Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/February 1879/Editor's Table

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THE recent fluttering among American publishers caused by the discovery that Canadian enterprise threatens to come into successful rivalry with them, even in their own home market, is sufficiently amusing. The violation of the rights of foreign authors has been hitherto excused on the ground that it was necessary to the promotion of American popular education and indispensable to the intelligence of the country. Authors and publishers, we have been emphatically told, are by no means the main parties to be considered in this matter; both must be subordinated to the requirements of cheap literature for the reading public of the United States. This sounds patriotic and disinterested, and we might almost be persuaded to assent and admire, were it not for the odd circumstance that those who talk loudest in this strain seem to have been the most successful in feathering their own nests at the expense of the dear people whose interests they have so much at heart. The American publisher has been virtually saying to Jonathan and his family, who, it is presumed, were intensely hungering for knowledge, "By not paying the foreign author I am able to provide you with his productions many times cheaper than you could otherwise get them"; and it has been agreed that it was a very nice arrangement, highly favorable to American intelligence, which it might be a national disaster to disturb. But when the Canadian publisher offers to join in this noble philanthropic work of educating Jonathan and his family by cheap literature, we are surprised to observe that he gets the cold shoulder. He says to Jonathan and his family, "By not paying American authors I can furnish you with their productions many times cheaper than you can otherwise get them," and this he is proceeding to do by means of the post-office. But, instead of welcoming this efficient cooperation of the Canadian publishers for cultivating and illuminating the American mind, our publishers are quite disgusted, and say this thing must be stopped, which simply shows what former pretensions have been worth. This northern gust will blow the dust away from many people's eyes.

But the American people ought not to have waited for this. It should have been settled on grounds of justice for the benefit of the national character. It is a serious question and a plain one—not easy to adjust, but still wholly practicable. It is one of those palpable matters in which where there is a will there is certain to be found a way. One of the worst things about it is that our practice shows to the world the low and disgraceful state of American morality. We have published the evidence of Huxley, Tyndall, and Spencer before the English Commission on Copyright, and every one who has read it will be struck by the clear and elevated ethical tone that pervades it. These men are thought by many to be very bad, but they are men who know what is right and believe in it and maintain it unflinchingly. Has the occupant of one American pulpit ever been known to call attention to this great national disgrace? International copyright is one of those questions that measure the degree of civilization. It indicates the high-water mark of the public conscience, the strength of the sense of justice, and how far it is overborne by the dictates of self-interest. It is a case in which wrong may be perpetrated with apparent impunity. More obtrusive questions which arise between people of different countries are liable to be complicated with fear, and justice is often extorted by a dread of the consequences of withholding it, rather than by the simple force of the conviction of right. But authors can't fight for their rights, nor will governments protect them by the force of arms. They must be content, therefore, to appeal to the moral sense and the sentiment of public honor. Military redress being out of the question, there remains only the resort to those civil agencies by which private rights are protected, and the vigor with which these act under the inspiration of public feeling tests the degree of civil progress or the condition of civilization. From this point of view the American Republic occupies the lowest place among the leading nations of the civilized world; and from the scorn of all honest men we can only escape by setting this matter right by some form of national action.

And the naked right of the case is palpable enough, though, from the obtuseness or indifference of the popular mind upon the subject, it can not be too frequently or too forcibly presented. What we have written elsewhere upon this point we now repeat, that it may have a more permanent record:

The basis of an author's right of property in the book he makes is the same as the farmer's right in the wheat he raises. They are each the product of capital and labor. In one case capital is invested in land, implements, and stock; in the other it is invested in education, books, and suitable arrangements for literary life; while in both the product is the direct result of work done. The property in his work belongs to an author because there has been expense in its preparation, and because he has produced it by his immediate personal exertion. It is his to possess and to profit by its proceeds, by all the principles of justice which confer the ownership of any property. Questions may arise respecting acquired rights in literary property; but the original right of him who called it into existence by his own labor is clear and beyond question.

