Piracy Charge via The Critic in 1896

Note: Prior to Andrew Lang’s remarks there first appeared an assessment of Mosher’s reprint of Aucassin & Nicolete. It was this entry which directed Lang’s attention to Mosher and set the stage for the initial piracy controversy.

The Critic, November 23, 1895, p. 355:


To the Editors of The Critic: —

In Mr. Mosher’s reprint (Portland, Maine, 1895) of David Nutt’s edition (London, 1887) of Mr. Andrew Lang’s delightful translation of “Aucassin and Nicolete” there are several errors which seem sadly out of keeping with the delicacy of the edition. Besides several typographical errors (for instance, p. 45, line 8, “Of thy father and they kin,” for “thy kin”), there is one blunder of importance. On p. 81 Mr. Mosher reprints the notes of the Nutt edition, word for word, reference for reference. Unfortunately, the paging of the two editions is quite different, the corresponding pages of the Mosher edition being (at the beginning of the story) some 22 pages ahead of the Nutt edition. The first note of Mr. Mosher’s reprint is “p. v. the blending.” We have been unable to find any page v. in his edition. The reference, however, occurs on p. 9. The next note (p.5, line 17, “stour”) is found on p. 5 of the Nutt edition correctly enough; but in Mr. Mosher’s edition on p. 27. The same mistake is continued throughout all the notes. This oversight seems particularly unfortunate in this latest work of one who has given us such charming specimens of book- making as the Bibelot Series.

New York, 29 Oct. 1895L. W. Hatch

The Critic, January 18, 1896, p. 48:


To the Editors of The Critic: —

I read in The Critic of November 23, that a Mr. Mosher has published my “Aucassin”; apparently for his own emolument. May I ask this Mr. Mosher, through your paper, if he ever requested my leave to reprint the book which (of course) he has bungled, as Mr. Hatch Points out? “Mosher.” — the name seems new to me. If he was so discourteous (honesty apart) as to crib my work, he gained nothing by his bad manners. The book was a labor of love, and I would gladly have let him do his worst.

St. Andrews, Fife, Dec. 10.Andrew Lang

(To a note of inquiry in this connection, Mr. Mosher replies, in substance, that he was not unmindful of his own emolument in reprinting Mr. Lang’s uncopyrighted translation; that at this point it is needless to say whether he intended, or did not intend, to send the translator an honorarium; that the errors in the Portland “Aucassin and Nicolete” are few and slight (which is true); that even the London edition is not wholly free from trivial slips; that he has sought to give his various reprints a worthy setting (he has generally succeeded in doing so, though the type is smaller than we like); and that he deplores such criticism as that which drew Mr. Lang’s attention to his unauthorized edition of a very charming book. Eds. The Critic)

The Critic, July 11, 1896, pp. 30-31:


“The profoundest thought or passion sleeps in a mine, until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it.” — Emerson


  1. Last October Mr. Mosher issued as the second volume in his Old World Series, Mr. Andrew Lang’s translation of “Aucassin and Nicolete”; a little book published that was and is inaccessible save to such wealthy book-buyers who would or could pay the speculator in literary wares from $20 to $25 for a single copy.
  2. In the first edition of Mr. Mosher’s reprint a trivial error in spelling (“they” for “thy” on page 45, line 8) and an inadvertence in citing the original, instead of the reprint pagination of the notes, easily understood and as easily corrected, were commented on by “L. W. Hatch” * in The Critic, November 23.
  3. These small misdeeds of the proof-reader were duly corrected in Mr. Mosher’s second edition, but not before Mr. Lang had seen this anonymous communication, with the following result: —

    I read in The Critic of November 23, that a Mr. Mosher has published my “Aucassin”; apparently for his own emolument. May I ask this Mr. Mosher, through your paper, if he ever requested my leave to reprint the book which (of course) he has bungled, as Mr. Hatch Points out? “Mosher.” ?the name seems new to me. If he was so discourteous (honesty apart) as to crib my work, he gained nothing by his bad manners. The book was a labor of love, and I would gladly have let him do his worst.

