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

2258. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 18 May 1813]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

The inclosed are notes of that kind that it is not fitting they should be charged with postage. Pray send them for me to the Twopenny post.

I was in hopes you would have been upon the Literary Property Committee [1]  – tho authors I fear have xxx nothing more to expect from it than that it will lead to {tend toward} a restoration of their rights many years hence, when a [MS torn] more instances of the effect of the existing Laws shall have rendered [MS torn] to hardship & injustice notorious. – In my own case – Thalaba [2]  was published in 1801. The second edition has not yet sold, & if I die within the next two years the copyright for the second term is lost to my family. Now that its value for the second the years will greatly exceed what it has been for the first, is beyond all doubt, – & you will probably agree with me that it will be likely to be worth more than it ever had been before, – just at the time when the property will be taken from me.

As for the claim of the eleven copies [3]  – if I had not proof of the fact I should not have believed that any man could have been found to say a word in favour of so absurd & oppressive a species of taxation. – Turners is a good pamphlett, [4]  – & I dare say he does wisely in asking for no more than is likely to be conceded. – You probably know that the H. Commons once past a bill law that Booksellers should print all additions & improvements upon a first edition – seperately for the use of the purchasers of the first less perfect work. It was thrown out in the Lords. [5]  – Had it been made a law the consequence would have been that no additions or improvements would ever have been printed. – The fit thing would be to place us as we were before the statute of Q Anne [6]  & let us alone. But Sic vos non vobis [7]  has been applied to the race of authors for 2000 years – & may continue applicable as much longer.

God bless you

RS.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Duke Street/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: [partial] 18 MY 18/ 1813
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D
Unpublished.
Dating note: Dating from postmark. BACK

[1] The parliamentary committee established in March 1813 to enquire into copyright law. See also Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 April 1812 (Letter 2078), [c. 13 April 1813] (Letter 2246), 24 April 1813 (Letter 2251) and 23 May 1813 (Letter 2263). BACK

[2] Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), the second edition appeared in 1809. Southey is making the point that under existing copyright law, if he died within 14 years of the publication of Thalaba, his copyright in the work would lapse and it would not be entitled to the 14 years protection outlined in the legislation of 1710. BACK

[3] Under existing copyright law, nine copies of all books (increased to eleven in 1801) that were listed at Stationers Hall had to be donated to public and university libraries. This provision had been much more strictly adhered to since two legal cases in 1812, causing much annoyance to publishers and authors. BACK

[4] Sharon Turner, Reasons for a Modification of the Act of Anne Respecting the Delivery of Books, and Copyright (1813). BACK

[5] Wynn could be forgiven if he failed to recollect these events, as they occurred in 1737. Southey may have picked up this information in John Nichols (1745–1826; DNB), Literary Anecdotes, and Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, 15 vols (London, 1812–1831), V, p. 659, no. 2034 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[6] The Statute of Anne (1665–1714, Queen of Great Britain 1701–1714; DNB), full title, ‘An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned’. Passed in 1709, it came into force in 1710 and is seen as the origin of copyright law. BACK

[7] ‘This you do, but not for yourselves’. BACK

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Published @ RC

August 2013