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Diderot's Letter on the book trade (1763)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)
Identifier: f_1763


Commentary on Diderot's Letter on the book trade (1763)
Frédéric Rideau

Faculty of Law, University of Poitiers, France


Please cite as:
Rideau, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on Diderot's Letter on the book trade (1763)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. The publishing history of Diderot's Letter

4. The author's personal property

5. The transfer of literary property

6. Literary property and privileges

7. Monopolies and public interest

8. Censorship and tacit permissions

9. References



1. Full title
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.



2. Abstract
The Letter on the book trade, written for the Director of the Book Trade administration, Antoine de Sartine, discussed the nature of author's right as a property. This famous mémoire, probably written in 1763, was not published in its original form until the second half of the nineteenth century, although an altered version by the Parisian booksellers did finally reach its original addressee. Following some precisions on the history of this mémoire, the commentary shows that, fundamentally, Diderot followed the path initiated by Louis d' Héricourt in 1725: the legal qualification of the bond linking the author to his work must be understood from the perspective of a property right, although the philosopher's approach has been said to be more "personalist", that is, invoking a property of a particular type, more personal to its author than any other goods to his owner. The patrimonial consequences of such a property, however, remained completely traditional for Diderot, and, most significantly, he saw this property as completely transferable. Of course, this approach also had consequences on royal privileges themselves, understood as a simple means to secure pre-existent rights. Finally, the Letter was also concerned with censorship matters.



3. The publishing history of Diderot's Letter
Diderot's Lettre sur le commerce de la librairie was probably written towards the end of the year 1763, following a request from the Parisian bookseller Le Breton. Heavily involved in the so-called ‘battle of the booksellers', Le Breton was the very influential syndic of the Parisian guild, but he was also directly connected to Diderot, being one of his publishers for the Encyclopédie.[1] Setting a trend that would henceforth become traditional for the Parisian guild and its advocates, Diderot endeavoured to justify literary monopolies by invoking the author's property over his creation. However, it seems that his Letter did not reach the intended addressee, Antoine de Sartine, the successor of Lamoignon de Malesherbes at the head of the French book trade administration (Librairie).[2] The Letter in its original wording was not to be printed until the second half of the nineteenth century.[3] However, a substantial part of the Letter was made use of by the booksellers, who eventually communicated it in this adapted form to Sartine in March 1764, under the title of Représentations et observations en forme de mémoire sur l'état ancien et actuel de la librairie (...), présentées à M. de Sartine, Maître des requêtes, directeur général de la librairie et imprimerie, par les syndics et adjoints en charge. This memorandum was duly signed by Le Breton and his assistants at the guild.[4] Diderot's name does not figure among them in this version of the document.


These "two" essential works for the history of author's rights (droit d'auteur) were thus subject to complicated chronological vicissitudes. Moreover, the first editions of Diderot's Letter relied on one of the two copies of the autograph manuscript, which mentioned the date of June 1767. Thus, initially, a significant amount of scholars and historians believed that the Letter was actually a summary of the work of the booksellers in their Représentations.[5] The restoration of the chronological truth even caused some curious effects, especially if we take into account the very similar contents of the two texts, as until quite recently it was normal for scholars to quote from the Letter and the Représentations, without being specific as to which of the two was being referred to.


Actually, even where essential passages are concerned, the two texts must be distinguished carefully. A close comparison indeed reveals that Le Breton and his collaborators "arranged", or modified, the original text in several aspects. The Letter is on the whole characterized by a more literary personal tone, directed towards Diderot's good friend Sartine: in other words, a style that was not so suitable for a guild which wished to submit a "humble" address to the royal administration for the defence of its interests. We should in this sense first draw attention to some subtle, misleading adaptations on the part of the Parisian guild's officials - in particular, the attempts of the Représentations, to carefully restrain the philosopher's enthusiasm: for example, in the section which deals with the Crown's hesitations on the duration of privileges, the phrase "tyrannical partiality" was replaced by "unjust partiality", which was probably more acceptable.[6] The text of the Représentations also reveals that a number of more comprehensive suppressions were carried out by its authors: in particular, when Diderot's arguments were based on more theoretical considerations about authors, or when he talked about the public interest, or the tacit permissions system. On the latter point, for example, the Parisian booksellers chose to remain very cautious and removed significant extracts. Nor was it considered suitable to retain a more personal excerpt on "the general utility" of certain editions.[7] Similarly, when negative considerations relating to the quality of some bookseller's work appeared to be too vehement, moderation was again introduced. Thus, Diderot's proposal to "punish the bookseller or printer", when these were responsible for low-quality editions, and his allusion to "avid tradesmen", were all suppressed.[8]


