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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

2246. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 13 April 1813]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I thank you for your hint about ‘Which buy’. – In the Omniana I saw no more unfitness in making a note upon one of my own books than upon any other; – & the lie of the Critical about J of Arc was originally xxx pointed out in the Athenaeum – when you told me of it, otherwise I should {might} never have known that such a thing had been said. [1]  – If my reviewals were ever considered in writing them as things of which the author was to be unknown then I should most probably feel that there would be something like a deceit in referring to xxxx myself, but the fact is that I never write with the feeling of an anonymous writer, & refer from one book to another, just as in writing the History of Portugal [2]  I might do to the History of Brazil, [3]  – or to the Cid. [4]  – However this is meant rather to explain than to justify, & I certainly will not again do what might expose me to censure, when there is no adequate motive or reasonable motive for incurring & braving it.

You will receive Nelson [5]  in about xxxxx a week or ten days. I have received 105£ for it, & if a second edition be published am to have as much more. Mirabile dictu [6]  this money xxxx I have sent to put this money in the funds. Give me joy at thus beginning to make a provision for my family, – late & little as the beginning is.

The claim of the eleven copies is little less better than downright robbery. [7]  Government might as well claim so many trees out of every plantation for the navy, – or so many pair of shoes for the army out of every shoemakers shop. This however is a light evil compared to the laws of copyright. Do you know that if a bookseller publishes a work upon the agreement that he takes the risk & shares the profit, – this by their custom gives them half the copyright! – No author ever dreamt of this; – but so it is, in pure ignorance, which I have literally been making sacrificing present convenience for the sake of preserving my copyrights. I have in this manner given half away of every book which I have hitherto published! – Kirke White’s Remains [8]  are in the same predicament, & in this case Neville I believe is determined to try whether the law affords him no redress. The claim is so impudent that the booksellers do not like to avow it till they are compelled, – & of this there was a curious instance in the case of the Remains. – I know not what the Authors can do, – but if you say something in their favour, it may one day prove of use. [9] 



* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Duke Street/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 13 13/ 1813
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Dating note: dated from internal evidence; letter to Wynn, 25 April 1813, seems to continue discussion about copyright law. BACK

[1] An entry on Richard Hole (bap. 1743, d. 1803; DNB), Arthur, or the Northern Enchantment (1789), in Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, 2 vols (London, 1812), I, pp. 83–85. Southey took the opportunity to rebut the assertion in the Critical Review, 10 (March 1807), 305, that Hole’s poem had only failed because of the number of other epics published at the same time. These included his own Joan of Arc (1796). Southey pointed out that his poem was published seven years after Hole’s Arthur. Southey had already made this point in a letter to the Athenaeum, 13 (1 January 1808), 1–2; see Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Three, Letter 1408. BACK

[2] Southey’s unfinished prose magnum opus. BACK

[3] The History of Brazil (1810–1819). BACK

[4] Chronicle of the Cid (1808). BACK

[5] The Life of Nelson (1813). A second edition appeared in 1814. BACK

[6] ‘Wonderful to relate’. BACK

[7] The 11 copies of all new publications that existing copyright law required to be delivered to public and university libraries. Southey shared the concerns of publishers and fellow authors that this was being enforced too rigorously, especially after two court cases in 1812 put the responsibility to deliver the copies onto publishers. In particular, he objected to libraries claiming their copies of second and subsequent editions of a work. His review of Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848; DNB), Calamities of Authors; Including some Inquiries Respecting their Moral and Literary Characters (1812), Quarterly Review, 8 (September 1812), 93–114, attacked the existing copyright law that ‘an author may retain or dispose of the property of his works for a term of eight and twenty years, after which it becomes common property’ (111). Southey’s argument for reform was followed by the proposal that the government establish an academy to provide employment for literary men and benefit individual and national interests (113–114). See also Robert Southey to John Rickman, 22 January 1813, Letter 2210. BACK

[8] The Remains of Henry Kirke White (1807). BACK

[9] Wynn participated in a parliamentary debate on copyright on 11 March 1813, describing the number of copies of books required by copyright libraries as a ‘tax’ upon authors. A government committee to enquire into existing copyright law was established in March 1813. Its findings led to legislation in 1814. This extended copyright to an unconditional 28 years or the life of the author if longer. This was applied to new publications and those already published by living authors. Posthumous works were also given a copyright period of 28 years. But publishers were still required to deliver 11 copies of all new publications to public and university libraries. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013