William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth

The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Vol. 7: The Later Years: Part IV: 1840–1853 (Second Revised Edition)

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pg 2931585. W. W. to VISCOUNT MAHON

  • MS. Stanhope MSS., Chevening. Hitherto unpublished.

[In M. W.'s hand]

Rydal Mount. Feb 28th—42.

My dear Lord Mahon,

It gives me great pleasure to learn that a bill for the extention of Copy-right is about to be brought into the House under your management.1 This I first learned from Sir Robt Inglis, but I am not therefore the less obliged by the letter which you yourself have written to me upon the Subject.

From Sir Robt Inglis I understand that you mean to stop short of the measure adopted in Prussia, and rather take that of France for your model.—You have been compelled I suppose to chuse this course in fear that the more liberal one might be rejected.

In my present ignorance of the particulars of your intended bill, I have nothing to suggest; only let me express a hope that due consideration will be paid in it to Posthumous publications: and to those which are given to the world late in the Author's life. In the poetical department of literature, it is remarkable that there is scarcely a writer of eminence of whom it may not be said, either that he died early, as Spenser, and Shakespear (for he may be named) Beaumont the Dramatist; and in our own times Burns, Shelley, Byron, and before these Chatterton, Collins, Goldsmith, Thompson and Akenside,—or that his principal works were written when he was old. This was the case with Chaucer, Milton, Dryden, Cowper and Crabbe—and I believe with the Author of the Night Thoughts.2

This being so, allow me to ask whether your bill will contain provision for the benefit, thro their heirs or successors, of writers so circumstanced, beyond what is done by the Law as it now stands? I should indeed be sorry if our Countrymen are indisposed to give any great writer credit for feeling and pg 294pecuniary interest beyond the term of his own life. We are not likely to see another Milton, but if such a Man should rise up among us, or any one approaching him, who could bear to think that, without any fault of their own, his Grandchildren should stand in need of Alms while Booksellers were making thousands by his works?

Again, Burns published by much the most valuable part of his Poems when he was only 26 years of age1—had the term of Copy-right been in his time extended as it is now, his Widow and Children, would, even in that case as he died ten years after the publication, have had no more than 16 years pecuniary emolument from his Works, tho' it is said they have gone thro 100 Editions. Is that just, or can it be profitable to the Country?

Excuse me, my dear Lord, for saying this much—and allow me to congratulate the Country upon your having undertaken the Bills

  • I have the honor to be            
  • faithfully, your much obliged      
  • [signed] Wm Wordsworth

I find I have written upon two sheets of paper pray be so good as excuse the oversight.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Talfourd was not a member of the new Parliament, and the management of the Copyright Bill now passed to Lord Mahon (see pt. iii, L. 1047). He reduced Talfourd's original proposal that the term of copyright should be 60 years from the date of publication to 25 years from the author's death, and he also inserted a new clause to prevent the suppression of valuable works by the representatives of a deceased author. In this new form the Bill was introduced on 3 Mar., and given a Second Reading on the 16th, after a conciliatory speech from Macaulay.
Editor’s Note
2 Edward Young (1683–1765), who published his Night Thoughts in 1742.
Editor’s Note
1 Actually 27. The Kilmarnock volume appeared in 1786.
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