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THE NAMELESS SPRING.
The mountain breeze profusely flings,
Scamander's princely waters still,
Thy wayes a quiet cave have won,
IV. Yet let not pensiveness intrude, This is a blameless solitude. These savage rocks enormous piled, In their long prospect o'er the wild, See no wide-wasting cruel drove Of disciplined destroyers move. Fair as from nature's hand they came, Mountains and vales remain the same. No deed of wrath, no dire offence, Of human passion bold and wrong, Hath scared the meek-eyed genius hence, Who prompts and loves my simple song.Admit me, Genii, that among These grots and secret fountains dwell, Into your philosophic throng, Calm spirits, whom I love so well! And let my soul resign proud reason's state, And, passive, on each heavenly impulse wait.
Knowledge divine ! thy cheering ray,
If this high wisdom be foredoomed to me!”
BOOKSELLERS versus AUTHORS.
Audi alteram partem.
Mr. Editor, Kings and magazine editors are, I am well aware, uniformly infallible in their dicta; and I ought, therefore, to apologize with becoming humility, for calling in question the correctness (I might add the fairness) of certain passages in your statement of the case of Authors and Booksellers, in your last month's publication, which are calculated to produce no inconsiderable mischief. Whilst I admit the general soundness of your speculations, as to the causes of the present lamentable depression in the book trade, I must take leave to deny most positively the authenticity of several of the facts by which you have attempted to illustrate them. According to your account, a bookseller is an animal—a cannibal, you might as well have insisted, while you were about it—of such insatiable appetite, that whilst he crouches with the most obsequious servility to one or two authors as voracious as himself, swallows the whole bevy beside, “bones and all,” with as little hesitation or compunction as one would feel in devouring the unresisting mites of a ripe Stilton. He is, in fact, a “raw-head-andbloody-bones,” with the terrors of whose countenance you endeavour to frighten all the embryo authors and authoresses who may chance to fall in your way. Whilst I sympathize with you most cordially in your views of some of the circumstances which have led to the present difficulties in the trade, I shall venture to suggest others, which have assisted in no ordinary degree in producing these very distressing results. The first and foremost of these is, beyond all doubt, the very great rapacity of authors; and of that class of authors which you seem to have taken under your especial patronage and protection. It seems never to have entered your head, for a moment, that if there be some degree of niggardliness on the part of the bookseller, the extortions of the author are often no less deserving the lash. I could enumerate
half a dozen instances, within my own knowledge, in which parties, comparatively popular as writers, have obtained considerable sums in advance for the copyrights of books, which they have not only never produced, but which, to judge from appearances, they never intended to produce; and one instance, in which a person of some reputation in the literary world, went so far as to dispose of the same work to two different booksellers. Such samples of the literary character are, I should hope, of very unfrequent occurrence; but it is as unjust to denounce the whole bookselling trade as illiberal, because one or two of its members may have merited the reproach, as it would be to assume that all literary men are either extortioners or impostors, because a few needy and unprincipled persons, who have been guilty of bookmaking, may have acted inconsistently with the honour and dignity of gentlemen. But to discuss your groans seriatim: you seem, in the first place, to consider that if a bookseller publishes a work upon commission, the returns flow in upon him almost immediately. Here you are completely at fault. If you print a book in July, and place it in the hands of your bookseller for publication immediately afterwards, he is obliged to give twelve months' credit for two-thirds of the copies he may sell ; and for the ten per cent. which he will of course demand for commission, he is compelled to take upon himself the risk of all bad debts from the various members of his fraternity with whom he may do business.
His ultimate profit will therefore scarcely be as liberal as you would have it believed. It cannot but strike the superficial observer as extremely hard, that one-third of the proceeds of an author's work should be swallowed up by what are termed the legitimate profits of the trade. The fault, however, does not rest with the present race of booksellers, to whom this apparently large profit is by no means as advantageous as it would seem ; but with those of their predecessors, who first established the rate. Let the retail vender buy his books from whomsoever he may, he knows that he is entitled to be supplied at twenty-five per cent. below the publication price; and if he resides in the metropolis, and consents to risk the purchase of several copies when the work is first offered, he may actually obtain it at one-third the cost at which it professes to be sold to the public. The consequence of the exorbitance of this rate of profit, (with which most book-buyers are acquainted), is, that the customers of the retail bookseller very naturally expect a discount from the published prices; and the facilities afforded him for complying with this request are so great, that a competition next arises, as to who shall offer the largest reduction on the amount of the books he sells. This process, whilst it sometimes reduces the profits of the retail bookseller, (and especially the country bookseller, who has carriage and other incidental expenses to defray), to less than he may really have a right to calculate upon, puts the difference into the pockets of the more niggardly portion of the public, without the slightest benefit either to the author or his publishers. Whereas, if the nominal allowance to retail booksellers were reduced to about twelve and a half per cent., they would thus be enabled to offer the same book to the general public at twelve and a half per cent. less than they at present affect to demand for it.
Such an alteration therefore, would, without injuring the retail trader, (who
would sell a larger quantity, and never be expected to allow any discount to his friends), benefit the public, and certainly the author, whose lucubrations would stand a far better chance of circulation, most materially.
With these facts within your reach, you ought to have been careful how you insinuated any charge of illiberality against the wholesale trade; since, with such insignificant profits, (I am considering them now merely as booksellers, and not publishers), and the long term of credit they are compelled to allow, it is next to impossible that they can appear liberal to those authors who have commission accounts with them, without considerable injustice to themselves. So much for the profit, as it regards the mere publication of books upon commission, which ought, you think, to keep bibliopoles from becoming bankrupts ; and now for that portion of your case which refers to those booksellers, who either publish books and divide the profits with the authors, or purchase their copyrights out and out.
I shall not affect to deny the correctness of your affirmation, that the monstrous prices paid, in some instances, to very great authors," for the honour of presenting their works to the public, have produced a deal of the distress which has borne so heavily upon the trade during the last twelve months ; but imprudent as such conduct undoubtedly is, it affords evidence of any thing but illiberality. Booksellers, actuated by a laudable ambition to connect themselves with writers of first-rate talent and eminence, have unfortunately carried their generosity so entirely beyond all reasonable bounds, that they have prejudiced their own interests, as tradesmen, almost irremediably; but it is surely hardly fair, to draw from their ill-judged liberality, matter of accusation against them. You contend that these extravagant sacrifices are only made in favour of authors of the first grade in literature; but with this assumption I must venture to differ with you altogether. Booksellers have, according to my belief, (and I do not speak unadvisedly), lost as much money by the heavy stocks of unsaleable publications on which they have ventured with authors, who, whilst they have been allowed to participate in the profits, have borne no part in the losses incurred upon their productions, as by the unwise prices they have paid on other occasions for the purchase of copyrights. A swarm of the “ smaller insects” of literature are likely to extract as much blood from a bookseller's veins, as a single vampire, even though his
of suction should be more than ordinarily vigorous. Witness the fate of poor Mr. Warren, who began business with several thousand pounds one year, and in little more than twelve months' time, was as completely “cleaned out,” as any man need desire to be; not by very distinguished authors, but, for the most part, by scribblers of second, third, and even fourth rate importance. A great deal of his cash went, no doubt, in advances to people for books he was fated never to receive;
the rest was absorbed by the huge masses of spoiled paper in his warenouse. His swans did indeed, for the most part, turn out to be geese; and, whilst those for whom he published on the half-and-half system you so severely deprecate, went about their business unscathed, he had to meet the bills of their printers and stationers; a privilege by no means as advantageous as some you believe to be enjoyed by the wholesale trade ; and many persons similarly circumstanced, have discovered to their cost,