Saturday, October 25, 2014

Charles Dickens, pissed off

Why I love Dickens and Shakespeare and Hugo: If something was really important to any one of them, it by God went into the manuscript. Plot or no plot.

Below the photo, you will find a delicious rant that Charles Dickens saw fit to crowbar into his great novel NICHOLAS NICKLEBY for no plausible reason -- beyond his own fury at the relentless piracy of his work in an era when English law did not protect an author's copyright. NICKLEBY, printed in installments, had been the subject of unauthorized stage adaptations hastily assembled by hack writers, even before Dickens had written the last chapter. In this passage, the real author takes his revenge.

My kind of book. My kind of writer. Dickens wants to talk about the loathsome parasites who steal his stuff. Shakespeare wants to talk about the competition his troupe is getting from rival companies of children actors. Hugo wants to talk about the battle of Waterloo. Deal with it.

Take that, Richard Turpin.

(This material is now in the public domain. If it weren't, I would pay Mr. Dickens the royalty due him.)





    'When I dramatise a book, sir,' said the literary gentleman, 'THAT'S fame. For its author.'

    'Oh, indeed!' rejoined Nicholas.

    'That's fame, sir,' said the literary gentleman.

    'So Richard Turpin, Tom King, and Jerry Abershaw have handed down to fame the names of those on whom they committed their most impudent robberies?' said Nicholas.

    'I don't know anything about that, sir,' answered the literary gentleman.

    'Shakespeare dramatised stories which had previously appeared in print, it is true,' observed Nicholas.

    'Meaning Bill, sir?' said the literary gentleman. 'So he did. Bill was an adapter, certainly, so he was--and very well he adapted too-- considering.'

    'I was about to say,' rejoined Nicholas, 'that Shakespeare derived some of his plots from old tales and legends in general circulation; but it seems to me, that some of the gentlemen of your craft, at the present day, have shot very far beyond him--'

    'You're quite right, sir,' interrupted the literary gentleman, leaning back in his chair and exercising his toothpick. 'Human intellect, sir, has progressed since his time, is progressing, will progress.'

    'Shot beyond him, I mean,' resumed Nicholas, 'in quite another respect, for, whereas he brought within the magic circle of his genius, traditions peculiarly adapted for his purpose, and turned familiar things into constellations which should enlighten the world for ages, you drag within the magic circle of your dulness, subjects not at all adapted to the purposes of the stage, and debase as he exalted. For instance, you take the uncompleted books of living authors, fresh from their hands, wet from the press, cut, hack, and carve them to the powers and capacities of your actors, and the capability of your theatres, finish unfinished works, hastily and crudely vamp up ideas not yet worked out by their original projector, but which have doubtless cost him many thoughtful days and sleepless nights; by a comparison of incidents and dialogue, down to the very last word he may have written a fortnight before, do your utmost to anticipate his plot--all this without his permission, and against his will; and then, to crown the whole proceeding, publish in some mean pamphlet, an unmeaning farrago of garbled extracts from his work, to which your name as author, with the honourable distinction annexed, of having perpetrated a hundred other outrages of the same description. Now, show me the distinction between such pilfering as this, and picking a man's pocket in the street: unless, indeed, it be, that the legislature has a regard for pocket-handkerchiefs, and leaves men's brains, except when they are knocked out by violence, to take care of themselves.'

    'Men must live, sir,' said the literary gentleman, shrugging his shoulders.

    'That would be an equally fair plea in both cases,' replied Nicholas; 'but if you put it upon that ground, I have nothing more to say, than, that if I were a writer of books, and you a thirsty dramatist, I would rather pay your tavern score for six months, large as it might be, than have a niche in the Temple of Fame with you for the humblest corner of my pedestal, through six hundred generations.'


    The conversation threatened to take a somewhat angry tone when it had arrived thus far, but Mrs Crummles opportunely interposed to prevent its leading to any violent outbreak, by making some inquiries of the literary gentleman relative to the plots of the six new pieces which he had written by contract to introduce the African Knife-swallower in his various unrivalled performances. This speedily engaged him in an animated conversation with that lady, in the interest of which, all recollection of his recent discussion with Nicholas very quickly evaporated.