5 translated pages
Chapter 1 Page 1
MEMORANDUM ON THE VEXATIONS CAUSED BY THE BOOKSELLERS
AND PRINTERS OF PARIS
In the halcyon days when Francis I, father and restorer of Letters,
exerted himself to encourage the blossoming of printing, so necessary to
the progress of Knowledge, there appeared men such as Estienne, Morel,
Turnèbe, Colinée, Patisson and Vascosan, men of letters all, talented in
their profession and concerned more with its perfection than with making
Since these early masters, so respected by the truly learned, we have
seen Nivelle, Vitré, Cramoisi, Camusat, Bilaine, men able to console the
Republic of Letters over the loss of their predecessors.
But into what decadence is this important art fallen today, especially
in Paris? What a distance there is between the printers I have just named,
and those men who currently dabble in Printing and who, debasing this noble
art with the basest parsimony, deserve at best to be called vulgar merchants.
The first were industrious and dedicated men, well-versed in literature
and the idioms of learning, while those of today are concerned only with their
own gain, or their own pleasure, unlearned and for the most part without
education, men who are, we might say, ignorant and untutored, indocti primum
If some of their number received schooling, they have retained only the
most superficial veneer, too little to make them even eighths of scholars,
while the others are tradesmen who have made their fortunes in the buying and
selling of books, and who have in their youth exercised such varied and ill-
suited professions that it is nothing short of astounding to see them become
printers. Yet printers they are, despite the existence of men of letters and
learning; they are moreover rich, and learned men will never become so; and
indeed, to what astonishing figure did the fortune of Desalliers rise? That of
Thierry? And that of our famous contemporary Emery, who sometime played the
role of Trivelin to a potion-vendor on the Pont-Neuf.
It is with good reason that they recently attempted to restrict access to
their company to those who understand Latin and who are at least able to read
Greek. They were sorely in need of this reform, and at the present rate it
seems unlikely that this charming regulation will maintain them in an honest
mediocrity of ignorance.
What we say here of those who dabble in printing and bookselling in Paris
should not be seen to reflect on that very small number of Printers and
Booksellers whose merit and ability are known, and who lament the ignorance,
opulence and arrogance of their brethren.
It is well known that Messrs Thibout, Sevestre and several other Printers
who work alone are able men, whose voices are well heeded within their profession.
It is also easy to set apart Mr Martin, who is a true man of letters, well-versed
in great books and well respected by other learned men.
But after these, the catalogue of the good would be most short, and the rest
may sadly not even aspire to the title of mediocrities.
This pompous company, which has grown thanks to the bibliomania that reigns
among men of finance and fortune, through vanity rather than taste and intelligence;
this company, I say, of modern Booksellers was previously confined to a small
number of peddlers who laid out before church gates their little books of hours,
vulgarly called 'camelotes'.
Such was their lot, and if they ventured outside these narrow limits, they
were reprimanded by the Rector of the University, under whose authority they found
themselves at that time.
Whereas books were sold by distinguished Booksellers chosen
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by the same Rector under whose jurisdiction they fell, and who placed a tax
on books [...]
Over time, these petty merchants have transferred their wares from the
steps of churches to shops open to the public, and, taking advantage of the
divisions which unfortunate times have caused to appear within the university,
have escaped the authority of the Rector, have seized the retail of books which
does not belong to them, and have set up shop on the ruins of the university
which they refuse to recognise. Finally, with the hubris of influence acquired
at the expense of men of letters and the public, they dared to establish
themselves as a company by joining up with the Printers, and to acquire for
themselves protections which they abuse to the disadvantage of the public,
authors and their workers, whom, by their insatiable avidity, they mean to
reduce to servitude. Since there is no longer anything to constrain them, nor
to reprimand them, since they hoodwink the Religion of the Council and the
Magistrates of Police with fallacious memoranda, since they attempt to corrupt
underlings with their generosity, since all ways are closed to the complaints
which might justifiably be made against them; we must address ourselves to the
public. The wicked machinations of this insolent company must be revealed to
the public, and exposed so clearly that there will be not a word more to say.
This is what we shall attempt to do by examining in detail the vexations
caused by the Printers and Booksellers of Paris, by virtue of the impunity that
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Vexations caused to authors.
