An Autobiography, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVII

The American Postal Treaty — The Question 0f Copyright with America — Four More Novels

In the spring of 1868 — before the affair of Beverley, which, as being the first direct result of my resignation of office, has been brought in a little out of its turn — I was requested to go over to the United States and make a postal treaty at Washington. This, as I had left the service, I regarded as a compliment, and of course I went. It was my third visit to America, and I have made two since. As far as the Post Office work was concerned, it was very far from being agreeable. I found myself located at Washington, a place I do not love, and was harassed by delays, annoyed by incompetence, and opposed by what I felt to be personal and not national views. I had to deal with two men — with one who was a working officer of the American Post Office, than whom I have never met a more zealous, or, as far as I could judge, a more honest public servant. He had his views and I had mine, each of us having at heart the welfare of the service in regard to his own country — each of us also having certain orders which we were bound to obey. But the other gentleman, who was in rank the superior — whose executive position was dependent on his official status, as is the case with our own Ministers — did not recommend himself to me equally. He would make appointments with me and then not keep them, which at last offended me so grievously, that I declared at the Washington Post Office that if this treatment were continued, I would write home to say that any further action on my part was impossible. I think I should have done so had it not occurred to me that I might in this way serve his purpose rather than my own, or the purposes of those who had sent me. The treaty, however, was at last made — the purport of which was, that everything possible should be done, at a heavy expenditure on the part of England, to expedite the mails from England to America, and that nothing should be done by America to expedite the mails from thence to us. The expedition I believe to be now equal both ways; but it could not be maintained as it is without the payment of a heavy subsidy from Great Britain, whereas no subsidy is paid by the States. 11

11 This was a state of things which may probably have appeared to American politicians to be exactly that which they should try to obtain. The whole arrangement has again been altered since the time of which I have spoken.

I had also a commission from the Foreign Office, for which I had asked, to make an effort on behalf of an international copyright between the United States and Great Britain — the want of which is the one great impediment to pecuniary success which still stands in the way of successful English authors. I cannot say that I have never had a shilling of American money on behalf of reprints of my work; but I have been conscious of no such payment. Having found many years ago — in 1861, when I made a struggle on the subject, being then in the States, the details of which are sufficiently amusing 12— that I could not myself succeed in dealing with American booksellers, I have sold all foreign right to the English publishers; and though I do not know that I have raised my price against them on that score, I may in this way have had some indirect advantage from the American market. But I do know that what the publishers have received here is very trifling. I doubt whether Messrs. Chapman & Hall, my present publishers, get for early sheets sent to the States as much as 5 per cent. on the price they pay me for my manuscript. But the American readers are more numerous than the English, and taking them all through, are probably more wealthy. If I can get £1000 for a book here (exclusive of their market), I ought to be able to get as much there. If a man supply 600 customers with shoes in place of 300, there is no question as to such result. Why not, then, if I can supply 60,000 readers instead of 30,000?

12 In answer to a question from myself, a certain American publisher — he who usually reprinted my works — promised me that IF ANY OTHER AMERICAN PUBLISHER REPUBLISHED MY WORK ON AMERICA BEFORE HE HAD DONE SO, he would not bring out a competing edition, though there would be no law to hinder him. I then entered into an agreement with another American publisher, stipulating to supply him with early sheets; and he stipulating to supply me a certain royalty on his sales, and to supply me with accounts half-yearly. I sent the sheets with energetic punctuality, and the work was brought out with equal energy and precision — by my old American publishers. The gentleman who made the promise had not broken his word. No other American edition had come out before his. I never got any account, and, of course, never received a dollar.

