Diderot's Letter on the book trade, Paris (1763)

Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France : Mss. Fr. (Naf) 24232 n°3

Citation:
Diderot's Letter on the book trade, Paris (1763), Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

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Chapter 1 Page 1


LETTER ON THE BOOK TRADE

A historical and political letter to a magistrate on the book trade,
its former and current state, its regulations, privileges, tacit
permissions, censors, pedlars, the expansion of trade across the
river and other subjects relating to literary laws.

Denis Diderot


Sir, you wish to know my ideas on a matter which seems very important to
you, which indeed it is. I am too greatly flattered by this request not
to reply with the promptness which you demand and the impartiality which
you may rightly expect from a man of my character. You believe me to be
an educated man; indeed, I have that knowledge which is provided by everyday
experience, to say nothing of my honest conviction that good faith is not
always a sufficient excuse for error. I sincerely think that in the discussion of
matters which pertain to the common good, it would be more appropriate to
remain silent than to take the risk, albeit with the best of intentions, of filling
a magistrate’s mind with false and pernicious ideas.
      Firstly, therefore, I tell you that what is at stake here are not simply the
interests of a guild. After all, what does it matter to me whether there is one
more or one fewer corporation – I, who am one of the most zealous partisans of
liberty in its broadest sense; who suffer in distress to see the latest talent
hindered in the exercise of his gifts, eager to get to work but finding that his
hands, given to him by nature, are tied by conventions; who have always been
convinced that corporations are unjust and harmful; and who would see their entire
and absolute abolition as a step towards sounder government?
      What is in fact at stake is the examination, in the current state of affairs
but equally in any other circumstances, of what consequences must result from the
attacks which have been made and which could continue to be made on the publishing
trade; whether we must suffer any longer the encroachments of foreigners on its
activities; what connection there is between this trade and literature; whether
it is possible to harm one without damaging the other, and to impoverish the
publisher without ruining the author; what privileges are in the book trade; whether
these privileges ought to be classified under the general and odious category of
other exclusive rights; if there are any legitimate grounds to limiting their duration
and to refusing their renewal; what the nature is of capital in the book trade; what
deeds of possession apply to a work which a publisher acquires by the cession of an
author; whether these are only temporary, or if they are eternal. The consideration
of these different points will lead me to the clarification of other matters which
you ask of me.
      But before I begin, you must remember, sir, that – without mentioning the
indecent rashness of a public figure in saying, regardless of the circumstances,
that if one realises that one has taken a poor course of action, one has only to
retrace one’s steps and undo what one has done, an unworthy and stupid way of
mocking the condition and fortune of citizens – you must be aware, I say, that
it is more unfortunate to fall into poverty than to be born into it; that the condition
of a people which has been brutalised is worse than that of a people born brute; that
a branch of trade that has gone astray is branch of trade that has been lost; and
that more damage can be done in ten years than can be repaired in a century. You
must be aware that the more long-lasting the consequences of bad policing, the more
essential it is to be circumspect, whether laws need to be established or repealed;
and in the latter case, I ask you if there would not be a rather strange vanity, if
one would not be committing a gratuitous injury against those who have preceded us in
the application of the law, in treating them as imbeciles without bothering to look at
the origins of their institutions, without examining the causes which brought them into
being, and without following the favourable and less favourable fortunes which they
have undergone. It seems to me that it is in the history of laws and regulations that
we must seek real reasons for maintaining or abandoning current practices: therefore,
this is where I shall begin. We shall have to step back and consider matters from a
distance, but even if I teach you nothing, you will at least recognise that I began
with the notions that you wished me to consider. Therefore have the indulgence, sir,
to read what follows.


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The first printers who set up their trade in France worked without competitors,
and before long they made an honest fortune. However, it was not with the works of
Homer, of or Virgil, or of any other author of this rank that the early printers
launched their trade. They began with small works of slight value, short in length
and catering to the taste of a barbaric age. It may be presumed that those who
approached these early typographers with works to publish, eager to consecrate the
first fruits of the art to the knowledge which they professed and which they must
have regarded as the only essential kind of knowledge, had some influence on their
choice. I would find it perfectly natural if a Capuchin friar had advised Gutenberg
to begin with The Rule of St Francis; but independently of the nature and the real
merit of a work, the novelty of the invention, the beauty of its execution, and the
difference between the price of a printed book and that of a manuscript – everything
favoured the quick turnover of the former.
      After these experiments in the most important art imaginable for the propagation
and preservation of human knowledge, experiments which this art only offered to the
public as tokens of what they could one day expect of it, and which were not sought
after for long, as they were destined to the public’s growing indifference as people
became more knowledgeable, and which today are only carefully collected due to the
bizarre curiosity of a few unusual individuals who prefer a rare book to a good book,
bibliomaniacs like myself, and scholars with an interest in the history of typography,
like Professor Schepfling; after all these, publishers undertook works of general,
everyday utility.
      But these works were few in number; occupying almost all the presses of Europe at
once, they soon became common, and sales were no longer based on enthusiasm for a new
and justly admired art. At that time, few people read; financiers did not have the
desire for personal libraries and did not relieve poor men of letters of books which
would have been useful to them, in exchange for gold and silver. What did the printer
do? Enriched by his initial ventures and encouraged by a few enlightened men, he turned
his hand to works which were highly regarded, but of more limited appeal. Some of his
works were sampled, and were sold at great speed, in proportion to an infinite number
of diverse circumstances; others were neglected, and there were yet others whose
publication brought nothing but losses to the printer. But the turnover of those which
succeeded and the steady sales of essential books for everyday usage compensated for
his lost with the constant income they provided, and it was this ever-present source of
income which gave him the idea of building up his capital.
      In the book trade, therefore, capital is the possession of a more or less
considerable number of books appropriate to different ranks of society, and varied so
that the sure but slow sale of certain works, more than compensated for by the equally
sure but faster sale of others, favours the growth of the initial assets. When the
capital does not fulfil all these conditions, it is a source of ruin. As soon as the
necessity for such capital became known, publishing ventures multiplied infinitely, and
before long, scholars, who have always been poor, could purchase for a modest price the
principal works in each field.
      All very well so far: nothing suggests the need for regulation, nor for anything
resembling a publishers’ code.
      But in order fully to understand what follows, you must realise, sir, that these
types of scholarly works did not have, nor will they ever have, more than a small number
of buyers, and that without the prosperity of our age, which has unfortunately spread
to all sorts of objects, three or four editions even of the works of Corneille, Racine,
or Voltaire would suffice for the whole of France; how many fewer would be required for
Bayle, Moréri, Pliny, Newton and an infinite number of other works! Before these days in
which we live, in which luxury causes us to spend on frivolous things at the expense of
useful items, most books fell into the latter category, and it was the steady income


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provided by common everyday books, together with the sales in small numbers of a
few authors suited to certain people, which sustained the traders’ enthusiasm. Assume
that the book trade is the same today as it was then; assume that there is still this
harmonious balance of slow and quick-selling works, and you may as well burn the
booksellers’ code, for it is useless.
      But no sooner had one individual’s business opened up a new path than the crowd
followed. Publishing houses soon multiplied in number, and those essential works of
general utility, those works whose steady sales and daily returns encouraged people
to enter the book trade, became so common and of such poor quality that more time was
needed to sell a small number than to sell through the whole edition of another work.
The profit of quick-selling works became virtually non-existent, and the tradesman
did not make up for these losses through works with guaranteed but slower turnover,
because nothing could change their nature or widen their appeal. The risk of certain
ventures was no longer compensated for by the guaranteed success of others, and almost
certain ruin was gradually leading booksellers to timidity and inactivity, when we saw
appear a few of those rare men who will always have a place in the history of publishing
and letters; who, animated by a passion for art and full of the noble and reckless
confidence which their superior talent inspired in them, professional publishers, but
also men of deep literary learning, able to confront any difficulty, undertook the most
daring of projects and would have completed them with honour and profit, were it not
for a disadvantage whose identity you doubtless suspect, and which takes us a step closer
to the unhappy necessity of recourse to the authorities in a matter of trade.
      Meanwhile, the disputes of fanatics, which always lead to the publication of an
infinite number of ephemeral and quick-selling works, temporarily replaced the old sources
of income, which no longer brought any returns. A taste is sometimes rekindled among a
people for a certain kind of knowledge, but only ever at the expense of another taste,
just as in our own day we have seen the rage for natural history replace that for
mathematics, without us knowing which branch of knowledge will tomorrow take the place of
today’s fashion; this sudden enthusiasm drew forth from the publishers’ stores a few
works which were rotting away inside them; but it also condemned an almost equal number of
other works to rot in their place. And then as the religious disputes subsided, taste
declined for polemical works; people came to see how empty they were, and were embarrassed
at the importance they had attributed to them. Time does not go on producing remarkable
and daring artists without end, and it was not long before those whom I was describing to
you encountered the peril of great ventures, once they saw greedy and mediocre men suddenly
ruin the hopes that sprang from their industriousness, and steal from them the fruit of
their labours. Indeed, no sooner had the Estiennes, the Morels and other skilled publishers
produced a work which they had prepared at great expense and whose execution and good choice
assured them success, than the same work was reprinted by incompetent men who had none of
their talents; who, having incurred no expenditure, could sell at a lower price; and who
enjoyed the fruit of their competitors’ outlay and hard work without having run any of their
risks. What happened?


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That which had to happen, and which will always happen in such situations. Competition
made the noblest of enterprises ruinous; it took twenty years to sell through an edition,
whilst half of that time should have sufficed to get through two. If the pirate edition
was inferior to the original edition, as was usually the case, the counterfeiter would
sell his version at a lower price; the destitution of men of letters, a regrettable
condition which is always being discussed, would prefer the cheaper edition to the better
quality one. The counterfeiter would rarely become any richer and the adventurous and
skilled man, crushed by the inept and rapacious man who unexpectedly deprived him of a
gain in proportion to the trouble that he took, to his expenses, to his workforce and to
the risks of his trade, would lose his enthusiasm and his courage.
      Sir, we must not get lost in interminable speculation, or oppose vague reasoning to
the facts and the complaints which gave rise to a particular professional code. This is
the history of the early days of the typographical art and the publishing trade, a faithful
image of our own times and of the first causes of regulations whose origin you have already
foreseen.
      Tell me, sir, should we have closed our ears to the complaints of the aggrieved,
abandoned them to their discouragement, allowed the problems to remain and awaited the
remedy of time which resolves of its own accord those matters which human prudence manages
to ruin? In that case, let us disregard the study of the past; let us wait patiently for
disorder to run its course, and let us resign ourselves to the discretion of the future,
which indeed brings everything to an end, but which finishes things either well or badly,
and judging by appearances, more often badly than well, since men, despite their natural
laziness, have not yet subscribed to this easy and convenient policy which makes men of
genius and great ministers superfluous.
      It is certain that the public seemed to profit from competition, that a man of letters
could have a poorly-produced book for a small amount, and that the skilled printer, after
having fought for a time against the delay of financial returns and the problems which
resulted, frequently determined to reduce his own prices. It would be ridiculous to suppose
that the magistrate assigned to this branch of commerce did not recognise this advantage
and that he would have neglected it, if it had been as real as it seems at first glance;
but do not be mistaken, sir, he soon recognised that it was only temporary and that it
worked to the detriment of the demoralised profession and to the prejudice of authors and
of letters. The skilled printer who lacked reward and the unjust counterfeiter with no
fortune found themselves equally unable to undertake any large venture, and there came a
moment where among even a considerably large number of tradesmen, you would have searched
in vain for two who dared to take on the edition of a folio work. The same is true at
present: the Parisian guild of booksellers and printers is composed of three hundred and
sixty tradesmen; I assure that you would not find ten entrepreneurs among them. I appeal to
Benedictines, scholars, theologians, lawyers, antiquarians, to all those who compose long
works and voluminous collections; and the fact that today we see so many inept editors of
large works working on small ones, so many hacks, so many abridgers of works, so many
mediocre minds finding themselves occupied, so many skilled men laying idle, is as much the
result of the private bookseller’s destitution due to pirate editions and a multitude of
other abuses of his daily income, and reduced to the impossibility of undertaking an
important work whose sales would be long and difficult, as due to laziness and the
superficial spirit of our age.


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It is not as a merchant that I speak to you, but as an author whose colleagues have
sometimes consulted me on the use of their talents. If I suggested some great venture
to them, they would not reply ‘But who would read it? Who would buy my work?’, but rather
‘When my book is written, what publisher would take it on?’ Most of these people do not
have a penny, and what they need at present is a second-rate pamphlet which supplies them
instantly with money and bread. Indeed, I could tell you of twenty important and good works
whose authors died before they could find a trader who would take their work on, even at a
low price.
      I was telling you earlier that the skilled printer frequently decided to lower his
prices: but there were some stubborn ones who took the opposite course of action, at the
risk of dying in poverty. It is certain that they were making the fortune of the
counterfeiter to whom they drove the greater number of buyers; but what became of these
buyers? Before long, they grew contemptuous of the cheap editions, and they ended up buying
the same book twice; the scholar, who was meant to gain from such editions, was truly
damaged, and the skilled printer’s heirs gathered a small portion of the fruit of his
labours, some time after the death of their ancestor.
      Sir, I ask you, if you know a literary man of a certain age, to enquire of him how many
times he has renewed his library and for what reason. Initially, he gives way to his
curiosity and destitution, but it is always good taste which predominates and which chases
the poor-quality edition from his shelves to make space for a good one. In any case, all
these famous printers, whose editions are now widely sought after, died in poverty; and
they were on the point of abandoning their fonts and their presses, when the magistrate’s
justice and the sovereign’s generosity came to their aid.
      Torn between their taste for knowledge and for their art, and the fear of being ruined
by greedy competitors, what did these skilled and unfortunate printers do? Among their
remaining manuscripts, they chose a few whose publication would be a success: they
prepared editions of them in secret; they executed the task, and to fend off as far as
possible the piracy which had begun to ruin them and which would have finished them off,
when they were on the point of publishing, they appealed to the monarch and obtained from
him an exclusive privilege for their venture. This, sir, is the first clause of the
booksellers’ code and its first regulation. Before going any further, sir, may I enquire
of you what you disapprove of in the trader’s precautionary measures or in the sovereign’s
favour? ‘This exclusive right,’ you will reply to me, was against common right. I admit
that is true. ‘The manuscript to which it was granted was not the only one in existence,
and another typographer may have had one or could have procured an identical one.’ That
is true, but only in certain respects, because the publication of a work, especially in
those early days of printing, did not suppose only the possession of a single manuscript,
but the collation of a large number, a long, tiresome and expensive task; however, I will
not interrupt you any further, as I do not wish to be pedantic. ‘And’ you will add, ‘it
must have seemed unfair to concede to one what was refused to another.’ Indeed it must,
whether or not the cause of the first occupier and of legitimate possession was ever
pleaded, since this cause was founded on risks and on advances. However, in order that the
exemption from


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common right was not excessive, it was judged appropriate to limit the duration of the
privilege. You see that the government, proceeding with some knowledge of the facts,
responded in part to your views; but what perhaps you do not see, and what it did not
realise initially, is that far from protecting the entrepreneur, it was offering him a
trap. Yes, sir, a trap, as you shall be able to judge for yourself.
      A book is not like a machine which can be tried out in order to check its effects,
or like an invention which can be tested in a hundred ways, or like a secret whose success
is proven. The success of an excellent book depends, at the moment of publishing, on an
infinite number of circumstances, both reasonable and bizarre, which no amount of shrewdness
could foresee.
      Suppose that "L’Esprit des lois" had been the first work of an unknown author,
condemned by poverty to a fourth-floor apartment; despite the excellence of this work, I
doubt that three editions of it would have been published, whereas there have actually been
perhaps twenty. Nineteen-twentieths of those who bought it on account of the name, the
reputation, the status or the talents of the author, and who ceaselessly cite it without
have read or understood it, would barely be familiar with its name. And how many authors are
there who only obtained the fame they deserved long after their death? Such is the fate of
almost all men of genius. They are beyond the reach of their age. They write for the
following generation. When will people visit booksellers in search of their works? Some
thirty years after they are removed from their shelves in order to be pulped. In mathematics,
in chemistry, in natural history, in jurisprudence, in a great number of different genres, it
happens every day that the privilege expires when less than half the edition has been sold.
So, you can imagine that the current state of affairs must have been the same in the past, and
will always be the case. When the first edition of an old manuscript had been published, it
often happened that upon the publication of a second edition, the remainder of the previous one
brought nothing but losses to the privilege owner.
      We must not imagine that things happen without cause, or that wise men are unique to our
own age, or that the public interest was less well-known or less highly-esteemed by our
predecessors than by ourselves. Seduced by systematic ideas, we attack their behaviour, and we
are all the less inclined to recognise their prudence because the problem which they solved by
their legislation no longer affects us. The printer made new complaints about the excessively
strict limits on his privilege to the magistrate, and gave rise to a new regulation, or to a new
modification of the first one. Sir, do not forget that we are still dealing with manuscripts in
the public domain. The trader’s pleas were considered, and it was agreed that he should be
given a second privilege upon the expiry of the first. I shall leave you to judge whether this
worsened matters rather than improving them, but it must be one or the other. In this way, we
advanced little by little towards the perpetuity and immutability of the privilege; and it is
obvious that this second step was intended to provide for the printer’s legitimate interests, to
encourage him, to guarantee him some security, for himself and for his children, to attach this
to his professions, and to encourage him to undertake risky ventures, by perpetuating their
fruits to his household and his family; and I ask you whether or not these measures were wise ?



