To corroborate his thesis that stationers enjoyed almost unfettered freedom against which authors and even owners of a royal patent (privilege) were nearly powerless, Irvin Matus instances, among others, the case of Robert Young vs William Stansby in connection with the printing of George Sandys' translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis. Young would have been flying in the face of a royal patent. The case has been extensively dealt with in two articles by Richard Beale Davis. Matus only lists Davis' first article (1941), not the second one (1980).

The case is much more complicated than in Matus's version. Moreover, he misrepresents the facts to hold up his unwarranted view.   

One of the cases selected by Matus is George Sandys's translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis. The case has been dealt with in two articles by Richard Beale Davis.

  1. "Early Editions of George Sandys's "Ovid": The Cirumstances of Production" in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, xxxv, 4th Quarter, 1941, pp. 255-276.
  2. George Sandys v. William Stansby: "The 1632 Edition of Ovid's Metamorphosis" in The Library, 6th Series, Vol. II, Number 4, December 1980.

A summary of Davis's articles:

In 1621, just before leaving for Virginia where he was to take office as treasurer to the governor, George Sandys, a gentleman of Prince's Charles's Privy Chamber and later to become Lord Sandys, finished the translation of the first five books of the fifteen books of Ovid's Metamorphosis. On April 27, 1621 this translation was entered on the Stationers' Register for Matthew Lownes and Barrett.[1] It should be noted from the start that it was not stated in the entry  that the copyright was only for the first five books but for "OVIDES Metamorphosis into English verse by Master George Sandes", whereas, for instance, George Chapman's translation of seven books of Homer's Iliad was entered on April 10, 1598 as "Seaven bookes of HOMERS Iliades".[2]

In 1626 Sandys is back in England and has meanwhile translated the ten remaining books. On April 24, 1626, King Charles I grants him a royal patent (privilege) for the usual 21 years which means that, theoretically, the earnings from the sale of his translations are his. But as a courtier both without experience in the book trade and by considerations of rank precluded from engaging in such trade he assigns this task to the stationer William Stansby to whom is entered on May 7, 1626: "A booke called OVIDs Metamorphosis XV bookes, in English verse by GEORGE SANDES".[3]  Evidently, this is Sandys's complete translation. According to the rules of the company the copyright was now Stansby's.

In the meantime, the original copyright owners Matthew Lownes and Barrett had died; their copyright was successively assigned to other stationers as follows:

On April 3, 1626 the widow Barrett assigned to Parker her rights in a series of copies, among them "OVIDs Metamorphosis in English verse by GEORGE SANDS".[4] This was about a month before the entrance of May 7, to Stansby. Again, it was not specified that the copyright was only for the first five books. On April 10, 1627 the other half of the copyright passed from Matthew Lownes to his son Thomas.[5] It was for Lownes's "parte of OVIDS Metamorphosis". On May 30, 1627, 23 days after Stansby's registration, Thomas Lownes, son of Matthew,  assigned this copyright to Robert Younge and Humphrey Lownes.[6] The Court Book C shows the following record on March 1, 1627: "This day at the humble suite and request of Thomas Lownes made to the Table [the Court of Assistants]. It is ordered that all the Copies which belonged to Mr Mathew Lownes his father should first by favour of the Companye be entred to him, And whereas Robert Younge Clayms all the Copies which the said Thomas Lownes had any right unto upon an agreement heretofore made betwixt them, and that it appeared to this Court that the said Robert Younge had not given him valuable Consideracion for the same, it is therefore thought fitt by this Court and soe ordered that the said Robert Younge shall give him such further Consideracion..."[7] Two months and five days before Stansby registered the patented version of Sandys's translation, the Court of Assistants recognized Thomas Lownes's copyright that was to be assigned to Robert Young, a fact Matus arduously fails to take into consideration. A number of other facts create additional difficulties.

1) Thomas Lownes assigned the copyright to Young and Humphrey Lownes after entrance of the 15 books to Stansby;

2) The list of books assigned by Thomas Lownes did not contain Sandys's first translation (of the five first books). Maybe Young and Humphrey Lownes feared that the Court of Assistants would have objected to it because the copyright was Stansby's - but there may be other reasons.

