2251. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 April 1813

2251. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 24 April 1813 ⁠* 

Keswick. April 24. 1813.

My dear Wynn,

Booksellers when they share the profits, take the risk. That they themselves xxx wish to keep their customary law [1]  out of sight I can exemplify in a striking case. Kirk Whites Remains [2]  were published in this manner. When they came to a third or fourth edition [3]  (I forget which) & it was apparent that the book had settled into a regular & considerable sale, Neville White required of the booksellers (Vernor & Hood [4] ) two thirds of the profits. This produced a letter from Hood [5]  which is a masterpiece in its kind. First he undertook to show that Neville did not understand his own interests; for if he had were to have two thirds, they, the publishers, could then make such deductions under various heads as would make the net <render his> receipts less than the half (thus impudently it was stated); & secondly he said that if the Remains belonged to the family, the Life [6]  belonged to the publishers they having paid Mr Southey 25£ for it. – This was if possible more impudent than the former assertion. The fact was that a few months before when I was in town Longman had sent me 25£ with a note saying that as the publishers had found the Remains so profitable they thought it proper to present me with that sum for the trouble I had taken in editing the work. – You may readily suppose what sort of a letter to Longman this called forth from me; [7]  & in consequence I received, as I had required, a distinct acknowledgement of the real <nature of> transaction. – In all this not a word was said of the customary law. Neville yielded the point at the time, conceiving of course that it was always in his power to take the whole property into his own disposal. But upon Vernor & Hoods bankruptcy, their share xx was sold, & the affair is now in the Lawyers hands; – in what state Sharon Turner can inform you, if you have an opportunity of seeing him during the progress of the Committee. [8]  – Should the business come to a trial I think that letter of Hoods ought to be produced. – Turner it was who first apprized me that such a Customary Law had been established, & that he had been employed to defend it against Townsend the traveller, [9]  who felt as indignant at being entrapped by it as any man who every man xxxx must do who finds himself tricked out of a part of his property.

Your proposed clause will be a real benefit to the authors. [10]  The copy right of Joan of Arc [11]  & of my poems would now have reverted to me if the Booksellers Custom did not declare otherwise.

I have the 4to edition of Maffeus. [12] 

I shall have done with Annual Registers when the Edinburgh fails. [13]  Its death will be owing to the London booksellers, who being almost all concerned in the other two, [14]  by every possible means impede its sale, so that where ten copies sell in Scotland, not <scarcely> one is sold in England. This is like x what you rode upon in your theme, an insurmountable obstacle. [15] 

No man can think more mournfully than I do as to the prospect which the Spaniards have after they shall have recovered their country, – & till they have so done I am feel assured that they will continue the struggle, – even if it were possible that Russia & Germany could be once more put hors de combat. – I cannot conceive that the Queen’s party [16]  can produce any revolu permanent revolution in Sicily, – for if there is any one point in which all parties & all authorities are agreed, it is in the abomination of the old system, & the universal wish of the people to be relieved from it. I shall look very anxiously for the next intelligence, for Sicily was the spot from whence I hoped to have heard the trumpet sounded to have <that should> awakened Italy.

In the last vol: of the Asiatic Researches that strangest of all strange writers Wilford after a great deal of pains to settle the exact place where the sea was churned to produce the Amreeta, fixes upon the Irish Channel, & determines that the Isle of Man was the mountain with which it was churned! [17] 

God bless you


I must send another inclosure to cover a letter from Coxe to Lord Auckland which has been sent me thro my brother  [18] 


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ Duke Street/ Westminster
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4812D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: John Wood Warter (ed.), Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, 4 vols (London, 1856), II, pp. 320–322 [in part]. BACK

[1] The bookseller’s practice of keeping half the copyright value of publications they undertook at their own risk. See also Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 April 1812 (Letter 2078), [c. 13 April 1813] (Letter 2246), and 23 May 1813 (Letter 2263). BACK

[2] The Remains of Henry Kirke White (1807). BACK

[3] A third edition of the Remains appeared in 1808, a fourth in 1810. BACK

[4] The London firm of Vernor & Hood (fl. 1794–1811). BACK

[5] The publisher Thomas Hood (1759–1811; DNB). BACK

[6] i.e. the biography of Henry Kirke White that was included in the Remains. BACK

[7] The letter to Longman has not survived. BACK

[8] A government committee to enquire into existing copyright law was established in March 1813. Its findings led to legislation in 1814. This extended copyright to an unconditional 28 years or the life of the author if longer. This was applied to new publications and those already published by living authors. Posthumous works were also given a copyright period of 28 years. BACK

[9] Joseph Townsend (1739–1816; DNB), geologist, author of A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787; with Particular Attention to the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Population, Taxes, and Revenue of that Country (1791). He had entered into an agreement whereby his publishers took the risk of publication and shared any profits equally with him. (The same terms Southey struck with Longman.) Townsend was shocked to discover that his publishers interpreted this as giving them half the copyright of the book in perpetuity. He considered legal action, but was persuaded against it on the grounds that he had no case; see Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 April 1812, Letter 2078. BACK

[10] Wynn had spoken in the House of Commons on 11 March 1813 in favour of restricting number of copies of books given to copyright libraries. BACK

[11] Joan of Arc, first published in 1796; and Poems (1797) and (1799). BACK

[12] Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1536?-1603), Historiarum Libri XVI et Selectarum Epistolarum ex India Libri IV (1588); no. 1657 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

[13] Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1811 (1813) was the last on which Southey worked. BACK

[14] The Annual Register (founded 1758) was published by a congerie of booksellers, including Longman; the Asiatic Annual Register (1799–1811) had captured the East India market. BACK

[15] A joke played on Wynn when he was a pupil at Westminster School. His theme ‘Pride is an insurmountable obstacle’ had been corrected by a waggish friend, possibly Southey, to ‘I ride an insurmountable obstacle’. Wynn then proceeded innocently to read the corrected version out loud to the class, causing him much embarrassment. BACK

[16] Maria Carolina (1752–1814; Queen Consort of Naples and Sicily 1768–1814). She had been the de facto ruler of the British-supported Bourbon Kingdom in Sicily until British pressure forced her from power in 1812–1813. BACK

[17] Francis Wilford (1761–1822), ‘An Essay on the Sacred Isles in the West, with other Essays connected with that work’, Asiatic Researches, 11 (1812), 132. Southey owned a 12-volume edition of 1801–1811; no. 77 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[18] A letter from William Coxe to William Eden, 1st Lord Auckland (1745–1814; DNB). Coxe was writing Memoirs of the Kings of Spain (1813) and, in the course of a distinguished career, Auckland had been British Ambassador to Spain 1787–1789. Coxe expressed his ‘warmest acknowledgements’ to Auckland for his help, Memoirs of the Kings of Spain (London, 1813), 3 vols, I, p. xix. BACK

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