Imitation -- Plagiarism -- The conclusion of Mr. Poe's reply to the letter of Outis.
"I have written what I have written," says Outis, "from no personal motives, but simply because, from my earliest reading of reviews and critical notices, I have been disgusted with this wholesale mangling of victims without rhyme or reason."
I have already agreed to believe implicitly every thing asserted by the anonymous Outis, and am fully prepared to admit, even, his own contradictions, in one sentence, of what he has insisted upon in the sentence preceding. I shall assume it as indisputable, then, (since Nobody says it) that, first, he has no acquaintance with myself and "some acquaintance with Mr. Longfellow," and secondly, that he has "written what he has written from no personal motives whatever." That he has been disgusted with "the mangling of victims without rhyme or reason," is, to be sure, a little unaccountable, for the victims without rhyme or reason are precisely the victims that ought to be mangled; but that he has been disgusted "from his earliest reading" with critical notices and reviews, is credible enough if we but imagine his "earliest reading" and earliest writing to have taken place about the same epoch of time.
But to be serious; if Outis has his own private reasons for being disgusted with what he terms the "wholesale mangling of victims without rhyme or reason," there is not a man living, of common sense and common honesty, who has not better reason (if possible) to be disgusted with the insuffer-able cant and shameless misrepresentation practised habitually by just such persons as Outis, with the view of decrying by sheer strength of lungs -- of trampling down -- of rioting down -- of mobbing down any man with a soul that bids him come out from among the general corruption of our public press, and take his stand upon the open ground of rectitude and honor.
The Outises who practise this species of bullyism are, as a matter of course, anonymous. They are either the "victims without rhyme or reason who have been mangled by wholesale," or they are the relatives, or the relatives of the relatives of the "victims without rhyme or reason who have been mangled by wholesale." Their watchwords are "carping littleness," "envious malignity," and "personal abuse." Their low artifices are insinuated calumnies, and indefatigable whispers of regret, from post to pillar, that "Mr. So-and-So, or Mr. This-and-That will persist in rendering himself so dreadfully unpopular" -- no one, in the meantime, being more thoroughly and painfully aware than these very Outises, that the unpopularity of the just critic who reasons his way, guiltless of dogmatism, is confined altogether within the limits of the influence of the victims without rhyme and reason who have been mangled by wholesale. Even the manifest injustice of a Gifford is, I grieve to say, an exceedingly popular thing; and there is no literary element of popularity more absolutely and more universally effective than the pungent impartiality of a Wilson or a Macaulay. In regard to my own course -- without daring to arrogate to myself a single other quality of either of these eminent men than that pure contempt for mere prejudice and conventionality which actuated them all, I will now unscrupulously call the attention of the Outises to the fact, that it was during what they (the Outises) would insinuate to be the unpopularity of my "wholesale mangling of the victims without rhyme and reason" that, in one year, the circulation of the "Southern Messenger" (a five-dollar journal) extended itself from seven hundred to nearly five thousand, -- and that, in little more than twice the same time, "Graham's Magazine" swelled its list from five to fifty-two thousand subscribers.
I make no apology for these egotisms, and I proceed with them without hesitation -- for, in myself, I am but defending a set of principles which no honest man need be ashamed of defending, and for whose defence no honest man will consider an apology required.
The usual watchwords of the Outises, when repelling a criticism, -- their customary charges, overt or insinuated, are (as I have already said) those of "personal abuse" and "wholesale (or indiscriminate) mangling." In the present instance the latter solely is employed -- for not even an Outis can accuse me, with even a decent show of verisimilitude, of having ever descended, in the most condemnatory of my reviews, to that personal abuse which, upon one or two occasions, has indeed been levelled at myself, in the spasmodic endeavours of aggrieved authors to rebut what I have ventured to demonstrate.
I have then to refute only the accusation of mangling by wholesale -- and I refute it by the simplest reference to fact. What I have written remains; and is readily accessible in any of our public libraries. I have had one or two impotent enemies, and a multitude of cherished friends -- and both friends and enemies have been, for the most part, literary people; yet no man can point to a single critique, among the very numerous ones which I have written during the last ten years, which is either wholly fault-finding or wholly in approbation; nor is there an instance to be discovered, among all that I have published, of my having set forth, either in praise or censure, a single opinion upon any critical topic of moment, without attempting, at least, to give it authority by something that wore the semblance of a reason. Now, is there a writer in the land, who, having dealt in criticism even one-fourth as much as myself, can of his own criticisms, conscientiously say the same? The fact is, that very many of the most eminent men in America whom I am proud to number among the sincerest of my friends, have been rendered so solely by their approbation of my comments upon their own works -- comments in great measure directed against themselves as authors -- belonging altogether to that very class of criticism which it is the petty policy of the Outises to cry down, with their diminutive voices, as offensive on the score of wholesale vituperation and personal abuse. If, to be brief, in what I have put forth there has been a preponderance of censure over commendation, -- is there not to be imagined for this preponderance a more charitable motive than any which the Outises have been magnanimous enough to assign me -- is not this preponderance, in a word, the natural and inevitable tendency of all criticism worth the name in this age of so uni-versal an authorship, that no man in his senses will pretend to deny the vast predominance of good writers over bad?