These examples could be multiplied, and, besides, many of these suppressions were also coupled with additions to the original text.[9] Even if we cannot go into this exhaustively, a comparison between these two sources remains quite revealing, insofar as these suppressions, additions or amendments, were very probably carried out without the author's consent. A "practice" with which Le Breton was certainly familiar, since the syndic of the Parisian booksellers also distinguished himself by his mutilations of the Encyclopédie. When he discovered these in the autumn of 1764, Diderot was offended and hurt to the point of losing "all zest for drinking, eating and sleeping".[10]


This rude awakening came as a surprise, since Diderot had previously seemed to enjoy a good relationship with the Parisian guild. Apart from a few inevitable scattered storms, several sources testify positively about the earlier confidence which the philosopher had in his booksellers. To Sophie Volland, for example, he could still write in August 1762: "do not speak badly of my booksellers. They do everything that I require of them. This is the justness we should expect from everyone. Generosity would consist in going beyond this."[11] At the same time as the subscriptions and other business related to the Encyclopédie, Luneau de Boisjermain - an author who was also an active protagonist of the literary market in the defence of his interests against the Parisian booksellers - was irritated by such naive partiality and lack of in-depth knowledge: "What astonishes me is that, while not understanding anything about [contractual] engagements with booksellers, you have undertaken to justify the way in which they fulfilled them." [12]



4. The author's personal property
The aim of the Letter was ambitious, attempting nothing less than to analyze the state of the literary market, "which connection exists between commerce and literature" and the question as to "whether it is possible to worsen one without harming the other and to impoverish the bookseller without ruining the author..." [13] As a work probably commissioned for use by the Parisian booksellers in their Représentations, it was indeed necessary to disentangle the interests of these two main protagonists of the literary market.[14] The structure chosen by Diderot appears simple a priori, with a summary on the state of the literary market, then a presentation of the "facts" which is followed by his analysis[15] of the author's right, the effects of free trade, and in conclusion a discussion of the freedom of expression and tacit permissions. It is not difficult, however, to point to a number of superfluous passages, even if on the whole it cannot be denied that the Letter is presented "in the magic way, so characteristic of Diderot, of piling up disparate elements by binding them together." [16]


In supporting the right of property as a legal qualification of the bond linking the author to his work, Diderot was following, in particular, the path initiated by Louis d' Héricourt to protect the interests of the privileged Parisian booksellers (see f_1725b): literary property is justified by analogy to property in land, resulting from the actions of one's own body, a fortiori from the author's creative work.[17] Forty years had passed since the fundamental mémoire of the Parisian lawyer. In addition to the decline of patronage during the second half of the seventeenth century, the literary world in general was striving for greater independence, something that is reflected in the way that the number of published titles increased from 1,000 in 1720 to 3,500 in 1770. As Voltaire observed, "the thoughts of men have become an important object of commerce";[18] the author was growing into a professional of the trade, sometimes to the point of defending his rights against the booksellers, as in the example of Luneau de Boisjermain (see f_1770): on the market, therefore, the notion of literary property conveyed increasingly significant and complex interests. Under Diderot's quill, it was also a kind of property which became distinctively, albeit somewhat mysteriously, personal:

"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?"[19]

In this famous and much discussed passage of the Letter, Diderot seems to deviate from more orthodox paths by radicalizing and applying to the field of literary matters the principle that property is derived from personality -[20] an approach which emphasizes the role of an autonomous author in the creative process. The farmer's cultivation legitimizes the property in his field, although in the final analysis his action, his work, becomes insignificant and imitable. The writer, on the other hand, is not a simple technician, nor even an inventor, because he primarily reveals outside himself his own "substance", as Linguet would argue a few years later (see f_1777a). In other words, he demonstrates an originality that elevates him above other workers.


