Pirate publishers in Continental Europe and in America were a constant irritant to Charles Dickens. There was probably no other author who suffered as much at their hands. Dickens’s early works were widely pirated in Europe until the first international copyright treaties, starting with the treaty in 1846 between Prussia and the United Kingdom.
Even many years after that, they were still being pirated in the US and Dickens became a very vocal campaigner for the introduction of international copyright laws. He never succeeded in his lifetime. It was not until 1891 that the US introduced an International Copyright Act, and even then it refused to join the international Berne Convention. Perhaps worth remembering when Americans complain about the lack of copyright protection in China and elsewhere? Trump will not be the first US president to co-operate with other countries only when it suits him.
All this was far into the future when Bernhard Tauchnitz first launched his series of English language novels in Germany in 1841. He was free to publish the novels of British Authors without any restriction or any payment, and he enthusiastically joined the pirate band. To his credit, he realised relatively quickly that the life of a pirate was not for him and set about building relationships with authors, including Dickens. But for the first 18 months or so, Tauchnitz Editions were unauthorised pirate editions.
Dickens was the new rising star of English literature at that time, challenging the establishment of writers such as Bulwer Lytton, G.P.R. James, Captain Marryat and Walter Scott (who had died 10 years earlier). The works of all of these authors were widely available in Europe in unauthorised editions, both in English and in translation. So Tauchnitz was far from the first to publish ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ when it appeared as volumes 47 and 48 of his ‘Collection of British authors’ in 1843.
Dickens wrote the novel in 1838 / 1839, publishing it in monthly instalments from March 1838 to October 1839. Before the final instalment was published, possibly even before it was written, pirate versions of the earlier chapters were appearing. In 1838, Georg Westerman in Braunchweig was already publishing ‘Leben und Abenteuer des Nicolaus Nickleby. Herausgegeben von Boz, dem Verfasser der Pickwicker‘. By 1939 the novel had been published in English by J.J. Weber and Frederick Fleischer in Germany and from Paris had appeared in Baudry’s European Library. In the same year it was published in the US by Lea and Blanchard in Philadelphia and apparently by two New York publishers, William H. Colyer and James Turney. It seems fairly safe to assume that none of these publishers paid anything to Dickens.
A pirate German language edition of Nicholas Nickleby, already in 1839, the Second Edition
By early June 1843 when the Tauchnitz Edition of Nickleby appeared, Tauchnitz had already published ‘The Pickwick Papers’ as volumes 2 and 3 of his series, ‘American Notes for general circulation’ as volume 32 and ‘Oliver Twist’ as volume 36. After Nickleby, ‘Sketches by Boz’ followed a month or two later, bringing the number of unauthorised Dickens volumes to seven. But change was underway. Dickens had returned from a six month tour of America in 1842 outraged at the piracy of his works. In May 1843 he chaired a first meeting of the ‘Association for the Protection of Literature’. Six weeks after that Tauchnitz made his move, proposing voluntary payment to authors. His first authorised volume, by G.P.R. James, appeared in August 1843, and by the end of the year he was able to publish a fully authorised edition of Dickens’ latest work, ‘A Christmas Carol’.
So that first unauthorised printing of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ in a Tauchnitz Edition was one of the last few pirate editions Tauchnitz ever published. It can be identified by the lack of any copyright notice on the title page. All later printings still show 1843 on the title page, but say clearly ‘copyright edition’. Any copy printed after about 1853 will also show the later form of the publisher’s name, as ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’ rather than ‘Bernh. Tauchnitz Jun.’
The title page from a later reprint showing ‘Copyright Edition’ and ‘Bernhard Tauchnitz’
It’s not clear to what extent the agreement with Dickens was retrospective, offering payment for works already published and copies already sold. But it would be surprising if Tauchnitz didn’t offer some payment to wash away his previous sins. Certainly he seems to have done enough to earn the gratitude of Dickens and to establish cordial relations with him for the rest of his life. But however much absolution Tauchnitz later received, that first Tauchnitz printing of Nicholas Nickleby still has a tinge of piracy about it.