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wholesomely compete (and the competition is keen enough) to give all kinds of provender at all kinds of prices, but who, under the unjust royalty system, would be subjected to a miserable hole-and-corner warfare, and the most unwholesome kind of underhand competition, such as no self-respecting publisher-no free-born Englishman-could submit to.
Fortunately the Commissioners "are unable to recommend for adoption this change in the existing law." As, however, the Commission itself, if it was not originated from the representations of the Board of Trade, was promoted by it, and as that body holds that the royalty system is the true one for the future, and Sir Louis Mallet indorses this opinion, there can be little doubt that the Bill, when introduced to Parliament, will find itself clogged and delayed by an amendment on this subject.
AUTHORS AND PUBLISHERS.
This is a subject difficult for a publisher to approach or to treat without, perhaps unconscious, partiality. Authors may be said to have invented publishers; but there was a time when authors and books and readers were so comparatively few that publishers were not indispensable. Dryden's Virgil' was published by subscription, and Pope made a large sum by dealing direct with the public, and getting the subscriptions in full through the unremitting exertions of his friends; but even he could not do without the intervention of a publisher. Dr. Johnson saw, as Charles Knight. remarks, "that the time for that mode of seeking the just rewards of authorship was passing away.” "He that asks subscriptions," says Johnson, "finds that he has enemies." "Thus the system came to be regarded as undignified, and the author left the trading part of the operation to the publisher. Though the rewards of literary labour might be less, it was deemed better to take the broad road, which saved a writer from humiliation and commercial liability.'
In these latter days when publishers have become a considerable power in the land, a "Society of Authors" has been incorporated, and one cannot help feeling amazed at the bitter feeling it dis
plays towards all publishers. One of its first and main objects seems to be to guide, investigate, and be a check upon the operations of publishers, and at some future time to dispense with them altogether, "undignified" as the result may be. The old authorpublisher, whose name I have just mentioned, says that some clever writers "represent publishers as born to realise the converse of Pharaoh's dream, that the fat kine should devour the lean kine," which is just what the "Society of Authors" says of them today. If authors and publishers understood their mutual interests there would be little distinction between the lean kine and the fat, and they would equally flourish on the same pastures.”
In fairness to "The Society of Authors," it must be said that in co-operation with "The Copyright Association" (which embraces many leading publishers), it has done excellent service in bringing about "The International and Colonial Copyright Act, June 25, 1886,” which will be found in the Appendix; whilst in directing its efforts to the accomplishment of the long hoped-for copyright with America it will be most usefully and worthily employed.* There are also, doubtless, many ways in which it may and will make itself useful to authors, but it is difficult to see that one of those ways is to make as its leading object a direct attack upon publishers as a class; one would rather have thought that the interests of both were so much mixed up and so identical, that a wiser object would have been to cement and encourage a feeling of brotherhood and goodwill. If there was a time when, as Lord Camden puts it, great men "wrote not for gain, but to delight and instruct the world," it is to be feared that such a time is not the present, and such men are uncommonly scarce nowadays. What a fine time it would be for publishers if all authors treated gain with the fine scorn which led Goldsmith to say that "The author who draws his quill merely to take a purse, no more deserves success than he who draws a pistol." As a matter of fact, authors in these times, although they write for fame, do not, nor is there any reason why they should, scorn the commercial aspect of their productions; those amongst them who have once gained the ear of the public, very properly make the best possible bargain for themselves with
*The "Bill to consolidate and amend the Law relating to Copyright," now before Parliament, is also largely due to its efforts (see Appendix).
those who present their works to the public. Horace (less magnanimous than Goldsmith) made it a matter of complaint that his publishers got gold while he got only fame.
The word "author" is an uncommonly comprehensive one, for it embraces members of all classes of the community, from the most scurrilous scribbler to the profoundest philosopher-from the maker of a nation's ballads to the balladmonger of the street—a rather heterogeneous mass for a "Society of Authors" to take under its wing, and one can hardly think that with such material to deal with the Association can really, with any effect, place itself between authors and publishers, draw up schemes, and dictate terms and methods of publication which publishers must necessarily accept. One cannot help feeling that such an attitude bears on the front of it its own futility. At best it could only be an elaborate system of machinery, kept constantly going to provide for rare and isolated cases-a big wheel always kept revolving for the sole object of crushing an occasional moth.