I fancied that I knew that the opposition to an international copyright was by no means an American feeling, but was confined to the bosoms of a few interested Americans. All that I did and heard in reference to the subject on this further visit — and having a certain authority from the British Secretary of State with me I could hear and do something — altogether confirmed me in this view. I have no doubt that if I could poll American readers, or American senators — or even American representatives, if the polling could be unbiassed — or American booksellers, 13 that an assent to an international copyright would be the result. The state of things as it is is crushing to American authors, as the publishers will not pay them a liberal scale, knowing that they can supply their customers with modern English literature without paying for it. The English amount of production so much exceeds the American, that the rate at which the former can be published rules the market. it is equally injurious to American booksellers — except to two or three of the greatest houses. No small man can now acquire the exclusive right of printing and selling an English book. If such a one attempt it, the work is printed instantly by one of the leviathans — who alone are the gainers. The argument of course is, that the American readers are the gainers — that as they can get for nothing the use of certain property, they would be cutting their own throats were they to pass a law debarring themselves from the power of such appropriation. In this argument all idea of honesty is thrown to the winds. It is not that they do not approve of a system of copyright — as many great men have disapproved — for their own law of copyright is as stringent as is ours. A bold assertion is made that they like to appropriate the goods of other people; and that, as in this case, they can do so with impunity, they will continue to do so. But the argument, as far as I have been able to judge, comes not from the people, but from the bookselling leviathans, and from those politicians whom the leviathans are able to attach to their interests. The ordinary American purchaser is not much affected by slight variations in price. He is at any rate too high-hearted to be affected by the prospect of such variation. It is the man who wants to make money, not he who fears that he may be called upon to spend it, who controls such matters as this in the United States. It is the large speculator who becomes powerful in the lobbies of the House, and understands how wise it may be to incur a great expenditure either in the creation of a great business, or in protecting that which he has created from competition. Nothing was done in 1868 — and nothing has been done since (up to 1876). A Royal Commission on the law of copyright is now about to sit in this country, of which I have consented to be a member; and the question must then be handled, though nothing done by a Royal Commission here can effect American legislators. But I do believe that if the measure be consistently and judiciously urged, the enemies to it in the States will gradually be overcome. Some years since we had some quasi private meetings, under the presidency of Lord Stanhope, in Mr. John Murray’s dining-room, on the subject of international copyright. At one of these I discussed this matter of American international copyright with Charles Dickens, who strongly declared his conviction that nothing would induce an American to give up the power he possesses of pirating British literature. But he was a man who, seeing clearly what was before him, would not realise the possibility of shifting views. Because in this matter the American decision had been, according to his thinking, dishonest, therefore no other than dishonest decision was to be expected from Americans. Against that idea I protested, and now protest. American dishonesty is rampant; but it is rampant only among a few. It is the great misfortune of the community that those few have been able to dominate so large a portion of the population among which all men can vote, but so few can understand for what they are voting.

13 I might also say American publishers, if I might count them by the number of heads, and not by the amount of work done by the firms.

Since this was written the Commission on the law of copyright has sat and made its report. With the great body of it I agree, and could serve no reader by alluding here at length to matters which are discussed there. But in regard to this question of international copyright with the United States, I think that we were incorrect in the expression of an opinion that fair justice — or justice approaching to fairness — is now done by American publishers to English authors by payments made by them for early sheets. I have just found that £20 was paid to my publisher in England for the use of the early sheets of a novel for which I received £1600 in England. When asked why he accepted so little, he assured me that the firm with whom he dealt would not give more. “Why not go to another firm?” I asked. No other firm would give a dollar, because no other firm would care to run counter to that great firm which had assumed to itself the right of publishing my books. I soon after received a copy of my own novel in the American form, and found that it was published for 7 1/2d. That a great sale was expected can be argued from the fact that without a great sale the paper and printing necessary for the republication of a three-volume novel could not be supplied. Many thousand copies must have been sold. But from these the author received not one shilling. I need hardly point out that the sum of £20 would not do more than compensate the publisher for his trouble in making the bargain. The publisher here no doubt might have refused to supply the early sheets, but he had no means of exacting a higher price than that offered. I mention the circumstance here because it has been boasted, on behalf of the American publishers, that though there is no international copyright, they deal so liberally with English authors as to make it unnecessary that the English author should be so protected. With the fact of the £20 just brought to my knowledge, and with the copy of my book published at 7 1/2d. now in my hands, I feel that an international copyright is very necessary for my protection.

