a huge joke, but we became soon convinced that he is not himself. Various indications suggest an unhealthy state of mind, that is probably caused by some exhaustion or failure of the brain. The suddenness of his change of conduct at the age of fifty-five in regard to spiritualism; the slyness with which all was done, even to the printing of his book; his obstinacy in refusing to listen to reason and remonstrance in matters where others are concerned; and his egotistic hallucination in supposing himself divinely called upon to do a great religious work—these, taken in connection with the imbecile and idiotic character of his book, show mental unsoundness, and suggest that the mind's organ is not in a proper condition. One thing is certain: the maker of such a book is not a fit man to be in charge of educational interests. If he is beside himself, that ends it; if not, the case is still worse: the Board of Education should have granted him leave of absence, and sent him away to recruit.