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To blame a human institution because it is not thoroughly and absolutely good is to demand
that it be divine; to want to be more skilled than Providence, which is content to balance
good with evil; to want our own conventions to be wiser than nature’s laws; and to trouble
the order of the whole with the cry of a single atom which takes offence when it is jostled.
      However, this second favour was rarely granted ; there were an infinite number of
protests blind or enlightened, however you wish to call them for the time being. The majority
of printers who, in this guild, just as in others, are more ardent in their desire to plunder
the resources of the inventive and enterprising man than skilled in thinking up a way of
doing so, deprived of the hope of pouncing on their colleagues’ spoils, protested with loud
cries; they did not fail, as you can imagine, to emphasise the damage it would do to free
enterprise and the despotism of a few individuals ready to unleash themselves on the public
and on scholars; they held up the idea of literary monopoly as a spectre before the University
and the Parlements, as though a French bookseller could sell a work at an excessive price
without an attentive foreigner spending days and night producing pirate copies of it, and
without his colleagues’ greed leading them to have recourse to the same means, and, as we have
only too many examples, in contempt of all corporal laws, as though traders did not realise
that what was really in their interest was quick turnovers and numerous editions, and that
they did not appreciate the risks and advantages better than anyone else. If it came to such
an extreme, should one not declare that the person who renews the privilege should not have the
authority to fix the price of the item? But it can be seen from experience that the most
reprinted works are the best, the most bought, sold at the lowest price, and the most certain
instruments of the publisher’s fortune.
      However, these protests from the rabble of the guild, strengthened by those of the
University, were heard by the Parlements, who saw the new law as unfairly protecting a small
number of individuals at the expense of others; and then came piles of rulings against the
extension of privileges; but permit me, sir, to remind you once more, in defence of the
Parlements, that these first privileges only applied to old works and original manuscripts,
that is to say, to objects which, not properly belonging to any purchaser, were in the
public domain. Without this distinction, you will confuse what are in fact very different
situations. A privilege in the period I am discussing does not resemble a present-day
privilege any more than a momentary favour or a free act of grace resembles a personal
possession or an acquisition which is fixed, constant and inalienable without the owner’s
express consent. You can be assured that what follows will give all the firm substance to
this distinction that you could require.
      Amidst the tumultuous civil wars which devastated the kingdom under the reigns of the sons
of Henri II, printing, bookselling and letters, deprived of the protection and charity of the
monarchs, remained without support, without resources and virtually ruined; for whose soul has
the freedom to write and read among drawn swords? Kerver, who from 1563 enjoyed an exclusive
privilege for the Reformed Roman Usages according to the Council of Trent, and who had obtained
two extensions of it, each lasting six years, was almost the only person in a position to take
on an important work.



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When Kerver died, in 1583, a guild of five booksellers, who were later joined by a few other
associates, supported by this privilege alone, which was extended to them several times over
the following century, published a number of excellent books. It is to these traders,
working together or individually, that we owe the works known under the title of ‘La Navire’,
those Greek editions which honour French publishing, whose execution is admired, and among
which, despite advances made in criticism and typography, several are still sought after
today and are highly priced. These are the facts upon which I will elaborate no further, and
which I leave to your further reflection.
      However, this privilege for the Usages was keenly contested by the rest of the publishing
guild, and various rulings were passed which reiterated the prohibition of this sort of
extension of privileges. The more I reflect on the actions of the tribunals in this dispute,
the less I am persuaded that they clearly understood the matter at hand. What was at stake was
whether, by making an object common property, one would be consigning the whole body of
publishers to destitution; or if by restricting the exclusive privilege to the original owners,
one would be reserving resources for the undertaking of significant ventures; that seems
obvious to me. By ruling against extensions of privileges, the Parlement demonstrated it was
of the former opinion; by authorising them, the Council was of the latter, and the associates
continued to enjoy their privilege. There is more. I ask you, sir, to read on.
      Chancellor Séguier, a man of letters and a man of State, struck by the destitute condition
of the book trade, and convinced that if the company of publishers behind the Usages had risked
a considerable venture, they owed it to the benefit of their privilege, far from seeking to
undermine this resource, desired to extend it to a greater number of works, the certain and
continual ownership of which could enhance the trader’s courage as well as his affluence, and
thus we arrive at the point at which the policing of the book trade takes a further step, and
at which the nature of privileges changes entirely. How fortunate it would have been if the
odious word ‘privilege’ had also disappeared!
      By now, editions of old manuscripts in the public domain were no longer being published;
the supply of them was almost exhausted, and publishers had already published those works by
contemporary authors which they had believed worthy of being shared with distant nations and
with the ages to come, and which promised several editions to the publishers. For these works,
the trader had dealt with the man of letters; consequently, he had sought privileges for them
from the chancellery, and upon their expiry, had sought their extension or renewal.
      The agreement between the bookseller and the contemporary author worked in the same way
then as it does now: the author approached the bookseller and offered him his work; they agreed
on a price, format and other conditions. These conditions and this price were stipulated in a
private agreement, in which the author permanently


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and irreversibly ceded his work to the bookseller and to his successors in titles.
      However, since it was important, for the sake of religion, morality and the government,
that nothing be published which could damage these respectable institutions, the manuscript
was presented to the chancellor or to his substitute, who named a censor for the work, upon
whose attestation its publication was permitted or refused. You will imagine, no doubt,
that this censor had to be a serious, learned, experienced man, a man whose wisdom and
enlightenment were commensurate with the importance of his position.
      In any case, if the publication of the manuscript was permitted, the publisher was
supplied with a title deed which still retained the name of ‘privilege’, which authorised
him to publish the work he had obtained and which, accompanied by details of punishments
for encroachments upon his rights, guaranteed to him the peaceful enjoyment of a possession,
the perpetual ownership of which was transferred to him by a private agreement, signed by
the author and by himself.
      Once the edition had been published, the bookseller was enjoined to present his
manuscript, which alone could certify the exact conformity of the copy and of the original,
and either contest or confirm the censor’s decisions.
      The duration of the privilege was limited, because the same is true of books as of laws;
there is perhaps no doctrine, no principle, no maxim which is suitable to be given equal
publicity at all times.
      Once the first privilege had expired, if the trader sought its renewal, it was granted
to him without any difficulty. And why was this done? Does not a book belong to its author
just as much as does his house or his field? Can he not permanently transfer his property ?
Would it be permitted, for whatever the reason or under whatever pretext, to plunder a man
who has freely transferred his rights to a substitute? Would not this substitute deserve,
for this possession, all the protection that the government grants to proprietors against
other sorts of usurpers? If an imprudent or unfortunate individual has acquired, at his own
risk, a plague-infested plot of land, or one which becomes plague-infested, doubtless it is
proper to forbid the purchaser to live on it; but clean or plague-infested, the property
remains his, and it would be an act of tyranny and injustice to undermine all civil conventions
by transferring its usage and property rights to another person. But I shall return to this
point later, which is the solid, or rather ruinous, base of literary property.
      However, despite these principles, which can be regarded as the fundamental elements of
jurisprudence on possessions and acquisitions, the Parlement continued to rule against the
renewals and extensions of privileges, for no other imaginable reason than this: not being
sufficiently instructed on the revolution which had occurred in the policing of the book
trade and the nature of privileges, the spectre of the exclusive privilege still repelled it.
But the Council, more enlightened, I dare say, rightly distinguishing between the willing
agreement of the author and the bookseller, and the privilege granted by the chancellery,
interpreted the Parlement’s rulings: they restricted their application to old books which had


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originally been published from manuscripts in the public domain, and continued to guarantee
to publishers the property rights of those works which they had legitimately acquired from
living authors or from their descendants.
      But the spirit of interest is not that of equity. Those who have nothing, or who have
very little, are more than ready to give up the little or the nothing that they have in
exchange for the right to pounce on the fortune of the well-off man. Destitute and greedy
publishers, against all good faith, extended the Parlement’s rulings to all sorts of
privileges, and believed themselves authorised to produce pirate editions of both old and
new books indiscriminately once these privileges had expired, appealing, depending on the
occasion, either to the precedents set by the Parlement, or to being unaware of the
privilege’s extension.
      After that, a great number of cases were brought, all of which were decided against
the counterfeiter, but which were almost as damaging to the winner as to the loser, since
nothing is more contrary to the full attention demanded by business than the necessity to
pursue one’s rights before a tribunal.
      But the behaviour of a number of these publishers who, by pursuing the immediate
reward of usurping a part of their colleagues’ fortunes, abandoned the fortune of their own
posterity, leaving it to be usurped by first person to come along, does that not seem
strange to you? You will agree, sir, that these wretched people behaved like people whose
nephews and grand-nephews were perpetually condemned to be as poor as their ancestors. But I
shall stick to following the history of the publishers’ code and the institution of
privileges, rather than abandoning myself to distressing reflections on the nature of man.
      To suppress these disputes between publishers which were wearying the Council and the
chancellery, the magistrate verbally prohibited the guild from printing anything without
letters of privilege stamped with the great seal. The guild, that is to say, the destitute
party, protested; but the magistrate held firm; he even extended his verbal order to old
books, and the Council, ruling, as a consequence of this order, on privileges and their
continuation by letters patent of 20 December 1649, prohibited the printing of any book
without a royal privilege, gave preference to the bookseller who had obtained the first
letter of continuation if several had been granted, banned pirate editions, postponed
requests for continuations on the expiry of privileges, restricted these requests to those
to whom the privileges had originally been granted, permitted these same people to have
them renewed when it seemed fit to them, and required that all letters of privilege and
continuations be recorded in the guild’s register, which the syndic would be obliged to
present whenever it was required, so that in future one could not plead ignorance, and so
that there would be no fraudulent or unforeseen competition on the obtaining of a
single permission.
      After this decision, does it not seem to you, sir, that everything should have
finished, that the ministry had made provision, as far as he could, for the peace of mind
of property owners? But the destitute and grasping faction of the guild


Chapter 1 Page 11


made some final efforts against the new chains which bound their hands.
      You will perhaps be surprised that a man to whom you would not refuse the title of
compassionate should speak out against the destitute. Sir, I sincerely desire to be
charitable, but I do not want to be robbed; and if poverty excuses usurpation, then what
have we come to?
      The father of the last of the Estiennes, who had more intelligence than fortune and
no more fortune than equity, was raised to the rank of syndic, amidst great tumult, by
the faction of malcontents. In this role, which gave him influence, he sought and obtained
various rulings from the Parlement which authorised him to summon to the court those to
whom continuations of privileges would be granted, and among these rulings, that of 7
September 1657 pronounced a general ban on seeking any permission to reprint, if the work
is not augmented by a quarter of its length.
      Well, sir, have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? I admit that I do get somewhat
annoyed with those successive reprints which have reduced my library to a quarter of its
value in ten years; but must we, for this reason alone, prevent an author from continually
correcting faults which had escaped him, to cut out superfluous material and to add what
is missing from his work? Could we not order the publisher, upon each new reprint, to
distribute the additions, corrections, cuts and changes separately? This is a matter worthy
of the magistrate’s attention, if he truly loves men of letters, and the attention of the
heads of the publishers’ guild, if they have any notion of the public good. Let us find a
barrier to this foolish pride, to the author’s low servility toward the publisher, and to
the daylight robbery committed by the publisher. Is it not glaringly unjust that for the
sake of one more or one fewer line, a reworked sentence, an addition of two lines, a good
or bad annotation, a voluminous work which cost me a great deal of money is reduced
virtually to nothing? Am I so rich that I might be forced to multiply my losses and
expenditure without limit? And why should it matter to me whether the publisher’s stores
fill up or empty, if my library withers away from day to day, and if he ruins me whilst
growing rich himself? Sir, forgive this deviation to a man who could tell you of twenty
expensive works of which he has been obliged to purchase four different editions in twenty
years, and to whom, under a different system of literary legislation, it would have cost
half as much to have twice as many books.
      After a schism of some length, the guild of booksellers reunited and, on 27 August 1660,
came to an agreement in which it was decided, with a majority of votes, that those who
obtained a privilege or a continuation of privilege, even for works published outside the
kingdom, would enjoy them exclusively.
      But what real alliance can there be between misery and wealth? Must one be imbued with
rather severe principles of justice to realise that piracy is theft? If a counterfeiter
printed a work whose manuscript had cost him a great deal of money, and to whom the
government had therefore granted exclusive rights, and if he asked himself if he would be
happy if it was counterfeited, what would he conclude? This case is so simple that I cannot
imagine that a man in my place with even the slightest sense of fairness could think anything
different from me.


Chapter 1 Page 12


However, counterfeiting continued, particularly in the provinces where people claimed to be
unaware of the continuations which had been granted, and where the Parlement’s decisions
were countered by the testimony of conscience. The privilege owners brought proceedings
against the counterfeiters, but did the punishment they obtained compensate them for the
time and money that they had lost and which could have been put to better use?
      The Council, which saw its prudence being ignored, did not abandon its plan. How the
perversity of evil men complicates the simplest of matters, and how much persistence and
thought is required to stave off such subterfuge! M. d’Ormesson enjoined the guild, on 8
January 1665, to propose efficient means, if it knew of any, to end all the disputes
provoked by privileges and continuations of privileges.
      Estienne, that zealous antagonist of privilege owners, had changed sides; a certificate,
signed by him and dated 23 October 1664, stated that privileges for old books and the
continuation of privileges for new ones were necessary for the public interest. This
certificate was produced, out of ignorance or bad faith, in the case of Josse, a publisher
of Paris, against Malassis, publisher of Rouen, and counterfeiter of Le Busée and of Le
Beuvelet. The guilds of Rouen and of Lyon had intervened in this affair; the Council judged
the occasion appropriate to give a resolute display of its intentions: Malassis was condemned
to the penalties described by the regulations, and the measures described in the letters
patent of 20 December 1649 were renewed by a ruling of 27 February 1665, which also enjoined
those who planned to obtain continuations of privileges to seek them a year before their
expiry, and declared that one could not seek any letter of privilege or continuation to
publish editions of ancient authors, unless they had been augmented or considerably corrected,
and that continuations of privileges would be announced in Lyon, Rouen, Toulouse, Bordeaux
and Grenoble, although such announcements were rarely made. Every publisher, whether in
Paris or in the provinces, was obliged to register his privileges and continuations at the
Guild Chambers in Paris; by this means, the syndic would know about privileges and
continuations previously granted; and this officer would always be able to refuse the
registration of subsequent privileges and continuations and make such decisions known to
those with an interest in the matter, upon whose opposition the plaintiff would either
withdraw, or take his complaint to the Council.
      Here is the state of privileges as it currently stands; and the possessors of
manuscripts purchased from authors may obtain permission to publish, and seek as many
continuations of this permission as they wish; they may transmit their rights to others by
selling them, passing them on to their heirs or abandoning them, operating in the same way
as the guild of the Usages operated for a whole century.