By refusing the traditional comparison between the work of the writer and a farmer's cultivation of his field or a wine grower's of his vineyard,[21] Diderot was evidently echoing contemporary thoughts and debates on aesthetics and genius, which are also reflected, for example, in what the English poet Edward Young had written three years earlier: "An imitator shares his crown, if he has one, with the chosen object of his imitation. An Original may be said to be of a vegetable nature; it rises spontaneously from the vital root of genius; it grows, it is not made: Imitations are often a sort of manufacture wrought up by those mechanic, art, and labour, out of pre-existent materials not their own."[22]


In a more technical sense, however, upholding the notion of a property right implied a discussion of its foundations, especially Lockean ones such as occupatio and labour. It also meant having to answer precise accusations from the provincial booksellers, such as that of attempting to secure the appropriation of ideas, which after all appeared as illegitimate as an occupation of moving things, without borders or demarcations and, in short, ineluctably immaterial. It had indeed been awkward for a long time to transpose the foundations of landed property to the literary property of authors - in particular, the concept of occupation, as we may see, for example, in the Abbé Pluquet's attempts a few years later, in 1778. In his Third Letter to a Friend concerning the literary trade, he recalled that the author who composes a book represents an instance of "first occupation", not by appropriation of the matter, which belonged to the common world of ideas, but at least "by the manner of treating it". Pluquet concluded that the author was then like the farmer on his land, the first occupant "of a particular subject".[23] Diderot, perhaps because he was not directly confronted with the demanding realities of legal disputes, did not develop his analysis on the property subject matter. He knew, however, very well that in literary matters, it is not in fact the "ideas" which "cost" effort on the part of the author; rather, "it is the tone which is appropriate to them." [24]



5. The transfer of literary property
As a singular property, being the image of the creator's personality, but nevertheless characterized by a completely ordinary legal status - that is, a right from which the subject matter, the good, the author's work, remained quite as transferable as a simple piece of "land" - "the right of the owner is the true measurement of the right of the buyer", Diderot stresses. The theoretical strengthening of the source of the author's property thus had a precise function and, taking into consideration its patrimonial effect, the comparison with any other goods or possessions imposed itself again: "I repeat it, the author is the master of his work, or nobody in society is the master of his possessions. The bookseller owns in the same way as it was owned by the author... "; consequently, it "would be just as ridiculous 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." [25] In short, literary property, despite its particular characteristics, could not be weakened by the mere fact of its transfer. Quite the opposite, in fact: it was to some extent precisely because the work is so personal to its author that he maintained his sovereign faculty to detach it from his person, to negotiate it with the bookseller. It could therefore be wholly transmitted by means of a publishing contract. This was such a powerful and inescapable consequence that even the right of blood, the "right of heredity" of the Lafontaine heirs could not be opposed to the contractual freedom of the author.[26] In terms of such rhetoric, there is little which separates Diderot from Louis d' Héricourt: the point was to make the author's literary property so unquestionable that its free disposal should be absolute... A few years after the Letter, the lawyer Cochu, disputing like several other jurists the 1777 decrees (see f_1777), affirmed similarly that because the property in a work is "more his [the author's] than a plot of land or a house which he might have bought, since he created it...", its transfer could not consequently be limited by any political authority.[27] When, in England, at the time of Millar v. Taylor, the judge Aston supported this personal property - "for, I confess, I do not know, nor can I comprehend any property more emphatically a man's own, nay, more incapable of being mistaken, than his literary works" - it was, of course, not in order to reduce its patrimonial effects...[28] (see uk_1769). Moreover, this perpetual property could also curiously be a means of protecting all the proprietary interests from the author: "since honour is the most valuable portion of the benefits an author receives", it remained essential to control the destiny of the author's reputation by a freely agreed contract, rather than subjecting it to an imposed public domain and its perverse by-effects.[29]


This property, as a perfect subjective rights matrix of the eighteenth-century secularist and rationalistic individual, could thus simultaneously confirm, by its philosophical and emotional power, the deep unity which existed between the writer and his creation, and by its purely technical implications, the complete assimilation of a genius's work to an unspecified good.[30] Transposed to literary property, to insist lengthily throughout the Letter on the rights of the transferee - and thus on the mercantile status of the author's work - while refusing to compare it explicitly to the more "vulgar" possessions, was evidently something of a paradox.