    St. Andrews, Fife, Dec. 10.Andrew Lang
  4. Here the matter rested. The Critic had done Mr. Mosher the justice of printing his mild defence; it was conceded that “personal emolument” was not wholly neglected, and he allowed that Mr. Lang’s consent had not been asked, for the simple reason that no copyright existed on the book.
  5. For what now emanates from Mr. Lang, Mr. Mosher cannot but express surprise. At the suggestion of a London gentleman who was down at Portland for a few hours last April, a copy of the second edition of “Aucassin and Nicolete” was mailed Mr. Lang, and a letter written; both most assuredly sent without a thought of “rare impertinence” presently to be imputed, or the still rare impertinence of such boorish interpretation.

(The above précis is Mr. Mosher’s. Eds. The Critic).

* L. W. Hatch must be regarded as anonymous, as a letter address in care of The Critic could not be delivered, owing to lack of address. Should he ever come to the surface again this letter is still at service. T. B. M.

Mr. Andrew Lang: — In your remarks, Sir, under title of “From a Scottish Workshop” in The Illustrated London News of May 30th, there was disingenuousness in reiterating the charge of my reprinting your “Aucassin” unsatisfactorily; and also in stating that I added “some kind of ugly photograph of an etched frontispiece by Mr. Jacomb Hood.” Neither assertion is true, the proof of which is a copy of the book already in your possession. Give me leave, moreover, to say that Mr. Edward Bierstadt of New York reproduced the etching in collotype: a gentleman whose work ranks with the best this country produces. As for the typography and paper, the former has been passed on favorably by our critics, and the latter I am sure cannot be bettered: Van Gelder’s hand-made products are known the world over.

Just where my “rare example of impertinence” comes in, I am unable to determine. I am not an autograph collector that you should feel compelled to print your reply; nor was it entirely fair to omit all reference to a proposed honorarium, open to refusal, but surely suggested in good faith. Your publisher, Mr. Nutt, accorded me that civility at least, though I regret he so narrowed his concession as to render it of no earthy use to me.

May I, indeed, ask what your real grievance is? Your permission to reprint you say “I might have had for the asking, so far as America was concerned.” This is something better than “I would gladly let him do his worst.” When you said that you had a show of justice, having read your book, “had been bungled.” “Of course, it had,” you added; but why of course? Possibly because “the name of Mosher seemed new” to you! Was that it? Now, however, with a copy of my reprint in hand, why repeat these fictions to the book’s detriment? I will venture to put my “Aucassin” beside the original and not despair of a verdict of having done you no discredit.

Frankly, Sir, my belief is that this permission you flaunt before me?after the fact?would never have been granted had I asked it. And this I did not choose to ask. Is it not that I have touched the amour propre of one who has accustomed himself to see, unmoved, copies of his rarissimus quoted among bibliophiles at five- guinea rates, and who awakes to find a reprint quite as choice as the original, selling for less than one- twenty-fifth of that sum? If I am wrong, who not accept a solatium when the deed was done? Mr. Nutt was quick to see the only point at issue, but you see nothing; — not even the good-humored admiration of my letter.

For some years now it has been a fad with authors and their publishers to “kotow” to the wealthier classes, and at the same time play into the hands of the speculative bookseller. Limited editions have their use, — they also have their abuse. That an exquisite story like your translation of “Aucassin and Nicolete” should be so out of all ordinary reach had no justification, and to this my edition in America has put an end. You admit you had nothing to lose; why, then, such outcry? Legal rights there were none; moral rights I take to have been forfeited when the needy scholar could not buy your book. In paying the upset price I could give back to the world what you withheld from it. My purchase absolved whoso desired “Aucassin” at a sum within his modest means.

As to “the ethics of reprinting,” why should I go into them? It were wasted time to do it. For I am neither singular, nor is my procedure a new one. It began before I was born; it will continue when I am dead. It seems to me this is an art that has also flourished on British soil; you would rejoin, doubtless, there are pirates — and pirates. I can but echo, — doubtless.

