Reply of the American Pirate Mosher to the Editor of the “P.C.”

The Publishers’ Circular, London, March 13, 1909, pp. 401-02:

In accordance with his request, we herewith give the reply of Mr. Mosher to our article about him (in P.C. January 23rd), in the same prominent position:—

SIR,— Your article, which is as nearly a libel as you could safely make it, has been read by me, and I will reply, trusting to that sense of fair play—which I am told is one of the dearest delusions an Englishman hugs to heart—for its appearance in as conspicuous type and position as the original attack appearing in your issue of January 23rd. What the Glasgow Herald adds may be safely dismissed; as the late lamented Gus Williams once sang:

“I can fight with the lion that roars in my path,
But I can’t bear a cur [and Scotch at that] at my heels!”

The fact is I have made books that have been proved equal in quality to anything of the best made in your tight little island. That is indeed grievous.

My legal right to make use of the things I have chosen to reprint—flotsam and jetsam on the unchartered sea of literary misadventure—is beyond dispute. If it was not I should hear from your disgruntled correspondents in a very different manner. Likewise the question of morals is a far-fetched proposition. It is a standard for example that is not observed by your own houses, which freely reprint expired copyright texts in England and the Colonies.

They could not—these authors—(save in some instances where I have arranged and paid for revised and additional matter) convey any rights that would be in force as against any one else who chose to reprint in America. In other words, there was no copyright that any court in this country would recognise for an instant.

Again, I ask what moral right is involved by my reprinting matter that was either left in a first and only edition intentionally or remained so because there was no demand for a second edition?

My action has, indeed, forced the hands of those who would have arbitrarily locked up—(“because it’s mine I’ll do as I please”) —such work as Mr. Lang’s “Aucassin and Nicolete” and his “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France.” Even Mr. Lang did not say he would have refused permission, but his grouch was that I didn’t ask till after the deed was done—and so, be damned to me!

But out of mere spitefulness he did allow a young college friend of mine to reprint his “Aucassin,” and hoped, no doubt, my sails would be blown away, to employ seafaring terminology, which he would doubtless agree belonged of right to one who had defiantly hoisted the Jolly Roger! The College Magazine is no more; my sales wax and do not wane! And quite recently the “Ballads and Lyrics of Old France” have appeared in London without material change just as I had given them. Mr. Lang said they were poor stuff! Why did he reprint them?

What just cause then have these authors against me? I have made them known to an extent that in my opinion—and I am not alone in it—has resulted in the “de luxe” Pater selling over here, whereas had it not been for my pioneer work it might have seen as great a frost as the “de looks” Arnold!

What about others who go on gaily with English authors in whom copyright has not expired? There are a few of us who issue Browning, Rossetti, Dickens, Thackeray et als. Are we paying tribute or asking permission of the British owners of copyright? Most, decidedly not.

What moral difference is there, say, between me and your own reprinters, who, as soon as a copyright lapses, put on the market editions that deceive and probably are intended to deceive the bookbuyer as being complete editions? I do not deceive, and whenever there is a chance for bibliographical notes I spare no pains to give them. Legally your reprinters cannot do as I do, for fear of the law—not of your standard of morals. This is the gist of my offence: what I republish is public property in this country, in yours ’tis private. Narrowed down, the difference would appear to be that I am an American and your are an Englishman!

Does it seem egoistic to say that there is something of my own in these editions which make The Mosher Books saleable? What do you suppose it is? Not wholly “swelled head,” as you would imply. Craftsmanship is not too long a word, I hope, for me to use as well as practise!

That I have had the wit—call it just that—to devise new formats and to discover literary work worth while using, which the original publisher never cared or thought possible to use a second time—that is my contribution, and one that cannot be overlooked or forgiven, as you seem to believe. The discoverer is to some extent—outside of the English pale—the owner; treasure trove, I am told, even with yourselves brings some reward to the finder!

I see that I must define my position plainly. Well, here it is: without originality in bookcraft these “Gems and Jewels” —words you quote, but not used by me—would have remained hidden as in a napkin to the American public, and of as little value to the world at large. It is quite possible Messrs. Land and Hewlett preferred to have it so. [Any sale of my editions in England is an incident in my business. You need not be told the American market is immeasurably larger than your own.]

It is equally certain that I decided to overrule or rather forestall any dog-in-the-manger attitude by taking what I had a perfect legal right, and as I believe (viewed from the standpoint of the good of the many, especially where it does no harm to the few) a perfect moral right to use.

Before howling at American enterprise—and there are others beside myself—would it not be well to pluck the mote out of your own eye? Remember, the words of the preacher: Be not righteous over much!

That is all, as I see the situation, and I shall therefore continue to carry on my work despite your unfair insinuations. There is room for such work, and I believe I have an exceptional flair in recognising what is of worth even when buried by neglect, or relegated to a single limited edition just because “it is mine own and I’ll do what I please with it.”

May I conclude with a passage from a poet we presumably both admire:

“That a lie which is half a truth is ever the
blackest of lies;
That a lie which is all a lie may be met and
fought with outright;
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder
matter to fight.”

I think the statement you have allowed yourself to make is precisely what this citation from Tennyson says it is, and with this reflection, I beg to remain,—Yours very truly,


Portland, Maine (USA)
February 18th, 1909.

It will be seen that Mr. Mosher does not attempt to answer our chief point against him, viz, the sale and offer for sale of British copyright works in his illegal editions in the United Kingdom and the Colonies. He has advertised in our literary weeklies and in American papers circulating here that he will send any work in his catalogue to any address in the world. With reference to his statements as regarding Mr. Andrew Lang, Mr. Lang writes:—

“I think I have always granted my permission to publish in America books of mine not protected there by copyright when I have been asked for my consent. I am unaware that Mr. Mosher ever did ask, and I believe that he has tried, no doubt successfully, to well his pirated copies of my books in this country!

“(Signed) A. LANG.”

If Mr. Mosher had confined his sales to non-British markets we should have had nothing to say about him. But when, while robbing our authors, he talks about “the Soul of Man” and the “ultimate completeness of the Divine plan,” in connection with his piratical publishing, it is not surprising to find our authors protesting. He says our article was as “nearly a libel” as we could “safely make it.” If he will tell us what we can add to make it quite a libel we will with pleasure complete it.