"And now," says Outis, [and now too, say I] "for the matter of
imitations -- in what do they consist? The critic is not very specific
in this charge. Of what kind are they? Are they imitations of thought?
Why not call them plagiarisms then, and show them up? Or are
only verbal imitations of style? Perhaps this is one of them,
his poem on the "Sea Weed,"
------ "drifting, drifting, drifting,
On the shifting
Currents of the restless main."
resembling in form and collocation only, a line in a beautiful and very powerful poem of Mr. Edgar A. Poe. (Write it rather Edgar, a Poet, and then it is right to a T.) I have not the poem before me, and have forgotten its title. But he is describing a magnificent intellect in ruins, if I remember rightly -- and, speaking of the eloquence of its better days, represents it as
------ "flowing, flowing, flowing,
Like a river."
Is this what the critic means? Is it such imitations as this that he alludes to? If not, I am at fault, either in my reading of Longfellow, or in my general familiarity with the American Poets. If this be the kind of imitation referred to, permit me to say, the charge is too paltry for any man, who valued his reputation either as a gentleman or a scholar."
Elsewhere he says: --
Moreover, this poem contains an example of that kind of repetition which I have supposed the critic meant to charge upon Longfellow as one of his imitations --
Away -- away -- away -- &c.
I might pursue it farther, but I will not. Such criticisms only make the author of them contemptible, without soiling a plume in the cap of his victim.
The first point to be here observed is the complacency with which Outis supposes me to make a certain charge and then vituperates me for his own absurd supposition. Were I, or any man, to accuse Mr. Longfellow of imitation on the score of thrice employing a word in consecutive connexion, then I, (or any man) would only be guilty of as great a sotticism as was Outis in accusing me of imitation on the score of the refrain. The repetition in question is assuredly not claimed by myself as original -- I should therefore be wary how I charged Mr. Longfellow with imitating it from myself. It is, in fact, a musical effect, which is the common property of all mankind, and has been their common property for ages.
Nevertheless the quotation of this
" drifting, drifting, drifting"
is, on the part of Outis, a little unfortunate. Most certainly the supposed imitation had never been observed by me -- nor even had I observed it, should I have considered it individually, as a point of any moment; -- but all will admit, (since Outis himself has noticed the parallel,) that, were a second parrallel of any obviousness to be established from the same brief poem, "The Sea-Weed," this second would come in very strong corroboration of the first. Now, the sixth stanza of this very "Sea-Weed" (which was first published in "Graham's Magazine" for January 1845) commences with
"From the far off isles enchanted;"
and in a little poem of my own, addressed "To Mary," and first published at page 636 of the first volume of the "Southern Literary Messenger," will be found the lines:
"And thus thy memory is to me
Like some enchanted far off isle
In some tumultuous sea."
But to show, in general, what I mean by accusing Mr. Longfellow of imitation, I collate his "Midnight Mass for the Dying Year" with "The Death of the Old Year" of Tennyson.
MIDNIGHT MASS FOR THE DYING YEAR
Yes, the Year is growing old,
And his eye is pale and bleared,
Death, with frosty hand and cold,
Plucks the old man by the beard,
Sorely, -- sorely!
The leaves are falling, falling,
Solemnly and slow;
Caw, caw, the rooks are calling;
It is a sound of woe,
A sound of woe!
Through woods and mountain-passes
The winds, like anthems, roll;
They are chanting solemn masses,
Singing, Pray for this poor soul,
Pray, -- pray!
And the hooded clouds, like friars,
Tell their beads in drops of rain,
And patter their doleful prayers;
But their prayers are all in vain,
All in vain!
There he stands in the foul weather,
The foolish, fond Old Year,
Crowned with wild flowers and with heather,
Like weak, despised Lear,
A king, -- a king!
Then comes the summer-like day,
Bids the old man rejoice!
His joy! his last! O, the old man gray,
Loveth her ever soft voice
Gentle and low.
To the crimson woods he saith --
To the voice gentle and low,
Of the soft air like a daughter's breath,
Pray do not mock me so!