They among Englishmen who best love and most admire the United States, have felt themselves tempted to use the strongest language in denouncing the sins of Americans. Who can but love their personal generosity, their active and far-seeking philanthropy, their love of education, their hatred of ignorance, the general convictions in the minds of all of them that a man should be enabled to walk upright, fearing no one and conscious that he is responsible for his own actions? In what country have grander efforts been made by private munificence to relieve the sufferings of humanity? Where can the English traveller find any more anxious to assist him than the normal American, when once the American shall have found the Englishman to be neither sullen nor fastidious? Who, lastly, is so much an object of heart-felt admiration of the American man and the American woman as the well-mannered and well-educated Englishwoman or Englishman? These are the ideas which I say spring uppermost in the minds of the unprejudiced English traveller as he makes acquaintance with these near relatives. Then he becomes cognisant of their official doings, of their politics, of their municipal scandals, of their great ring-robberies, of their lobbyings and briberies, and the infinite baseness of their public life. There at the top of everything he finds the very men who are the least fit to occupy high places. American public dishonesty is so glaring that the very friends he has made in the country are not slow to acknowledge it — speaking of public life as a thing apart from their own existence, as a state of dirt in which it would be an insult to suppose that they are concerned! In the midst of it all the stranger, who sees so much that he hates and so much that he loves, hardly knows how to express himself.

“It is not enough that you are personally clean,” he says, with what energy and courage he can command — “not enough though the clean outnumber the foul as greatly as those gifted with eyesight outnumber the blind, if you that can see allow the blind to lead you. It is not by the private lives of the millions that the outside world will judge you, but by the public career of those units whose venality is allowed to debase the name of your country. There never was plainer proof given than is given here, that it is the duty of every honest citizen to look after the honour of his State.”

Personally, I have to own that I have met Americans — men, but more frequently women — who have in all respects come up to my ideas of what men and women should be: energetic, having opinions of their own, quick in speech, with some dash of sarcasm at their command, always intelligent, sweet to look at (I speak of the women), fond of pleasure, and each with a personality of his or her own which makes no effort necessary on my own part in remembering the difference between Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Green, or between Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson. They have faults. They are self-conscious, and are too prone to prove by ill-concealed struggles that they are as good as you — whereas you perhaps have been long acknowledging to yourself that they are much better. And there is sometimes a pretence at personal dignity among those who think themselves to have risen high in the world which is deliciously ludicrous. I remember two old gentlemen — the owners of names which stand deservedly high in public estimation — whose deportment at a public funeral turned the occasion into one for irresistible comedy. They are suspicious at first, and fearful of themselves. They lack that simplicity of manners which with us has become a habit from our childhood. But they are never fools, and I think that they are seldom ill-natured.

There is a woman, of whom not to speak in a work purporting to be a memoir of my own life would be to omit all allusion to one of the chief pleasures which has graced my later years. In the last fifteen years she has been, out of my family, my most chosen friend. She is a ray of light to me, from which I can always strike a spark by thinking of her. I do not know that I should please her or do any good by naming her. But not to allude to her in these pages would amount almost to a falsehood. I could not write truly of myself without saying that such a friend had been vouchsafed to me. I trust she may live to read the words I have now written, and to wipe away a tear as she thinks of my feeling while I write them.

I was absent on this occasion something over three months, and on my return I went back with energy to my work at the St. Paul’s Magazine. The first novel in it from my own pen was called Phineas Finn, in which I commenced a series of semi-political tales. As I was debarred from expressing my opinions in the House of Commons, I took this method of declaring myself. And as I could not take my seat on those benches where I might possibly have been shone upon by the Speaker’s eye, I had humbly to crave his permission for a seat in the gallery, so that I might thus become conversant with the ways and doings of the House in which some of my scenes were to be placed. The Speaker was very gracious, and gave me a running order for, I think, a couple of months. It was enough, at any rate, to enable me often to be very tired — and, as I have been assured by members, to talk of the proceedings almost as well as though Fortune had enabled me to fall asleep within the House itself.