6. Literary property and privileges
In addition to its patrimonial consequences, the existence of a property of natural right also affected the nature of book privileges. On this point, Diderot followed Héricourt, with whom he explicitly acknowledged his affinities.[31] From this common perspective, the privilege in itself could not be the source of the author's right: it could only be understood as an "authentic approval", that is, a recognition by a positive act of the property of the author. Consequently, to refuse the favour of a privilege, which was simply a means of securing a true property, was a denial of justice.[32] Besides, according to Diderot, this truth was supported by the various trade regulations. On this last point the philosopher was, in particular, interpreting - following an approach already tried and tested by the booksellers of the capital (as in England) - eighteenth- century regulations and the conflicts which opposed the Parlement of Paris and the King's Council. The latter, in the Malassis case of 27 February, 1665, had indeed considered the Parlement's line too strict with regard to the duration of privileges. Although at the time it had clearly been a dispute related to control of the press, for Diderot it nevertheless served as proof of acknowledgment of the author's property, especially since the extensions of the terms of privileges continued to the profit of the possessors of the manuscripts.[33] In short, the publishing contract, the free will of the author, conditioned the royal favour: in the book trade the privilege was of a particular, simple, nature, more of an accessory of the author's copyright than a sovereign and discretionary act of the king. Diderot then went further than Louis d'Héricourt. In view of the confusion between the privilege and the author's property, guilds and privileges could be abolished, "as long as the laws on contracts of sale and acquisition remained in force"[34]. Individual freedom and laissez-faire doctrines had been upheld from 1750 onwards by Turgot, in particular, as well as the Physiocrats, but, despite the 1776 attempts, they would not prevail until the French Revolution.


7. Monopolies and public interest
The interests and the property of the author were thus reconcilable with those of its transferee, but finally also compatible with the (renewed) concept of privilege. How did this construction affect the interests of the public? Diderot was not forgetting the serious protests of the provincial booksellers, nor could he ignore the accusations of the Abbé Blondel about the vexations inflicted by the Parisian guild "on the public."[35] Ever since the end of the seventeenth century the monopolies sustained by the Parisian corporation had generated two principal evils: low-quality editions on the worst paper, and artificially high prices. In addition, there were, in Jean Quéniart's words, "anaemic" effects on the provincial book trade.[36] In 1776, this catastrophic situation was lengthily described by the lawyer Gaultier on behalf of the booksellers of Lyon and Rouen as an "intolerable abuse" to the detriment of "the public and private interest", although the latter were, of course, not arguing for complete laissez-faire in the book trade.[37] In this respect, Diderot's position was in conflict with the opponents of the Parisian booksellers. Even though he was inclined to envisage an abolition of privileges and guilds as long as contractual agreements could be assumed, a free trade system based on the absence of property rights would in his view have several disastrous effects: uncontrolled proliferation of poor editions, bringing down the credibility of the last remaining serious publishing houses.[38] Moreover, Diderot argued, a perpetual royal favour, securing the author's rights, could not have any effect on prices as a small profit within a fast publishing flow was always preferable for any bookseller.[39] To sum up then, we can see that as with the concept of literary property, Diderot's arguments were symmetrically opposed to the provincial booksellers' approach, even though both were defending the public interest in accessible books. With regard to this economic perspective, we encounter the same kind of opposition in surprisingly similar terms on the other side of the Channel. In Millar v Taylor (uk_1769), the judge Willes declared (almost echoing Diderot's words): "A small profit, in a speedy and a numerous sale, is much larger gain, than a great profit upon each book in a slow sale of a lesser number."[40] A part of Enfield's argumentation in favour of literary property was also based on the fact that no bookseller had any interest in high prices, because it would deprive him of a more lucrative market.[41]



