any Dickens critics and biographers have pointed out the fact that, although he failed to comment on conditions in the United States as he had in his copious 1842 letters to John Forster, the 1867-68 trip was far more lucrative and far less acrimonious, particularly with reference to the matter of the Americans' providing international copyright protection for British authors. He conducted 423 paid readings for a total income of £45,000, approximately half the value of his estate in 1870. That sanguinary interpretation of the financial success of the tour must be tempered against several significant deductions, expenses (including a five per cent commission for his American publishers, Ticknor and Fields) of £7,000 and a forty per cent discount for converting American dollars into gold, so that Dickens's take was £19,000. Added to that, though, was income from the sales of his books, sales that were certainly stimulated by his palpable presence in the United States.
Arriving in Boston on Tuesday, November 19, in the evening, he was taken by his manager, Dolby, and sponsor, Fields, to the Parker House. Since he was not to begin his readings until December 2nd, he had a chance to recuperate from the transAtlantic crossing and acquire his two greatest American friends, the publisher James T. Fields and his wife, Annie. In New York, he barely recognized the area around his hotel, for Union Square and 14th Street were in their infancy in 1842. So much seemed to have changed — but not American opposition to copyright, which he was now sensible enough to realize could be the reef on which his enterprise could founder if he were injudicious in raising the matter too often. Giving his long-standing grievances against pirates of any national stripe, his restraint was amazing. A member of the Joint Congressional Committee charged with handling the issue, Rep. Baldwin of Massachusetts, cheered Dickens with the news that the bill for a reciprocal copyright arrangement with Great Britain was being reintroduced. In February, 1868, several Eastern U. S. publishers actually united behind the bill as the International Copyright Association.
But when the time came to speak out, Dickens remained silent, "on the ground," Dolby reports, "that he felt the case to be a hopeless one, as the Western men, in his opinion, were too strong for the legitimate publisher in the East. He gave his reasons why the passing of such an Act would be a matter of difficulty; as in his 'experiences he never found any people willing to pay for a thing they could legally steal', and so he declined losing any time over the subject'." (Kappel and Patten 30)
Such was the dejection borne of his 1842 experiences in the United States and, more recently, a negative editorial directed against him in the New York Herald shortly after his arrival, on December 13th. While most newspapers viewed his tour positively, the Herald consistently pursued an anti-Dickens policy throughout his time there. Accusing him of coming to America in 1842 with the intention of getting fifty cents on the dollar made by selling every one of his books, the editorialist brought up how Dickens made capital in both Britain and America out of the failed copyright expedition by abusing Americans and their institutions in American Notes for General Circulation (the title itself a quip about forged American banknotes) and Martin Chuzzlewit.
Since the early 1840s, Dickens's works had continued to sell well in the United States, despite war and recession. Kappel and Patten cite sales of Dombey and Son of 175,000. Gradually, although many American publishing houses put out monthly parts and whole volumes of his works, the house of Harper Brothers in New York became, in effect, Dickens's official American publisher, laying out vast sums for advance proofs from England in order to be first onto the market. Harper New Illustrated Monthly Magazine and later Harper's Weeklyused material directly from Household Words and All the Year Round as circulation boosters. "They contracted to pay £5 for The Haunted Man, £20 per part for Bleak House, £250 for Little Dorrit, £1,,000 each for Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend, and £1,250 for Great Expectations" (Kappel and Patten 12). They faced stiff competition from other American publishers, including Rufus Griswold, T. L. McElrath, Thomas Coke Evans, T. B. Peterson and Brothers, Getz and Back, Wiley and Putnam, Hurd and Houghton.The latter firm announced in April, 1867, doubtless capitalizing upon the presence of the author in the Republic, a new, inexpensive edition to be called The Globe "(to suggest Dickens' equality with Shakespeare, no doubt), to be completed in thirteen volumes with all the Darley and Gilbert illustrations, and sold for $1.50 each" (Kappel and Patten 14).
However, Harpers' chief rivals for the title of "Dickens's official American publisher" was Ticknor Fields, Boston, who purchased over twelve thousand copies of various Dickens works from Chapman and Hall prior to the reading tour and two thousand complete sets of the Chapman and Hall Library edition during the tour. Finally, to beat out such competitors as Scribner and Lippincott, Ticknor Fields decided to launch their own edition, the "Diamond," of Dickens's works in the spring of 1867. Covering both their English purchases and this new edition, Dickens issued a letter on the 2nd of April, 1867, testifying to the fact that Ticknor Fields "have become the only authorized representatives in America of the whole series of my books." Thus, even though America had failed to enact a reciprocal copyright with Great Britain and would not do so for several decades, Dickens had brilliantly played off one Yankee publisher against another to his considerable financial advantage. Further, his machinations had shown even Harpers the advantages of such an international copyright act:
In its absence, Am without being heard. [Biographer James] Parton estimated that Harriet Beecher Stowe had lost $200,000 rightfully hers from the phenomenal success in Europe of Uncle Tom's Cabin, because there were no agreements regulating her copyrights abroad. Mr. Macmillan subsequently assured Parton that if international copyright had been in effect Longfellow would have gained an additional £40,000 or $250,000 from sales of his works in England.
Henry C. Carey re-issued his Letters on Copyright in 1868 to rebut Parton's championing international copyright in the October 1867 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, coincidentally published by Ticknor Fields, but more and more American publishers began to see the merits of Parton's case, especially since the "courtesy of trade" arrangements (whereby one American house would not plunder foreign works duly paid for by another American house) were legally unenforceable.
- Nineteenth-Century British and American Copyright Law:
- Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century International Copyright Conventions
- Dickens's 1842 Reading Tour: Launching the Copyright Question in Tempestuous Seas
- A Canadian Satirist Looks at Nineteenth-Century British and American Copyright Law
- How Did Nineteenth-Century British and American Authors Get Paid?
- How Nineteenth-Century British and American Books (Considered as Physical Objects) Differed
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Created 5 January 2001
Last modified 10 August 2013