It is often said that ideas are ethereal things, and belong to the spiritual world, and therefore can not become subject to ownership; that is, not being material property, they can not be real property. Others, again, curiously affirm that ideas may be property while yet in the thinker's mind, but cease to be so the moment they are sent forth and made useful to others; or that thought until expressed or published is the property of the thinker; when given to the world, like light, it is free to all. Now there is, of course, a profound difference between ideas and material commodities, but there is no such difference as is here implied. They are both products of human exertion. A sonnet is as much the result of bodily effort as a horseshoe. The author works with one material instrument, the mechanic with another. The mechanic produces a hat, for example, by muscular action; and the author produces a book by brain action. In both cases the result represents vital power continuously expended; there has been exhaustion of the bodily energies in both cases alike. The blood represents the stock of vital power, and it is drawn upon in muscular action by the laborer and in cerebral action by the author. An author, too, has need for a large amount of blood to sustain his thinking. Physiologists tell us that the brain is more immediately dependent upon a copious supply of blood than any other part of the system. They say that, although the average brain is but one thirty-sixth the weight of the body, it demands one fifth of all the blood to keep it in working order. Ideas, then, are bodily products, and are at the expense of the blood; and the books containing them represent the life-forces and spent vitality of their authors. The elements of blood come from the market and have their price. Food and clothing, and the conveniences of living, are neither sent to authors from heaven, nor are they furnished gratuitously by government. Like other people, those who make books depend upon their labor to live, and they have an equal right with other people to the fruits of their labor.

Because ideas go forth in a subtile way, and are widely diffused, is no reason for regarding them as "free as the light," to be appropriated by anybody without paying their originators. If they are real and tangible enough to steal, they are capable of protection as property. It is in no sense a question of the form or quality of the things produced, for these are but accidents. If an author is to be robbed because his property is in an ethereal shape, why not rob the milkman because his property is in a liquid shape? Whether a man devote his powers to the elaboration of thought or the elaboration of matter is perfectly immaterial so far as concerns the question of his property right in the thing produced.

But we may go further and ask what property can have so sacred a right of recognition as that which is the product of man's highest faculties? The creations and constructions of the brain, as they have a far higher value to the world than the mere products of material manipulation, have also a more transcendent and inviolable claim to the protection of law. The hand is but the servant of the intellect. All knowledge, art, science, literature, discovery, invention, all that redeems man from barbarism and creates civilization, are but results of brain-exertion; and are we to discredit this noblest form of effort and outlaw the men whose lives have been consumed by it, while all the guards of legislation are thrown round the grosser forms of manipulative industry?

But it will be said all this is clear enough—why multiply wearisome commonplaces? Most true, and if our practice conformed to these professions, nothing would need to be said. But our practice is a direct contradiction to admitted and self-evident justice, and this is a state of things that can not be let alone. We affirm an author's right in his work, and then we proceed systematically to rob him of it. We are not only thieves, but thieves proclaiming in open day that we know ourselves to be so. To be sure, it is foreign authors whom we rob, but this does not affect the case, as the rights of private property are coextensive with civilization. It will hardly do to object to a "foreigner" when we appreciate his work so highly as to covet it and take it from him wrongfully. His case against us is clear enough. He says: "I have produced my book at much expense and with hard labor. I have created property in it; you want it, and in taking it you attest its value; you appropriate it to enrich yourselves without giving me a just equivalent; you steal it, and your Government protects you in it as if it were an innocent act." The logic is short and decisive, and it leaves this country in no very enviable position in the community of nations. Claiming to be civilized, enlightened, and even Christian, we practice an ethical code in this matter not higher than the standard of savages. Were our Government founded in usurpation and injustice, as we assert the European Governments to be, there would be a kind of consistency in maintaining this admitted wrong; but, while the monarchical countries have cleared themselves of all complicity in it, it is reserved for the people who boast of the "best government on earth," and who fill the world with their boasts about "human rights," to maintain an organized system of literary brigandage in which private rights are unscrupulously violated, and the highest products of man's exertion are the, objects of indiscriminate plunder. It is a case, moreover, in which meanness is added to dishonesty. We take from its owner that which he is powerless to protect. We steal that which is confided to the public honor, and, as if this were not enough, we add hypocrisy to meanness by putting forth palavering pretexts for our action. There are those who say the present state of things should not be meddled with, and rake up excuses for continuing it. It is bad to steal; it is despicable to steal from our benefactors who happen to be compelled to trust us; but more despicable still is the shameless Jesuitism by which an interested party will seek to defend it. When listening to the sneaking apologies that are put forward in extenuation of such conduct, we feel as if the mere common thief might rise in self respecting wrath and kick the pettifogging poltroon out of his society.