All this to my mind proceeds from a very genuine contempt of the real republic of book-buyers, the many who cannot afford the luxury of first editions at fabulous prices. Mr. Nutt speaks with less finesse. His view is shortly that the public cares naught for these things. Well, it may be so for England; some years have passed since I visited that tight little island; but it is not so here, and ’tis to this constituency I appeal.

Your fear of my landing a cargo of “Aucassin” on British soil is a trifle overdone. True, I have sold a few hundred copies abroad; but the title of “Old World Series” was not, as you queerly suppose, indicative of any serious design on my part to enter your boasted free-trade market. Now you raise the point it might be well to see if you have a right of restraint. It might be said that public policy required, perhaps permitted, just such an edition as mine.

Yet again you further confuse our logical processes by likening your issue of “Aucassin” to the doings of Book Clubs whose very names act as soporifics. Such clubs seldom print anything the most piratical reprinter would “convey.” Had you produced a dry-as- dust work of this sort your book assuredly had been safe from me. But because your “Aucassin” was literature I laid hold of it; because you and your publisher abandoned it on the high seas, as flotsam and jetsam, I rescued it and brought it into port, that it might not become forever derelict and lost. It is mine because I found it! Shorn of all “artistic and typographical grace” this book might have been the dead failure Mr. Nutt’s sneer would imply; issued as I issued it here, where we are not all rich amateurs as with you, it found acceptance and will continue to do so. An I, too, shall continue to do so; shall reprint whenever I see fit, any choice and inaccessible book, — yours or another’s, — to which I have a perfect right, besides an unbroken custom (imperfect if you will, in favor of such proceedings. Rest assured you have taken the wrong way in rejecting my kindly overtures; I can, however, endure it. But do not so utterly mistake the signs of the times as to think Literature is the product of property of any little clique of men; nor lament, but rather be of good cheer when you find a book such as your translation, exquisite every way, put forth side by side with FitzGerald’s Omar, whose version is the gladness of the world.

It is a strange point to raise that reprints like mine do harm to literature. Since my edition came out, one new translation has found a raison d’être for existing: I believe, just the same, with Walter Pater, that yours is “a poet’s translation,” and as such will outlast a generation of lesser prosadists, however excellent or eclectic their scholarship. And I now learn that Mr. F. W. Bourdillon is preparing a new edition of his scholarly version, possibly accompanied by a facsimile of the unique MS., in which connection The Athenaeum of June 13th says: — “The increasing popularity of the story is shown by the fact that in this edition there are no fewer than fourteen additions to the bibliography.” No, such reprints as mine do not injure Literature; but the doggishness-in-the-manger that says to all save the 500 elect, ‘This book is only for your masters,” or if the masses are to have it, let us fling it at them “lacking the artistic and typographical graces of the original edition,” — this I say can injure Literature, for it relegates to the rich few what the intelligent many could enjoy were they permitted to do so.

To conclude. In reprinting your “Aucassin” I did well, what another had done ill. You might have been made to “walk the plank” in the shape of an edition that was not a joy forever. As for discourtesy, you outdo me a thousand times: I can never hope to equal you.

And now, Sir, I am done with attempting to soothe or satisfy you. May I not close with these words of Johnson, which after the lapse of over a century have not lost their thrill of honest indignation? We all know how they came to be written, and in our hearts we approve of them:–“When I had once addressed your Lordship in public I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.”

Portland, Maine, June 26, 1896.Thomas B. Mosher

(We allow Mr. Mosher so much space because it is interesting to see what the unauthorized reprinter, as a type, has to say for himself. The main things seem to be (1) that he has a legal right to reprint what he likes, so long as it is not protected by copyright, and (2) that he acquires a moral right to do so by underselling the authorized publisher, and incidentally giving a good book a wider circulation than it was intended to have. His legal right is beyond question; his moral claim is essentially that of the gentleman of the road who, having “held up” a banker, lends his victim’s money, for his own benefit, at a lower rate of interest than the owner would have asked for it, and perhaps gives a part of it to the poor. It were better, in all such cases, to stand solely on one’s legal rights. Eds. The Critic.)

