Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Thirty Years of International Copyright

The Chace Act of 1891 gave copyright to non-U.S. works in return for international copyright protections for American authors. On the law’s 30th anniversray, Brander Matthews wrote that he considered the law a smashing success.

It remains the least adequate [such law] now in force of any of the civilized nations; but, improvable as it may be, it marked a long stride in advance and it did what it was meant to do; it put an end to the despoiling of the foreign writer in the United States and of the American writer in foreign countries. In fact, it has accomplished its purpose so completely that the present generation of readers has no knowledge of the conditions which it terminated.

The law, nicknamed after Sen. Jonathan Chace (R-RI) and which had been lobbied by the likes of Mark Twain and Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, originally granted copyright to Great Britain and its colonies, plus France, Belgium and Switzerland. More than 10 other countries were added by 1921, including Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the German Empire, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain.

Today the U.S. has reciprocal copyright agreements in place with most, though not all, other countries. Here’s a complete list from the U.S. Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ38a.pdf

Prior to 1891, though, the situation was quite different, as Matthews explained.

Before July 1, 1891, a book published in London or Paris could be reprinted by anybody or by any number of bodies in New York without the permission of the British or French author and without any payment to him. The novels of Scott and Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Hugo and Dumas, the essays of Macaulay and Taine, the scientific writings of Spencer and Huxley and Tyndall, the poems of Tennyson and Browning, passed out of the control of their authors as soon as they were put on sale in Europe.

It gets worse.

And the novels and lyrics of American writers were almost — although not quite — as unprotected in England. Hundreds of thousands of copies of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were sold in Great Britain, for which Mrs. Stowe did not receive a penny. Thousands of copies of Longfellow’s poems were issued by English publishers; and I heard Lowell say once that all the reward Longfellow had reaped from them was the gift of a game pie, sent to him across the Atlantic by a kind-hearted and appreciative London published.

The effects of the law were immediate. According to The Development of the International Book Trade, 1870-1895:
Tangled Networks by Alison Rukavina, “Before 1891, 70 percent of the books published in the United States were of foreign origin; after 1891, the figure was reversed, and 70 percent were by native authors.”

 

Thirty Years of International Copyright (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 26, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 27th, 2021 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography

Martin van Buren’s autobiography wasn’t published until 1920: 60 years after his death and 80 years after he was last president. That’s like if FDR’s or Herbert Hoover’s memoirs were only published now.

80 years ago in 1941, FDR was president. Excluding JFK, the president who died closest to 60 years ago (of natural causes) was Herbert Hoover in 1964.

Van Buren’s autobiography, with the captivating title The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, is now in the public domain and available to read in full here:

https://archive.org/details/cu31924024892709

This New York Times Magazine review in March 1921 gave the book a stirring review:

The story of the fight over the United States Bank was never so clearly told, and in Van Buren’s hands it becomes a matter of absorbing interest. But that may be said of everything he writes.

It is a most remarkable book, a great autobiography despite its incompleteness. It covers an immense amount of ground, including the early days of Tammany Hall, and is embellished with the shrewdest and most thought-provoking commentaries on life and politics. He had a great reputation for common sense when he was alive, and his memoir proves that if anything it was underestimated.

You be the judge.

Here (and copied below) is the actual final paragraph of the book. To be fair, death stopped van Buren from writing further, so perhaps this should not be judged among the great endings in literary history. Still, if you can make it through this entire paragraph, you deserve a prize.

This charge which was also submitted to in silence, was not specifically applied to in silence, was not specifically applied to the $10,000 debt at the mother bank; but the extreme probability that such an occurrence could have happened at the Boston branch; and its being so much in harmony with the other transactions by which the advance of the ten or fifteen thousand dollars, obtained from Mr. Biddle at his country seat was characterized leaves scarcely a doubt that such was their meaning — and if so, and if the statements were well founded, we have here the explanation of Mr. Biddle’s persistent silence upon the subject. But be that as it may, one thing is, I fear, morally certain, if the notes and professed securities of the bank were reserved from the sale to the manufacturers of its archives by the ton, as waste paper, before referred to, have been preserved, and but a tithe of the reports of the heavy losses which that institution sustained from its loans to Mr. Webster, on straw securities, so prevalent at the time of its total failure, and then generally credited, be true, the note that was given for those ten or fifteen thousand dollars, or its representative, equally worthless, will be found amongst them. If so, and without the slightest personal knowledge upon the point, I feel as confident of the fact as I do of my existence, farther explorations of the dusty labyrinth of a defunct bank parlor, to trace the real character of the principal transaction, would seem to be superfluous, and the reader will decide whether, in such an event, farther speculations in regard to the political ethics or official purity of Daniel Webster would be equally useless.

