Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/June 1888/Editor's Table
CONGRESS AND INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT.
IF it were charged that under our system of government measures of interest to the whole people, particularly such as might chiefly concern their intellectual and moral welfare, were apt to receive less attention from the Legislature than measures of purely local concern, we fear that the action of Congress up to the present in the matter of international copyright might be cited as a striking case in point. For many years past the thinking men of the country, those who give it its intellectual standing among the nations of the world, have been urging the necessity, both as a matter of national self-respect and also as one vitally affecting our intellectual growth, of the enactment of an international copyright law. Congress, however, in its zeal for "appropriations" and for party strategy, saw nothing in this demand to commend it to any special attention. On the contrary, the question raised was not one that seemed to come at all within the range of practical politics. Had the promoters represented one party in the state, and had they been able to show that they were organized for effective party warfare, they would have got a respectful hearing at least from the side they supported. But no; they belonged to both parties, and some of them perhaps had the audacity to belong to neither, and in general they were not conspicuous in the caucus or famous for their knowledge of ropes and wires. They were simply American citizens, eminent for character and ability, pleading a cause in which not they alone but the whole people were concerned, and in which, so far as they themselves were personally interested, they had a case as strong as justice and common sense could make it. All this availed but little to conquer the indifference of Congress to a proposition that could not be expressed in terms of "politics."
There was a little more than indifference in it, however. The proposition was that this country should cease to appropriate without compensation the literary goods of foreigners, particularly of the British; and this did not fall in with those considerations of expediency which are so likely to influence the attitude of our legislators toward moral questions. How could the representative excuse himself to his constituents for making anything dear in the interest merely of abstract justice and of the higher intellectual development of the country at large? It was also the case that certain organized interests were arrayed against the principle of international copyright. There was no little opposition to it among publishers, printers, stereotypers, engravers, etc., who thought they saw in it the threat of a serious diminution of business. It is no wonder, therefore, that Congress should have put the matter off from year to year; the only wonder, indeed, is that those who believed in the principle should have had the courage to go on and should now by dint of patient persistence be in a position to present to Congress a stronger case than ever—one that can only be put aside through the most extreme and culpable indifference to an issue which affects, not the balance of parties, but the higher life of the whole people.
As the matter stands now, there is substantially but one opinion among publishers and authors in regard to the copyright question. The consideration of justice to foreign authors remains, of course, as before, neither stronger nor weaker; bat careful reflection has led the great majority of those interested in the publishing trade to see that, in this case, justice to the foreigner means advantage to themselves. The stimulus that would be given to domestic literary production by the granting of copyright to American editions of foreign works would admittedly be very great; and, as the author can do nothing without the printer and publisher, these would share the benefit with him. There are bills now before both houses of Congress—the House bill being a copy of that introduced into the Senate by Senator Chace, of Rhode Island—providing for the extension of copyright privileges to foreigners on condition that the work for which the privilege is sought is published simultaneously in the United States and in the country of origin. Proof of publication will be the filing of two copies of the best American edition of the work in the office of the Librarian of Congress. Upon the granting of copyright to a foreign work, the importation of all foreign editions of the work in question, save with the consent of the holder of the copyright, is interdicted. These are the principal provisions of the measure, and it will be seen that they do justice to all interests concerned. They also appear to commend themselves to those members of Congress who have given the subject most attention, as the committees of both Houses having the matter in charge reported, without a dissenting voice, in favor of the bill. Congress, therefore, has now an opportunity of doing the country a triple service: 1. Removing the stigma which attaches to the United States as the sole country claiming to be civilized which disregards the proprietary rights of foreign authors. 2. Greatly extending and improving the field for native authorship. 3. As the result of the two preceding benefits, raising the moral and intellectual tone more or less of the whole people. We may add, as a fourth benefit, the placing of the whole publishing trade of the country on a sounder footing.
