University of Virginia Library


In two cases Murphy revised a play of his own. This was not common practice at the time, in part no doubt because the system of remunerating playwrights did not encourage further attention to something already in the public domain so far as performance rights were concerned. The two occasions on which Murphy carried out revisions were quite different, and they raise interesting publication questions.

The first was anomalous. The Way to Keep Him had originally been produced as a three-act mainpiece. It was tried a couple of times in the spring of 1760 as an afterpiece, but it was too long. To do the theatre much service it needed to become a five-act mainpiece. In the course of the summer and autumn Murphy duly expanded it, and the play received its premiere as a full-dress mainpiece on 10 January 1761. It enjoyed an immediate run of eight nights (including two command performances) and went on to become a repertory staple. How the Drury Lane management compensated Murphy for his trouble is not clear. No author's benefit was advertised, and no accounts or prompter's diary survive for this season. A flat fee may have been negotiated, or Murphy may have received an unadvertised benefit. What he got from Vaillant for publication rights was fifty guineas. (Author and publisher concur in saying that an oral agreement was struck in January 1761.) The fee seems fair: Murphy had written two additional acts, and he got more than the standard price of a two-act afterpiece.

The second instance concerns "Alterations and Additions" to Murphy's second play, The Upholsterer. This afterpiece had been successful at Drury Lane, and in 1763 the new Covent Garden management decided to add it to their repertory. The usual method of doing so would have been simply to buy some printed copies and mount the piece unaltered without compensation of any kind to the author. In this instance, however, the Covent Garden managers decided to shorten and lighten the piece. Comparison of the Vaillant edition of 1763 with that of 1758 shows that the two are substantively identical until page 39, at which point they diverge drastically.[17] Murphy added some material for the low-comedy characters; reduced sentiment, pathos, and jealous love complications; and wound up cutting twelve pages to about eight. The impact of the piece is therefore greatly altered, even though 80 percent of the play is unchanged. The revision should have required little time or effort, so we are not surprised that no author's benefit was advertised. We presume, however, that Murphy got something for his trouble. Though far from new, the piece proved even more popular at Covent


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Garden than it had at Drury Lane, enjoying 20 performances there its first season.

Vaillant naturally wanted to issue a revised edition, representing The Upholsterer as it was now to be seen at Covent Garden—and toward the end of the year, he did so. Whether he owed Murphy anything on account of this revised edition was sharply disputed between them. Murphy charges that "some Time in the Month of November 1763" (recte October), he

made considerable additions to and Alterations in the Theatrical piece Intitled the Upholsterer and the said Paul Vaillant has printed and sold the said additions without any agreement with your Orator for the copy right thereof and the Profits arising by such sale he has converted to his own Use and benefit. . . . And the said Paul [Vaillant] sometimes pretends that the above mentioned ffarce called the Upholsterer has allways been by him Printed and sold in the same form and in the exact words of the Manuscript Copy sold and deliverd to him by your Orator in the Month of March 1758 and that no Additions to or Alterations in the same were ever made by your Orator whereas your Orator charges and so the Truth is that some time in the year 1763 he did make large additions to and considerable Alterations in the said ffarce of the Upholsterer and that the said Paul Vaillant possessed himself of the said Additions and Alterations by applying to the Prompter of Covent Garden Play House for the same without the Knowledge Consent or Privity of your Orator & did in or about the Month of December 1763 print Publish and Vend the same and hath ever since printed published and sold the same acquiring thereby considerable Profit and hath ever since constantly Refused to account with your Orator for the same. And the said Paul Vaillant sometimes Admits that such Additions and Alterations as above stated were made to the said ffarce called the Upholsterer by your Orator but then he pretends that your Orator in the Month of March 1758 when the said ffarce was sold to him the said Paul Vaillant agreed and contracted that all future Alterations and Additions which your Orator should at any Time make should be the Property of him the said Paul Vaillant without any Additional Price or consideration for the same. Whereas your Orator Charges and so the Truth is that he never made any such Agreement as is pretended by the said Paul Vaillant & that he is well Intitled to the mean profits that have accrued from the sale thereof or a compensation for the said Additions and Alterations. But the said Paul Vaillant Refuses to make your Orator any compensation or to Account with your Orator for the Profits of such sale.
Vaillant replied that he had indeed acquired the alterations and published them, but that he had done so with Murphy's permission and cooperation:
he this Defendant did Possess himself of the said Alterations and Additions by Applying to the Prompter of Covent Garden Play House for the same and which application this Defendant made with the Express Authority and Licence of the said Complainant who gave the same to this Defendant and that he this Defendant hath Printed and sold the said piece with such Additions and Alterations but not the Additions and Alterations by themselves without any Agreement with the Complainant for the Copy right thereof otherwise than the Complainants giving the same to this Defendant and thereby made large Profits but he this Defendant doth refuse to set forth what such Profits were he insisting upon his own Property in the said piece with the Additions and Alterations for the reasons herein mentioned and the profits arising by such sale he this Defendant hath converted to his own Use and benefit. And this Defendant humbly insists that he has a right to Convert such profits to his own use and benefit for that the said Complainant did voluntarily and of his own free will give such Additions and Alterations to him this Defendant.


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The theory of copyright was very much in its infancy, and eighteenth-century courts consistently had difficulty with alterations and translations (and in the realm of music, rescorings for different instruments). How much difference was required to create a new work?

Not to compensate an author for printing new material that warranted a new edition and improved the saleability of a title seems manifestly unfair. Contrariwise, the publisher would have had grounds for complaint if the author made relatively minor alterations and then proceeded to sell copyright of the "new" work to another publisher. So far as we know, Murphy had not attempted to do the latter, but Vaillant quite definitely did the former. The information that a publisher could, for a consideration, routinely acquire "acting" copy from the prompter as early as 1763 is interesting. Vaillant says that "the Prompter . . . usually has a Gratuity for furnishing a Publisher with a Manuscript Copy of Theatrical Pieces & to whom this Defendant gave a gratuity on that account." (His failure to state the amount of the "gratuity" is frustrating.) Yet apparently the playwright's authorization was necessary if he or she was living, and Murphy had agreed. Exactly what happened will probably never be known. Perhaps Murphy assumed he would be compensated and was disagreeably surprised. Or perhaps he made the charge of theft only long afterwards in the heat of the lawsuits between the two. The fact that Murphy went on publishing with Vaillant for four more years suggests that he was not violently unhappy about his treatment over The Upholsterer in late 1763.