From The Critic Vol. 24 No. 716 (Nov 9, 1895)

by Charles E. L. Wingate, Boston, 5 Nov. 1895

Boston Letter

I happen to know of an odd circumstance, which brings up a point of great interest to authors — namely, their exclusive right to their own names. This seems a curious problem, but it exists. There is a certain syndicate formed for the purpose of supplying newspapers with articles of a literary or semi-literary nature. This syndicate recently sent out a notice to the papers of the country, stating that among its attractions for Thanksgiving would be “a story of New England life by the popular writer of short stories, Miss Mary E. Wilkins.” One paper had had some previous experience with this syndicate and was, therefore, a little cautious about accepting the story. Its editors had bought from the concern an article by Henry Irving on acting, and a month after its publication Mr. Irving had protested that he had never written such an article, and that the views it contained were not his. Shortly after this, another splendid list of syndicate articles came to the same paper; it included a story by Mrs. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward. Remembering his former experience, the editor inquired of Mrs. Ward if this story was all right. She replied that she had never written such a story, had never written for the syndicate in question, and that no one was privileged to represent her in that manner. Then came the Mary E. Wilkins episode. A Thanksgiving story by Miss Wilkins would certainly have been acceptable, so inquiry was sent to the Randolph author about this offer. She replied that she had never written a story under the title given, that she had never written any story for the syndicate, that she never had had, nor expected to have, any dealings with it, and that she had never previously known of its existence. Furthermore, I know that she placed the matter in the hands of her attorney, who wrote to the syndicate forbidding any unauthorized use of her name. At this time it was, of course, a matter of doubt whether the syndicate had not obtained some early non-copyrighted story of Miss Wilkins's and changed the title. But it seems such was not the case, for now the syndicate (I am obliged to use the general term, because, so far as I know, no name has ever been signed to its circular) makes the somewhat astonishing reply that its story is a bona-fide tale by Miss Mary E. Wilkins. It is written, the syndicate says, by a well-known author of that name, living in Pennsylvania, who has frequently prepared stories for public print; as for the other Miss Mary E. Wilkins, of Randolph, the people of the syndicate declare that they could not have meant her, for they never even heard of her, never knew of her existence, and therefore certainly never thought of buying stories from her! Which shows that — if we credit it — we live in a pretty big world, when Miss Mary E. Wilkins of Randolph is so utterly unknown to a literary syndicate. I am told that a slightly different case came up some time ago, when Miss Wilkins learned that a Southern writer was signing her stories “Mary Wilkins,” and, on writing to her, found that that was the name she had selected for her pen-name.