Plagiarism -- Imitation -- Postcript to Mr. Poe's Reply to the Letter of Outis.
It should not be supposed that I feel myself individually aggrieved in the letter of Outis. He has praised me even more than he has blamed. In replying to him, my design has been to place fairly and distinctly before the literary public certain principles of criticism for which I have been long contending, and which, through sheer misrepresentation, were in danger of being misunderstood.
Having brought the subject, in this view, to a close in the last Journal, I now feel at liberty to add a few words of postscript, by way of freeing myself of any suspicion of malevo-lence or discourtesy. The thesis of my argument, in general, has been the definition of the grounds on which a charge of plagiarism may be based, and of the species of ratiocination by which it is to be established: this is all. It will be seen by any one who shall take the trouble to read what I have written, that I make no charge of moral delinquency against either Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Aldrich, or Mr. Hood: -- indeed, lest in the heat of argument, I may have uttered any words which may admit of being tortured into such an interpretation, I here fully disclaim them upon the spot.
In fact, the one strong point of defence for his friends has been unaccountably neglected by Outis. To attempt the rebutting of a charge of plagiarism by the broad assertion that no such thing as plagiarism exists, is a sotticism, and no more -- but there would have been nothing of unreason in rebutting the charge as urged either against Mr. Longfellow, Mr. Aldrich, or Mr. Hood, by the proposition that no true poet can be guilty of a meanness -- that the converse of the proposition is a contradiction in terms.
Should there be found any one willing to dispute with me this point, I would decline the disputation on the ground that my arguments are no arguments to him.
It appears to me that what seems to be the gross inconsistency of plagiarism as perpetrated by a poet, is very easily thus resolved: -- the poetic sentiment (even without reference to the poetic power) implies a peculiarly, perhaps an abnormally keen appreciation of the beautiful, with a longing for its assimilation, or absorption, into the poetic identity. What the poet intensely admires, becomes thus, in very fact, although only partially, a portion of his own intellect. It has a secondary origination within his own soul -- an origination altogether apart, although springing, from its primary origination from without. The poet is thus possessed by another's thought, and cannot be said to take of it, possession. But, in either view, he thoroughly feels it as his own -- and this feeling is counteracted only by the sensible presence of its true, palpable origin in the volume from which he has derived it -- an origin which, in the long lapse of years it is almost impossible not to forget -- for in the mean time the thought itself is forgotten. But the frailest association will regenerate it -- it springs up with all the vigor of a new birth -- its absolute originality is not even a matter of suspicion -- and when the poet has written it and printed it, and on its account is charged with plagiarism, there will be no one in the world more entirely astounded than himself. Now from what I have said it will be evident that the liability to accidents of this character is in the direct ratio of the poetic sentiment -- of the susceptibility to the poetic impression; and in fact all literary history demonstrates that, for the most frequent and palpable plagiarisms, we must search the works of the most eminent poets.
[S:0 - BJ, 1845]