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This last regulation was all the more favourable to the publishing trade because, since
the bishops were beginning to write specific Usages for their dioceses, the associates
of the Roman Usages, which were no longer universal, went their separate ways, and
allowed this branch of trade which had sustained them for so long, even giving them a
sort of distinction, to be lost to foreign publishers; and they were obliged, by the
consequences of a poor speculation, to obtain these same books of Usages from the very
same people to whom they had previously supplied them; but the learned men who brought
renown to the age of Louis XIV soon softened the blow of this loss.
      Sir, I ask you to trust the word of a man who has examined these things in detail.
It is to the works of these learned men, but perhaps even more so to the property rights
of acquisitions and the inalterable permanence of privileges, that we owe the fifty or
more folio volumes of the collection of the Church Fathers by the reverend Benedictine
fathers; the twenty folio volumes of "Antiquities" by Father Montfaucon; the fourteen
folio volumes of Martène; the "Chartier Hippocrates", in Greek and Latin, in nine folio
volumes; the six folio volumes of Ducange’s "Glossary"; the nine folio volumes of
"Genealogical History"; the ten folio volumes of Cujas; the five folio volumes of Dumoulin;
the fine editions of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, of Moliere, of Racine – in brief, all the
great works of theology, history, scholarship, literature and law.
      Indeed, without the daily returns guaranteed by another source of income, how could
these risky ventures have been undertaken? The failure of a single venture has sometimes
been enough to overturn the most secure fortune; and without the assurance of privileges,
granted either to these weighty works, or to other works whose sales gave publishers the
means to produce them, how would they have dared to undertake them when the opportunity
arose?
      The Council, convinced by experience of the wisdom of its regulations, upheld them
and has upheld them to our day by a series of rulings which you are more familiar with than
I am.
      M. l’abbé Daguesseau, the head of the publishers’ guild, only ever granted privileges
to those who already had them, and did not withdraw any existing ones.
      The right of privilege, once granted, was not terminated even upon its expiry; its
effect was extended until the entire edition had been sold. Several rulings, and in
particular that of the Council of 10 January, pronounced against the booksellers of
Toulouse, and confiscated books which they had counterfeited after the expiry of their
privileges. The reason for the confiscation was that they found numerous copies of these
books in the shops of the privilege owners, and this reason, which was not the only one,
was just. Is not a trader burdened enough by his idle stocks which pile up in his warehouse,
without the competition of a counterfeiter condemning these piles never to be sold
[à l’immobilité ou à la rame]? Is it not the privilege holder who acquires a manuscript
from the author and who pays for it? Who is the owner? Who has a more legitimate claim?
Has the trader not undertaken his venture under the safeguard granted to him, and with
the protection attested in deeds signed by the sovereign’s hand? If it is just that he
enjoys this right, is it not unjust that he be despoiled of it, and indecent that he should
suffer this?


Chapter 1 Page 14


Such, sir, are the laws regarding privileges; and that is how they were formulated. If
they have sometimes been attacked, they have been constantly maintained, with the
exception of a single recent case.
      By a ruling of 14 September 1761, the Council granted to the descendants of our
immortal La Fontaine the privilege to his "Fables". Without doubt, it is a fine thing
for a people to honour the memory of its great men by honouring their posterity. Such a
sentiment is too noble, too generous, and too close to my own views for people to think
that I am criticising it. The victor of Thebes respected Pindar’s house in the midst of
the ruins of this poet’s country, and history has recorded this gesture, as honourable
to the conqueror as it is to letters. But if Pindar, during his lifetime, had sold his
house to some Theban, do you think that Alexander would have ripped up the contract of
sale and chased the legitimate owner from it? It has been suggested that the bookseller
has no title deeds, and I am altogether disposed to believe this; it is not for a man
of my station to plead the trader’s cause against the posterity of the author; but it is
entirely proper for a just man to recognise justice and to speak the truth, even against
his own interests; and it would perhaps be proper for me not to not deny to my children,
to whom I shall leave even less fortune than illustriousness, the sorry opportunity to
despoil my publisher when I am no longer alive. But in case they should ever stoop low
enough to have recourse to the authorities to commit such an injustice, I tell them now
that to do so, they would have had to completely quench in their hearts all the values
that I have passed on to them, because they would be trampling over everything that is
sacred in civil laws on property rights, for the sake of a little money; I tell them
also that I believed myself to be, and indeed to all appearances I was, the master of my
works, whether good or bad; that I have freely and voluntarily given up my rights to
them, and received for them a price of my choosing; and that the corner of vineyard or
acre of meadow which I shall be forced to sell from the inheritance I received from my
forefathers, in order to pay for their education, does not belong to them any more than
my literary works do. Let them recognise the side they must take. They must either
declare me to have been insane at the moment at which I ceded my rights, or accuse
themselves of the rankest injustice. This attack, which undermined the very foundations
of the publishing trade, spread the greatest of alarms throughout the whole body of
these traders. Those who had a personal interest in the case, who were being despoiled
in favour of the young La Fontaine ladies, protested that the Council’s ruling had
only been obtained on the basis of a false statement. The case seemed still to be pending
to this tribunal. However, by means of a type of regulation, they required these ladies
to register their privilege at the chambers, notwithstanding any opposition. This
decision led the guild, which was already inclined towards taking in action in order to
preserve their funds, to unite and intervene. They protested that the disregard shown to
their opposition to the decision was contrary to everything that the prince’s favour had
previously granted; that he


Chapter 1 Page 15


only grants such graces when nobody else has a claim to ownership; that they have no value
until after they are registered, which supposes that those who are notified by this means
are given the opportunity to consider thoroughly the damage which they could do; that if,
even after this examination by the syndics and assistants, and in the knowledge of the
damage which the sovereign’s benevolence would do, and of legitimate opposition to such a
decision, such graces progressed to the stage of being registered, this would certainly be
to go against the intention of the prince, who neither needs nor ever proposes to oppress
one of his subjects in order to favour another; and that, in the case in question, he
would obviously remove the property rights from the possessor and transfer them to the
plaintiff, against the maxim of the law.
      Frankly, sir, I do not know how to reply to these protests, and I prefer to believe
that they never reach the sovereign’s ears. It is greatly unfortunate for a sovereign never
to be able to hear the truth; it is a cruel satire that those who surround him form an
impenetrable barrier, separating him from the truth. The older I grow, the more ridiculous
I think it is to judge the happiness of a people by the wisdom of their institutions. What
is the point of these wise institutions, if they are not observed? They are nothing more
than a few fine lines written for the future on a piece of paper.
      I gave myself the task of tracing the establishment of our laws on privileges in the
book trade from their origin to the present day, and I have completed the first part of my
task. It remains for me to examine in a little more detail their influence on printing,
bookselling and literature, and what each of these three spheres would stand to gain or to
lose from their abolition. I shall repeat myself occasionally, I shall return to various
points I have already mentioned in passing, and I shall write at more length; but this is
of no great matter, as long as I become more convincing and clearer. There are very few
magistrates, yourself not excepted, sir, for whom this material would be entirely new; but
you know, sir, that the more authority one has, the greater one’s need for illumination.
      Now, sir, that you know the facts, we may reason. It would be a rather strange
paradox, at a time when experience and good sense concur to show that all constraints are
harmful to trade, to suggest that only privileges can sustain the book trade. However,
nothing is more certain than this fact. But let us not be swayed by mere words.
      This hateful title deed which consists in conferring to a single individual, at no
cost, a benefit to which everyone has an equal and just claim, such is the
privilege abhorred by the good citizen and the enlightened minister. It remains to be seen
whether or not privileges in the book trade are of this nature. But you have seen in my
preceding comments how false such an idea would be: the bookseller acquires a manuscript by
a legal agreement, the government, by means of a certificate of permission, authorises the
publication of this manuscript, and guarantees to the purchaser the right to enjoy his
possession in peace. In these arrangements, what is contrary to the general interest?
What is done for the bookseller that would not be done for any other citizen.


Chapter 1 Page 16


I ask you, sir, whether a person who buys a house has the exclusive ownership and
enjoyment of it; whether, according to this logic, all deeds which guarantee permanent
rights to any property to an individual are not exclusive privileges; whether, under
the pretext that the owner has been sufficiently compensated for the initial price of
his acquisition, it would be licit to despoil him of it; whether this despoilment would
not be the most violent tyrannical act possible, if such abuse of power, which would
tend to make all fortunes falter and all inheritances uncertain, would not reduce an
entire people to the condition of serfs, and would not fill the State with bad citizens.
For it is a evident to any thinking man that the individual who has no property in a
State, or who has only precarious property in it, can never be a good citizen of that
state. Indeed, what would attach him to one benefice rather than to another?
      The prejudice comes from the fact that we confuse the rank of bookseller and the
guild of booksellers with privileges, and privileges with deeds of ownership, all things
which have nothing in common – no, sir, not a thing! One could destroy all guilds, give
to all citizens the freedom to apply their faculties according to their taste and interest,
abolish all privileges - even those in the book trade, I would not object; all would be
well, as long as the laws on contracts of sale and acquisition remained in force.
      In England, there are booksellers but no guild of booksellers; there are printed
books but no privileges; however, in that country the counterfeiter is dishonoured as a
thief, and his acts of theft are pursued before the tribunals and punished by law. In
Scotland and in Ireland, books are counterfeited, but it is unheard of that in Cambridge
or in Oxford, books printed in London are counterfeited. This is because the English do
not recognise any difference between the purchase of a field or of a house and that of a
manuscript, and indeed there is no difference – or if there is, it would be in favour of
the purchaser of the manuscript. This is what I have already suggested to you above,
what the associates of La Fontaine’s Fables demonstrated in their report, and I challenge
readers to respond to them.
      Indeed, what can a man possess, if a product of the mind, the unique fruit of his
education, his study, his efforts, his time, his research, his observation; if the finest
hours, the finest moments of his life; if his own thoughts, the feelings of his heart, the
most precious part of himself, that part which does not perish, that which immortalises him,
cannot be said to belong to him? What comparison can there be between a man, the very
substance of a man, his soul, and a field, a meadow, a tree or a vine which, at the beginning
of time, nature offered equally to all men, and which the individual claimed for himself only
by cultivation, the first legitimate means of possession? Who has more right than the author
to use his goods by giving or selling them?
      And the owner’s right is the true measure of the buyer’s right.


Chapter 1 Page 17


If I left the privilege to my works to my children, who would dare to take it from them?
If, forced by their needs or by my own to give up this privilege, I substituted another
owner in my place, who, without undermining all the principles of justice, could contest
his ownership? Without this provision, in what vile and impoverished condition would the
man of letters find himself? Always under someone else’s control, he would be treated
like an imbecile child whose minority never ends. We know very well that the bee does not
make honey for herself; but does man have the right to treat man like he treats insects
which make honey?
      I repeat, either the author is master of his work, or nobody in society is the
master of his possessions. The bookseller owns the work in the same way as it was owned by
the author; he has the indisputable right to seek whatever advantage he can from it by
producing a number of editions. It would be just as foolish to prevent him from doing so
as it would be to condemn a farmer to let his fields lie fallow, or to a house-owner to
leave his apartments empty.
      Sir, a privilege is no more than a safeguard granted by the sovereign for the
conservation of a possession, the defence of which, were it not protected by this express
authority, would often exceed its value. To extend the notion of the bookseller’s privilege
beyond these bounds would be to make a mistake; to contemplate the most dreadful invasion
of rights; to scoff at conventions and property rights; to do iniquitous damage to men of
letters or to their heirs or dependents; to gratify one citizen at the expense of his
neighbour by tyrannical partiality; to bring trouble to an infinite number of peaceful
families; to ruin those who, assuming their validity from the regulations, have accepted
effects relating to the book trade in their portion of an inheritance, or to force them to
call upon their co-inheritors to redistribute the inheritance, an act of justice which could
not be refused to them, since they received these possessions on the authority of laws which
guaranteed their reality; to set children against children, fathers and mothers against
fathers and mothers, creditors against transferees; and to force justice to remain silent.
      If a case of this nature was brought before a common justice tribunal, if the bookseller
did not have an absolute superior who judged as he saw fit, what do you think would be its
outcome?
      As I was writing to you, I learned that one of our most famous jurisconsults has
published a paper on this subject: M. d’Héricourt. I have read it, and I have had the
satisfaction to see that I was operating on the same principles as him, and that both he and
I drew the same conclusions.
      There is no question that the sovereign, who can repeal laws when circumstances have
rendered them harmful, can also, for reasons of state, refuse the continuation of a
privilege; but I do not think there is any conceivable case in which he would have the right
to transfer it or divide it up.
      The poorly-understood nature of privileges in the book trade, the limitation of their
duration, and the very term ‘privilege’ have exposed them to the general and well-founded
prejudice which we hold against all other exclusive rights.
      If it was a question of restricting to a single individual the inalienable right to
print books in general, or books on a particular subject, like medicine, theology,
jurisprudence or history, or works on a determined subject, like the history of a prince,
treatises on the eye, on the liver or on another illness, the translation of a specific author,
science or art; if this right


Chapter 1 Page 18


was an act of the arbitrary will of the prince, with no legitimate foundation other than
his good pleasure, his power and his might, or the predilection of a bad father who looks
away from his other children to fix his eyes on one of them, such privileges would
clearly be opposed to the general good, to the progress of knowledge and to the industry
of tradesmen.
      But once more, sir, this is not the case: we are dealing with a manuscript, with a
possession legitimately ceded and legitimately acquired, with a work with a privilege
which belongs to a sole purchaser, which cannot be transferred either entirely or
partially to another individual without doing violence, and the individual ownership of
which does not prevent others from composing and publishing an infinite number of works
on the same subject.
      The privilege holders of Mézeray’s History of France never laid claim to those of
Riencourt, Marcel, President Hénault, Le Gendre, Bossuet, Daniel or Velly. The owners of
Catrou’s Virgil leave in peace the owners of the Virgils of La Landelle, Lallemant and the
abbé Desfontaines, and the permanent enjoyment of these works has no more disadvantages
than the enjoyment of two neighbouring meadows or fields, guaranteed to two different
individuals.
      People will protest to you: ‘the interests of individuals are not at all in competition
with the general interest of the whole’. How easy it is to issue a general maxim which
nobody dares to challenge! And yet how difficult and rare it is to have all the necessary
detailed knowledge to prevent it being misapplied!
      Fortunately for myself, sir, and for you, I have more or less exercised the double
profession of author and bookseller, I have written and on several occasions I have published
my own works, and I can assure you that along the way I have discovered that no two things
go together less well than the active life of the trader and the sedentary life of the man
of letters. We are so incapable of an infinite number of small concerns, that out of a
hundred authors who would like to sell their own works, ninety-nine will have difficulty
doing so and will grow tired of trying. The unscrupulous bookseller thinks that the writer
is intruding on his territory. He, who cries out when his works are pirated, who would
consider himself a dishonest man if he pirated his colleagues, remembers his situation and
his burdens which the man of letters does not share, and ends up pirating his work.
Correspondents in the provinces pillage us with impunity; the trader in the capital is not
sufficiently interested in the turnover of our works to promote them. If the discount we
grant to him is considerable, the author’s profit vanishes; and then maintaining books of
receipt and expenditure, replying, exchanging, receiving, sending – what occupations for a
disciple of Homer or of Plato! In addition to the knowledge of the book trade which I owe
to my own experience, I have also learned from my long association with booksellers. I
have seen them. I have listened to them; and although these traders, like all others,
also have their little mysteries, they let slip on one occasion what they conceal on another;
and you can expect from me, if not rigorous results, then at least the sort of precision
which you require. There is no need for us to split hairs.