Mr. Lang’s comment in The Illustrated London News is here appended: —

For a rare example of imprudence, I would commend the following letter. Some years ago I wrote and Mr. Nutt published a translation of the old French tale “Aucassin et Nicolete.” A limited number of copies were printed — I think five hundred. The book is “out of print.” Last year an American publisher pirated my “Aucassin.” According to a review, he printed it in an unsatisfactory way, and he added some kind of ugly photograph of an etched frontispiece by Mr. Jacomb Hood. He never asked my permission, which he might have had for the asking, so far as America was concerned. I did the work for love, not for lucre. I remonstrated in a letter to The Critic. To-day I receive this letter from the publisher; it is a rare impertinence: —

“Mr. Andrew Lang,

“Dear Sir: — I have to-day mailed you copies of my ‘Old World’ edition of your translation of ‘Aucassin and Nicolete.’ Also of FitzGerald’s version of Omar. Let me hope that you will accept them, and after due examination find I have done you no discourtesy in associating your work with FitzGerald. As to the ethics of reprinting, I shall not say anything. I have simply taken what I admired, and am, no doubt, no better than my brother pirates. If there was, as you assume, any discourtesy, I am sorry for it. I can assure you I should enjoy your work, though you cursed me with a twenty devil curse. But why not let your good humor prevail and ascribe the forcible entry to mere inability to keep my hands off your exquisite productions.

“Very truly yours,

“T. B. Mosher.”

“The ethics of reprinting” is good; so is “I have simply taken what I admired,” Strange condition of opinion, when such performances are regarded as regular! I do not know much of copyright law, nor can I tell whether this person my vend my work and Mr. Jacomb Hood’s in this country. There is mention of an “Old World” edition; it seems that he thinks he can.

The Critic, August 22, 1896, p. 123:


In The Critic of July 11, I read a longa et verbosa Epistola from Mr. Mosher to myself. Mr. Mosher accuses me of divers falsehoods. He says that, in his belief, I would not have granted him leave to reprint my “Aucassin;” had he asked for it. I am sorry that, in his course of business, Mr. Mosher has learned to distrust the word of his fellow Christians. As it happens, leave to reprint has been asked by an American gentleman (who edits a college magazine) and has been granted. Nothing would please me more than to see “Aucassin” a popular favorite, even in my very imperfect version, nor have I ever had any pecuniary interest in its sale. It was produced (I think at “the fabulous” price of five shillings) in a limited edition, merely and solely because the publisher was not likely to recover his expenses in any other way. There cannot have been question of any profit worth mentioning.

Mr. Mosher says: — “Nor was it entirely fair to omit all reference to a proposed honorarium.” Mr. Mosher will not believe me, but really I remember no such reference: if he made it, I must have overlooked it. Of course, I would have replied, “Thy money perish with thee.” I don’t want an honorarium! I wanted common civility.

Mr. Mosher says that I lied in speaking of “some kind of ugly photograph” of Mr. Jacomb Hood’s etching. It seems that this queer performance (as I think it) is a “collotype.” I am sorry for collotypes.

Mr. Mosher is clearly in invincible ignorance. He also professes final impenitence, and a resolve to go on as he has begun. His condition, spiritually, is parlous: I am “wae [sic] to think” of Mr. Mosher. If he does reprint anything else of mine, I have only to ask that he will spare me “kindly overtures,” “collotypes” and other signs of a state which I regard with pain and the gloomiest apprehension. Mr. Mosher poses as a friend of “the needy scholar.” The needy scholar can read French and buy “Aucassin” in the original at a cheaper rate than Mr. Mosher vends the spoils of British authors. What does Mr. Mosher, with his “prosadists,” know about scholars?

