IMITATION -- PLAGIARISM.
The British reviewers have very frequently accused us of imitation, and the charge is undoubtedly well based. We imitate, however, chiefly the British models, and in doing this, we act only in a natural manner -- just as it might have been demonstrated a priori that we should and must have acted under the circumstances. All colonies have shown a proneness to ape the mother country in arts and letters. But the sin of imitativeness in general lies, we think, (as we have hinted before) at the door of our legislators. The want of an international copy-right law renders it impossible for our men of genius to obtain remuneration for their labors. Now since, as a body, men of genius are proverbially poor, the want of the international law represses their efforts altogether. Our sole writers, in consequence, are from the class of dilettanti; and although among this class are unquestionably many gifted men, still as a class -- as men of wealth and leisure -- they are imbued with a spirit of conservatism, which is merely a mood of the imitative spirit. But apart from this consideration, we must observe that to imitate is a matter of less effort than to originate; and we must not expect effort, as a general thing, certainly not as a continuous thing, from those whose condition is affluence and ease.
The charge of plagiarism has also been urged against us with much pertinacity by the British reviewers -- but with much less show of reason. As a people we imitate to excess, but we plagiarise in no greater degree than our neighbours. It must be confessed, however, that individuals among us have not been altogether sinless.
Indeed we should be happy, in one or two cases, were it possible to think otherwise. The sin of plagiarism involves the quintessence of meanness; and this meanness seems in the direct ratio of the amount of honor attained by the theft. A pickpocket is content with his plunder; the plagiarist demands that mankind should applaud him, not for plundering, but for the thing plundered.
When a plagiarism is detected, it generally happens that the public sympathy is with the plagiarist, and his friends proceed to every extreme in the way of exculpation. But how unjust! We should sympathize rather with him upon whom the plagiarism has been committed. Not only is he robbed of his property -- of his fame -- of that which, if he be a man of genius, is more to him than life; but he is rendered liable by the crime of the plagiarist to the suspicion of being a plagiarist himself. In detecting a literary theft, it usually happens that we know only the fact of a theft committed. Seldom are we in condition to determine who perpetrates the wrong. And if the wrong be perpetrated by a man of note -- so much more reprehensible is it, on the ground that where a question such as we have imagined occurs, it is always sure to be taken for granted that the sin is chargeable on the innocent unknown.
[This item was attributed to Poe by Killis Campbell, T. O. Mabbott and W. D. Hull. Mabbott's notes at the University of Iowa say "Sure." Hull says, "The first section of this article Poe made use of in 'Marginalia,' Godey's, September, 1845, though he altered it and wove it into an article purely on the question of international copyright . . . The case stands clear enough."]
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[S:0 - EM, 1845]