Chapter 1 Page 19


When an individual goes into the book trade, if he has any capital, he is hasty to invest
it in the acquisition of a number of different books with a steady turnover.
      The average interval between editions of good books can be estimated at ten years.
      Once he has made his initial outlay, if he comes across a venture which interests him,
he undertakes it; then, he is obliged to resort to a loan or to the sale of part of a
privilege, whose original value he would have virtually recovered, in the time before
privileges were undermined. The loan would be ruinous; he prefers to sell part of a
privilege, and rightly so.
      If his venture is successful, out of his profits he replaces the property he sacrificed,
and he enlarges his initial capital, both with the new item he has acquired and with the
replaced item.
      This capital is the foundation of his trade and of his fortune - yes, sir, the very
foundation, a word which must not be forgotten.
      If he fails in his venture, as often happens, his advance investments are lost, he has
one fewer possession and, often, debts to settle; but he takes refuge in the solid and
steadily productive capital which he still has, and his ruin is not absolute.
      I would be much less stretched if I had only to establish the truth; but I am obliged
at every stage to go beyond the absurd objections which are made without fail; and one of
the strongest and most frequent of these is, in the evaluation of advantages and disadvantages
of a profession, to take as examples a few rare and extraordinary individuals, such as for
example the late Durand, who, by dint of industry and hard work, manage, by an unbelievable
amount of exchanges and correspondence, to bring the slightest success to a huge venture, and
to reduce to a barely significant amount what would have brought huge losses to someone else.
Few people are capable of such an activity; there are many for whom it would be ruinous, by
imposing upon them a task which requires more hours than there are in a day. It is only in the
long term that rewards are gained. Is this the kind of case we should take as our example? No,
sir, no. Where do we begin, then, you ask? With the general and common situation, that of an
ordinary debutant, neither poor nor rich, neither a genius nor an imbecile. Ah, sir, those
booksellers who have emerged from the trade with great wealth have often been remarked upon;
however, as for those who are not mentioned, who have languished in the rue Saint-Jacques or by
the banks of the Seine, who have lived on the alms of the community which even paid for their
burial (though I do not wish to denigrate the authors whose work they sell), their numbers are
prodigious.
      The general and common condition is that which I have just described to you; it is that of
the young tradesman whose capital, after an unfortunate venture, is entirely located in the
remains of a solid fund, in which he takes refuge until, by means of the income he gradually
accumulates thanks to his daily returns, he should be in a position to risk a second venture.
If you abolish privileges, or if by repeatedly attacking them you throw them into discredit,
this resource will be destroyed: there will be no more economy in this sort of trade, no more
hope, no more solid funds, no more credit, no more courage, no more enterprise. Arrange things
as you please – either you transfer his property


Chapter 1 Page 20


to another who will enjoy them exclusively, or else you return them to the common mass. In
the first case, he is ruined from head to toe, by an act of despoilment in which I cannot
see the least advantage for the public; because what does it matter to us whether it is
Pierre or Jean who sells Corneille’s works to us? In the second case, he hardly suffers
any less by the consequences of limited or unlimited competition. This is not clear to you,
and it must be clarified. Sir, in general, an edition motivated by competition is more
onerous than it is useful, which I shall prove to you by means of a single example.
      If I take the "Dictionary of Fable" and imagine that a thousand copies of it are sold
each year, and that the privilege holder produces an edition of six thousand copies, which
are sold at a profit of one-half. The publisher will say that this profit is exaggerated,
he will object that there are discounts, unsold copies, slow returns; but let us suppose
these figures nonetheless.
      If, whilst the work is being printed in Paris, it is reprinted in Lyon, the time of
sale of these two works will be twelve years, and each publisher will barely recoup his
money after the ten-percent sales tax.
      If, meanwhile, a third edition is produced at Rouen, the time needed to sell through
all three editions will be raised to eighteen years, and to twenty-four if the work is
reprinted yet again in Toulouse.
      Imagine that rival editions appear in Bordeaux, in Orleans, in Dijon and in twenty other
towns, and the Dictionary of Fable, a profitable work to the exclusive privilege owner,
becomes a completely wasted asset both to him and to others.
      ‘But,’ you will say to me, ‘I deny the possibility of these editions and these multiple
rivalries occurring; they will always appear in proportion to public demand, to the lowest
price of labour, to the least profit of the bookseller, and consequently to the greater
advantage of the purchaser, the only person whom we must seek to favour.’ You are mistaken,
sir, they will multiply infinitely, because there is nothing that can be more cheaply
produced than a poor edition. They will compete to produce the worst editions; this has
been proven by experience. Books will become very common, but within ten years their
typefaces, paper and standards of accuracy will all be as poor as the Bibliothèque bleue –
an excellent way to ruin, in a short space of time, three or four important manufacturers.
And why would Fournier cast the finest fonts in Europe, if they were no longer being used?
And why would the people of Limoges work on perfecting their paper if people no longer
bought anything other than the kind of paper used for the Messager boiteux? And why would
our printers pay a great deal for able foremen, for good compositors and for skilled pressmen,
if all this attention merely served to multiply their costs without increasing their profit?
What is worse, at the same time as these arts decline in our country, they will flourish
among foreigners, who before long will be supplying us with the only good editions available
of our own authors. It is false, sir, to think that the cause of good value can ever, in any
sphere, but particularly in this one, withstand shoddy work. That only ever happens to a
people who have sunk to the greatest depths of poverty.


Chapter 1 Page 21


And if, in the midst of such degradation, a few manufacturers were to emerge who were
thinking of supplying people of taste with fine editions, do you think they would be
able to at the same price? And even if they could do so at today’s prices and at foreign
prices, what resources have you reserved for their advances? Do not impose upon us, sir;
without doubt competition stimulates emulation; but in matters of commerce and private
interest, for every time that it stimulates emulation of high quality, there are one
hundred cases where it stimulates imitation at a lower cost. This process only works in
the other direction on a few unusual men, enthusiasts for their profession, who without
fail are met by glory and by misery.
      Without question, in this matter there is a middle way, but one which is difficult to
grasp, and which I believe our predecessors discovered by groping their way to it over the
course of several centuries. Let us try not to turn in a vicious circle, constantly brought
back to the same solutions by the same difficulties and the same disadvantages. Leave the
bookseller be, leave the author be. Time will teach the latter the value of his property,
without your help; simply guarantee to the former his acquisition and his property rights,
a condition without which the author’s production will necessarily lose some of its rightful
value. And above all, remember that, if you need a skilled manufacturer, it takes to centuries
to make one, and it only takes an instant to lose him.
      You seek a balanced position which forces the bookseller to work hard and to put a just
value on his work, and you do not see that this balance is found in foreign competition. I
challenge a Parisian bookseller to increase the price of a duodecimo above that which is
determined by the particular costs and risks of the clandestine producer of pirate editions,
or the publisher who sends books in from far away, without us having, within a month, an
edition from Amsterdam or from the provinces better made than his, at better value, and
without you ever being able to prevent it from entering the country.
      Lay aside a development which would damage the small number of useful ventures in which
your trader is involved. If he is deprived of prompt and certain returns which supply his needs,
what will he do? Borrow money? But it is a long time since the mean state of the booksellers of
the kingdom and the discredit of their assets made it plain that their trade is too limited for
them to be able to gain an income from the profits it generates. If you want to encounter this
discredit, take a stroll around the Bourse or in the rue Saint-Merri, where every week you will
see one of these traders asking the consular justice for an extension of three months to pay a
bill of twenty écus. And if the bookseller resolves to borrow, whose coffers will be open to him,
especially when, by the instability of privileges and general competition, it will be shown that
his fortune has no solid basis, and that he can be as surely and as quickly reduced to begging
by a ruling from the authorities as by a fire in his warehouse? Indeed, who is not aware of the
uncertain nature of his ventures?
      Let us supplement these reflections with a topical case. Before the announcement of the
publication of an edition of Corneille by the Genevans, works by this author bearing a privilege
were sold at the Guild Chambers for fifty sous or three pounds a volume; since subscriptions to
the Genevan edition have been distributed before the booksellers’ eyes, despite their protests
and against the owners’ privilege which has expired and whose renewal was refused, the price of
the same volume in two consecutive sales fell to twelve sous, and, with a third edition in
September 1763, to six sous; however, the stores of the associates


Chapter 1 Page 22


of the work are full of two large editions and a small duodecimo edition.
      Certainly, we will never be able to prevent foreigners from pirating our authors;
certainly, it is to be desired that in thirty years’ time, M. de Voltaire should give
us editions of his works or commentaries on other authors in any place in the world;
again, certainly, I praise the government for treating the descendants of the great
Corneille in the same way that they treated the descendants of the inimitable La
Fontaine; but this ought to happen, if possible, without despoiling anyone and without
damaging the general good. Subscriptions - favours which are so rarely given to citizens -
granted to foreigners! Who next, and against whom? I can barely suppress my concern.
Nobody shall be despoiled, if Mlle Corneille is given a good pension, and if the
State buys from the owners the fields and the houses of M. La Fontaine to lodge in them
those families which still enjoy the illustriousness of his name; and it would be tending
to the general good to close the door to the Genevan edition and leave it to the owners of
Corneille’s works to provide us with M. de Voltaire’s notes.
      And why, sir, have these suspect subscriptions become so common? It is because the
bookseller is poor, his advance investments considerable and his venture risky. He offers
a discount in order to obtain a sure source of cash and to escape his ruin.
      But if he were rich enough to risk and complete a significant venture without the
income brought by his daily returns, do you think that he would ever risk anything of
importance? If he fails, he will retain his privilege or the property rights to a failed
asset; if he succeeds, the property rights will be taken from him after six years. What
connection is there, I ask you, between his hope and his risks? Do you want to know the
precise value of his chances? It is like the number of books which endure, or the number
of books which fail; it can be neither diminished nor enlarged; it is a game of chance,
except for those cases in which the author’s reputation, the singularity of the content,
its boldness, novelty or curiosity, guarantee to the bookseller at least the return of
his initial investment.
      A blunder which I see committed ceaselessly by those who allow themselves to be led
by general maxims is to apply the principles of the manufacture of fabric to the publishing
of a book. They reason as though the bookseller could simply produce in proportion to his
turnover, and as though the only risks he ran were the peculiarities of taste and the
caprice of fashion; they forget or are unaware of what is often the case, that it is
impossible to sell a work at a reasonable price without producing a considerable number of
copies. Leftovers of an outdated fabric stored in a silk manufacturer’s stores retain a
certain value. Leftovers of a bad work in a bookseller’s stores have no value. In addition,
out of every ten ventures, there is perhaps one, at the most, which succeeds, four in which
the costs are eventually recovered, and five where the trader does not recover his losses.
I will always appeal to facts, because you put no more trust than I do in the word of the
mysterious and lying trader, and the facts do not lie. Who has had a broader, richer or more
varied stock than the late Durand? It has been valued at nine hundred thousand francs;


Chapter 1 Page 23


but once you subtract four hundred and fifty livres for the raw materials, it is unlikely
that anything will remain for his widow and children, once his inheritance is used up in
reimbursing his creditors.
      I know that the duration of a privilege is calculated approximately in proportion to
the nature of the work, to the advance investments of the trader, to the risks of the
venture, to its importance and to the projected period of sales. But who can make a precise
calculation from so many variables? And how often are stores still full when the privilege
expires?
      But one matter which deserves particular consideration, in the event that the book
trade were to be opened up to general competition, is that since honour is the most valuable
portion of the benefits an author receives, and since multiple editions are surest mark of
good sales, which are in turn the surest mark of public taste and approval, the result is
that nothing would be easier than to find a vain author and a greedy publisher; such a
multitude of editions would be turned out, piling upon one another, especially if the work
enjoyed some degree of success; all the preceding editions would be sacrificed to the
latest ones by the slightest addition, by an ironic comment, an ambiguous phrase, a bold
thought, an unusual remark. Consequently, three or four traders would be ruined and
sacrificed to a fifth, who perhaps would not even grow rich, or would only grow rich at the
expense of people like myself, poor men of letters. And you know very well, sir, that what
I am describing is not entirely unfounded.
      What are the results of all this? The more sensible booksellers will leave it to madmen
to undertake publishing ventures; privileges, which had previously been eagerly sought after,
will be seen to be nothing more than bills of even greater uncertainty than those produced by
banks, and booksellers will be content to fill their shops and stores with a variety of works,
both original and counterfeited, from the city and from the provinces, from this country and
from abroad; and they will print in the same way as they build, only as a last resort, since
they will be convinced that the more manuscripts one buys, the more one shall have spent for
the benefit of other booksellers, the less one shall have acquired for oneself, and the less
one shall be able to leave to one’s children.
      Indeed, would it not be extravagant to undertake the risks involved in an original
venture? Would it not be more astute to wait for another’s success and to profit from it,
especially in the certainty that the brave publisher will never risk producing a large edition,
and that by following in his footsteps, one could still make a thoroughly honest profit, without
exposing oneself to any losses?
      In certain circumstances, the trader lets slip certain remarks which reveal his attitude
particularly clearly, and which I have held on to. If one goes to him to offer him a book by
a good author which has few buyers, what does he say? ‘Yes, the initial outlay will be
considerable and the returns will be slight, but it would be a good work to add to my assets;
with two or three items like that, I would have the means to provide for my child’s future’.
Let us not deprive him of his property and his daughter’s dowry. Manufacturers without such
assets will never be able to ply their trade profitably, and booksellers without privileges
will be manufacturers without assets. I say ‘without privileges’, because


Chapter 1 Page 24


this word should no longer sound displeasing to your ears.
      If you would prefer a community in which the equal mediocrity of all its members
makes significant publishing ventures impossible, rather than a community where wealth
is unequally distributed, then by all means order that all property rights be shared in
common without distinction; but you may expect this initial disadvantage, and many more:
there will be no more credit among them, no more discounts for the provinces, an
increase of foreign editions, not a single good-quality edition, a decline in quality of
typography and paper, and the publishing trade will be reduced to producing only
lampoons, pamphlets and all those flimsy works which appear only to vanish again within
a single day. Consider whether this is what you want; as for myself, sir, I confess that
such a vision of the publishing trade is less pleasing to me than the one I have sketched
for you of the trade in the years since the regulations of 1665. What concerns me is that
once the damage is done, there will be no remedy for it.
      But before I go any further, since I still have important things to say to you, I
must warn you against a sophism often voiced in error by logic-lovers. Having only a very
superficial understanding of the nature of the many different kinds of trade, they do not
fail to observe that most of the reasons I have given in favour of the bookseller’s trade
could be used with the same force for anyone seeking to defend an exclusive right, as
though all exclusive rights were of the same nature, as though circumstances were everywhere
identical, or as though circumstances could differ without changing the basic facts, and as
though it was not the case, in political matters, that a motive which appears decisive in
general, in reality only applies to certain actual cases, or even to none at all. You must
demand, sir, that people consider the specific case and do not vaguely group together all
sorts of diverse matters under a single principle. We must not say, ‘all exclusive rights
are bad’, but rather we must demonstrate that it is not ownership that constitutes an
exclusive privilege in the book trade, and that when this privilege is founded on a real
acquisition and on rights which are common to all the acquisitions in the world, it is
harmful to the general interest, and that it must be abolished despite its owner’s legitimate
property rights. This is the difficult point. You should ask, I beg of you, what we gain from
arbitrary redistributions of goods from one bookseller to another. Make the defenders of
such practices show you clearly why it is beneficial to us that a certain bookseller should
print and sell a book, rather than another. I am not asking that we be shown favouritism.
Meanwhile, it seems to me that, since someone who currently has a privilege can only regard
his enjoyment of it as temporary, he should do his best to maximise his own advantage and to
do his worst towards us; for it is impossible for his interests and ours to be the same; or,
if that were the case, matters would be ideal and there would be nothing to change.
      But, sir, will you allow yourself to be influenced by the ideas of a few men whom you
would call dreamers, miserable, strange, malicious and spiteful men. These men, seeing nothing