London 1 Marloes Road, 22 July 1896.Andrew Lang

The Critic, November 7, 1896, p. 280:


To the Editors of The Critic:

I am informed, whether correctly or not, that the ingenious Mr. Mosher is reprinting my “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France.” If any of your readers already by chance possesses my “Ballades and Verses Vain” (Messrs. Scribner) or my “Grass of Parnassus” and “Ban and Arrière Ban” (Longmans), I may warn him that a reprint of “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France” will add little or nothing to his intellectual treasures. The book was published by Messrs. Longmans in 1872. The booksellers soon began to tell would-be purchasers that it was “out of print,” so they could not get it. About 1885 the 500 copies really were exhausted, mainly by the spirited purchases of a kind relation. As soon as that occurred, persons with more money than brains began to pay large fancy prices for the book. Messrs. Longmans reprinted the pieces, reviewed, corrected, and considerably augmented, in “Grass of Parnassus” (cost you half a dollar) with a number of new things, and, to the best of my memory, most of them appeared, with my “Ballades,” in Messrs. Scribner’s “Ballades and Verses Vain.” I have, however, no copy to which I can refer.

Purchasers of a reprint of “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France” will, therefore, get little in addition to what they will find, or may already possess, in “Grass of Parnassus” or “Ballades and Verses Vain,” and will even miss the additional pieces in these collections. They will only acquire: — Three pages of introduction in prose. One or two badly done early translations from Villon, which I did not think worth reprinting; one or two from Passerat, Hugo, Musset, and the ballads, a deplorable sonnet, a twaddling lyric, and some misprints. As far as I remember (for I don’t happen to possess “Grass of Parnassus”), that is all. The pieces which I rejected are not so very bad as to make me “care a damn,” or a red cent (equivalents in currency), whether Mr. Mosher or anybody else reprint them or not. My verses have not exactly been purchased with enthusiasm in America or elsewhere; so I fear that Mr. Mosher may suffer in pocket from meddling with the early rhymes of an unpopular twitterer. That, however, is his own affair: The hesitating purchaser now know as well as I do what he will get for his money. He will get (in addition to what is already accessible) a few trifles which even the author thinks worthless. He will also procure a few irregularities in sonnets, made regular in later editions. Much good may they do him!

1 Marloes Road, London, W., 16 Oct. 1896.Andrew Lang

The Critic, November 28, 1896:


To the Editors of The Critic: —

It is unfortunate that Mr. Andrew Lang will not confine himself to facts. Had he done so in his latest screed, printed in your of the 7th inst., he would have known that my reprint of his “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France” contained the following note: “From time to time portions of this volume have been reprinted by Mr. Lang: as a whole it remains introuvable.” And in my new list of books the attention of book buyers is again called to the fact that “great care has been taken to give the text in its original integrity*** Portions of the ‘Ballads and Lyrics’ from time to time have found a way into various later volumes by Mr. Lang, but in some instances the verses have been recast, new titles substituted, and at least a score of poems exist only in the editio princeps.” When I add that one of my principal aims is to reprint books no longer procurable except in first editions which have become hopelessly high priced, or of volumes that have never received the typographical care their merits demand, it would seem I had made my position tolerably clear.

In Mr. Lang’s desire to “get even” with a man whose only offense is to have faithfully reprinted an inaccessible book, he belittles his earlier muse most unmercifully. The statement that his verse has never “exactly been purchased with enthusiasm in America or elsewhere” is sad if true; but is it true?

Reference to “American Book Prices Current” for 1896, shows the entries under “Long” to extend over four pages, a length of space and of popular regard double that accorded the Bible! Moreover, is it not an unkind fling to say that “persons with more money than brains began to pay large fancy prices for the book” (“Ballads and Lyrics of Old France”)? Consider, dear sir, the havoc wrought in his feelings who at the Foote sale last year, gave forty dollars for a single copy of this work, and that in simple “cloth, uncut.” To such a one — “with more money,” but why repeat such cruel words? — it must be a sorry jest to know of the “kind relative” whose “spirited purchases” drove up the price till it reached this “top notch.” One feels impelled to ask if this same good soul was responsible for the like booming of “Aucassin and Nicolete.” If such things be, a long farewell to happy collectorship!