In writing Phineas Finn, and also some other novels which followed it, I was conscious that I could not make a tale pleasing chiefly, or perhaps in any part, by politics. If I write politics for my own sake, I must put in love and intrigue, social incidents, with perhaps a dash of sport, for the benefit of my readers. In this way I think I made my political hero interesting. It was certainly a blunder to take him from Ireland — into which I was led by the circumstance that I created the scheme of the book during a visit to Ireland. There was nothing to be gained by the peculiarity, and there was an added difficulty in obtaining sympathy and affection for a politician belonging to a nationality whose politics are not respected in England. But in spite of this Phineas succeeded. It was not a brilliant success — because men and women not conversant with political matters could not care much for a hero who spent so much of his time either in the House of Commons or in a public office. But the men who would have lived with Phineas Finn read the book, and the women who would have lived with Lady Laura Standish read it also. As this was what I had intended, I was contented. It is all fairly good except the ending — as to which till I got to it I made no provision. As I fully intended to bring my hero again into the world, I was wrong to marry him to a simple pretty Irish girl, who could only be felt as an encumbrance on such return. When he did return I had no alternative but to kill the simple pretty Irish girl, which was an unpleasant and awkward necessity.

In writing Phineas Finn I had constantly before me the necessity of progression in character — of marking the changes in men and women which would naturally be produced by the lapse of years. In most novels the writer can have no such duty, as the period occupied is not long enough to allow of the change of which I speak. In Ivanhoe, all the incidents of which are included in less than a month, the characters should be, as they are, consistent throughout. Novelists who have undertaken to write the life of a hero or heroine have generally considered their work completed at the interesting period of marriage, and have contented themselves with the advance in taste and manners which are common to all boys and girls as they become men and women. Fielding, no doubt, did more than this in Tom Jones, which is one of the greatest novels in the English language, for there he has shown how a noble and sanguine nature may fall away under temptation and be again strengthened and made to stand upright. But I do not think that novelists have often set before themselves the state of progressive change — nor should I have done it, had I not found myself so frequently allured back to my old friends. So much of my inner life was passed in their company, that I was continually asking myself how this woman would act when this or that event had passed over her head, or how that man would carry himself when his youth had become manhood, or his manhood declined to old age. It was in regard to the old Duke of Omnium, of his nephew and heir, and of his heir’s wife, Lady Glencora, that I was anxious to carry out this idea; but others added themselves to my mind as I went on, and I got round me a circle of persons as to whom I knew not only their present characters, but how those characters were to be affected by years and circumstances. The happy motherly life of Violet Effingham, which was due to the girl’s honest but long-restrained love; the tragic misery of Lady Laura, which was equally due to the sale she made of herself in her wretched marriage; and the long suffering but final success of the hero, of which he had deserved the first by his vanity, and the last by his constant honesty, had been foreshadowed to me from the first. As to the incidents of the story, the circumstances by which these personages were to be affected, I knew nothing. They were created for the most part as they were described. I never could arrange a set of events before me. But the evil and the good of my puppets, and how the evil would always lead to evil, and the good produce good — that was clear to me as the stars on a summer night.

Lady Laura Standish is the best character in Phineas Finn and its sequel Phineas Redux — of which I will speak here together. They are, in fact, but one novel though they were brought out at a considerable interval of time and in different form. The first was commenced in the St. Paul’s Magazine in 1867, and the other was brought out in the Graphic in 1873. In this there was much bad arrangement, as I had no right to expect that novel readers would remember the characters of a story after an interval of six years, or that any little interest which might have been taken in the career of my hero could then have been renewed. I do not know that such interest was renewed. But I found that the sequel enjoyed the same popularity as the former part, and among the same class of readers. Phineas, and Lady Laura, and Lady Chiltern — as Violet had become — and the old duke — whom I killed gracefully, and the new duke, and the young duchess, either kept their old friends or made new friends for themselves. Phineas Finn, I certainly think, was successful from first to last. I am aware, however, that there was nothing in it to touch the heart like the abasement of Lady Mason when confessing her guilt to her old lover, or any approach in delicacy of delineation to the character of Mr. Crawley.