8. Censorship and tacit permissions
Lastly, an important point of the Letter concerned the royal censorship policy. Although the focus here was not on the juridical nature of the droit d'auteur,[42] Diderot's developments inform us, on a technical level, about the distinction between the various acts (apart from privileges) which could be used by the royal administration, as well as about the advantages stemming in his view from a greater censorship flexibility. As we have already observed (see the commentaries on f_1507 and f_1515), a privilege granted to the author, or the bookseller, an exclusive monopoly, as well as the political permission to print the work in question. For reasons of efficiency and the centralization of censorship, the two aspects were soon fused within a single privilege procedure, from royally appointed censors to the Chancery's confirmation and issue of the royal favour.[43] For pragmatic and liberal reasons, in particular, when Malesherbes was Director of the Librairie (1750-1763), the royal administration started to multiply the grants of parallel permissions. Mainly under the name of "tacit" permissions, these essentially concerned the publication of works that were not supposed to officially deserve a privilege, and did not confer, as the latter, any exclusive rights to the bookseller thus entitled. The procedure was simplified in comparison to the strict requirements for obtaining privilege (in particular, the mandatory registration with the syndics of the Parisian corporation). The first examples of these political tolerances go back, it seems, to the early eighteenth century. The provincial booksellers, from Rouen in particular, were having certain difficulties in obtain privileges. Boisguilbert, the Lieutenant-Général de Police of this town, convinced of the necessity of greater liberalism in the economic system, did not hesitate to grant publishing authorizations for books that had no chances of obtaining an official protection.[44]


In the same vein, the central administration, especially Chancellor Pontchartrain, whilst regulating strictly the number of printers, tried (perhaps in compensation for the latter) to "organize" this new system of permissions. As early as 1714, the permissions register of the Chancery shows the appearance of these tacit permissions, with the following information: "suitable for a tacit permission, but not at all for a privilege".[45] Because of their proliferation, however, Malesherbes felt that the system needed some more rationalized forms.[46] But these permissions still remained "tacit" despite the regulation of their procedure. As mentioned above, their award was justified by idealistic considerations relating to the encouragement of learning, which Malesherbes strongly supported: the truth had to be known, and "this will always be so when people are allowed to write; without this, it will never be possible." He knew that some disputes could last for centuries, and that "only the public can judge these, and it will ultimately always judge them correctly when it has been instructed and enlightened to a sufficiently high level." [47] In addition to the notorious incompetence of the various censors, it was a must for Diderot, in this perspective, to be cautious with an administration for which the age was becoming far too enlightened and which "fears reason".[48] Thus, the tacit permissions accordingly authorized the necessary flexibility for "circumstances where one did not dare to authorize a book publicly and it was felt that it would not be possible to defend it."[49] In other words, the royal government was not supposed to have allowed the printing and circulation of such a work on French territory. In addition, on a more (pragmatic) commercial level, the prohibited works which were not in press in France, such as the Dictionnaire de Bayle, tended to be available anyway from foreign booksellers.[50] Such forbidden and supposedly "pernicious" works remained very accessible through clandestine "routes", whereas they might otherwise have been published for the sole profit of French booksellers.[51]


The paradoxical procedure of the "tacit permission", with its intermediate status between legality and semi-official tolerance, tried to answer to these liberal and pragmatic needs. Thus, as the Author and Bookseller's Handbook puts it laconically in 1777 for its (professional) readers, tacit permissions were simply granted "for the Works whose nature or subject-matter does not make it possible to obtain a Privilege for them", such as, for example, some novels, or works of poetry... This is also why the work authorized with these permissions could be published in France but "with a non-French frontispiece", so that people would believe it had been printed by foreigners.[52]


The Letter was forwarded in 1764 to Sartine in its altered version, as the Représentations. Often interpreted today as evidence for a shift within literary property discourse towards a more personalist view of the droit d'auteur, the Letter probably at least played a role in convincing the royal authorities that the bond linking the author to his creation showed a legitimate singularity. On the other hand, as one might expect in the light of the La Fontaine case (see f_1761), the principle according to which "the right of the owner is the true measurement of the right of the buyer" was not going to be implemented as the Parisian trade had demanded (see f_1777).