Do not laugh at me!
And now the sweet day is dead;
Cold in his arms it lies;
No stain from its breath is spread
Over the glassy skies,
No mist nor stain!
Then, too, the Old Year dieth,
And the forests utter a moan,
Like the voice of one who crieth
In the wilderness alone,
Vex not his ghost!
Then comes, with an awful roar,
Gathering and sounding on,
The storm-wind from Labrador,
The wind Euroclydon,
Howl! howl! and from the forest
Sweep the red leaves away!
Would, the sins that thou abhorrest,
O soul! could thus decay,
And be swept away!
For there shall come a mightier blast,
There shall be a darker day;
And the stars, from heaven down-cast,
Like red leaves be swept away!
THE DEATH OF THE OLD YEAR
Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing;
Toll ye the church-bell sad and low,
And tread softly, and speak low,
For the Old Year lies a-dying.
Old Year, you must not die,
You came to us so readily,
You lived with us so steadily,
Old Year, you shall not die.
He lieth still: he doth not move;
He will not see the dawn of day;
He hath no other life above --
He gave me a friend, and a true, true love,
And the New Year will take 'em away.
Old Year, you must not go,
So long as you have been with us,
Such joy as you have seen with us,
Old Year, you shall not go.
He frothed his bumpers to the brim;
A jollier year we shall not see;
But though his eyes are waxing dim,
And though his foes speak ill of him,
He was a friend to me.
Old Year, you shall not die;
We did so laugh and cry with you,
I've half a mind to die with you,
Old Year, if you must die.
He was full of joke and jest,
But all his merry quips are o'er;
To see him die, across the waste
His son and heir doth ride post haste,
But he'll be dead before.
Every one for his own;
The night is starry and cold, my friend,
And the New Year, blithe and bold, my friend,
Comes up to take his own.
How hard he breathes! Over the snow
I heard just now the crowing cock.
The shadows flicker to and fro:
The cricket chirps: the light burns low:
'Tis nearly one o'clock.
Shake hands before you die;
Old Year, we'll dearly rue for you,
What is it we can do for you?
Speak out before you die.
His face is growing sharp and thin --
Alack! our friend is gone!
Close up his eyes; tie up his chin;
Step from the corpse and let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There's a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.
I have no idea of commenting, at any length, upon this imitation; which is too palpable to be mistaken; and which belongs to the most barbarous class of literary piracy; that class in which, while the words of the wronged author are avoided, his most intangible, and therefore his least defensible and least reclaimable property, is appropriated. Here, with the exception of lapses, which, however, speak volumes, (such for instance as the use of the capitalized "Old Year," the general peculiarity of the rhythm, and the absence of rhyme at the end of each stanza,) there is nothing of a visible or palpable nature by which the source of the American poem can be established. But then nearly all that is valuable in the piece of Tennyson, is the first conception of personifying the Old Year as a dying old man, with the singularly wild and fantastic manner in which that conception is carried out. Of this conception and of this manner he is robbed. What is here not taken from Tennyson, is made up mosaically, from the death scene of Cordelia, in "Lear" -- to which I refer the curious reader.
In "Graham's Magazine" for February 1843, there appeared a poem,
by Professor Longfellow, entitled "The Good George Campbell," and
to be a translation from the German of O. L. B. Wolff. In "Minstrelsy
and Modern by William Motherwell, published by John Wylie, Glasgow
is to be found a poem partly compiled and partly written by Motherwell
himself. It is entitled "The Bonnie George Campbell." I give the two
Hie upon Hielands
Out cam his auld mither
My meadow lies green,
High on the Highlands,
Out came his mother,
My meadow lies green,
In "The Spanish Student" of Mr. Longfellow, at page 80, will be found what follows:
Scene IV. -- Preciosa's chamber. She is sitting with a book in
hand near a table, on which are flowers. A bird singing in its cage.
Count of Lara enters behind, unperceived.
are sleeping, weary heart!
Thou, thou only sleepless art!
Heigho! I wish Victorian were here.
I know not what it is makes me so restless! [The bird sings.
Thou little prisoner with thy motley coat,
That from thy vaulted, wiry dungeon singest,
Like thee I am a captive, and, like thee,
I have a gentle gaoler. Lack-a-day!
All are sleeping, weary heart!
Thou, thou only sleepless art!
All this throbbing, all this aching,
Evermore shall keep thee waking,
For a heart in sorrow breaking
Thinketh ever of its smart!
Thou speakest truly, poet! and methinks
More hearts are breaking in this world of ours
Than one would say. In distant villages
And solitudes remote, where winds have wafted
The barbed seeds of love, or birds of passage
Scattered them in their flight, do they take root,
And grow in silence, and in silence perish.
