Southworth at the World’s Fair (sort of)

November 30, 2014

Recently I came across Southworth’s name on the program of a session of the World’s Congress of Representative Women, a six-day event held at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (running from May 15 to 21).  Southworth was listed as a participant on the sessions of the American Protective Society of Authors (Thursday, May 18), and the title of her paper is given as “Between Two Fires–Publisher and Plagiarist.”  The other speakers included such notable names as Clara Barton, Grace Greenwood, and Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher.  I was very excited to imagine Southworth, at age 73, attending the World’s Fair and taking part on this panel on the issue of authors’ rights.  However, accounts of the session make clear that she was not actually present in Chicago to give her remarks, which were read to the audience by Mrs. Leila Roby of Chicago.  According to the Latter Day Saints Evening Star (Vol. 55, p. 504), Southworth and Grace Greenwood were “both too ill to come.”

The account given by the Daily Inter Ocean [a Chicago newspaper] on May 19, 1893 seems to record Southworth’s remarks in full, with the interesting note that they were presented as potentially Southworth’s last written work:

“Mrs. E. D. N. Southworth, of Washington was not present. Her paper, “Between Two Fires,” was read by Mrs. Roby and it was announced that it was probably the last production from the pen of Mrs. Southworth. The author said:

Publishers and Plagiarists

Between publishers and plagiarists the novelist often suffers. One, however, may be a benefactor; the other is always a pest. The relation between author and publisher is a phase of the relation of capital and labor. Some publishers are honest and liberal, and when they discover an author whose writings are in sympathy with the sentiments and aspirations of the people they will risk more money than the author could ever hope to command in bringing his writings before the reading public. When the publisher does this, if the author fails to maintain his reputation to bring profit to his publisher and himself, he can blame no one but himself. Such honest publishers are, I think, the exception.

The dishonest and illiberal publisher is a cheat. When he discovers a successful author he will deceive him and conceal the popularity of his writings, and pay him a mere pittance out of the profits made from their sale. Authors should remember, however, that the success of their literary productions, like other productions of labor depends upon the law of supply and demand. The author may be able to produce the literature demanded, but he could no more supply it than the publisher could produce it. A successful author could not as a rule become a successful publisher. The publisher needs capital, machinery for printing and binding and illustrating, business tact, a knowledge of what the reading public demand, and that peculiar talent that enables him to master and organize details.

On the other hand, the successful author, especially the poet and the novelist, must be free from business cares, and live and dream in sympathy with his muse. The plagiarist bears the same relation to the honest author that the thief bears to the honest laborer. The plagiarist, however, is worse than the common thief because he is always intelligent and steals your plots, characters, ideas, and sometimes your language with a clear consciousness of what he is doing, and with a deliberate intent to steal that which is not his own.

When I compare plagiarists to thieves I do not include honest compilers and annotators who sail under true colors and do not claim more than they merit. My advice to young writers is to try to adapt their writings to the sentiments of the people and seek an honest publisher and when they have discovered one who has brought them successfully before the public, to remain faithful to him, for their interests are mutual.”

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