In The Astounding Long-lost Letters of Dickens of the Mounted (1989) Canadian satirist Eric Nicol deals humorously with Canadian-American-British copyright disagreements in the chapter in which Charles Dickens's son, N. W. Mounted Police Inspector Frank Dickens, encounters the victor of the Little Big Horn, Sitting Bull, at his encampment on the Canadian Prairie:

Sitting Bull nodded stoically, and said: "You too are Shaganosh [British, which the chief asserts himself to be by virtue of his people's remaining loyal to the British crown in the War of 1812], Inspector Dickens. I am sure that you will help us to show the Commissioner that Sitting Bull has the right to remain in Canada as a loyal subject of the Great White Mother."

I was honestly bewildered by the chief's presumption that I could have any influence whatever on the policy of the government of Canada in respect of the repatriation of his wayward Sioux. I said, with what I hoped was firmness despite my nervous throat's closing to produce a startling falsetto, "Chief, I grant you that we Shaganosh have been remiss in allowing your ancestral home to become part of the United States, but the [1776] Revolution seems to be irreversible." I bit my lip to indicate a degree of remorse. "However, the law is the law, and the law says that you must return to the States." I nodded briskly to emphasise the incontestability of my case.

The chief's sly smile did not waver an iota. He continued to gaze at me as though we both knew that the Queen's law was something to be got around. Had he been talking to other members of my family? He then took from the hand of a councillor a dog-eared book, which the chief tapped with his coup stick, gently, before handing it to me. I was appalled to see that it was a cheap, American pirated edition of Oliver Twist. The book fell open to a page marker.

"He wan' you read it," murmured [Dickens's Metis guide] Léveillé.

"Must I?" The coup stick smacked into a leathery hand. I read aloud: "'If the law supposes that,' said Mr. Bumble . . . 'the law is a ass, a idiot.'"

Sitting Bull nodded, a faint smile creasing that noble visage, and one of the councillors handed me an inked quill. Whispered Léveillé: "I t'ink he wan' you sign it." [pp. 152-153]

Although fanciful, the incident shows how thoroughly American publishers pirated the works of Dickens and other British authors throughout the nineteenth century with total disregard for either authorial rights or trade courtesy.

Related Materials


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Barnes, James J., and Patience P. "Copyright." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988. Pp. 192-3.

Davis, Paul. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Have: Yale UP, 1990.

Nicol, Eric. The Astounding Long-lost Letters of Dickens of the Mounted. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1988.

Nowell-Smith, Simon. International Copyright Law and The Publisher in the Reign of Queen Victoria. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.

O'Neill, Juliet. "Famous Authors Fought for Law Now Being Used as Trade Battle Fodder." Victoria Times-Colonist (rpt. Canadian Press) 16 June 1986.

Created 4 December 2004

Last modified 10 August 2013