Who hears the falling of the forest leaf?
Or who takes note of every flower that dies?
Heigho! I wish Victorian would come.
Dolores! [Turns to lay down her book, and perceives the
Lara. Senora, pardon me.
Preciosa. How's this? Dolores!
Lara. Pardon me --
Lara. Be not alarmed; I found no one in waiting.
If I have been too bold ----
Preciosa [turning her back upon him]. You are too
Retire! retire, and leave me!
Lara. My dear lady,
First hear me! I beseech you, let me speak!
'Tis for your good I come.
Preciosa [turning toward him with indignation].
You are the Count of Lara, but your deeds
Would make the statues of your ancestors
Blush on their tombs! Is it Castilian honor,
Is it Castilian pride, to steal in here
Upon a friendless girl, to do her wrong?
O shame! shame! shame! that you, a nobleman,
Should be so little noble in your thoughts
As to send jewels here to win my love,
And think to buy my honor with your gold!
I have no words to tell you how I scorn you!
Begone! The sight of you is hateful to me!
Begone, I say!
A few passages farther on in the same scene we meet the following stage directions: -- "He tries to embrace her, she starts back and draws a dagger from her bosom." A little farther still and "Victorian enters behind."
Compare all this with a "Scene from Politian, an Unpublished Tragedy by Edgar A. Poe," to be found either at page 13, or at page 106, of the second volume of the "Southern Literary Messenger."
The scene opens with the following stage directions:
A lady's apartment, with a window open and looking into a garden. Lalage in deep mourning, reading at a table, on which lie some books and a hand mirror. In the back ground, JACINTA leans carelessly on the back of a chair.
Lalage reading. "It in another climate, so he said,
Bore a bright golden flower but not i' this soil.
[Pauses, turns over some leaves, and then resumes.
No ling'ring winters there, nor snow, nor shower,
But ocean ever, to refresh mankind,
Breathes the shrill spirit of the western wind."
Oh, beautiful! most beautiful! how like
To what my fever'd soul doth dream of Heaven!
O happy land! [pauses] She died -- the maiden died --
O still more happy maiden who couldst die!
[Jacinta returns no answer, and Lalage presently resumes.
Again a similar tale,
Told of a beauteous dame beyond the sea!
Thus speaketh one Ferdinand i' the words of the play,
"She died full young" -- one Bossola answers him
"I think not so; her infelicity
Seemed to have years too many." Ah luckless lady!
Jacinta! [Still no answer.] Here's a far sterner story
But like, oh very like in its despair, --
Of that Egyptian queen, winning so easily
A thousand hearts, losing at length her own.
She died. Thus endeth the history, and her maids
Lean over her and weep -- two gentle maids
With gentle names, Eiros and Charmion.
Rainbow and Dove -- Jacinta!
[Jacinta finally in a discussion about certain jewels, insults her mistress, who bursts into tears.
Lalage. Poor Lalage! and is it come to this?
Thy servant maid! ---- but courage! -- 'tis but a viper
Whom thou hast cherished to sting thee to the soul!
[Taking up the mirror.
Ha! here at least's a friend -- too much a friend
In earlier days -- a friend will not deceive thee.
Fair mirror and true! now tell me, for thou canst,
A tale -- a pretty tale -- and heed thou not
Though it be rife with woe. It answers me.
It speaks of sunken eyes, and wasted cheeks,
And beauty long deceased -- remembers me
Of Joy departed -- Hope, the Seraph Hope
Inurned and entombed! -- now, in a tone
Low, sad, and solemn, but most audible
Whispers of early grave untimely yawning
For ruined maid. Fair mirror and true! thou liest not!
Thou hast no end to gain -- no heart to break.
Castiglione lied who said he loved --
Thou true -- he false! -- false! -- false!
[While she speaks a Monk enters her apartment, and approaches unobserved.
Monk. Refuge thou hast
Sweet daughter! in Heaven. Think of eternal things!
Give up thy soul to penitence, and pray.
Lalage. I cannot pray! -- my soul is at war with God!
The frightful sounds of merriment below
Disturb my senses -- go, I cannot pray!
The sweet airs from the garden worry me!
Thy presence grieves me -- go! -- thy priestly raiment
Fills me with dread -- thy ebony crucifix
With horror and awe!
Monk. Think of thy precious soul!
Lalage. Think of my early days! -- think of my father
And mother in Heaven! think of our quiet home
And the rivulet that ran before the door!
Think of my little sisters! -- think of them!
And think of me! -- think of my trusting love
And confidence -- his vows -- my ruin -- think -- think
Of my unspeakable misery! -- begone!
