University of Virginia Library


On 9 January 1764 Covent Garden mounted a double bill by Murphy. No One's Enemy but his Own (3 acts) struggled through four nights, with a single author's benefit on the third (receipts unknown). What we must all come to (2 acts) was taken off after the first night. Why these shows failed so dismally is not at all clear, especially given that when Murphy revamped the afterpiece as Three Weeks After Marriage (1776), it proved steadily popular throughout the rest of the century. Whether Vaillant declined to pay full price for a pair of flops or Murphy thought he could make more money by having the works printed at his own risk is anyone's guess. Murphy's account of their agreement is as follows.

And your Orator some time in the Month of January 1764 delivered to the said Paul [Vaillant] Two several Copys of Two other Theatrical pieces One of which was intitled No one's Enemy but his own, a Comedy in Three acts and the other of the said Pieces was Intitled What we must all come to a Comedy in Two acts. But your Orator did not sell or Transfer the Copy Right of the said Two last mentioned pieces But delivered the said two Copys to be printed publishd and sold for your Orators Profit and


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Advantage. And the said Paul Vaillant agreed to print and Publish the Last two pieces for the usual Commission allowed to Booksellers by all authors who do not sell or Transfer their Copy right. And the said Paul Vaillant undertook to sell and dispose of the Printed Copys of the said Two pieces to and for your Orators Profit and Advantage and also Agreed to sell the said comedy in Three Acts called No one's Enemy but his own at and for the price of One shilling and six pence for each Printed Copy and also to sell the said other piece Intitled What we must all come to at and for the price of one shilling for every Printed Copy. And the said Paul [Vaillant] further promised and agreed to keep a true and just Account of the Copys of the said Two pieces which he should dispose of or sell to Booksellers or others and to carry the several sums which he should receive for the same to the Credit of your Orator and to let and permit your Orator at all seasonable times to have ffree Inspection of the Book or Books in which such Account should be kept.
Murphy charges, however, that Vaillant "sometimes" pretends that he bought copyright for the two plays for £167, and sometimes admits that he agreed to print and sell them "for your Orator's Benefit and Advantage." But in the latter case "he pretends that he printed" only 2500 copies of each title and has sold only 806 of No One's Enemy but his Own and 722 of What we must all come to, and that he therefore retains unsold 1694 copies of the one and 1778 of the other. Vaillant claims that the total charges and expenses of printing, paper, stamp duty, advertising, and publishing came to £58 5s 9d, and that "from the sale of the said Two pieces the Ballance due to" the author is only £8 1s. Murphy counters that he believes "& doubts not to prove" that Vaillant "did order & cause. . . Archibald Hamilton in the said Month of January 1764 to print ffour thousand of each of the said pieces & that the Number of Printed Copys amounted together to Eight Thousand which were your Orator charges all Sold." This is a mind-boggling number of copies of two flat failures in the theatre, but Murphy goes on to claim that "sometime in the Month of May 1764 the said Paul Vaillant caused the said Archibald Hamilton or some other printer to print two Thousand Copies more & that of the 1st mentioned Number of Printed Copys there are very few Remaining now on hand." Consequently "it will appear from the Books of . . . Paul Vaillant that a Balance of no less than Three hundred pounds remains due to your Orator" for these two plays. These figures are difficult to believe, and the Court of Exchequer did not accept them.

Vaillant admits "that the Complainant did not sell or Transfer the Copyright of the said two last mentioned pieces to this Defendant but delivered him the said two copies to be printed published and sold for the Complainants profit and advantage." He insists, however, that only a single edition of 2500 copies of each play was ever printed by Hamilton or anyone else, and that only 807 and 722 copies respectively were ever sold. "And he this Defendant agreed to print and publish the said two pieces for the usual Commission allowed to Booksellers by all Authors who do not sell or Transfer their Copyright and undertook to sell and dispose of the printed Copies of the said two pieces to and for the Complainants profit." Vaillant denies that he agreed "to keep a true and just account of the Copies of the said pieces which he should dispose of or sell to Booksellers or others . . . tho' he apprehends that such promise was necessarily implied in the Transaction."

Vaillant summarizes the sales and the amounts owed to Murphy in a brief "Schedule" appended to his answer and reproduced in Table 2.[18]


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Table 2: Sales and Royalties on Plays Published at Murphy's Risk

[Description: Table of Sales and Royalties]
Whatever number of copies might theoretically have been printed, the chances are good that the number of unsold copies is reported accurately, since Vaillant had turned them over to Thomas Lowndes when he left the business in 1773 and Lowndes could have been called on to testify. We note one oddity: the commission paid to the bookseller was not the same for the two plays. In the case of No One's Enemy but his Own (sold at 1s 6d), Vaillant kept 6d (one third of the price) from each copy, and credited the author with a 1s royalty. For What we must all come to (sold at 1s) however, the fee was neither 6d nor one-third of the price (4d). The sum Vaillant actually collected was just over 31/2 pence per copy, which seems extremely peculiar. This is not just a matter of a copying error in the "Schedule," since neither the main total nor the later sales work out to a rational royalty for the author. We have no explanation.

The figures in Table 2 permit us to calculate a rough economic basis for play publication at this time. Vaillant states (and Murphy does not challenge the figures) that the total manufacturing, advertising, and stamp duty cost of the two plays came to £58 5s 9d (which when subtracted from the author's share of sales left Murphy the depressing sum of £8 1s for the two plays). We might, therefore, assume that publishing 2500 copies of a standard mainpiece cost upwards of £35, while an afterpiece might come to something like £25. Consider the implications of these figures. The mainpiece, if sold at 1s 6d, might generate a gross income of £187 10s. If the author were paid £105 cash down for the copyright (as Murphy had been for The Orphan of China and All in the Wrong), then the publisher was investing £140 up front in the hope that he might someday recover his investment and make a profit. Ignoring storage and overheads, he would eventually make about £45 if all the copies sold. Not until upwards of 1867 copies had been sold would the book start to go into the black. In view of these figures one can readily see why publishers liked to sell fractional interests to a number of friends, getting


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some cash back immediately and spreading the risk. The figures on afterpieces are similar. If sales were 2500 at a shilling each, the potential gross would be £125. The cost would be about £25 for manufacturing plus £52 10s copyright payment to the author, for a total of £77 10s. The cost recovery figure is marginally better: 1550 copies would pay for the book, and if all copies sold, the printer might hope for roughly £45 in profit (again ignoring overheads).

What is absolutely clear from these particular figures is that Murphy would have been vastly better off if he had received for these plays what he had been paid for his earlier work—£105 plus £52 10s would have totalled £157 10s as opposed to £8 1s. Whether Vaillant offered him those terms the lawsuit does not say. Conceivably, Vaillant offered less—the plays were, after all, failures—and Murphy refused. Whatever happened, the likelihood is that Murphy's total profit from this pair of plays was not much more than a hundred pounds, and far less if his single benefit was poorly attended.