Chapter 1 Page 25


in these innovations which tends either directly or indirectly towards the general good,
suspect that they are based on the hidden motive of some individual’s interest, and, to
put things plainly, suspect an intention one day to take over booksellers’ assets in their
entirety; and since this project, they add, is so revoltingly atrocious that nobody dares
to carry it out all at once, instead they seek to make the bookseller and the public
gradually grow accustomed to it by measures coloured with the noblest and most generous of
sentiments, that of honouring the memory of our illustrious authors by giving benefits to
their unfortunate posterity. ‘Look,’ they continue, for they are always talking, ‘see how
alongside this honest pretext, they cite reasons of authority and others which they will
cite as unique reasons once they think there are no more considerations to protect.’ These
sinister ideas will never take hold among those who, like me, understand the justice, the
selflessness and the nobility of soul of our superiors, and who show all the respect which
is due to their functions and character. But, sir, who among their successors will respond
to us? If they find that everything has been prepared from a long distance which would
enable them to carry out an invasion of booksellers’ assets, what guarantee can we have
that they will not indeed decide to carry it out? In your opinion, sir, would the trader,
who currently lives in peace, be unreasonable to have worries about the future?
      Others have imagined that the plan was, upon the successive expiry of privileges, to
place a condition upon their renewal, that they must reprint certain important works which
are not currently available and have not been for some time, which would require a
considerable outlay which the trader is not in a position to spend, and slow returns, which
he is rarely in a position to sustain, all of which discourages him from such ventures. This
type of imposition is of the kind which it pleases the sovereign to attach to others of
his subjects’ possessions in order to meet the urgent needs of the State; I do not condemn
such an action, and there have already been several examples of it; but it can never
authorise the transferral of property rights. If such an imposition could one day serve as
a pretext for this iniquity, a prudent magistrate would reject it; but it is necessary to
lighten this task as much as possible and scrupulously to apply it in proportion to the
value of the privilege being renewed; and you will see that sooner or later, it will become
the seed of the most incredible abuses. I would prefer it if this imposition fell on
concessions which are granted entirely complementarily, for example, tacit permissions,
pirate editions produced abroad and other objects of this kind.
      There are those, who are in a majority, who suggest that the aim is to transform all
privileges into pure and simple permissions, without a single clause of exclusion, so that,
granted simultaneously to several publishers, they lead to high quality execution,
competitive sales, and the finest editions at the lowest possible price.
      But firstly, such a view treats the bookseller’s privilege like an act of grace which
one is free either to grant him or to refuse him, and forgets that it is only the guarantee
of true property rights which could not be encroached upon without injustice. And what would
be the product of this injustice? You may judge for yourself, once I have brought before you
all the facts that I can; this is my method, and I think that it will suit you.
      Sir, classical authors are precisely already in the situation to which people propose
to reduce all other books. For these works, there only exists this type of permission, and
free and general competition has been permanent even after the edicts of 1649


Chapter 1 Page 26


and 1665, which made their privileges exclusive and attached them to the solid assets
belonging to each privilege holder.
      Well, sir, what spirit of competition between traders has there been, what
advantage to the public has been produced by these permissions and this competition?
The competition among traders has been one of competing for the lowest possible costs,
as I have already predicted to you, that is to say, competing for the most careless
workforce, the worst quality paper, and characters of such poor quality that they
deserve only to be melted down for recasting. As for the public, it has created the
habit of placing in our children’s hands works which are too difficult and weary their
young minds, without even mentioning the typographical errors which cause them to
stumble at every line. Alas! These poor innocent children are often reprimanded for
making mistakes for which the printer or publisher should have been punished instead.
But what can be said to these traders when contempt for the education of our youth,
which can be noticed in even the smallest of things, wants masters with a salary of a
hundred écus and books for four sous? However, by spreading the expenditure of an
extra pistole over the course of seven or eight years of study, young people would have
well-made and carefully prepared books, and the magistrate would be authorised to order
the pulping of all those editions which discourage children and do a disservice to
art. How absurd that our valets are decked out in gilded clothes whilst our children go
without shoes and books! Our neighbours across the Channel understand this matter a
little better. I have seen editions of classical authors used in the colleges of London,
Cambridge and Oxford, and I assure you that the editions which our scholars happily use
are neither finer nor more accurate.
      I am not unaware that printers of our day have devoted considerable sums to editions
of classical authors; but I also know that several have brought ruin upon themselves in
so doing, and it remains to be seen how their lucky or reckless imitators will fare. But
I acknowledge, despite the experience of what has happened with classic books and the
multitude of pirate editions, that the effect of competition compensates for that of
property rights, and that one may obtain as much as, and even more, from a free and general
permission as from an exclusive privilege. What are the results of this? Profits of around
a fifth of what might have been expected. And on which works? On the General Customs? On
the Journal of Hearings? On the Church Fathers? On the Memoirs of the Academies? On great
historical works? On ventures which require advance outlays ranging from a hundred thousand
francs to fifty thousand écus, and whose editions are barely sold through in the space of
forty to fifty years? You can see clearly that it would be foolish to expect such a thing.
It will not be the price of works costing ten to twenty pistoles which free and general
permissions will reduce. Competition and its effects will only fall on lesser authors, that
is to say that the poor trader will be forced to sacrifice his daily profits to quick
turnovers, and will only become poorer as a result, whilst the well-off bookseller, deprived
of his steady returns which derive from middling-range works and not from the most expensive
ones, will stop publishing the latter, whose rarity and value will keep increasing, and so
in order to spare me five sols, you shall have forced me to spend a pistole. Sir, I offer
you nothing but facts backed up by reason.


Chapter 1 Page 27


The last edition of Basagne’s "Customs of Normandy", which belongs to the Rouen
booksellers’ guild, was printed in 1709, and has been unavailable for the past thirty
years. It consists of two small and quite thin folio volumes, whose original price
was at most forty livres, and which today are sold for between eighty and ninety livres.
      President Bouhier’s "Customs of Burgundy", which is reaching the end of its edition
and whose price is increasing, because it is well-known that the booksellers’ guild of
Dijon does not have the means to reprint it, was originally sold for 48 livres, and is
now sold for between 54 and 60 livres.
      Ducase’s "Jurisprudence", a quarto volume which the booksellers’ guild of Toulouse
has neglected and which originally sold at 9 livres, is now sold for between 15 and 16
livres.
      The "Customs of Senlis", a quarto volume, cannot be bought for less than 16 to 18
livres.
      The Paris booksellers’ guild, which, despite the difficulties it has encountered
in maintaining the laws which supported it, has not neglected important books, and whose
presses have supplied us with over twenty folio volumes on jurisprudence alone in the
last ten years, prepared a new edition of the Edicts of Nero in four folio volumes. The
collection of materials for this project cost over 10,000 francs. Despite this initial
outlay, the Council’s ruling in favour of the La Fontaine ladies discouraged the Guild,
which abandoned a venture whose burden it would have been able to bear and whose profits
would have enabled it to undertake others, if it was believed that they had the right to
use the privilege and if there were no other works whose property rights were guaranteed
to a specific owner. However, this author, whose work comprises no more than two folio
volumes, was worth 60 francs before the project of the new edition, and there is no
evidence that the prudent abandoning of this project led to lowering its price.
      Sir, such is the fate of all major works as they become increasingly rare. If I have
only mentioned examples which are in use in France, it is because foreign printers, who
will not reprint them, will not leave us missing the others in paying ; and, although the
damage is widespread, it is particularly in those things which are our own that it makes
itself felt.
      A solid project is one which assures to society and to individuals a real and durable
advantage; a specious project is one which only assures, either to society or to individuals,
a temporary advantage, and the imprudent magistrate is he who does not recognise the damaging
consequences of the latter, and who, deceived by the seductive lure of lowering prices of
manufactured goods, benefits the consumer for a moment whilst ruining the manufacturer and
the State.
      But let us leave for a moment the bookseller’s trade and concerns and focus on our own.
Let us consider the general good from another perspective, and let us remark what the effects
would be of the abolition of privileges, or their arbitrary transferral, or free permissions
on the state of men of letters, and consequently on the state of letters more generally.
      Among the various causes which have worked together to bring us out of barbarism, we
must not forget the invention of the typographical art. To discourage, weaken and debase this
art is therefore to attempt to plunge us once more into that dark age, and to work in league
with the crowd of enemies of human knowledge.
      The spread and progress of enlightenment also owe a great deal to the constant protection
of sovereigns, which has expressed itself in a hundred diverse ways, among which,


Chapter 1 Page 28


it seems to me that it would be a mark of great prejudice or ingratitude if one were
to ignore the wise rulings which they have instituted on the book trade, as the
damaging circumstances which affected it demanded.
      One does not need to cast a particularly observant or attentive eye on these
matters to discern among these regulations those which concern literary privileges,
which have evolved into a safeguard granted by the government to the legitimate owner
against the greed of usurpers, always ready to seize from him the price he paid for
its acquisition, the fruit of his industry, the recompense for his courage, intelligence
and hard work.
      But however great the goodness and generosity of a prince who loves letters, they
can rarely extend beyond known talents. How many fortunate and unfortunate attempts are
made before a writer emerges from obscurity to acquire that celebrity which attracts
attention and rewards from rulers? Again, sir, the underlying issues must always be
considered, because it is the common lot of man to be a nobody before they become a
somebody, and it would be desirable for honours and fortune to follow a similar path,
in step with the progress of merit and services, even though the start of one’s career
is the most important and difficult stage.
      A man rarely recognises his genius unless he tries it out; the eaglet and the young
dove alike tremble the first time they spreads their wings and launch forth into the air.
When an author writes his first work, neither he nor the bookseller knows its value. If
the bookseller pays us an amount of his choice, on the other hand we sell to him at our
choice. It is success which teaches both the trader and the writer. Either the author
mistakenly associates himself with the trader: he supposes too much confidence on the one
hand, and too much probity on the other. Or else he permanently cedes the property rights
of his work for an amount which does not go far, because he has to acknowledge the
uncertainty of the success of his work. However, one must imagine having been in my
place, in the place of a young man receiving for the first time a modest reward for a few
days’ meditation. One cannot understand either his joy, or the emulation he receives. If
a few murmurs of approval from the public are added to this advantage, and if a few days
after his debut he sees his publisher and finds him polite, honest, affable, friendly and
calm, how satisfied the young man is! From this moment on, his talent acquires a new price,
and, I have to say, the increased value of his second work has no connection with the
lessening of the risk; it appears that the publisher, eager to keep the writer’s business,
makes his calculations according to other factors. With the third success, the work
is complete: the author could perhaps write another poor treatise, but he does so more or
less as he wishes. There are men of letters whose work has brought to them profits of 10,
20, 30, 80, 100,000 francs. As for myself, I enjoy only average esteem and am not old,
and I believe that the fruit of my literary occupations stands easily at 40,000 écus. One
would not become rich, but one could become reasonably well-off if these sums were not
spread over a large number of years, if they did not fade away as soon as they were
acquired and if they were not dissipated once the years had passed by and writers were
faced by accumulating needs, dimming eyesight and a wearied mind. However, it is an
encouragement nonetheless, and what sovereign is rich enough to improve this situation by
acts of generosity?


Chapter 1 Page 29


But the only advantage these treatises have for the author results from the laws which
guarantee to the bookseller the peaceful and permanent possession of the works he
acquires. If you abolish these laws and make the buyer’s property rights uncertain,
this poorly-conceived legislation will eventually damage the author. What profit would
I gain from my work, especially if had not yet established my reputation, if, as I
imagine would happen, the bookseller feared that a competitor - without running the
risk of taking on an unknown talent, without risking the outlay of a first edition,
without granting me any royalty - could, after six years, or sooner if he dared,
permanently enjoy the benefits of his purchase?
      Products of the intellect already yield so little profit! If they yield even less,
who shall want to be involved with them? Those whom nature has condemned to such
pursuits by giving them an insurmountable instinct which helps them to withstand poverty?
But this group of enthusiasts, happy to have their daily bread and water and a lamp to
light their work by night, is it great in number? Should the government be reducing them
to this state? If it does so, will it have many thinkers left? If it does not, how will
it differ from a shepherd leading his sheep?
      There are few countries in Europe where letters are more honoured and better
rewarded than in France. The number of places in society it reserves for men of letters
is great; if only they were always assigned on the grounds of merit! If I did not fear
sounding satirical, I would say that there are positions which are more concerned that
their holder is well-dressed than that they have written a good book. Literary productions
have been distinguished from other possessions by legislation: the law has sought to
guarantee the enjoyment of literary rights to the author; the ruling of 21 March 1749
declares that they are non-seizable. What will become of this prerogative if the new
developments prevail? What! An individual permanently cedes an asset, a house or a field,
and he deprives his heirs of it, without the public authorities demanding that he account
for his behaviour. He will obtain the full value of his sale, and enjoy it as he desires;
why should not a writer have the same right? Why is it that when he approaches the
sovereign to seek protection so that he may retain the most legitimate of possessions,
the king, who does not refuse such protection to the least of his subject as long as it
does not harm anyone else, will limit it to a certain period of time, after the expiry of
which a work which consumed the writer’s goods, health and life, and which will be counted
among the nation’s monuments, will escape from his assets, from his own hands, to become
common property? Who would want to languish in poverty during the finest years of one’s life,
and grow pale and ill writing books in such conditions? Let us leave the study, my friends,
snap our quills in two and take up the instruments of the mechanical arts, if genius brings
neither honour nor freedom.
      Injustice is compounded at this point by such an absurdity that if I was not addressing
myself to a man who is importuned with requests, who is aware of the plans that are being
carried out, to whom appeals are brought from the city and the provinces alike, I would not
deal with this issue. Others will no doubt believe that I am merely inventing phantoms for
the pleasure of defeating them.
      ‘But,’ you will say, ‘once you have ceded the rights to your work, would it not matter
to you if the government were to become aware of interests you have neglected, and take
revenge on you through making profit from a poor treatise you wrote, without your having
realised the bookseller’s skill and greed?’ I would reply that if I have written a poor
treatise, that is my business. I was not constrained; I shared in the common lot, and if my
situation is poor, do you expect to improve it by depriving me of the