But Mr. Lang’s greatest grief is over the “hesitating purchaser” who, misled by the “ingenious Mr. Mosher,” may be “buncoed” into buying this reprint consisting of “a few trifles which even the author thinks worthless.” Let us see what this means when reduced to figures. The original “Ballads and Lyrics” has seventy-five poems; out of this total, twenty-seven poems, so far as I can discover, have never been reprinted in any later volumes by Mr. Lang. To get at what he has reprinted, an “intending purchaser” must by the “Grass of Parnassus,” “Ballads and Verses Vain” and “Ban and Arrier Ban.” And he would not then possess what admirers of Mr. Lang, here and abroad, have most desired, and which my “Old World” reprint alone supplies: a faithful reprint of the original “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France.” That this is already appreciated, I know.

Mr. Lang should rub up his bibliographical accoutrements; as for his ill-temper, why not reform it altogether?

Portland, Main, 11 Nov. 1986Thomas B. Mosher

The Critic, October 10, 1896:


In The Sketch of September 2 we find the following squib, from which Mr. Mosher will be surprised to learn that he lives in Philadelphia instead of Portland, Maine: — “Mr. Andrew Lang, as a Borderman, would be the first, I feel sure, to pass over with a light touch the freebooting propensities of his countrymen in days of yore; but when the freebooter takes the shape of a Philadelphian filcher who reprints “Aucassin and Nicolete” without asking leave, the eulogist of St. Andrews grows so angry as to speak of this piratical publisher as a “kind of noble publishing Robin Hood.” Mr. Lang might have whisked his wrath in the shape of a ballade. Failing which I have done so for him: at a great distance, of course —

"Why mourn the dauntless privateer
	That erstwhile scoured the distant main,
In search of gold (and guilt) and gear,
	The spice of Ind, the wines of Spain?
For daring scarce is on the wane;
	Romance has only changed his mood,
And now we've robbers of the brain?
	The literary Robin Hood.

"The times are hidden with veneer;
	The Turpins in their robber reign
No longer (in disguise) appear
	To haunt the heath and lonely lane.
We travel nowadays by train,
	No footpad springs from out the wood,
Yet, losing that mischance, we gain
	The literary Robin Hood.

"He knows the worth of bard and seer,
	And frights the soul of Deemster Cane;
Prints books, that are in England dear,
	For cents (in type that's far from plain).
For copyright is vague and vain;
	And then he claims his country's good
In sowing broadcast all the grain-
	This literary Robin Hood.

              In Conclusion.

"Dear Andrew of the brindled mane,
	The Yankee pirate may be rude;
But anger never yet has slain
	This literary Robin Hood."

The Critic, Jan. 2, 1897, p. 12:


To the Editors of The Critic:

I find that I owe satisfaction to Mr. Mosher in a matter of fact. I have wronged this modest gentleman by underestimating the quantity of his spoils. He really seems to have appropriated more than twenty old forgotten mistranslations of mine from the French and Romanic, which I had rejected as worthless. Mr. Mosher picks them up and sells them as the street boys of Naples sell old cigar-ends, and, if he finds purchasers for my old cigar-ends, doubtless his conscience will applaud him. It takes so little to make a good man happy!

St. Andrews, Scotland, 14 Dec. 1896Andrew Lang

The Publishers’ Circular, January 2, 1897:


To the Editor of the Publishers’ Circular and Booksellers’ Record.

Sir, — If any one has stolen my pocket book, he is apt to know its contents better than myself. Having pirated and published, for the sake of a few dollars (olet pecunia), an old verse book of mine. Mr. Mosher knows its contents better than I did. He is correct in stating that he has published some twenty pieces of mine, verse translations, which I had rejected and forgotten.

That piratical Yankee editions of British authors should be sent over and sold in England (as I am informed that Mr. Mosher’s are) seems to myself to be, if a very trifling injury, a very considerable insult. It could not well be done in the case of a successful book. There is no limit to the imprudence of these reprinters. I was lately shown an American collection of some newspaper correspondence of Mr. Kipling’s. It contained an article of censure on Mr. Kipling, and this was imprudently attributed to me, who had never seen either the article or Mr. Kipling’s letter about which it was written.

St. Andrews,

December 27 [1896]

Yours faithfully,

A. Lang