Phineas Finn, the first part of the story, was completed in May, 1867. In June and July I wrote Linda Tressel for Blackwood’s Magazine, of which I have already spoken. In September and October I wrote a short novel, called The Golden Lion of Granpere, which was intended also for Blackwood — with a view of being published anonymously; but Mr. Blackwood did not find the arrangement to be profitable, and the story remained on my hands, unread and unthought of, for a few years. It appeared subsequently in Good Words. It was written on the model of Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, but is very inferior to either of them. In November of the same year, 1867, I began a very long novel, which I called He Knew He Was Right, and which was brought out by Mr. Virtue, the proprietor of the St. Paul’s Magazine, in sixpenny numbers, every week. I do not know that in any literary effort I ever fell more completely short of my own intention than in this story. It was my purpose to create sympathy for the unfortunate man who, while endeavouring to do his duty to all around him, should be led constantly astray by his unwillingness to submit his own judgment to the opinion of others. The man is made to be unfortunate enough, and the evil which he does is apparent. So far I did not fail, but the sympathy has not been created yet. I look upon the story as being nearly altogether bad. It is in part redeemed by certain scenes in the house and vicinity of an old maid in Exeter. But a novel which in its main parts is bad cannot, in truth, be redeemed by the vitality of subordinate characters.

This work was finished while I was at Washington in the spring of 1868, and on the day after I finished it, I commenced The Vicar of Bullhampton, a novel which I wrote for Messrs. Bradbury & Evans. This I completed in November, 1868, and at once began Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, a story which I was still writing at the close of the year. I look upon these two years, 1867 and 1868, of which I have given a somewhat confused account in this and the two preceding chapters, as the busiest in my life. I had indeed left the Post Office, but though I had left it I had been employed by it during a considerable portion of the time. I had established the St. Paul’s Magazine, in reference to which I had read an enormous amount of manuscript, and for which, independently of my novels, I had written articles almost monthly. I had stood for Beverley and had made many speeches. I had also written five novels, and had hunted three times a week during each of the winters. And how happy I was with it all! I had suffered at Beverley, but I had suffered as a part of the work which I was desirous of doing, and I had gained my experience. I had suffered at Washington with that wretched American Postmaster, and with the mosquitoes, not having been able to escape from that capital till July; but all that had added to the activity of my life. I had often groaned over those manuscripts; but I had read them, considering it — perhaps foolishly — to be a part of my duty as editor. And though in the quick production of my novels I had always ringing in my ears that terrible condemnation and scorn produced by the great man in Paternoster Row, I was nevertheless proud of having done so much. I always had a pen in my hand. Whether crossing the seas, or fighting with American officials, or tramping about the streets of Beverley, I could do a little, and generally more than a little. I had long since convinced myself that in such work as mine the great secret consisted in acknowledging myself to be bound to rules of labour similar to those which an artisan or a mechanic is forced to obey. A shoemaker when he has finished one pair of shoes does not sit down and contemplate his work in idle satisfaction. “There is my pair of shoes finished at last! What a pair of shoes it is!” The shoemaker who so indulged himself would be without wages half his time. It is the same with a professional writer of books. An author may of course want time to study a new subject. He will at any rate assure himself that there is some such good reason why he should pause. He does pause, and will be idle for a month or two while he tells himself how beautiful is that last pair of shoes which he has finished! Having thought much of all this, and having made up my mind that I could be really happy only when I was at work, I had now quite accustomed myself to begin a second pair as soon as the first was out of my hands.

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