Chapter 1 Page 30


right to cede my property rights and by destroying the certificate of cession in
the hands of my purchaser? Do you suppose that this man considered the
property
worthless? And if he adds a certain value to it, will he not diminish my royalties
because of this value? I do not know against whom you bear a grudge. You can speak
of your supposed love of letters as much as you like, but it is letters which will
suffer at your hands.
      You have drawn close to yourself, by means of your lenient administration, by your
recompenses, by honours, by all imaginable ways, those writers and works which
intolerance and persecution had suppressed. You should fear suppressing them a second
time. Your enemy hopes that you will be seized by a fevered spirit, so that you will
take up a rod of iron and that by your many imprudent acts you will drive a small number
of writers away from yourself and into his own hands. Indeed, they will go to him – I
warn you of this, and what should warn you even more strongly are the advantageous
propositions he makes to these writers, and which they still have the courage to reject.
Just because bulls have horns and sometimes become angry, will you be so impulsive and
foolish to only want to take care of cows? You have no sense, you do not know what you want.
      You add that since the perpetuity of the privilege allows the trader to retain
absolute control of the price of his book, he will not fail to abuse this advantage. If
your trader is unaware that his real interest lies in selling the work quickly and gaining
a fast return of his investment, then he is the most stupid of traders. In any case,
protect privilege holders as much as you like; add the deprivation of civil rights to the
financial penalties already carried by the regulations; you can even erect the gallows if
you like, the counterfeiter’s greed is strong enough to risk all of these dangers. I have
already told you this, and experience confirms the same thing, but nothing will convince
you; I challenge a bookseller to sell a work at a price higher than one which would
compensate for the counterfeiter’s risks and foreign spending, without three or four pirate
editions appearing within a year, even despite the greatest vigilance, backed up by all the
magistrate’s authority. Remember that we are currently only dealing with works which are in
demand and which are easy to produce.
      I could suggest to the magistrate, to whom one must usually present the first copy of
a new book, to fix the price himself; but this fixing, in order to be fair, would suppose
detailed knowledge which he can neither have nor acquire; it would be almost as reliable and
faster to leave this settling of prices up to the market. I would perhaps add that among the
various kinds of books, the most expensive ones are not subject to privilege holders, but I
do not want to upset anybody.
      People will still say: once a bookseller has made an honest lucre from a work, is it not
fair that someone else should profit from it? And why should not someone be rewarded who has
deserved it by having undertaken some large venture?
      In truth, I do not know why I bother to reply seriously to these questions, which can
only stem from the most remarkable stupidity or the rankest injustice; but if the questions
themselves are barely worth considering, the sheer number of them being asked must be taken
into account.
      1. Printing and publishing do not count among those professions of primary necessity, in
which it is impossible for too many people to work. If four hundred booksellers are enough for
the whole of France, it would be wrong to maintain eight hundred people in the trade, at the
expense of a smaller number. For twenty years, Louis XIV kept the door to this trade firmly
closed. He fixed the number of printers. The reigning monarch, working on the same principles,
suspended


Chapter 1 Page 31


apprenticeships for another thirty years. What reason is there to abandon this policy?
Let us leave things in their present state, and not go plundering those who have invested
their assets in this trade by adding to their number; or by abolishing all guilds at once,
let each individual be free to use his talents and hard work as nature and his interests
guide him; let us leave such matters solely to the needs of society, which is well able to
provide extra labour or redistribute any excess, in any profession, and without anyone
interfering. I agree, all this seems good both to me and to anyone who has been touched by
the slightest glimmer of enlightenment. Unfortunately, however, many preliminary conditions
are necessary for this to happen; if I am not mistaken, I shall at some point have the
opportunity to say a little more about this crowd of intruders who we protect without
thinking about what we are doing.
      2. But simply because a bookseller has gained, I will not say an honest lucre, but an
enormous profit from a venture, is that a good reason to strip him of it? That is laughable.
It is exactly as though a citizen without a house were seeking after his neighbour’s house,
claiming that his neighbour had already derived enough gain from the property.
      3. In order to evaluate the advantages a trader gains from a successful venture, is it
not necessary to take into account the losses he has sustained in ten failed ventures? But how
are we to know how to compare these gains and losses, which compensate one another? Sir, it is
by the fortunes of individuals. That is the only information we have to go on, and it is
enough. I say again, I repeat, and not a single one of them would disagree with me, however
contrary it might be to their reputation: the guild of booksellers is one of the most destitute
and disparaged, they are virtually all beggars. If you could name me a dozen out of three
hundred and sixty who have two sets of clothes, I could show that for four out of these twelve,
their wealth would have virtually nothing to do with privileges.
      4. If you believe, sir, that these privileges which arouse so much envy are the property of
a single individual, you are mistaken; there is hardly a single one of any value which is not
shared by twenty or twenty-five people, and you must realise how wretched this is when it comes
to obtaining from each of them their quota of reprinting costs in proportion to his share in the
privilege. It is a fact, sir, that the company of associates of the quarto edition of Racine,
after ten years, could not settle its debts with the printers. And this is Racine we are dealing
with, sir, yes, Racine! Barely a year goes by without a number of these shares being sold at the
guild chambers. Let the promoters of these new views go to the chambers to bid for them, and let
them purchase, honestly and without shame, an asset which could only be taken from its owners by
force, and of which they would not see themselves stripped without sorrow.
      Above all, do not speak to me of favouring a citizen by giving to him what has been stripped
from someone else. To do so is to profane the language of humanity and charity by placing it on
the lips of violence and injustice. I appeal to all good men: if they had had the good fortune to
deserve a reward from their country, would they tolerate their services being repaid in such an
atrocious manner?
      At this point, I cannot stop myself from offering some words to the La Fontaine ladies and
from making them a prediction which will come to pass before long. Doubtless they imagined, on the
merit of their ancestor’s work, that the government had favoured them with a significant gift. I
tell them that, even with all the protection imaginable, the work will be counterfeited in a
hundred different places;


Chapter 1 Page 32


that, unless they gain the upper hand over manufacturers both in France and abroad by
producing a very handsome edition, which would therefore be expensive and have very
limited sales, attracting only the man of luxury and the curious man of letters, then
booksellers in Paris and in the provinces will approach the counterfeiter, if only out
of resentment; a precious asset will waste away in their very hands; they will seek to
get rid of it; nobody will want it unless for a very low price, because people will not
count on their cession any more than on that of their ancestor; however, since there
are rogues in every corporation and the booksellers’ guild is no exception, there will
be an individual in it without honour or fortune who will resolve to acquire the
privilege from them, and this hated and doomed man will never gain the peaceful and
lucrative enjoyment of owning it.
      ‘However,’ you will continue, ‘you will admit that there are important works which
are currently unavailable and which we need; how will we obtain reprints of them?’
      How? I will not hesitate to tell you: by reinforcing privileges which have been
weakened, by maintaining the laws on this form of property. Pursue counterfeiters with
severity, and enter the caverns of these clandestine thieves with great boldness. Since
you extract considerable amounts from the guilds, and you have neither the strength nor
the means to destroy them; since you have enough justice to realise that by depriving
them of the rights you once gave to them, they must not be left to struggle under the
burden of debts which they incurred by meeting your urgent needs; since you are not in
a position to pay these debts; since you continue to sell your pernicious favours to
them, you should at least give them your fullest support, until you have enough in your
coffers to dissolve them. Deal ruthlessly with intruders who get involved in their trade
and who steal their benefits from them without sharing their burdens; do not let these
intruders obtain your privileges; do not allow royal houses to serve as refuges for them
any longer; do not let them introduce pirate editions either in the capital or in the
provinces; take serious action on these abuses, and you will find guilds who are ready to
support your position. Do not expect anything significant from your junior protégés;
nothing, I say, and even less from a trader who struggles against poverty and upon whom
you would vainly impose a burden too great for him to bear. What would you say, sir, of a
merchant who sold to you at a high price, and who also kept a thief at the door to rob you
on your way out? That is exactly what you are doing.
      ‘Our position,’ you will say to me, ‘is an embarrassing one.’ I know. But it is you
who have got yourselves into it through poor decisions, and it is your destitution which
keeps you there. You must not punish the innocent for the mistakes that you have made, and
take from one hand what you carry on selling to me with the other. But, once more, the
abolition of guilds, if you were in a position to carry it out, has nothing to do with
privileges. These two objects are so confused in your mind that you find it difficult to
separate them. Even if everyone in the world were in a position to open a shop on the rue
Saint-Jacques, the purchaser of a manuscript would be no less its true owner, and therefore
a citizen under the protection of the laws, and the counterfeiter would still be a thief, to
be pursued by all the severity of those same laws.
      The more the truth of the current state of publishing and printing is exposed, the less
plausible it will seem. Sir, allow me to imagine for a moment that you were a printer or a
publisher. If you had obtained a manuscript at great cost, if you had sought a privilege for
it, if it had been granted to you, if you had invested a considerable sum of money in your
edition, sparing nothing on the quality of the paper and of the characters, on proofreading
and correction; and if, at the moment of publication, you were pirated by a man whose
reproduction cost him nothing, and who sold your own work under your very eyes, in small
characters and on poor-quality paper, what would you think? What would you say?
      But if this thief were to pass for an honest man and a good citizen; if his superiors
encouraged him to continue in his actions; if, permitted by the regulations to pursue him,
you came across magistrates from his city; if it was impossible for you to obtain justice
from them.
      If foreign pirate editions appeared in addition to those produced within our own country.
If a bookseller from Liège were to write shamelessly to Parisian booksellers, telling them
that he was going to publish The Spectacle of Nature which belonged to you, or a few of the
Portable Dictionaries whose privilege you bought for a huge sum, and that to improve its sales
he was going to put your name on it; if he offered to deliver them; if he undertook to send
them to a suitable place, your neighbour’s door, without going via the guild chambers; if he
kept his word; if these books arrived; if you went to the magistrate and he turned his back on
you. Would you not be dismayed and discouraged, and would you not decide either to give up and
remain idle, or to turn to thieving like the others?


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And in this discouragement into which, in the trader’s place, you would have fallen, if
some poorly conceived innovation, concocted by an empty-headed individual and adopted by
a narrow-minded and short-sighted magistrate, were added to the affronts which printing,
publishing and letters have already suffered, and drove them out of France, then your
binders, your gilders, your paper-makers and other related professions would all be ruined.
You really would be selling your own skins, raw materials which foreigners would be able
to buy from France, when their prices are reduced, and send them back to you in the form
of manufactured goods, as they have already begun to do. Do these consequences not seem
inevitable once your printers and publishers, no longer able to sustain their trade and
their workshops, are reduced to the small profits of commission?
      And do not delude yourself, sir, that such an evil is still far off. Already
Switzerland, Avignon and the Low Countries, who do not have to pay any reproduction costs,
and who manufacture at a lower cost than you can, have obtained works which should never,
and had never, been printed anywhere other than here.
      Avignon in particular, which ten years ago had only two languishing presses, now has
thirty very busy ones. Are there people writing in Avignon? Is this region policed? Are
there authors, men of letters there? No, sir, the people there are still as ignorant and
dull as they always have been; but they profit from the lax application of the law and
inundate our southern provinces with their pirate editions. This fact is not unknown. Are
people alarmed by it? Not at all. Are people alarmed by anything? But it gets worse. Your
Parisian booksellers, sir, yes, your Parisian booksellers, deprived of this branch of
trade, out of either cowardice or poverty, or both, join forces with these editions. As
for those in the provinces, alas! It is almost useless to open one's eyes today, having
turned a blind eye for so long to these traders’ infringements of the law; they no longer
even bother to counterfeit for themselves. This theft is no longer profitable enough for
them, so they follow the example of the capital and accept foreign pirate editions.
      And do not imagine that I am exaggerating. A man whose name I will not mention, out
of respect for his position and his personal merit, had advised printers in Lyon to
counterfeit Racine’s "Ecclesiastical History", in fourteen duodecimo volumes; at that
moment, he was forgetting that the owners and privilege holders had paid considerable sums
for the manuscript, and additional sums to print it. The counterfeiter, with less conscience,
was not disposed to have a more accurate memory. However, the piracy and the recommended
theft did not take place. An edition from Avignon stopped the Lyon publisher in his tracks,
and the latter was very pleased with this, since he realised that it would be more profitable
for him to use the foreign pirate edition.
      If the current persecution and disorder continues, every bookseller will provide for
himself from far away according to his turnover. What could be wiser than for him no longer
to expose himself to losing his initial outlay? But the State will be impoverished by the
loss of workers and the decline of materials produced by your soil, and you will drive out
from your lands the gold and silver which your territory no longer produces. But, sir, have
you never informed yourself on the nature of exchanges between the French bookseller and the
foreign bookseller? Usually, they exchange poor-quality books in return for equally poor-quality
books, smudged and offset works which circulate from one shop to another ten times before
reaching their proper destination, and only then after huge delivery and transportation costs,
which are never recovered. Far from dreaming of extending competition, it would perhaps be
better to extend exclusive privileges to works originally printed by a foreign publisher. I
say perhaps, but I would say surely, if it was possible to obtain the same justice for him;
however, this is unthinkable. Traders of one nation are, and will always be, at war with those
of another nation. The only solution is therefore to prevent the entry of their editions, to grant


Chapter 1 Page 34


privileges for their works to the first occupier, or, if you prefer, to treat them like
manuscripts of classical authors, for which no royalties are paid and which are in the
public domain, and to imitate their speed in counterfeiting our works. This would work
for those books which contain nothing contrary to our principles, our mores, our
government, our religion and our customs. As for the others, allow me to delay my opinion
for a few lines, where I will describe tacit permissions to you.
      I have heard people say, ‘But since it is impossible to prevent foreigners from
pirating our works, why not authorise our own people to do the same? If our property owners
are going to be robbed, it would be better for them to be robbed by a fellow Frenchman than
by a Dutchman.’
      No, sir, it would not be better; whatever the circumstances, we must not encourage our
citizens to have contempt for our mores and laws, and to plunder one another. Rather, once
again, you must do your best to ensure the strict enforcement of regulations to prevent the
entry of all foreign pirate editions. Let the counterfeiter from Holland, Geneva or Avignon
lose more through the confiscation of one intercepted edition than he can gain through ten
which are smuggled successfully. Multiply his risks as you should, support your legitimate
traders with all your authority and leave the rest to his vigilance and hard work. As soon as
his edition is ready to be published, ensure that his correspondents at both ends of the
country are aware of the fact; that most of the copies of his edition have already been taken;
that this correspondent, eager to profit from our impatience, uncertain that he will be
able to obtain copies from a far away, and almost sure of being intercepted and punished if
he sells a pirate edition, accepts works manufactured by Parisian printers, and that the
foreign trader only very rarely sends to our provinces items which with which we can supply
them ourselves.
      ‘But if we do not take his books, he will not take ours.’ Yet do you not realise that it
is your own goods that he is sending to you; he has nothing of his own, he produces barely a
single miserable pamphlet in the course of a whole year.
      That, sir, is all I have to say to you on privileges in the book trade. I may have been
mistaken on a few points, but only on those of little importance; I may have given more weight
to certain matters than they deserve; I may not yet be sufficiently knowledgeable about the
profession to have given a fair assessment of its advantages and disadvantages; but I am sure
of my sincerity, if not of my insight. Neither in this matter nor in any other have I ever
consulted my private interest at the expense of the general interest; that is why I have the
reputation of a good man, and am not very rich.
      So, these are my conclusions, to bring to a close the point which I have dealt with at
the greatest length, since it appeared to me to be the most important:
      1. that the series of laws established over the last two centuries, with full knowledge
of the facts, and motivated by genuine difficulties and challenges, which I described to you
in the order that they arose, partially maintained during one reign by the authority of Louis
XIII, Cardinal Richelieu and his successors in the government, and which then became general
during the following reign by the authority of Louis XIV, Chancellor Séguier and Colbert, laws
whose necessity you must now fully understand, if you wish to preserve the greatness of
publishing, printing and literature, should be permanently reinforced.
      2. that, in conformity with the letters patent of 20 December 1649, 27 January 1665 and
the various rulings consequently given by Louis XIV and the currently ruling sovereign,
particularly the regulation of 28 February, in its first and subsequent articles, that
privileges be regarded simply as measures granting security; that works acquired be regarded as
unassailable properties, and their printing and reprints be exclusively renewed to those who
purchased them, unless there is a dispensatory clause within the work itself.
      3. that the transfer or division of a privilege should only ever be performed when the
legitimate owner freely and knowingly permits it.
      4. that these privileges and permissions should continue to be registered in the records
of the syndic’s chambers in Paris.
      5. that the syndic, as one might expect, should be authorised to suspend the registration
of a privilege when opposition is made, or when he knows that the privilege in question prejudices
the rights of a third party, and the matter will be left to the decision of the chancellor.
      6. that foreign books to which privileges and public authorisation apply should belong to
their first occupier as a personal possession, or should be declared to be in the public domain,
when that is judged to be more reasonable.
      7. that the laws on the entry of books into the kingdom