Two things in relation to copyright may now be considered established as completely as anything can be established by the concurrent usage of the civilized world. By the declaration and the practice of all nations it has been settled, first, that an author has a right of property in his work, which government is bound to protect; and, second, that the public also has rights by which those of the author are restricted. There are extremists who maintain that an author's rights of property are absolute and perpetual, and other extremists who hold that there can be no such thing as exclusive property in ideas—just as there are those who maintain that "all property is robbery." Practical legislators may well assume that these conflicting views cancel each other, and may safely proceed to action on the basis of broad experience and the general agreement of nations.


Mr. Lockyer's paper before the Royal Society on the compound nature of some of the so-called elements from the point of view of spectrum analysis has attracted the attention properly due to the eminence of the investigator in the latter field, but chemists will be slow to admit that the experimental aspect of the subject has been much altered by Mr. Lockyer's investigations. The a-priori grounds for believing that the so-called elements are not elementary were already strong. In fact the progress of chemistry had proved many substances to be compound which were previously ranked as elements, and left the list of simple bodies to consist of such only as have hitherto resisted analysis. It has long been believed that the relations among the atomic numbers furnish strong evidence of the compound nature of many substances classed as elementary; and spectrum analysis has served greatly to heighten this probability. When, a few years ago, Dr. Martineau made an assault upon the doctrine of evolution, one of his objections to it was that the universe started a long way ahead on the line of heterogeneity by its outfit of chemical elements; the implication being that these elements had to be separately created before evolution could begin. To this, Herbert Spencer cogently replied that the elements are not known to be elementary; that no intelligent chemist holds them to be absolutely so; and that many concurrent considerations compel the inference that they are compounded, and perhaps recompounded of a few and perhaps of a single primordial constituent. The bearings of spectroscopic research upon the question were thus stated: "Spectrum analysis yields results wholly irreconcilable with the assumption that the conventionally named simple substances are really simple. Each yields a spectrum having lines varying in number from two to eight or more, every one of which implies the intercepting of ethereal undulations of a certain order, by something oscillating in unison or in harmony with them. Were iron absolutely elementary, it is not conceivable that its action could intercept ethereal undulations of eighty different orders: though it does not follow that its molecule contains as many separate atoms as there are lines in the spectrum, it must clearly be a complex molecule. Still more clearly is this general implication confirmed by facts furnished by nitrogen, the spectrum of which has two quite different sets of lines, and changes from one set to the other as the temperature is varied. The evidence thus gained points to the conclusion that, out of some primordial units, the so-called elements arise, by compounding and recompounding; just as by the compounding and recompounding of so-called elements there arise oxides and acids and salts."

Mr. Lockyer aims to enforce these views by fresh illustrations. The following passages from an account of his paper written for the "London Times," by a chemist who heard it, will give a fair idea of its quality:

