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Soon after the publication of a former edition of Mr. Gray's poems, in a similar form, the Rev. Mr. Mason the author of Elfrida, gave notice to the publisher by a particular messenger, that he had trespassed upon his property, by inserting fifty lines * in his volume which belonged to him, and threatened to seek legal redress in case satisfaction was not made for this offence.
To this charge, so absurd in its nature, the pub. lisher could hardly give credit. The practice of taking extracts from publications of all kinds is
* Mr. Mason claims, besides the above, Ode for Music, irregular; which were he to obtain the property of, would be a few more ftanzas in his favour. But this Ode was given to the public without fee or reward, by the author, in his life-time. And therefore it is presumed neither law nor equity will carry it to Mr. Mafon.
common to every bookseller, and every author, over the kingdom ; and no person is guilty of it in a superior degree to Mr. Dodíley, the bookseller employed by Mr. Mason.–Nay, Mr. Mason himfelf had behaved in the manner complained of, and adapted without scruple to his quarto edition of Mr. Gray's poems, a large extract which he took from another work. It was true also, that the fifty lines had been printed indiscriminately by others who pretended to no exclusive property in them, that they were not written by Mr. Mason, nor bequeathed to him particularly by the author.
From every circumstance attending this matter, the ridicule of the claim set up became stronger. But suspecting that a gentleman of Mr. Mason's fense and good character must have jufter grounds of complaint than what appeared upon the face of his message, the publisher requested to be favoured with his address, in order to have a personal conference with him upon the subject ; and at same time assured his agent, that he meant not designedly to invade or to injure Mr. Mason's property: Whether his messenger began to view the object of his million in too ludicrous a view, is unknown, but it is certain he refused to comply with this civil requisition,
The publisher, however, desirous to come to an explanation concerning this matter procured Mr. Mason's address by another channel, and waited
At this conference he proved, first, That it was the immemorial practice of booksellers to take extracts at pleasure, from new publications, and that none amongst them turned this practice to more account than Mr. Mason's bookseller *; and, secondly, that even fupposing the act complained of to be an offence, it was hard to single out the
* Mr. Becket in the year 1769 published, at the price of One or Two Shillings, a well-written and popular poem, consisting of about 300 verses, intitled “ An Ode, upon dedicating a Building, " and erecting a Statue, to Shakespeare : by Mr. Garrick.” Mr. Doalley without scruple applied this performance to his own use, by inserting it intire in the Annual Register. Has Mr. Dodney made any compensation for this deliberate act of piracy to the proprietor ? Or has Mr. Becket sought redress for the injury by a Chancery suit? Again, has Mr. Dodsley offered any compensation to Mr. Murray for the different piracies he has committed upon his books? Or do Mr. Mason and his bookseller assume an exclusive right to appropriate to their respective uses what portion they please of every new literary performance that comes abroad, while they prosecute another person with the utmost severity of the law for taking the same liberty ? Mr. Dodsley takes deliberately every year 1000 verses for the use of his Annual Register with impunity; but the printing of 50 verses inadvertently by the present publisher is converted into an heinous trespass, and becomes the ground of a rigorous legal investigation.
present publisher to render legal compensation, who was not the first aggressor, as the book had been printed by others who pretended to no exclusive right in it, long before his edition became extant; nor had he ever previously heard of Mr. Mason's pretentions. But in order to show how little reason the author of Elfrida had particularly to censure him; without entering at all into the practice of the trade on one hand, or the claim of property on the other, he defired Mr. Mason to specify what sum he chose to receive, as compensation for the offence complained of.
The publisher never admitted Mr. Mason's legal right of property in these verses; he is indeed instructed that he possesses none :—but a great deal could not be exacted for fifty lines; and the publisher wished no gentleman of respectable character to impute a deliberate injury to him, which he was certainly very far from intending.
Mr. Mafon remained filent to his overture; which the publisher after repeating to him as distinctly as he could, took his leave, imagining he desired time to consider of it,
Such is the faithful account of this little transaction ; nor will Mr, Mafon dispute its authenticity
or exactness. The publisher was a stranger to Mr. Gray's executor, except by reputation. He is unconscious of having failed in the respect due to him; and the value of Mr. Mason's character would not have suffered diminution, had he been equally disposed to treat the publisher with civility and attention,
It was hardly possible after this equitable procedure, to expect to be troubled with an oppressive prosecution ; from any man such conduct would have been esteemed ungenerous; from a clergyman, whose duty it is to sowe peace and good will amongst men,
it wears not a more favourable aspect.
Mr. Mafon, nevertheless, without further notice, filed a bill in Chancery against the publisher; and retained Mr. Thurloe, Mr. Wedderburn, and Mr. Dunning for his counsel *.
* Mr. Mason fends an agent professedly to require satisfaction or compensation for an infringement of property. Without entering into the merits of this claim, he is desired to prescribe his own terms of redress. In return for this offer, he files a bill in Chancery against the supposed offender, and continues to urge his fuit, merely to load the defender with costs ; for he cannot entertain the most diftant idea of being awarded damages for an infringement of 50 lines of literary property, admitting (which is by no means granted) that his claim is justly founded.
Let this behaviour be reconciled to honour, to morality, or (as Mr. Mason is in holy orders to the practice of piety!