9. References

Chartier, R. and H.-J. Martin (eds), Histoire de l'édition française, 3 vols (Paris: Fayard, 1990)

Diderot, Lettre sur le commerce de la librairie, foreword by Ch. Bon and J.C. Maillet (Paris: Fontaine, 1984)

Diderot, Lettre sur le commerce de la librairie, ed. and intr. by J.-Y. Mollier (Paris: Mille et une Nuits, 2003)

Hutchinson R., Locke in France: 1688-1734 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1991)

Mortier R., Clartés et ombres du siècles des Lumières (Geneva: Droz, 1969)

Patault A.-M., Introduction historique au droit des biens (Paris: Puf, 1989)

Proust J., "Pour servir à une édition critique de la lettre sur le commerce de la librairie", Diderot Studies 3 (1961): 321-45

Young E., Conjectures on Original Composition (Manchester: Manchester U.P., 1918)


[1] The complete original title is in French "Lettre historique et politique adressée à un magistrat sur le commerce de la librairie, son état ancien, ses règlements, ses privilèges, les permissions tacites, les censeurs, les colporteurs, le passage des ponts et autres objets relatifs à la police". With regard to its more precise dating, the Letter was probably elaborated between September and December 1763, in any case before February 1764. See Jacques Proust, "Pour servir à une édition critique de la lettre sur le commerce de la librairie", in Diderot Studies 3 (1961): 321-45.

[2] Cf. Jean-Yves Mollier, in the afterword to his 2003 edition of the Letter (Mille et une Nuits, 2003), 130.

[3] The first edition was published by Hachette by "le comité de l'association pour la défense de la propriété littéraire et artistique", in 1861, with an introduction by M. G. Guiffrey, a barrister at the Imperial Court.

[4] The assistants, Messrs Leclerc, J. Estienne, d'Houry and Despilly. An accessible complete version of this text can be found in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, La propriété littéraire au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: L. Hachette & Co., 1859), 51 ff.

[5] See, for example, the Lettre commented by the publisher Grasset in 1937. A mistake which stems from the "Fond Vandeul" manuscript Mss. 14307 (BnF).

[6] Compare p.17 of the Letter with p.79 of the Représentations, ed. by Laboulaye and Guiffrey.

[7] Compare p. 2 of the Letter, with p.57 of the Représentations. Similarly, "insensé" (foolish) was to be replaced for "peu raisonnable" (not very reasonnable), etc (see p.17 of the Letter 17 and p.78 of the Représentations).

[8] Again, compare p.26 of the Letter and p.94 of the Représentations.

[9] For example, relating to the effects of free economic competition, Le Breton added to an already vigorous demonstration that the supporters of the latter were "people without experience" (see pp.20 and 21 of the Letter and p.86 of the Représentations). Diderot's Letter was also "enhanced" with broader developments, relating more specifically to the Parisian corporation, in particular police considerations (notably towards the end of the Représentations).

[10] "le boire, le manger et le sommeil"... For the complicated relationship between Diderot and his publisher, see J.-Y. Mollier's afterword to the 2003 edition of the Lettre, 130, 134-35.

[11] "Ne dites point de mal de mes libraires. Ils font tout ce que j'exige. Voilà l'équité qu'il faut attendre de tout le monde. La générosité consisterait à aller au-delà", in Denis Diderot, Correspondance, ed. by George Roth (Paris : Minuit, 1958), 4: 105.

[12] "Ce qui m'étonne, c'est que, n'entendant rien aux engagements des libraires, vous avez entrepris de justifier la manière dont ils les ont remplis." See BnF Mss. Fr. 22069, n°22, fol. 180.

[13] Diderot, 1.

[14] It is interesting to note that the publisher Bernard Grasset (ed. 1937), for example, on the occasion of Jean Zay's propositions on artistic and literary property, fully used Diderot's arguments in favour of the booksellers, and an extensive duration as a reward for the author, but also for his transferee: "Diderot fait de 'l'exclusif' du libraire la clé de voûte d'un 'Code de la librairie'"(p. 13). And further on Grasset even mentions Diderot's views on the right of the bookseller : "La doctrine de Diderot sur le droit du libraire" ... a "bookseller's right" which was, furthermore, understood by Grasset as a "natural" doctrine (p. 17). Thus, Grasset regrets that one could rely, even today, on the "axiom" according to which publishers were able to exploit authors. However, the provincial booksellers' situation, and Diderot's serious disappointment with his booksellers a few months later, are not discussed in Grasset's introduction.