It is just that every man should live by his profession, and that each
according to his ability, his pains, care and attention, and his credit,
should find in trade a means to support his family, and even to establish it.
But in an ordered society, it is intolerable that this should happen at
the expense of others, by means of fraudulent trade, or by breaching the
tenets of one's own professed art.
Only booksellers have thus far had the benefit of a blind indulgence, as
if they were the most precious company in the State. This they have met with
effrontery; there is nothing they have not dared ask of the Council, and
nothing has been refused them. They always have some petition in their hand,
to request new regulations. The term 'regulations' is deceptive; they do not
mean to reform themselves, but to appropriate for themselves some new interest.
Never was a company more unregulated by virtue of regulations than the
Booksellers: this is because their regulations are always obtained against
others, and others are not permitted to request regulations against them.
But for the very same reason that the Booksellers must be permitted to
earn their living, bread must not be taken out of the hands of authors.
One would think that under sensible rules, the Bookseller would accommodate
the author, and not the author the Bookseller. The latter is a tradesman and
a vendor, the former a man who thinks and creates. The book he makes is his
work, and the Printer or Bookseller only distributes copies to the public, for
money of course.
Why then should the Bookseller collect the fruits of the work, while the
Author receives almost nothing?
Where was the justice of Desallier's riding in a carriage at the expense
of Father Alexander, who had in a sense to beg for his clergyman's pension? It
is true that he was a monk, but his Works belonged to him in all fairness, and
from the revenue they ought to have brought him he would have had enough to meet
his needs and to enable his charitable works.
The Franciscan order similarly paid for the late Thierry's carriage. And
what benefit did the Abbé Fleuri or the Reverend Father Calmet draw from their
learned labours, the one for his ecclesiastical history, the other for his Bible,
except that of creating a prodigious fortune for Emery?
In a profession which is regarded as proscribed, such as that of actors,
there is infinitely more justice and fairness.
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They meet the costs of performance, whether the play be well or ill
received, they take a thousand pains, and give a hundred times more attention
and good will to support the Author, than do the Booksellers.
If the play flops immediately, their money and efforts are wasted. If
the play is profitable, they share the income with the Author. He remains the
master of the play, for as long as it is applauded by the public; each day,
he receives the fruit of his labour, and collects at once glory and money.
With Booksellers, the Authors' only share is glory, for which Heaven knows
they are not greedy; as far as the money is concerned, they should receive it all.
It would be fairest if, the costs of printing having been recouped, the
Author went to his Bookseller and received a reasonable share of the profit
raised on his book and, for as long as the edition sold or was reprinted,
continued to receive that same share, as does the Author of a play.
The actors should teach a lesson to the self-important Booksellers who
wish to be taken for a respectable company, and who nevertheless will not
benefit from the good example of fairness which the actors provide! But mere
Tabarins are not cut out to play such nobles roles.
If such an equitable law had been established between Booksellers and
Authors, we would not have seen so many men of letters whimper in indigence,
while Booksellers get fat from their sweat.
By way of example, I shall only cite the famous Du Ryer of the Académie
Française, whose extreme penury has been so well depicted by Ménage. He was a
worthy man who deserved a better fate. The Booksellers became wealthy by a
large number of editions of his translations which have been reprinted so many
times, always profitably. Yet he, a member of the Academy, was obliged to live
at the Picpus. And there he and his family lived only on fruits and dairy, at a
time when victuals cost so much.
He worked unstintingly for the Booksellers, who paid him for his translations
at so much per page; that is, at such a low rate that the lowliest copyist would
have made more from his profession.
This is why these translations never reached the level of perfection to
which he could have taken them. Yet they remain successful, especially the
translation of Thou's History which was so well received by the public. How many
editions have been made of his Livy, or his Metamorphoses of Ovid, which have
yet to be bettered after all this time? If he and the Booksellers had been
equally or at least proportionately remunerated, would he not have become wealthy?
It is a disgrace that a man so learned and hardworking, whose many works ought to
have left him comfortably off, should have been reduced by the injustice of the
Booksellers to such deplorable poverty.
Of how many good works is the public deprived, because men of letters find
no security in dedicating themselves to writing?
