copyright arguments, 1863

“Nogent-Saint-Laurent, who is a member of the Committee on Literary Copyright, said that he favored perpetuity of rights. Sainte-Beuve protested violently: ‘You are paid by the smoke and noise you stir up. You ought to say, every writer ought to say: “Take it all: you’re welcome to it!” ’ Flaubert, going to the opposite extreme, exclaimed: ‘If I had invented the railways I shouldn’t want anybody to travel on them without my permission!’ Thoroughly roused, Sainte-Beuve retorted: ‘No more literary property than any other property! There should be no property at all. Everything should be regularly renewed, so that everybody can take his turn.’

In these few words, sprung from the most secret and sincere depths of his soul, I saw the fanatical revolutionary bachelor in Sainte-Beuve, and he seemed at that moment to have the character and almost the appearance of one of the levellers of the Convention. I saw the basic destructive urge in that man who, rubbing shoulders with society, money, and power, had conceived a secret hatred for them, a bitter jealousy which extended to everything, to youth, to the conquest of women, to the good looks of his neighbour at dinner, Nieuwerkerke, who had slept with real society women without having to pay.”

(Edmond & Jules de Goncourt, 14 February 1863, Pages from the Goncourt Journal, trans. Robert Baldick, p. 80.)

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