[15] Diderot, 15 (Now, sir, that you know the facts, we may reason).

[16] See C. Bon and J. C. Maillet's introduction to the Lettre (Paris: Fontaine, 1984), 8 : "de la manière magique propre à Diderot d'entasser en les liant des éléments disparates."

[17] For the diffusion of Locke's ideas (see uk_1690) in France from the beginning of the eighteenth century, see in particular R. Hutchinson, Locke in France: 1688-1734 (Oxford: Voltaire foundation, 1991). On the rise of "possessive individualism" see also M. Rose, "The Author as Proprietor: Donaldson v. Becket and the Genealogy of Modern Authorship", in B. Sherman and A. Strowel, Of Authors and Origins: Essays on Copyright Law (Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1994).

[18] "les pensées des hommes sont devenues un sujet important de commerce", quoted by Eric Walter, "Les auteurs et le champ littéraire", in Histoire de l'édition française, ed. by R. Chartier and H.-J. Martin, vol. 2 (Fayard, 1990), 511.

[19] Diderot, 16. "En effet, quel est le bien qui puisse appartenir à un homme, si un ouvrage d'esprit, le fruit unique de son éducation, de ses études, de ses veilles, de son temps, de ses recherches, de ses observations, si les plus belles heures, les plus beaux moments de sa vie, si ces propres pensées, les sentiments de son cœur, la portion de lui-même la plus précieuse, celle qui ne périt point, celle qui l'immortalise, ne lui appartient pas? Quelle comparaison entre l'homme, la substance même de l'homme, son âme, et le champ, le pré, l'arbre ou la vigne que la nature offrait dans le commencement également à tous, et que le particulier ne s'est approprié que par la culture, le premier moyen légitime de possession ?"

[20] See B. Edelman, Le sacre de l'auteur (Seuil, 2004), 251f. and L. Pfister, L'auteur, propriétaire de son œuvre ? La formation du droit d'auteur du XVIe siècle à la loi de 1957, (Strasbourg PhD thesis, 1999).

[21] Contrary to what is sometimes claimed by some legal historians, Louis d'Héricourt, does not directly compare the author's work to any other goods. Like Diderot, he was already presenting the author as the owner of something that is so personal to him that he could consequently transfer it as he wished like any other owner, which is not quite the same thing.

[22] E. Young, Conjectures on Original Composition (Manchester: Manchester U.P., 1918), 7. In addition to its complexity (the influence of aesthetics ideals of the time on the literary property debate, or even, why not, the influence of the judiciary disputes on the aesthetic ideas...) pursuing this aspect further would take us out of a simple introductive commentary. To summarize, from the years 1730, and in the second half of the eighteenth century, ideas on aesthetics, genius and creation developed, from Shaftesbury to the Sturm und Drang, towards the belief of a true sovereignty in the creative process, a freedom reserved firstly to the genius. On the aesthetic ideas of Diderot, the bibliography is vast; See for example Article génie and Sur le Génie in Œuvres Esthétiques, (Paris: Garnier, 1976); also Jacques Chouillet, La formation des idées esthétiques de Diderot, 1745-1763 (Paris: Armand Colin, 1973) who points out Diderot's contradictions on these questions. For a more general study, see R. Mortier, L'originalité, une nouvelle catégorie au siècle des Lumières (Genève : Droz, 1982).

[23] Pluquet, Troisième lettre à un ami concernant les affaires de la librairie, in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, 334-35. On the efforts, sometimes quite striking, made by literary property supporters to respect, when possible, its supposed orthodox foundations, see W. Enfield, Observations on Literary Property (London, 1774) and his analogy between the occupatio, a legitimate means of acquisition in the corporeal realm, and "primary possession", its incorporeal double. Blackstone could summarize this difficult transposition: "This my Lords, is a Species of Property, which, being grounded on Labor and Invention, is more properly reducible to the Head of Occupancy than any other; ..." Blackstone's opinion in Donaldson v. Becket (1774), in The Cases of the Appellants and Respondents in the cause of Literary Property before the House of Lords (see uk_1774b) (and taken from his Commentaries on the laws of England), 36.