Yet stay! yet stay! what was it thou saidst of prayer
And penitence? Didst thou not speak of faith
And vows before the throne?
Monk. I did.
Lalage. 'Tis well.
There is a vow were fitting should be made --
A sacred vow, imperative, and urgent --
A solemn vow.
Monk. Daughter, this zeal is well.
Lalage. Father! this zeal is any thing but well.
Hast thou a crucifix fit for this thing?
A crucifix whereon to register
A pious vow? [He hands her his own.
Not that -- oh! no! -- no! no![- Shuddering.
Not that! not that! I tell thee, holy man,
Thy raiments and thy ebony cross affright me.
Stand back! I have a crucifix myself --
I have a crucifix! Methinks 'twere fitting
The deed -- the vow -- the symbol of the deed --
And the deed's register should tally, father!
Behold the cross wherewith a vow like mine
Is written in Heaven!
[Draws a cross-handled dagger and raises it on high.
Monk. Thy words are madness, daughter!
And speak a purpose unholy -- thy lips are livid --
Thine eyes are wild -- tempt not the wrath divine --
Pause ere too late! -- oh! be not -- be not rash!
Swear not the oath -- oh! swear it not!
The coincidences here are too markedly peculiar to be gainsayed. The sitting at the table with books, etc. -- the flowers on the one hand, and the garden on the other -- the presence of the pert maid -- the reading aloud from the book -- the pausing and commenting -- the plaintiveness of what is read, in accordance with the sorrow of the reader -- the abstraction -- the frequent calling of the maid by name -- the refusal of the maid to answer -- the jewels -- the "begone" -- the unseen entrance of a third person from behind -- and the drawing of the dagger -- are points sufficiently noticeable to establish at least the imitation beyond all doubt.
Let us now compare the concluding lines of Mr. Longfellow's "Autumn" with that of Mr. Bryant's "Thanatopsis:"
Mr. B. has it thus:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of Death,
Thou go not, like the quarry slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Mr. L. thus:
To him the wind, aye and the yellow leaves
Shall have a voice and give him eloquent teachings.
He shall so hear the solemn hymn that Death
Has lifted up for all, that he shall go
To his long resting-place without a tear.
Again, in his "Prelude to the Voices of the Night" Mr. Longfellow says: --
Look then into thine heart and write!
Sir Philip Sidney in the "Astrophel and Stella" has:
Foole, said my Muse to me, looke in thy heart and write!
Again -- in Longfellow's "Midnight Mass" we read:
And the hooded clouds like friars.
The Lady in Milton's "Comus" says:
When the grey-hooded even
Like a sad votarist in palmer's weeds.
And again: -- these lines by Professor Longfellow will be remembered by every body:
Art is long and time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
But if any one will turn to page 66 of John Sharpe's edition of Henry Headley's Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry, published at London in 1810, he will there find an Exequy on the death of his wife by Henry King, Bishop of Chichester, and therein also the following lines, where the author is speaking of following his wife to the grave:
But hark! my pulse,like a soft drum,
Beats my approach -- tells thee I come!
And slow howe'er my marches be,
I shall at last sit down by thee.
Were I disposed indeed, to push this subject any farther, I should have little difficulty in culling, from the works of the author of "Outre Mer," a score or two of imitations quite as palpable as any upon which I have insisted. The fact of the matter is, that the friends of Mr. Longfellow, so far from undertaking to talk about my "carping littleness" in charging Mr. Longfellow with imitation, should have given me credit, under the circumstances, for great moderation in charging him with imitation alone. Had I accused him, in loud terms, of manifest and continuous plagiarism, I should but have echoed the sentiment of every man of letters in the land beyond the immediate influence of the Longfellow coterie. And since I, "knowing what I know and seeing what I have seen" -- submitting in my own person to accusations of plagiarism for the very sins of this gentleman against myself --since I contented myself, nevertheless, with simply setting forth the merits of the poet in the strongest light, whenever an opportunity was afforded me, can it be considered either decorous or equitable on the part of Professor Longfellow to beset me, upon my first adventuring an infinitesimal sentence of dispraise, with ridiculous anonymous letters from his friends, and moreover, with malice prepense, to instigate against me the pretty little witch entitled Miss Walter; advising her and instructing her to pierce me to death with the needles of innumerable epigrams, rendered unnecessarily and therefore cruelly painful to my feelings by being first carefully deprived of the point?
*Sammlung vorzuglicher Volkslieder der bekanntesten Nationen, grostentheils zun ersten male, metrisch in das Deutche ubertragen. Frankfurt, 1837.
[S:0 - BJ, 1845]