Chapter 1 Page 35


and notably article 92 of the regulation of 1723, should be enforced rigorously, and that no
book should enter the kingdom without passing through the guild chambers, where packages of
books should be stopped.
      8. That in future, all reasonable precautions should be taken to ensure that these
packages are not fraudulently misappropriated, as has occurred in the past.
      9. That, with regard to the book trade in Avignon, against which sufficient measures have
not yet been taken, it should be forbidden to export any books from the earldom without a bond
note obtained from the royal tax officials, who every week should send a list and catalogue of
the books contained in the packages; that these notes should be stamped at the Noves office and
then be unloaded at Aix after the syndics’ and adjoints’ visit, or at the Tulette office and
then be unloaded at Valence by the tax officials’ printer, aided by an assistant, or at the
Villeneuve office and then be unloaded at Lyon or Montpellier, depending on their different
destinations, after the syndics’ and assistants’ visit; that all the packages which arrive in
the kingdom from Avignon by other means or without a bond note stamped as described, should be
seizable by an itinerant inspector at the border, appointed by the tax official responsible for
this area, and having the responsibility of sending to the chancellor a list of these confiscated
books, in order to receive the magistrate’s orders and execute them in accordance with the
regulations; that on this list, the syndics and assistants of the Paris guild should be called
upon in order to give a reasonable verdict, based on their observations.
      It seems to me, sir, that these requests are founded equally on justice, the law and the
public good, and that the only way of preventing the entire ruin of this community and to reignite
a spirit of competition among traders who are discouraged by the uselessness of their efforts and
by the daily losses which they endure in ventures which had once been lucrative to them and which
will be lucrative again when the regulations are vigorously enforced, is to see them passed into
law, especially if you agree with what I will now tell you about tacit permissions.
      This point is a little more delicate than the previous one; however, I will explain myself
openly; you will kindly overlook my expression when it seems excessive and too coarse, and focus
instead on the substance of what I am saying. I will say first of all: sir, my good sir, the truly
illicit, prohibited and pernicious books for a magistrate who sees matters rightly, who is not
preoccupied by false and fainthearted little ideas and who confines himself to what experience
teaches, are those books which are printed outside of our country and which we buy from abroad,
when we could buy them from our own manufacturers, and there are no others. If, between authentic
and public authorisation and tacit permission, we create any distinctions other than that of decency,
which does not permit that the royal privilege should be used to attack those things which the king
and the law wish to be respected, then we have understood nothing, nothing at all; and anyone who
is shocked by this initial point should not pursue this matter any further; such a man is suited
neither for the magistracy nor for my ideas. But if, sir, your soul is as steady as I believe it
to be, and if you listen to me patiently, you will soon share my opinion, and you will declare along
with me that it is almost impossible to imagine a case in which a tacit permission should be refused;
for surely nobody would have the effrontery to approach


Chapter 1 Page 36


you concerning those vile works whose authors and printers find that the darkness in which
they are forced to take refuge is not dark enough, and which could not be published
anywhere in the world, not in Paris, nor London, nor Amsterdam, nor Constantinople, nor
Peking, without being pursued by public vengeance, and whose titles any decent man would
be embarrassed to name.
      ‘But, is not a tacit permission, you will say, an infraction of the general law which
forbids the publication of anything without express approval and without authority?’ Perhaps
that is so, but the interests of society demand this infraction, and you will reach the same
conclusion, because all your strictness on this point will not prevent the evil you fear,
and indeed your rigidity could prevent you from compensating for this evil by performing a
good deed which depends on you. ‘What! Will I permit the printing and distribution of a work
which is evidently contrary to the national religion in which I believe and which I respect,
and will I consent to the insulting of the object of my worship, in whose presence I bow my
head every day, who sees me, who hears me, who will judge me, who will place before my eyes
that very work?’ Yes, you will consent to it; after all, this God allowed it to be written and
printed, he came to live among men and allowed himself to be crucified by men. ‘Will I, who see
morals as the surest and perhaps the only foundation of a people’s happiness, the most evident
guarantee of its longevity, will I allow the spread of principles which attack and weaken
them?’ You will allow it. ‘Will I abandon to the rash discussion of a fanatic, an enthusiast,
our customs, our laws, our government, the most sacred objects on earth, the security of my
sovereign, the peace of my fellow citizens?’ It is difficult, I agree, but you will reach that
conclusion, yes, you will reach it sooner or later, regretting that you did not dare reach it
sooner.
      It is not a matter, sir, of what would be better, it is not a question of what both of us
desire, but of what you are able to do, and you and I both cry from the very bottom of our
hearts, ‘May those works which make men brutish, violent, perverse, corrupt and malicious
perish to eternity!’ But can you prevent men from writing? No. And no more can you prevent a
written work from being printed and from becoming, in short space of time, just as common as if
you had given it a tacit permission, and much more sought after, sold and read.
      Sir, line all your borders with soldiers, arm them with bayonets to keep dangerous books
out, and these books, forgive me the expression, will pass between their legs or will leap over
their heads, and will still reach us.
      I ask of you, can you name me one of these dangerous and proscribed works which, printed
clandestinely either abroad or on our own soil, has not in under four months become as common
as a book with a privilege? What book could be more contrary to good morals, to religion, to the
received ideas of philosophy and government, in a word to all common prejudices, and consequently
more dangerous, than the "Persian Letters"? Could we do any worse? And yet there are a hundred
editions of the "Persian Letters" and there is not a single schoolboy in the Four Nations who
could not find a copy at a bookstall for twelve sous. Is there anyone who does not have their
translation of Juvenal or Petronius? There are countless reprints of Boccaccio’s "Decameron",
La Fontaine’s "Tales" and Crébillon’s novels. What library, public or private, does not have
copies of "Thoughts on the Comet", all of Bayle’s writings, "The Spirit of the Laws", "On the
Spirit", "The History of Finance", Rousseau’s "Emile", his "Héloïse", his "Discourse on the
origins of inequality", and a hundred thousand other works which I could name?
      Could not our French compositors just as well have inserted at the bottom of the first page:
‘Published by Merkus, in Amsterdam’, as one of Merkus’ workers?


Chapter 1 Page 37


      The police set all its machinery, prudence and authority to work in order to suppress
the late Boulanger’s "Oriental Despotism", and to deprive us of the Letter from Jean-Jacques
to the Archbishop of Paris. I am not aware of a second edition of the Archbishop’s
Mandate; but I do know of five or six editions of the other two works, and the provinces
send them to us for thirty sols.
      The "Contrat social", printed and reprinted, was distributed for a mere écu even in the
halls of the sovereign’s palace.
      What is the meaning of all this? It is that we have neither more nor less of these works;
but that we have paid to foreigners the price of production which an indulgent magistrate and
a better policy would have spared us, and that we have been abandoned to pedlars who, profiting
from our curiosity, which is doubled or even trebled by the forbidden nature of these works,
have made us pay dearly for the actual or supposed danger which they ran to satisfy it.
      Among works which only bear a tacit permission, two types must be distinguished: those by
foreign authors which have already been published outside the kingdom, and those by our own
authors, in manuscript form or published under a foreign title.
      If the author is a citizen and his work is in manuscript form, welcome him, take advantage
of his trust in you which he demonstrates by presenting you with a work whose daring he knows
better than you, and use this to lead him either to suppress the work totally out of the
respect he owes to the customs of his country and out of consideration for his own security, or
at least to alter it to a more moderate, more circumspect and wiser form. There is almost
nothing that you cannot obtain from his desire to have his work printed nearby, to re-read and
correct the proofs, and from the convenience he will find, under your indulgent protection, in
dealing with a trader who gives him a fair deal. That is how you will reconcile as far as
possible two things which are too opposed for you to harmonise perfectly, your own affairs and
the public good.
      If, as may happen, the author does not want to sacrifice anything, if he is determined to
leave his work in its original form, send him away and banish him completely from your memory.
Have confidence that once he faces a threat or the slightest act of authority, you will not hear
from him again. Interest in the work will wane for a time, and then its production will be
transferred abroad, and the authors themselves will not delay in following them there. ‘Well,
all the better,’ you will say, ‘that they go elsewhere.’ In saying such things, you are barely
thinking about what you say: you will lose the men you had, and you will not have any less of
their works, you will simply end up with more daring versions of them, and if you consider
these works to be a source of corruption, you will still end up poor and brutish, and no less
corrupted... Our age also is becoming too enlightened... It is not that ; it is that you are not
sufficiently enlightened for your time... we do not like those who are reasoners. It is because
you fear reason.
      Once the work has appeared, either within the kingdom or abroad, take great care not to
mutilate even a single line of it; these mutilations do not solve anything, they are spotted in
a moment, one edition is labelled good and the other bad, people will despise the latter and will
not read it, whilst the former, which is often the foreign edition, will only become all the more
sought after; for the sake of a few words which shocked you and which we will still read despite
your best efforts, you shall have ruined your manufacturer, and enriched his foreign competitor.
      If there is no middle way, as experience from time immemorial should have taught you; if a
work of any sort emerges from your workshops or passes abroad and you buy it from him fully
manufactured, having nothing to gain on the one hand, and on the other hand causing trade
interests to be damaged; then authorise your manufacturer, if only to save your authority from
contempt and your laws from infraction, for have no doubts, your authority will be despised and
your laws infringed, whenever risks are virtually compensated for by profit ; and that will always
be the case. We have seen your severity in action when you altered the price of a duodecimo
edition from thirty-six sous to two louis in the space of twenty-four hours.


Chapter 1 Page 38


I could show you that on a hundred occasions, a man will put his life at risk for the sake of
his fortune. The prospect of fortune is immediate, the danger seems distant, and no magistrate
will ever have a soul dreadful enough to say to himself ‘I will hang, I will burn, I will
disgrace a citizen’, as firmly and constantly as the enterprising man says to himself, ‘I want
to be rich’.
      Furthermore, no book makes any kind of stir without there being 200, 300 or 400 copies of
it circulating within two months, or without someone of a compromised situation being involved;
and since each of these copies circulate between so many people, it would be impossible not to
find at least one foolhardy individual among so many men eager to make a profit, and spread over
an area as large as our kingdom; in this way, the work becomes common.
      If you authorise the publication of a daring work by tacit permission, at least you will
retain for yourself control of its distribution and subdue the sensation surrounding its
publication; I know of a hundred works which have appeared without an eyebrow being raised,
because the magistrate’s connivance prevented a commotion which would have been unpreventable
if he had chosen to act severely.
      If such a commotion occurs, despite your greatest efforts to be circumspect, do not punish
your author, that would be shameful; do not abandon your trader, who only got involved in
accordance with your will; but protest in outrage more loudly than the others; order the most
dreadful searches for these works; let them be carried out by forces of fearsome proportions;
appoint the services of the exempt, the commissioner, the syndics, the guard; let them go
everywhere, by daylight, so that everyone might see them, and let them never find a thing. It
must be done in this way. You cannot tell certain people, or even worse, allow them to
understand that you have only given a tacit permission to a work because it would have been
impossible for you to ban it, either elsewhere or here, and that this was the only reliable means
left available to you to protect the interests of the book trade by your forced connivance. The
people who will seem the most offended by the advice I dare to give you are either good Jews who
have neither a clear view of matters, nor experience, nor common sense; or else they are deeply
malicious people who could not be any less concerned for the interests of society, as long as
their own interests are protected, as they have made abundantly clear on more important occasions.
Listen to them, interrogate them, and you will see that they would not hesitate to hand you a
knife to cut the throats of most of those men who have had the fortune or misfortune not to
share their opinions. What is remarkable is that for as long as they have existed, with contempt
for all authority, they have taken upon themselves the freedom to say and to write that they want
to deprive us, despite the fact that their seditious words and their extravagant and fanatical
writings are the only ones which so far have troubled the peace of the States and endangered
monarchs’ lives.
      However, I would not exclude even these books from the number of those which must be tacitly
permitted; only let the trade of all prohibited books be conducted by our own booksellers and not
by others. The book trade conducted by individuals without rank or assets is an exchange of money
for manufactured paper; that of your appointed traders is almost always an exchange of industry
for industry, of manufactured paper for manufactured paper.
      You recall the great success of Bayle’s "Dictionary" when it appeared, and the frenzy
throughout Europe for this work. Was there anyone who did not want to get a copy of Bayle, whatever
the price? And who would not have acquired it despite all the authorities’ precautions? Those
individuals who could not obtain copies from our own booksellers looked instead to foreigners; the
work arrived by indirect routes and our money disappeared into foreign hands. The bookseller,
excited by the prospect of gain, mixed with wise political consideration, approached the minister
and had little difficulty in making him see the difference between a trade of money for paper, and
one of paper for paper; the minister replied that he was right; however, that he would never open
the kingdom’s doors to Bayle. This admission of the soundness of his request and this decisive
refusal to grant it astonished him, but the magistrate immediately added, ‘What would be better
would be to print it here,’ and Bayle’s work was printed here.


Chapter 1 Page 39


So I ask you, sir, if it was wise to produce the third or fourth edition of Bayle in France,
was it not foolish not to have produced the second or even the first edition here also?
      I will not discuss the matter of whether or not these dangerous books are in fact as
dangerous as people claim; whether lies and sophism are not sooner or later recognised and
scorned; whether the truth, which can never be suppressed, and which spreads little by
little, gaining ground almost imperceptibly over the long-held prejudices it encounters,
and only becoming widespread after a surprising amount of time, can ever pose any real
danger. But I do notice that the more severe the proscription, the more a book’s price is
increased, the more interest is encouraged in the book, the more it is bought and the more
it is read. And how often has their condemnation made them well-known, when their mediocrity
condemned them to be forgotten? How often would the publisher and author of a work with a
privilege not have said, had they dared, to the senior magistrates, ‘sirs, please, would you
grant a little ruling condemning me to be lacerated and burned at the foot of your great
staircase?’ When a book’s sentence is announced, the print-shop workers say, ‘right, let’s
produce another edition.’
      Whatever you do, you will never prevent the establishment of a level between the need we
have for works, dangerous or not, and the number of copies which this need requires. This
level will only be established a little faster, if you erect a barrier against it. The only
thing to bear in mind, since nothing else matters, however terrible the light in which it is
presented, is whether you want to keep your money or whether you want to let go of it. Again,
I ask you, name me a dangerous book which cannot be obtained.
      I think, therefore, that it is beneficial both for letters and for trade to multiply a
great number of tacit permissions, and to impose only a token of decorum on a book’s
publication and distribution in order to satisfy small-minded people. You refer an author’s
work to the courts, the laws proscribe his work, the ruling is published, he is lacerated and
burned, and two months later you can buy the work from riverbank bookstalls. Such open
contempt for the law is intolerable.
      Let the trader keep copies of the banned book in his stores, let him sell it without
compromising himself; but let him not have the impudence to display them on his shop counter,
without risking its confiscation.
      I think that, if a book is acquired by a publisher who has paid for its manuscript and
has published it with a tacit permission, this tacit permission is equivalent to a privilege;
the counterfeiter commits a theft which the magistrate appointed to policing the book trade
should punish all the more severely since he cannot be pursued by the law. The nature of the
work, which protects it from juridical action, does not affect its ownership.
      If a prohibited book whose reprinting is being sought was published abroad, it would appear
to belong to the category of objects in the public domain; it can be treated according to the
regulations, or rather the customs, which apply to old books: its reproduction cost the publisher
nothing, and he has no claim to own it; make of this what you like, either the object of a
favour, or a recompense for a publisher, or for a man of letters, or a fee for the censor, or
the property of the first occupier; but, again, do not allow anyone to mutilate the work.
      But the more widely I extend the application of tacit permissions, the more important it is
that you choose your censors carefully. They should be men of considerable knowledge and morals,
and have acquired great respect for themselves; they should have all those personal distinctions
which can impress