 

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 13, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 11th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in Books,History,Politics

America’s Unwritten Novels

The mostly-forgotten novelist Coningsby Dawson, speculated in 1920 that America would have difficulty producing great novels moving forward.

“I believe American novelists as a class to be the most unobservant and the least local in their affections. When I say local, I use that term in its best sense. Hardy and Kipling and Tolstoy and Balzac are local, but none of them is provincial. They select a certain area which they know and love and make it the mirror of the passions of the entire world. Very few American novelists have that love of a locality; they seem to lose their traditions and sense of race in the cosmopolitanism of the larger cities.”

Dawson also pinpointed another problem, at least in his view: the limited urban perspective of the novels being produced at that time.

“America, as she is today, is in the main totally unrepresented in the fiction of her contemporary novelists… New York, which is decidedly not a representative of the States, would certainly provide the setting for the biggest percentage of the novels; Chicago and Boston would tie for second place. Those three cities together would probably afford the background of 75 percent of the year’s output. To choose another great city at random, I can think of only one novel of consequence which places Cincinnati on the map — Susan Lennox [sic] — and Susan Lennox does not picture Cincinnati in such a way that you could recognize it.”

The novel Dawson references, a misspelling of 1912’s Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise is largely forgotten today but was adapted into a 1931 film with Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.

Dawson, for what its worth, seemed unable to write a great American novel himself. The man at least has a Wikipedia entry, but not a single one of his 20+ works does.

At least his 1920 article took a cautious tone on whether America will continue to write great novels. By contrast, a 1916 New York Times article — which SundayMagazine.org previously covered in 2016 — was pessimistically and more definitely titled “The Great American Novel Never Will Come.”

Still to be written in 1920 were many of what are now considered among the greatest American novels:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
  • Roots by Alex Haley (1976)

 

America’s Unwritten Novels: A Chart of the Country Shows What Has Already Been Done and Suggests the Vast Possibilities Still Open for Fiction Writers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 4, 1920

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Written by Jesse

July 5th, 2020 at 11:59 am

Posted in Books,Future

The Corner Where Traffic Cop and Fairies Meet

In 1919, Benjamin de Casseres described New York Public Library children’s section as a world apart from the hustle and bustle just outside its walls at 42nd St. and 5th Ave.:

Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue… is, as we all know, right in the very heart of practical, jazzing, money-scrambling little old New York. Only, and still more wonderful to relate, one suddenly disappears through a wall of solid marble into this little kingdom of what Peter Pan called the Never-Never Land, and those who can accomplish this miracle are not only your little believing Alices and Peters but any work-a-day person regardless of age, opinion or previous condition of incertitude about such miracles.

The quiet solitutde was the opposites of the pandemonium mere feet or yards away:

The contrast between the rip-roaring movement outside, with the jumble of autos, trolley cars, traffic cops, show windows, and moving care-laden and fashionable throns and this room is astonishing, and, if one is sentimental and imaginative, almost eerie. Here, in one step from the street, was a transposed world of silent adventure, flower decorated alcoves, fantastically colored panels and plates, and a great many kiddies of all ages, ranging from the tiny tot to boys and girls of 12 and 13 years, bent over books of strange and bloody deeds and fairy stories.

Which made re-entering the real world a tremendous letdown:

I went back into the dazzling light of Fifth Avenue, but the flash from the wheels and the sparkle on the cop’s badge and the long array of buildings stretching either way on the avenue seemed to me unreal and of no importance, and that room in the library that I had just left behind was the real thing, and the Fairy Godmother and the little heads concentrated on another world seemed to contain the thing we are all seeking.

That library at 42nd Street and 5th Avenute is still thriving: the Mid-Manhattan Library, featuring its Children’s Center with 40,000 volumes.

 

The Corner Where Traffic Cop and Fairies Meet: Just a Few Steps from Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street: Wonderland, With All Its Miracles (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 27, 1919

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Written by Jesse

July 24th, 2019 at 11:01 am

Posted in Books,Life