CAN MARK TWAIN BE A LITERARY PIRATE?
London Publishers Accuse Him of Appropriating from a Volume on Shakespeare
AND DEMAND REPARATION
Won't Let His Book, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" Be Sold in Great Britain - Fuss Over an Error Haste.
Mark Twain went to the office of his publishers, Harper & Brothers, in Pearl Street, one day last Spring, and left some manuscript, asking that it be put into book form and published right away.
"It's part of my autobiography," explained the author, "but I thought I'd like to have it put in covers and printed now."
The publishers hurried matters and it was not long before the manuscript assumed the form of Twain's latest book, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" The book, in a green cover, was put on the market in April.
The author admits that he incorporated in the book a larger part of a chapter from a volume called "The Shakespeare Problem Restated," written by George G. Greenwood, M. P., of London. It takes up 22 of the 150 pages in Mark Twain's book. The humorist mentioned Mr. Greenwood's book in his own work, but neglected to mention Greenwood's name. Because of this oversight there has arisen a bristling little controversy. Mr. Greenwood's publishers, the John Lane Company of London, with offices in West Thirty-second Street, this city, have sent word to Harper & Brothers that they will not permit Mark Twain's book to be circulated in England until the plates are altered, giving Mr. Greenwood the credit that they maintain should go to him. They have no power to prevent the sale here.
Verdict Against Shakespeare.
In his Shakespeare book, Mark Twain puts forth the argument that Shakespeare could not have written the plays ascribed to him because the author must have been a lawyer. He arrives a this conclusion because, as he says, of the "peculiar freedom and exactness of legal phraseology" that, he finds, occurs frequently in Shakespeare's plays. There is nothing, he holds, to show that Shakespeare knew anything of law. Mark Twain reprints the chapter from Mr. Greenwood's book to bear out this theory, and it is this appropriation, without using Mr. Greenwood's name, that has caused the member of Parliament, through his publishers to protest.
In Mr. Greenwood's book the chapter in question, entitled "Shakespeare as a Lawyer," is the thirteenth, while Twain uses it without change in his own book, with the same caption, as the eighth chapter.
At the bottom of the page on which the chapter starts there is the simple announcement; "From Chapter XIII of "The Shakespeare Problem Restated." Mr. Greenwood's publishers have written several letters to Harper & Brothers, in one of which they insist that for Mark Twain to ignore Mr. Greenwood was "a violation of all codes" - in other words, unethical.
What John Lane, head of the English publishing house thinks of the situation is explained in the letter sent from his office in London, over which is placed the caption "Literary Larceny."
To the Editor of The New York Times:
Dear Sir: A friend in Philadelphia has kindly sent me a copy of Mark Twain's recently published work, "Is Shakespeare Dead?" I find that of its 150 pages no less than 22 are taken bodily from "The Shakespeare Problem Restated," by G. G. Greenwood, M. P. It is true that he mentions the work, even commend it, but nowhere is there any reference made either to its author or to its publisher.
Publisher Not a Humorist.
Mr. Clemens is a humorist with a world-wide reputation. He can view a burglary at his own house with a Socratic detachment of unconcern sufficient in itself to discourage the American Bill Sikes. He can pin on his door or gate (I forget which) a notice giving direction to the cracksman as to the whereabouts of the plate basket.
I can do none of these things; they are foreign to my nature. I am not a humorist, I confess it frankly, and I fail to see the point of this Mark Twain's latest joke. Good taste sometimes limits the boundaries of humorous perception in this country.
Mr. Green dryly remarked when he heard the compliment paid him: "Mr. Clemens may urge that he would not be one that 'filches from me my good name.' " But why not show a like consideration for my feelings as the publisher? the unwritten law, said, I believe, to be the only law popular in America, leaves no room for settlement. An author may filch whatsoever he pleases from a publisher, even his name, without any risk of conviction. It's the one compensation literature has to offer.
That there should be a class of American publishers addicted to the amiable pursuits of one of their National heroes we have become accustomed if not reconciled to; but that a distinguished man of letters should follow that lead fills me with pained surprise. Had Mr. Greenwood or I been applied to, we should have been proud to accord our permission.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Clemens and his publishers were entirely at the mercy of Mr. Greenwood and myself as regards the English edition of "Is Shakespeare Dead?" And the only claim that we can make to being humorists is that we have given the necessary powers without which at least one of Mark Twain's book would have been denied to Europe.
It is not to the law that I appeal that protects Mark Twain - but to the courtesy that should exist between writers, distinguished or otherwise. I regret that Mr. Clemens should have taken advantage of the laws of his country instead of those of custom. If those laws permit a humorist to make demands upon another man's work no consideration - not even that of an assured position in the world of letters - should be allowed to stand in the way of his acknowledging his indebtedness just as if he were amenable to the same standards as the man in Grub Street.
Some weeks have elapsed since the matter to which this letter refers was brought to the notice of Mr. Clemens's publishers, and I presume he was informed of any protest, yet no word or apology or explanation has been vouchsafed to Mr. Greenwood.
It was probably a similar experience that prompted that eminent divine, Robert South, to write:
"Is my friend all perfection, all virtue, and discretion? Has he no humours to be endured?"
I am yours faithfully. JOHN LANE
What the Harpers Say.
When inquiry was made at the offices of Harper & Brothers yesterday, one of those in authority made this explanation:
"Mr. Mark Twain was in a great hurry to have the book printed. He gave the manuscript to us and said he was anxious to have us rush it as fast as we possibly could. There is a rule in this office that none of Mark Twain's copy shall be changed - not even a comma. He is always very particular about that, and his wishes are respected.