[24] Quoted by Jean Varloot, in Diderot, Sur le vif (Paris: Hermann, 1994), 11: ("c'est le ton qui leur convient").

[25] Diderot, 17.

[26] A symbolic case remains "l'affaire des petites-filles de La Fontaine", which announced a stormier period for the Parisian book trade (see f_1761).

[27] Cochu, Requête au Roi, in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, 217.

[28] 4 Burr. 2345.

[29] Diderot, 23.

[30] Concerning the "affective" or emotive power of the word "property", see in particular A.-M. Patault, Introduction historique au droit des biens (Puf, Droit Fondamental, 1989) 235-37.

[31] Diderot, 17 : "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."

[32] Diderot, (f_1763), 81 [No such page number in the database's version of the letter !].

[33] As shown by d'Aguesseau's policy in the eighteenth century - Diderot, 13.

[34] Ibid., 16.

[35] Pierre-Jacques Blondel, Mémoire sur les vexations qu'exercent les libraires et imprimeurs de Paris, 1725, 2 et s. (see f_1726).

[36] Jean Quéniart, "L'anémie provinciale", in Chartier and Martin (eds), vol. 2, 358.

[37] Mss. Fr. 22073, n° 144, fol. 329: Mémoire à consulter, Pour les Libraires et Imprimeurs de Lyon, Rouen, Toulouse, Marseille et Nismes, concernant les privileges de Librairie, et continuations d'iceux, 1776 (see f_1776).

[38] Diderot, 20.

[39] Ibid., 30. Here, Diderot's tone is particularly vehement, and this passage was slightly modified by the booksellers in their Représentations (in Laboulaye and Guiffrey, 101 and 102).

[40] Millar v. Taylor (uk_1769), 4 Burr. 2235.

[41] W. Enfield, Observations on Literary Property (London: 1774), facsimile reprint in The Literary Property Debate: Eight Tracts, 1774-1775 (New York : Garland, 1974), 48 ff. (see uk_1774a).

[42] This aspect of the letter could have been given a greater place by historians of the book trade. See, for example, Mollier's afterword to the 2003 edition of the Letter.

[43] Manuel de l'auteur et du libraire (Paris: Veuve Duchesne, Le Jay, Valade, Ruault, 1777), 17.

[44] J.-D. Mellot, annexes of "L'anémie provinciale" (Jean Quéniart) in Chartier and Martin (eds), vol. 2, 368. By granting these permissions, as Mellot points out, the Lieutenant général de Police of Rouen was even violating the 1701 regulations (see f_1701).

[45] Quoted by Mellot, ibid. ("bon pour une permission tacite, néant pour le privilège").

[46] Malesherbes, Mémoires sur la librairie, Mémoire sur la liberté de la presse (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1994), 204 ("on a senti la nécessité d'y mettre une forme ...").

[47] Ibid., respectively 99 and 100 ("il le sera toujours quand on permettra d'écrire, et il ne le sera jamais sans cela" and "les causes se plaident quelquefois pendant des siècles: le public seul peut les juger, et à la longue il jugera toujours bien quand il aura été suffisamment instruit ") If, as an example, L'Essai sur les Préjugés, attributed to Dumarsais, denies to any government the right to refuse the truth to the people, as Mortier recalls, the question was evidently one which was being constantly debated. See R. Mortier, Clartés et ombres du siècles des Lumières (Geneva: Droz, 1969), 88 f. as well as, by the same author, Le Cœur et la Raison (Voltaire Foundation, 1990).

[48] Diderot, 37.

[49] Malesherbes, 205.

[50] On this topic, see vol. 2 of Histoire de l'édition française, 385 ff.

[51] Diderot, 35, and also 36: "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?"

[52] Manuel de l'auteur et du libraire, 21 : "La Permission tacite s'accorde pour les Ouvrages dont la nature ou l'objet ne permettent point d'obtenir un Privilège."

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