There are many facts and many trains of thought suggested by solar and stellar physics which point to the hypothesis that the elements themselves, or at all events some of them, are compound bodies. Thus it would appear that the hotter a star the more simple is its spectrum; for the brightest, and therefore probably the hottest stars, such as Sirius, furnish spectra showing only very thick hydrogen lines and a few very thin metallic lines, characteristic of elements of low atomic weight, while the cooler stars, such as our sun, are shown by their spectra to contain a much larger number of metallic elements than stars such as Sirius, but no non-metallic elements; and the coolest stars furnish fluted band-spectra characteristic of compounds of metallic with nonmetallic elements and of non-metallic elements. These facts appear to meet with a simple explanation if it be supposed that as the temperature increases the compounds are first broken up into their constituent "elements," and that these "elements" then undergo dissociation or decomposition into "elements" of lower atomic weight. Mr. Lockyer next considers what will be the difference in the spectroscopic phenomena, supposing that A contains B as an impurity and as a constituent. In both cases A will have a spectrum of its own. B, however, if present as an impurity, will merely add its lines according to the amount present, as we have above explained; whereas if a constituent of A it will add its lines according to the extent to which A is decomposed and B is set at liberty. So that as the temperature increases the spectrum of A will fade if A be a compound body, whereas it will not fade if A be a true element. Moreover, if A be a compound body, the longest lines at one temperature will not be the longest at another. The paper chiefly deals with a discussion from this point of view of the spectrum of calcium, iron, hydrogen, and lithium, as observed at various temperatures; and it is shown that precisely the kind of change which is to be expected on the hypothesis of the non-elementary character of the elements has been found to take place. Thus each of the salts of calcium, so long as the temperature is below a certain point, has a definite spectrum of its own, but as the temperature is raised the spectrum of the salt gradually dies out and very fine lines due to the metal appear in the blue and violet portions of the spectrum. At the temperature of the electric arc the line in the blue is of great intensity, the violet H and K lines, as they are called, being still thin; in the sun the H and K lines are very thick, and the line in the blue is of less intensity than either, and much thinner than in the arc. Lastly, Dr. Huggins's magnificent star photographs show that both the H and K lines are present in the spectrum of α. Aquilæ, the latter' being, however, only about half the breadth of the former; but that in the spectrum of α Lyræ and Sirius, only the H line of calcium is present. Similar evidence that these different lines may represent different substances appears to be afforded by Professor Young's spectroscopic observations of solar storms, he having seen the H line injected into the chromosphere seventy-five times, the K line fifty times; but the blue line, which is the all-important line of calcium at the arc temperature, was only injected thrice. In the spectrum of iron two sets of three lines occur in the region between H and G, which are highly characteristic of this metal. On comparing photographs of the solar spectrum and of the spark taken between poles of iron, the relative intensity of these triplets is seen to be absolutely reversed; the lines barely visible in the spark photograph being among the most prominent in that of the solar spectrum, while the triplet, which is prominent in the spark photograph, is represented by lines not half so thick in the solar spectrum. Professor Young has observed during solar storms two very faint lines in the iron spectrum near G injected thirty times into the chromosphere, while one of the lines of the triplet was only injected twice. These facts, Mr. Lockyer contends, at once meet with a simple explanation if it be admitted that the lines are produced by the vibration of several distinct molecules.

The lithium spectrum exhibits a series of changes with a rise of temperature precisely analogous to those observed in the case of calcium.

In discussing the hydrogen spectrum, Mr. Lockyer adduces a number of most important and interesting facts and speculations. It is pointed out that the most refrangible line of hydrogen in the solar spectrum, h, is only seen in laboratory experiments when a very high temperature is employed, and that it was absent from the solar protuberances during the eclipse of 1875, although the other lines of hydrogen were photographed. This line also is coincident with the strongest line of indium as already recorded by Thalén, and may be photographed by volatilizing indium in the electric arc, whereas palladium charged with hydrogen furnishes a photograph in which none of the hydrogen lines are visible. By employing a very feeble spark at a very low pressure the F line of hydrogen in the green is obtained without the blue and red lines which are seen when a stronger spark is used, so that alterations undoubtedly take place in the spectrum of hydrogen similar to those observed in the case of calcium. In concluding this portion of his paper Mr. Lockyer states that he has obtained evidence leading to the conclusion that the substance giving the non reversed line in the chromosphere, which has been termed helium and not previously identified with any known form of matter, and also the substance giving the 1,474 or coronal line, are really other forms of hydrogen, the one more simple than that which gives the h line alone, the other more complex than that which gives the F line alone.

There can be no question that the facts brought forward by Mr. Lockyer are of the highest importance and value, and that they will have much influence on the further development of spectrum analysis, to which he has already so largely contributed. But his arguments are of a character so totally different from those ordinarily dealt with by chemists that they will hesitate for the present to regard them as proof of the decomposition of the elements until either they are assured by competent physicists that they can not be explained by any other equally simple and probable hypothesis, or until what Mr. Lockyer has foreshadowed as taking place to such an extent in other worlds has been realized beyond question or cavil in our own laboratories.