"So the manuscript, exactly as he gave it to us, with the title, 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' was put into book form as quickly as we could do it.
"No one thought of looking particularly to see if Mr. Twain had given credit to Mr. Greenwood. It was noticed that the book itself was credited, and that seemed sufficient. Later on, when the John Lane Company called our attention to it, we learned that Mark Twain had failed to speak of Mr. Greenwood. We felt very sorry about it then, but it was too late to recall the edition. We don't put the blame on Mark Twain exactly. Of course, if we had noticed the omission we would have called his attention to it. Quite likely it escaped his notice, as it did ours. He didn't mean to be unethical."
The correspondence that passed between the John Lane Company and Harper & Brothers was shown to THE TIMES reporter. It began with a letter written by the Harper firm on March 29 saying that mark Twain had written "a little bit of a book called 'Is Shakespeare Dead?' largely devoted to advertising George Greenwood's book, 'The Shakespeare Problem Restated.' " The letter went on to say than "in this little monograph Mr. Clemens wishes to use nine pages from Mr. Greenwood's book, as this forms the basis of his praise." A postscript says: "Of course, we are writing at Mr. Clemens's request."
The John Lane Company, through its manager, Rutger Bleecker Jewett, replied to this letter, giving permission to Mark Twain to quote from Mr. Greenwood's book as much as he pleased, but it was in Mr. Jewett's mind, he said yesterday, that Mark Twain would not neglect to mention Mr. Greenwood's name. Shortly after the book was put out Harper & Brothers received another letter from Mr. Jewett, this one in a different tone.
"Is Shakespeare Dead?" had found its way to London, and Mr. Greenwood had seen a copy of it.
They Were Indignant.
In his letter Mr. Jewett wrote that Mr. Greenwood and Mr. Lane, the publisher, were "both justly indignant" that Mr. Twain had refrained from using Mr. Greenwood's name in connection with the liberal passages taken from the latter's book. "They have refused to allow Mr. Clemens's book to be imported into England," he added. In reply, Harper & Brothers explained that they had intended making formal acknowledgment to Mr. Greenwood in a prefatory note in Mark Twain's book, but that it was overlooked in the rush.
"We may say," the letter continued, "that at the author's request this book was issued more hurriedly perhaps than any volume we have every published. Only eighteen days elapsed between the time we received the manuscript and the appearance of the finished book."
Harper & Brothers added that a new edition of the book was forthcoming, and that it would be sure to have a reference to Mr. Greenwood.
The next day Mr. Jewett wrote back to Harper & Brothers, saying:
"We note from your admissions that Mr. Greenwood's contention is correct, viz., that he has not been given proper credit in Mr. Clemens's book. You write that you think Mr. Clemens's book is largely devoted to advertising 'The Shakespeare Problem Restated,' claiming that it is the crux. Both Mr. Greenwood and Mr. John Lane consider that Mr. Clemens has transgressed all codes in not giving proper credit to Mr. Greenwood as the author of this book, and to Mr. Lane the publisher.
Divergent Views of It.
"How Mr. Clemens's book can be considered by him or by you as a work devoted to advertising Mr. Greenwood's previous work is beyond our comprehension, if Mr. Clemens has studiously omitted the name of the author and publisher of the book he so kindly undertook to advertise. Mr. Greenwood demands the following before he is willing to consent to allowing the book to be published in England.
(1) That the plates shall be altered so that full acknowledgment shall be made both to author and publisher before any further edition be printed;
(2) That at the end of every copy of the English edition and of all copies of the American edition published after May 10 a full-page advertisement shall appear, to be supplied by me.
"This seems to me the least that can be done to make some amends for the injustice which has been committed in such a very extraordinary manner."
Ten days after receiving this letter, on May 21, Harper & Brothers sent a reply saying they would give credit in the next edition of "Is Shakespeare Dead?" to Mr. Greenwood and to the John Lane Company, but nothing was said of any page advertisement. The Lane Company reiterated its demands, and there the matter stands.
"Is Shakespeare Dead?" is being sold here unrestricted, but in England the John Lane Company, protected by copyright laws which do not extend to their books in this country, are watching to prevent a copy of Mark Twain's volume from being marketed.
"We don't like to be discourteous about this," said Mr. Jewett, "but we feel we must protect the authors who put their confidence in us. Mark Twain should have been more careful."
In going into his argument of the authorship of the Shakespeare plays Mark Twain in his book says:
"If I were required to superintend a Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow it down to a single question - the only one, so far as the previous controversies have informed me, concerning which illustrious experts of unimpeachable competency have testified: Was the author of Shakespeare's works a lawyer - a lawyer deeply read and of limitless experience?
"I would put aside the guesses and surmises, and perhapses, and might-have-beens, and could-have-beens, and must-have-beens, and we-are-justified-in-presumings, and the rest of those vague spectres and shadows and indefinitenesses, and stand, or fall, win or lose, by the verdict rendered by the jury on that single question. If the verdict was yes, I should feel quite convinced that the Stratford Shakespeare, the actor, manager, and trader who died so obscure, so forgotten, so destitute of even village consequence that sixty years afterward no fellow citizen and friend of his later days remembered to tell anything of him, did not write the works."
An effort was made yesterday to see Mark Twain, but he was not at his home in Redding, Conn., and could not be reached.
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