Authors may be divided into two classes the successful and the unsuccessful, and it may not be too bold a thing to say that they are capable of another division-the honest and the dishonest. "The Society of Authors" has been lavish in its expenditure of wrath on the dishonesty of publishers as a class; but what publisher has not abundant experience of authors who draw money on false pretences for work never executed, and never intended to be executed? Successful authors certainly do not stand in need of a "Society of Authors" to help them; wholesome competition amongst publishers, whenever they choose to put themselves up for competi tion, will always enable them to command their own terms.
Young or unsuccessful authors may well seek advice from such an Institution, and here the " Society of Authors" might confer a distinct benefit, by carrying out what was foreshadowed at the last conference, by reading and advising on authors' manuscripts; and if it could really "stimulate and develop a taste for buying books," it would certainly be doing good service. "Plus on lit, plus on lira, plus il faut, plus il faudra des livres," said an old French bookseller. A Society that could bring really powerful influence to bear in the discouragement of commonplace and mediocre authorship, and in the encouragement of the purchase of good wholesome literature, would really be invaluable, and one can
only hope that this "Society of Authors" will gradually develop into " an organisation for extinguishing bad and fostering good literature." If in pursuit of this aim it should in the distant or immediate future, by force of superior virtue, succeed in extinguishing publishers too, so be it. In that event the " Society of Authors” will necessarily become one great central publishing concern, with arms, wings, and legs spread all over the community, but with working ramifications that can hardly be conducted without expenses, which somehow or other must be paid before net proceeds get into the authors' pockets; and possibly the wrongs to which they are now exposed by dishonest publishers may develop themselves in some other form.
The supposed antagonism of authors and publishers is as old as the days of Dryden and Pope, the Tonsons, Lintots, and Curlls ; but this antagonism has always been more imaginary than real. On the whole, it is really astonishing, considering the magnitude of the operations of book-publishing, how rarely disputes of a serious nature occur between authors and publishers.
The various methods of publishing have recently been subjected to the severe criticism of the "Society of Authors," and yet they do not and cannot suggest any methods that could be more readily adaptable to all needs and for the simple reason, that every book that is published must be subject, not to the dictation of one party, but to the agreement of two parties. All that is required is a clear and distinct written agreement between the parties, intelligible by both, and then the matter rests "on a footing of equity." The present modes of publishing have existed in almost unaltered forms from the earliest times, that of sharing profits being perhaps the most customary in the past; and although it has become a fashion lately to disparage and abuse that system, it is unquestionably, and in its very essence, the fairest and most reasonable mode of publishing of any, if the system of strict equity which includes the sharing of profits and losses be excepted. Of course the proportion of share, whether a half or a third or a fourth, which author or publisher is to take, is a matter to be settled beforehand. The reason of its unpopularity is the most unfounded and unwarrantable charge which has found expression in the mouths of the orators of the "Society of Authors," that publishers (as a business principle!) conceal from their authors and pocket a large percent
age of profit, amounting sometimes to 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. over and above what they exhibit in the account rendered to the author. This is certainly a most unjust charge to cast upon publishers generally, and if it is founded upon some special account which has come under the notice of the Association, their charge should have been aimed at the individual, and not at the whole body of publishers.
Here is an example of an account rendered more than a hundred years ago, and it is really a counterpart of such accounts for sharing profits as rendered to-day :
State of the account of Mr. Gibbon's Roman Empire.' Third edition. 1st vol. No. 1000. April 30, 1777.
Printing 90 sheets at £1 6s. with notes at the bottom of
117 0 0
171 O 0
5 5 0
16 15 0
£310 0 0
The writer of the 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was perfectly satisfied with his publishers, nor, as it turned out, were the publishers dissatisfied with their venture; but that it was a venture Gibbon himself acknowledged, his own opinion being that "the original impression should have been stinted to five hundred, but the prophetic taste of Mr. Strahan ruled for 1000."
* This was probably a subscription book, in which case the publisher has dealt direct with the public without making any allowance to the trade.