1469. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 June 1808

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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1469. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 19 June 1808 ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

If I understood the Bill it has no other meaning than to give the Bookseller 28 years instead of 14, & xx in cases where the copyright has not been sold to extend the Authors property to his representative, for the said {same} term. [1]  The best thing to be done at present is as you say to oppose it altogether, till it can be more maturely considered.

Who framed the Bill? [2]  If the worthy Sheriff Sir Richard Philips – alias Sir Philip Richards according to his true name – were in Parliament he might be suspected of it. – for it is some such ‘encouragement of learning’ [3]  as he would hold out.

Books which produce any profit at all have either a sudden popularity or a steady one which is most commonly slow in its growth. Those of the first description do not last fourteen years. – The Winter in London [4]  – All the Talents [5]  – the Pursuits of Literature [6]  &c – you may as well give a fishmonger the exclusive privilege of selling mackarel a week old, as give any property in these books after beyond the old apprenticeship. On the other hand neither 14 nor 28 years are enough for works of permanent value – the term of these ought to be unlimited. Admiral Gambier is sent to sing psalms before Copenhagen & steal ships there, – he comes back & is made a Lord for so doing, & all his heirs male are to be Lords as long as they last. [7]  Literary profits ought in justice to have the same perpetuity. Every Englishman likes to think that Blenheim is still the seat of the Marlbro’s. [8]  Equal pleasure ought to be felt, & could be felt, if the descendants of Shakespear & Milton (had they left any) were at this day the proprietors of their works, & in enjoyment of the ample income which would be derived from them.

Except in making the copyright survive to our children this bill favours the booksellers to the material injury of the author; – as you point out. – Give me the fee simple of my own works & my childrens children will want no better inheritance. This ought to be given us, & instead of enlargin increasing the booksellers term it would be better if authors could be prevented from selling for more than 7 years, – because bad books have all their harvest before that time runs out, – & good ones do not begin to get theirs till a later period.

God bless you.

Shall I not see you this summer?


Sunday 19 June.

My brother has left me this day. – he is appointed to the Dreadnought Admiral Sothebys ship. [9] 


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M P./ London
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: FREE/ 22JU22/ 1808
Seal: [partial, illegible]
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] On 16 June a bill was introduced to parliament advocating a change in copyright law. It intended to remove the dependence of copyright on the life of the author and replace it by a single period of 28 years from the date of first publication. BACK

[2] The bill was framed by John Villiers (1757–1838), M.P. for Queenborough in consultation with Edward Christian (bap.1758–1823). BACK

[3] An allusion to the Bill’s title: a Bill for the further encouragement of Learning in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, by securing to the Libraries of the Universities, and other public libraries, copies of all newly-printed books, and books reprinted with additions, and by further securing the copies and copyright of printed Books to the authors of such books, or their assigns, for a time to be limited. BACK

[4] Thomas Skinner Surr (bap. 1770–1847; DNB), The Winter in London, or Sketches of Fashion. A Novel (1806). BACK

[5] Eaton Stannard Barrett (1786–1820; DNB), All the Talents: a Satirical Poem in Three Dialogues (1807). BACK

[6] Thomas James Mathias (1753/4–1835; DNB), Pursuits of Literature, or, What you will (1794–1797), a satire on contemporary authors. BACK

[7] James, Baron Gambier (1756–1833; DNB), naval officer and evangelical, known for making his crew sing hymns and say Psalms. Gambier was given a peerage as a reward for commanding the expedition that, in September 1807, bombarded neutral Copenhagen until the Danish surrendered its felt into British hands. BACK

[8] Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, erected at the nation’s cost as a reward for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim (1650–1722), having won the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. BACK

[9] HMS Dreadnought was a 98-gun second rate ship of the line launched in 1801. She had fought at Trafalgar (1805) and was now under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas Sotheby (1759–1831), younger brother of the author, William Sotheby (1757–1833; DNB), Southey’s acquaintance. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013

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