Part Four, covering the period 1810-1815, was a crucial one for Southey’s career and reputation. It has, however, never before been fully documented or fully understood. By 1810 he was established in Keswick...
45. Messrs Vernor and Hood to Capel Lofft, copy of a letter not sent, with annotations in Bloomfield's hand, 26 November 1800*
It is an old saying and a true one that wonders will never cease. This reflection is occasioned by seeing your letter to Mr Bloomfield wherein you assert that no right or title in the Farmers Boy belongs to us. — We could hardly think that you was serious in this after all that has pass'd Between you, Mr Hill, and us. But we percieve that you are not given to joke, and therefore we shall think that you mean to consider it seriously as you say. In this situation we are very sorry to say that the Harvest that promised the Author will be blasted by a contest which neither he, any of his friends here, nor us expected. We have no fear of the issue of the contest if it is your determination to persist in it as our proofs are ready to come forward whenever you are pleased to bring it forward. But we are sorry to say that whatever be the issue of it the poor Author will ultimately suffer as wel as us, by the stop that will take place in the sale — for we only wait your determination to guide our conduct. Thus far we assert our property — but, as fair liberal Tradesmen (a character we never have forfeited) we shall reason the matter with Mr Lofft.——In the first place then is it at all probable that we, or any Bookseller (or Gentleman we will add) would undertake to print a poem, (which had been handed about to 4 booksellers and offer'd for nothing) & whose merits were not known, (and to this day contested pro & con by the literary world), at the enormous expence of £190 without we had some interest in it — that we should print it at our own risque, stand the chance of loss, and engage to give the Author 20 guineas [i] whither it succeeded or not, Or that we should put another Edition to press before half the first was sold off (259 Quartos are still in hand) It is not very probable that a selfish Bookseller should do this, (which no Gentleman of fortune would have done) when he can every day lay out his money to a good advantage, without risque at all, perhaps not inferior to what we shall get by the Farmer's Boy. — Thus far it is not reasonable to suppose — Another consideration for Mr Lofft is — that the benefit does not arise to the Author from the merit of the poem merely, but as much so from the merits of the Booksellers, in bringing it forward with every advantage in its favour, of ornaments and printing, of his pushing over England, Scotland, Ireland & America at his own risque and expense and influence. His selling a large quantity to Ireland at a reduced price (considerably under what he shall account for) in order to prevent it from being printed there, and running away with the market. Of his being oblidged to give credit to the trade to the amount of 11–12ths of the whole (for we have not received above 1/12 in cash for all the Editions) and, of course have several Bankrupts accounts in the Book [ii] — That we should be at this moment £550 out of pocket for a work in which we have no right, (except the first Edition as you say) and only a commission on what we sell, when we could lay out that money with the advantage of 25 or 50 pr cent in our own business — These are ideas that no man acquainted with business would say were any way probable — It is also necessary to inform Mr Lofft that the universal custom of trade is against him. No Bookseller what ever prints another mans property & pays for it himself upon the meer profits of commission, the Author pays for it, the Bookseller sells, and pays for what he sells at the end of the year, deducting 10 P Cent for selling. If this does not refer to the first Edition (suposing the copyright out of the case) it must refer to the other agreeable to Mr Lofft's ideas — We therefore should not have been presumed to print a second, third and fourth Edition unless we had not been assured that one half of the copyright of the Farmer's Boy was ours, & no one could expect us to do it.
We think it necessary to notice what you say respecting the offer that we made on behalf of another Bookseller (Longmans and Rees) we wrote you that a Bookseller would give £100 for Mr Bloomfields copy-right in the Farmer's Boy after the second Edition; but you cannot surely from that wrest out a meaning that we considerd the whole copyright as his, Longmans & Rees will set you right in this respect by informing you of the matter of our conversation — And I have to say that I thought their offer not unworthy of mentioning to you, and I promised them as much as to mention it, although I told them I would not advise it to be sold.
Now Sir we will be free to say that after what has been done by us — After giving the Author £100 — which he could not expect or demand, we think ourselves most unhandsomely used by his friends; for we find that Mr Swan has been rather medling, more than his literary knowledge gave us reason to expect for however honest a man he may be, we are confident his knowledge of literary bargains cannot entitle his opinion to much consideration. Other friends of the Author were perfectly satisfied with what we had done, we were satisfied in our own minds that we had done only what was right, and the Author was so far satisfied [iii] of it, that he said it was beyond what he had any right to expect, and Mr Swan was present upon the occasion. — Now Sir, we will maintain our right as agreed to by the Author, and in the meantime till this is settled, we shall hold ourselves bound to act with the Book as heretofore as one half of our property, and sell accordingly, as we are unwilling that a worthy man should suffer from an Idle despute Between us.
The receipt or assignment which we gave Mr B to copy is a meer matter of form used by Booksellers in conveying copyright from one to another. We can assure Mr Lofft that were the copyright a thousand times more valuable than it is we should not be guilty of such a piece of Villainy as he is afraid of and if he will take the trouble to enquire we think that he will find that we have done more than we were oblidged to perform in our engagements with Authors, and never less — One thing we are determined to do in future, and that is, that we shall have no concern with any Author's work that is not our own property. For we find that if we were to give all there is still some cause for dissatisfaction.
We are Sir
Your Obed Servants
London 26, Nov 1800
[In Bloomfield's hand]:
[i] This part of the agreement I never heard of till now. R. Bloomfield
[ii] An Author situated like myself suffers nothing from Bankrupts, but receives his full share of profits on all Books sold, by his publisher whither they be paid for or not. R.B.
[iii] Take notice, that at this crisis of the business the question of copyright was not started!! Therefore a Gift of £100 was what I had no right to expect R.B.