The Popular Science Monthly has, from the first, placed itself on the right side of this question by consistently contending for the principle of international copyright, and that without any such reserves in regard to magazine literature as some members of Congress are now disposed to make, and such as it might be supposed to be in the interest of a periodical reprinting more or less from foreign sources might be thought to favor. Our interest in the subject, therefore, is not new-born, but is merely the continuation of that we have both felt and expressed whenever the question has been prominently before the public. In supporting the bill now before Congress, we do not wish to be understood as claiming that it is a perfect measure, or that it may not, after some experience of its working, be found to need amendment. All that can fairly be asked of a new law is that it should affirm a sound principle, and should provide the means for carrying that principle into more or less effective and satisfactory operation. This, however, may be claimed for the Copyright Bill—that it is no hole or corner measure, no product of selfish machinations against the general interest, but that all it aims at is for the public good.
Matthew Arnold, though pre-eminently a man of letters, was one who in many points occupied common ground with the men of science. He had that openness of spirit and that constant desire to search out causes which are among the best characteristics of the scientific temper. He had turned aside as completely from catastrophism in human history as modern geologists have done in regard to the physical history of the globe, or modern biologists in regard to the development of life. He may at times have weaved rather fanciful theories of his own, but he was always willing to bring them to the tests of fact and logic. Though not lacking in self-confidence, he was far from being dogmatic, and be invariably treated opponents not only with respect, but with unfailing kindliness. He had, perhaps, an inadequate appreciation of the value of certain lines of scientific investigation, and, conversely, he may have formed an exaggerated estimate of the value of the literary element in education; but every man must be allowed, as the French say, to preach his own saint; and Matthew Arnold's preaching had always something instructive in it. No man, it is almost needless to say, could write more interestingly than he; and this was doubtless because, with his fine gifts, he took life seriously, and applied his mind earnestly to some of its greatest problems. Allowing for all deficiencies and for a few mannerisms, he was a sound and wholesome thinker, and a useful man in his generation. There can be no doubt that, in his own way, he powerfully aided the great scientific movement of the age. No mind that fell under Matthew Arnold's influence could be closed against scientific conceptions, or could to any serious extent undervalue the work of science; and many must have owed to his vivacious pen their first realization of the extent to which modern thought had invaded and dismantled the fortresses of ancient prejudice. By his poetry, too, he succeeded, perhaps without intending it, in showing that modern thought is not destitute of the instinct for beauty, and that it lends itself in an especial manner to the delineation of the beauty of righteousness. We are not sure that any poet of our time has spoken so directly to the consciences of the more enlightened portion of his contemporaries as Matthew Arnold. If, as the Roman poet has said, "there are tears in things," so also are there deep and grave admonitions, earnest pleadings, ever a voice for those who will hear, calling to man to walk in the light and realize the bliss of moral freedom. Mr. Arnold has made himself the interpreter to us of the truth of things, and this is what gives his poetry its acknowledged weight and value despite its somewhat restricted imaginative range. To read it is to commune with Nature, not with human authority. Carlyle talks of the "eternities" and "immensities." Mr. Arnold does not talk of them, but he brings us into their presence—
"The world that was e'er I was born,
The world that lasts when I am dead."
In his "Empedocles on Etna," written before he was thirty years of age, Mr. Arnold may be said to have sketched a scientific philosophy of life. We are tempted to quote a verse or two:
"In vain our pent wills fret,
And would the world subdue.
Limits we did not set
Condition all we do;
Born into life we are, and life must be our
"Born into life!—man grows
Forth from his parents' stem,
And blends their bloods, as those
Of theirs are blent in them;
So each new man strikes root into a far fore-
The world's course proves the terms
On which man wins content;
Reason the proof confirms—
We spurn it, and invent
A false course for the world and for ourselves
"I say: Fear not! Life still
Leaves human effort scope.
But, since life teems with ill.
Nurse no extravagant hope;
Because thou must not dream, thou need'st
not then despair!"
The world has lost in Mr. Arnold a man ever loyal to the cause of truth, and ever interested in the cause of humanity. We may sometimes have been tempted to regard him as an opponent of scientific discipline; but upon a general review of his career we are compelled to recognize him as an ally, not an adversary, and as one who, just because he cultivated a special field of his own by methods of his own, will not easily be replaced. All the more, then, must we value, as elements of progress, the spirit that breathes through his works and the influence bequeathed by his character.