In his first article (1941) Richard Beale Davies considered the possibility that the first entry (of the five books) in 1621 was a protecting entry and that the five books were never separately printed. "The generally accepted 'proof' of existence and publication of the first five books is the notice, published almost two centuries later, of a copy of such an edition. In 1808 J. Haslewood, writing in Brydges Censura Literaria, describes the 1626 and 1632 editions." These descriptions are preceded by a description of the 1621 edition. "Haslewood's description is so circumstantial, however, and has so little physical support..."[8] We can pass over Beale's ventilations as to whether Matthew Lownes's registration in 1621 of the five books was perhaps a protecting entry, that is an entry made to prevent the printing of the five books in Sandys's absence. In a footnote to his article of 1980 in The Library Davis has to recognize that such a copy still does exist. It was acquired by the Folger Shakespeare Library and an article on it by J. G. McManaway was published in Papers of the Bibliographical Society, the University of Virginia (1948). It cannot entirely be ruled out that in 1621 a promise had been given to the original copyright holders Lownes and Barrett to have the right to publishing the translation of the 10 remaining books when finished. Indeed, why should Young, an experienced stationer who at any time could consult the Stationers' Register, acquire a copyright which he knew to have lapsed? Young might have felt able to justify his claim. Things would have been different if the entry of 1621 had explicitly stated that the copyright was only for the five first books. In that case the 15 books, as a considerably enlarged version, constituted a new copyright (to be exact: a publisher's right to copy). Young must have known this. But the fact that he nevertheless acquired the copyright from Thomas Lownes after the entry to Stansby seems to indicate he thought his claim justified. Royal privileges prevailed over the ordinary copyright granted by the Stationers' Company. But Young might have thought that he and not William Stansby had the right to publish the work.

In 1626 Stansby published the whole translation; on the title-page was mentioned "Cum Privilegio", with royal privilege or patent. This edition, a small folio, must have been published with the consent of Sandys. In 1628 Young printed a small octavo "printed by Robert Young are to be Sold by J. Grismond."

On April 8, 1628 the Court of Assistants ordered that both entries to Matthew Lownes and Barrett (1621) with subsequent assignment to Young and Humphrey Lownes (1627) and to William Stansby (1627) be crossed out (that is: revoked).[9] Thus it was no longer Stansby's copyright that was opposed to Young's claim but directly George Sandys's royal privilege. Nonetheless, Young continued to print, for he was forbidden from so doing by another decision of the Court of Assistants on 26 January 1631, which expressly stated that the sole right to print the translation lay with George Sandys. However, there is no trace in the Court Book of Young being fined, despite his transgression of the decision of April 8, 1628. This could indicate that Young's claim was not without some foundation. Probably it was not, as the original entry of 1621, from which Young derived his claim, could be understood as to apply to the whole translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis. Again, had the original entry in 1621 explicitly stated to be for the first five books, then the entry of all of the 15 books to Stansby, being a substantial enlargement, had defeated the original entry. There would have been no reason to recall Stansby's copyright. Yet this was done. The situation in the Stationers' Company seemed embroiled. It is possibly for this reason that Young was not fined and that George Sandys decided to circumvent the SC altogether in that he finally printed a new edition at the university press of Oxford outside the sphere of influence of the London Stationers' Company.

All this, Irvin Matus, eager to blow a simple melody on his poorly tuned wind instrument, fails to ventilate. 

© R. Detobel

[1] Arber IV.53.

[2] Arber III.110.

[3] Arber IV.160

[4] Arber IV.157-8.

[5] Arber IV.175.

[6] Arber IV. 180.

[7] Court Book C, p. 192-3.

[8] Davies, Richard Beale, Early Editions, p. 259-60.

[9] Court  Book C, p. 201, note on April 8, 1628: "This daye mr Sands Patent for the sole printing of the 15.  bookes of Ovids Metamorphosis by him translated into English verse, was openlye reade in the hall this quarter day. And it is ordered that th'entrance to mr. Barrett and mr Lownes deceased of the first five bookes and the assignment to Robert Younge, And the entrance of the whole 15. bookes to mr Stansby shalbe all Crost out of the Regester Booke of the Company, soe that noe man shall laye anie claime to the printinge of the same or any parte thereof."