Some of them, in order to preserve themselves from the vexations caused by
Booksellers, took it upon them to meet the printing costs and sell their books
themselves. Nothing could have been more just: the Printer was paid straightaway
for his costs and labour, and there was no danger of him overcharging the Author.
The Booksellers also had their due, since in order to secure a more rapid profit,
the Author would give copies to different Booksellers. If the work was not a
success, the Author alone lost out. If it found public acclaim, was it not quite
just that the author should reap the fruits of what he had sown?
Yet the Booksellers could not tolerate this. They begrudged the authors this
reward for their labours, which was only their legitimate due and had nothing to
do with the Booksellers, since they contributed neither funds nor care; except
that, since the authors would accept only a mediocre profit, they sold their books
to the public at a reasonable price which, compared with the excessive price
charged by the Booksellers, revealed the turpitude of the latter.
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Because of the ease with which they obtain rulings on request, because
only they are present when these requests are presented, and because authors,
who do not come together as a company like base artisans, are unable to
oppose them; they obtained a ruling forbidding anyone from printing a book
in his own name, and reserving the retail of books to the Booksellers.
And so that this ruling might be known to all learned men, they have it
mentioned in the privileges which they obtain. And by yet another subtle
trick, they introduced a clause requiring that the privilege be recorded on
the register of the Community, in order to verify that the clause forbidding
authors to sell books in their own name is expressed to their liking.
This leaves men of letters under oppression. If they wish to work, they
must do so like convicts, for the benefit of the Booksellers. Sic vos, non vobis,mellificatis, apes
The difficulty of dealing with men of such bad faith, who have by so many
means made themselves masters of literature in order to destroy it, led some
authors to have the idea of meeting the printing costs of their own books,
and of choosing a certain number of Booksellers in whose establishments, and
in whose names, the books would be sold, the authors taking whatever rights
By this they hoped to make a little more from their labours, and to retain
a little more control over what belonged to them. But this innocent contrivance
was hardly successful. In truth, the Booksellers did not obtain a ruling
compelling authors to relinquish their manuscript to the Printer, which would
have been decided in the Syndical Chamber [...]. They understood well enough that
this would be too much to ask, and they would not carry the day easily.
But what they were unable to accomplish through the authorities, they
achieved by cunning.
The Booksellers who were charged with the retail of these books neglected to
sell them to the public, in order to wear down the authors; this they did by a
contemptible breach of trust.
They almost never had any bound copies. "Come back some other time", they
would say, "we don't have any in at the moment"; or, "They're in the warehouse";
"Try at another bookshop, they might have some ready"; and thus the customer
would be passed from pillar to post, to put him off buying altogether. At the
same time, they would lead the author to believe that there was little interest
in his book, that it was selling badly, that there was hardly any demand for it,
so that the unfortunate author was finally reduced to making amends by
relinquishing everything to them, usually at a loss. Men of letters, or men who
love books are sufficiently aware of the facts being advanced here, that they
will not be cast into doubt.
But here is something that not everyone knows, which puts the seal on the
Booksellers' perfidiousness. M. Frezier, engineer, having made a journey in the
South Seas a few years ago, gave us a fascinating and interesting relation of it.
Realizing that his book, which he had had printed at his own expense, was not
selling thanks to the malice of these people, he decided to make a deal with one
of them, so that he could resume his station, to which he was eager to return.
This person, in order to extract a more favourable arrangement for himself, and
a more hopeless one for the author, who would then serve as an example for others,
had the nerve to have printed in secret a single page of M. Frezier's book, which
he showed to him, passing it off as a counterfeit of his book published at Rouen,
which would infinitely damage the sale of his own edition. Thus poor M. Frezier
was obliged to come to an agreement with the Bookseller as best he could,
determined never again to put himself in the claws of these people, even if this
meant renouncing for ever the status of author.Accipe nunc Danaum insidias, et crimine ab uno disce omnes
Let us now consider the even more intolerable vexations pitilessly inflicted
by these cruel and avaricious Masters upon their workers.
* A Latin motto attributed to Virgil: "So do you bees make honey, but not for yourselves"
** A verse which this time is definitely by Virgil - namely, from "The Aeneid" (II, 65):
"Learn now of the Greeks' treachery, and from one single crime you can see what they
are all like!"
Translation by: Andrew Counter (pp. 1-2, 10-12)