Chapter 1 Page 40


a young author. If, in the fervour of our age, in this time when in order to open one’s
door to esteem, one must throw one’s happiness out of the window, I have made some
mistakes, I have amply repaired them! I could not tell you how many works of all sorts
I have been consulted about, and whose authors I have led to keep them to themselves, by
forcefully pointing out to them the persecutions to which they would be subjecting
themselves, the troubles which would plague their entire lives and the bitter regrets
they would suffer if they did not. It is true that in these matters, I wasspeaking a
little from my own experience; but if I have succeeded, what services would you not
rightfully expect from more important men?
      When I open my Royal Almanac and, in the middle of a huge list and next to the names
of Mr Ladvocat, librarian at the Sorbonne, Mr Saurin, Mr Astruc, Mr Sénac, Mr Morand, Mr
Louis, Mr Clairaut, Mr Deparcieux, Mr Capperonier, Mr Barthélemy, Mr Béjot and others who
I shall not name but whom I revere equally, I find a crowd of unknown names, I cannot help
but shrug my shoulders.
      We ought to strike out the names of three quarters of those people who have been
granted the task of judging our writings, in both the sciences and the arts, apparently
without any qualifications to do so; we should maintain the small number that remain, who
are well-qualified to give good advice to an author about his work, and we should reward
them in a way that is worthy of their role.
      Some of them already have a pension; in addition to this future reward, who would
object to paying them a small tribute on the censored work itself? On top of the copy of
the work which the censor receives, if not by rights, then at least by custom, why not
award him a fee relative to the volume’s format, to be paid by the author or the publisher?
For example, eighteen livres for a duodecimo volume, one louis for an octavo, thirty-six
livres for a quarto, two louis for a folio; such a tax would not be heavy enough to attract
complaints. It would seem nothing if the work was a success; it would only slightly
increase one’s losses if it failed; and it would only be paid on those works judged
appropriate to receive a privilege or tacit permission.
      The situation is entirely different in London ; there are neither privileges nor
censors. An author takes his work to the printer, it is printed, it goes on sale. If the
work is daring enough to deserve public disapproval, the magistrate approaches the printer,
who either remains silent or names the author; if he remains silent, legal action is taken
against him; if he provides a name, action is taken against the author. I would be deeply
unhappy if such a policy were adopted here; before long it would make us too moderate and
restrained.
      In any case, since it is important to maintain guild regulations, because they concern
an exchange in which the government imposes specific taxes on a few citizens, at least until
happier times enable it to free the industry from these pernicious fetters by paying off loans
that these guilds have taken out in order the pay these taxes, I can and I shall not hesitate
in denouncing to you an abuse which is becoming more widespread by the day, to the detriment
of the community and business of the book trade: I am talking about those hordes of people
without knowledge, quality or good repute, who muscle in on the trade in a most open and bare-
faced manner. Sheltered by protective measures they have gained for themselves and by the refuge
afforded to them by their privileges, they sell, buy, counterfeit and deal in counterfeit
editions from this country and from abroad, and in a hundred different ways they do great harm,
without the slightest concern about the severity of the law against such activities. How is it
possible that the small conveniences such actions create for individuals can cause the magistrate
to turn a blind eye to the evil that these people do? I ask, what would become of our book trade
if the booksellers’ guild fell upon hard times and was suddenly disbanded


Chapter 1 Page 41


and the entire trade fell into the hands of these wretched foreign agents; what hope would we
have then? Now that by all sorts of illicit means they have become almost as well off as they
ever could be, were we to assemble them all and offer them the opportunity to reprint some of
those great works which are currently unavailable, we would see who deserved preference: those
who, through their education, their hard work and their experience, have acquired knowledge of
old, rare and precious books, those people whom enlightened men will always consult, in matters
both of buying and of selling, and whose shops are storehouses of all good literature and whose
survival they ensure by their hard work; or that troop of ignorant beggars who have nothing but
filth, who know nothing and whose entire activity consists of stripping legitimate traders and
gradually driving them, by depriving them of their daily income, to being unfortunately unable
to render us services which we certainly cannot expect to find elsewhere. Where is the justice
in creating a profession, crippling it with burdens and then giving its rewards to those who
do not share in bearing the hardships? This is an oversight and a fraud, unworthy of a government
with any wisdom or dignity. ‘But,’ it will be said, ‘why does the Guild not admit these pedlars?
Several have applied to join their ranks’. I agree; but I do not think that we should blame the
scrupulousness of a body which occupies an honest rank in society, for rejecting its lackeys.
Most pedlars started out as publishers’ lackeys. They are only known to their masters on account
of the encroachments they make on their trade, in contempt of the law. Their education and their
morals are suspect, or, to be more precise, their morals are. It would be difficult to name a
single one who is in a position to satisfy every detail of the regulations; they cannot read or
write. Estiennes, famous printers of days gone by, what would you say if you could come back to
us, and cast your eyes over the guild of booksellers, and see your worthy successors and those
seek to be associated with them! However, I have had a few occasions to consult with the best
printers and publishers in Paris, and I can assure you that there are arrangements to which they
would all readily consent. This would involve selecting from the multitude of these intruders
around twenty of the least distinguished. They would form a lower rank of merchants, who would
continue to inhabit the same quarters, outside of which, by a strange process which I will
describe to you in a moment, booksellers are not permitted to operate; they would be recognised
at the guild chambers; they would submit to the general regulations; a specific regulation could
be established for them; the limits within which they can exercise their trade would be fixed;
they would supply in proportion to the guild’s taxes, and the children of those beggars, better
raised and better educated than their fathers, might even one day be able to apply for
apprenticeships and be accepted onto them. It is in this way, I believe, that we will reconcile
the interests of a good and solid book trade with the laziness of society people who like their
servants to bring to them each morning whatever the latest little news may be.


Chapter 1 Page 42


      Whilst waiting for these measures to be adopted, if booksellers request that, in
accordance with the rulings and regulations of their profession, and notably article 4
of that of 27 February 1723, anyone who interferes with their trade without being
qualified to do so should be punished according with the utmost rigour of the law, and
that if, notwithstanding the edicts of 20 October 1721, 14 August 1722, 31 October 1754
and 25 September 1742, royal houses and other refuges which have prostituted themselves to
this sort of thievery still seem too respectable for confiscations and other measures to be
enacted upon them, then ruthless measures should be taken against those who keep stalls and
shops there; I believe that as long the principle of equity is not inverted, saying that
‘I want there to be some citizens who pay me a certain amount for the rights to sell books,
and others who pay me nothing; I want some to pay taxes on them and others to pay none,
however ruinous this distinction may be; I want the former to be subject to laws from which
I will choose to free the latter; I want for he to whom I have given the right to bear this
title, on the condition that he provides me with this or that aid, to be damaged, and for
he who has gone without the title and who has given me nothing to profit from the advantage
given to him by the damage which I will inflict on his competitor,’ then the bookseller’s
demand should be granted.
      But since you do not scorn anything which relates to the exercise of your functions, and
since you do not count anything which serves to enlighten you as being merely unnecessary detail,
I will explain to you the origins of that horde of pedlars which we have seen appear as suddenly
as those insects which devour our Angoumois harvests. I shall trace their origins back to a
regulation which may have been reasonable in the past, but which, in changed circumstances, has
become entirely ridiculous. This regulation, which dates back to the first introduction of
printing to France, forbids any bookseller and any printer to establish his premises beyond the
bridges.
      Printing was first established in Paris in 1470. It was Jean de la Pierre, prior of the
Sorbonne, who did this service to French letters. The house of the Sorbonne, famous from that
time on, was the first location in which he placed the artists he had appointed. The new art
divided the publishing trade into two sorts of booksellers: the first group sold manuscripts,
and the second group sold printed books. The connection between the two professions united
them in a single guild; they all became printers and in the University’s eyes, no distinction
was made between them. For commercial reasons, they had gathered in the University quarter, and
they established their residence there.
      In response to the farmers’ protests against the large number of privilege holders, in
1488 Charles VIII, in order to reduce this number, limited the number of University booksellers
to twenty-four; the others, unable to obtain privileges, carried on working in the same places,
because this proved convenient for sales.
      However, fuelled by printing, the taste for reading grew; the number of book-collectors
multiplied; the little hilltop precinct no longer encompassed all the knowledge


Chapter 1 Page 43


in the city, and a few traders dreamed of moving on and setting up shop on the other side
of the river. The guild, which had turned what had been a measure of convenience into a
rigorous law, opposed this development, and the syndics and assistants, responsible for
the internal policing of their guild, said that since inspecting foreign books already
took up a great deal of their time, they would not have the means to carry out inspections
on printed books if the booksellers spread out over a larger area, with greater distances
between one another.
      This led to various rulings by the Council and the Parlement made various rulings, and
to declarations relating to the booksellers’ code under article 12 of the 1723 regulation,
which forbids Parisian printers and booksellers from establishing their shops outside of the
University quarter.
      This small precinct was strictly reserved for those who both sold books from their
stores and stalls, and who also printed and published works themselves. As for those who only
published, they were granted permission to work inside the Palace, and a few others, whose
trade was restricted to books of hours and small prayer books, were permitted to work in the
Palace surroundings and to spread as far as the Quai de Gesvres.
      All this policing of booksellers’ and publishers’ locations has been confirmed since 1600
by a series of sentences, rulings and declarations; it has survived even after the reduction
of the number of printers in Paris to thirty-six. It still remains, even though none of the
reasons for its original institution still apply. Just as much as the former state of the book
trade and of letters seemed to demand these measures, so their current state now demands their
reform.
      The typographical art has such close links to religion, mores, government and public order
that, in order to enable inspections to be carried out easily and promptly, perhaps it is wise
to enclose printing presses in the smallest possible space. If the regulation which restricts
them to the University quarter is maintained, that is all very well. But as for the bookshops,
which are inspected less frequently, it is rare for the publicity generated by the sale of a
questionable work not to lead directly to the location of the offender, and for subsequent
action, when necessary, to be delayed or prevented by any obstacle.
      Besides, that part of the city which is outside the University precinct is the larger part.
There are religious houses, ecclesiastical communities, lawyers, men of letters and readers of
all sorts. Every wealthy man, and every modest individual who is not brutish, has his own library,
be it small or large. However, when the old rules which concentrated booksellers in a small space
continued to be applied, when the interests of these traders and public convenience called for
them to be spread around the city, a few destitute men decided to put a bag on their shoulders,
filled with books they had bought or taken on credit from the booksellers’ shops; a few poor women,
following their example, filled their aprons likewise, and together they crossed the bridges and
went knocking on the doors of private houses. The booksellers, whose turnover they increased, gave
them a small discount which encouraged them. Their numbers grew


Chapter 1 Page 44


they appeared everywhere, they enjoyed some success, and before long they had stalls and
shops at the Palais-Royal, at the Temple, at other palaces and in various privileged
locations. These people without quality, without morals, without intelligence, guided
solely by an instinct for their own interests, profited so much from the rules restricting
booksellers to stay on one side of the river that they conducted all their trade on the
other side.
      Again, if they had continued to obtain their supplies from genuine, true traders, the
situation would have been tolerable; but they made the acquaintance of authors, they
purchased their manuscripts, they obtained privileges for them, they found printers, they
made pirate editions, they sought pirate editions from abroad, they swooped down on ancient
and modern works, on the trade of our own country and from abroad, they made no distinction,
respected no property, bought anything they could, sold all that they were asked for, and
one of the secret reasons which brought them such success is that a man with any character
or a woman who still has a degree of modesty could obtain from these lackeys abominable
books whose titles they would never have dared name to an honest trader. Those who could not
find a hideout in a privileged location managed, somehow, and assured of impunity, managed to
find rooms and open shops where they received visits from merchants. They did transactions
with traders in the provinces and abroad, and since some of them could not recognise a good
edition when they saw one and the rest did not care, the quality of the merchandise each trader
sold to them was calculated in proportion to the intelligence and taste of his buyer; the low
prices at which pedlars then supplied poorly-produced works deprived the true bookseller of
this branch of his trade. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that such honest traders should
become destitute, that they lose their reputation, that large-scale publishing ventures are no
longer undertaken, given that this body, which used to be honoured by many prerogatives which
have now become useless, is undermined by all sorts of means.
      Would it not be strangely contradictory if there were prohibited books, books for which,
in any part of the world, one would not dare to ask for a privilege, nor hope for a tacit
permission, and yet when it came to their distribution, there was toleration, or even protection,
for a certain group of men who obtained them in contempt of the law, in the full knowledge of
the magistrate, and who therefore stung their buyers even more strongly, by making them pay for
their risks and their infraction of the rules, when such risks were only apparent?
      Would it not be an equally strange contradiction to refuse to the true trader, whose oath
is demanded, who has been granted the status of a profession, on whom taxes are imposed, who has
an interest in fighting against counterfeiting, a liberty or rather a licence which was then
granted to others?
      And would it not be yet another equally strange contradiction to shut him up in a small
area, whether for the trade that is called prohibited, or for his authorised trade, whilst the
whole city is abandoned to intruders? I do not understand this set of rules at all, and nor do I
believe that you do either.


Chapter 1 Page 45


Let no tacit permissions be refused; let the true trader enjoy these tacit permissions as
surely and peacefully as if they were privileges; let these permissions be subject to the
regulations; if pedlars are not done away with, at least let them be affiliated to the
booksellers’ guild; let anything be done that is deemed appropriate, but do not let the
true trader be restricted to a small area which limits and ruins his daily trade; let him
be permitted to set up trade where he likes; let the man of letters and the society man no
longer be compelled by convenience to obtain books from disreputable characters, or
constrained to travel a long way to find the books they desire. In this way, the public will
be served, and the pedlar, whatever status is granted to him, will be more closely guided
and less tempted to break the law. The emigration I propose would not empty the University
quarter of all booksellers. We can be confident that business interests will ensure this does
not happen. A bookseller who has limited his trade to classical works in Greek and Latin will
never stray far from the college gates. For this reason, the University has not opposed this
dispersion, and did not stipulate anything concerning it in the ruling of 10 September 1725.
      Booksellers will set up business in a place of their choice; as for the thirty-six
printers who would suffice for supplying the scholars on the hill, they will stay in the
original precinct; and by this means we shall have provided for the interests of religion,
government and morals, for the freedom of trade, for the support of the book trade, which
needs it now more than ever, for general convenience and for the good of letters.
      If booksellers request that the king be pleased to permit them to trade across the river
and to disregard the rulings and regulations which prevent this, this request should be granted.
      If they request that pedlars and other people without quality be banned from interfering
in their trade and from setting up their business in royal houses and other privileged places,
if they request expenses, damages, even extraordinary legal proceedings, information, enquiries,
penalties in accordance with the regulations, confiscations or any other measures, such requests
should be granted.
      If they request that it be forbidden for any foreign bookseller to have a warehouse and a
shop, or even to approach anyone other than true booksellers in order to sell their wares, and
that this ban should carry the penalties described above, such requests should also be granted.
All these constraints repel me perhaps even more than they do you; but you must either procure
the total freedom of their trade, the dissolution of all guilds, the suppression of the taxes
you extract from them, and the settling of the debts they have incurred in meeting your
requirements, or you must enable them to enjoy fully the rights you sell to them. If you do not
do this, I repeat, you will resemble a trader who keeps a thief at his door to steal from you the
merchandise you just bought from him; you will have gathered citizens together in a body under
the pretext of serving their best interests, only to crush them all the more definitively.


Translation by: Lydia Mulholland

    

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