Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “A Reply to Outis,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Stone and Kimball, vol. VI, 1895, pp. 136-198


[page 136:]



FOR the “Evening Mirror” of January 14, (1846), before my editorial connection with the “Broadway Journal,” I furnished a brief criticism on Professor Longfellow’s “Waif.” In the course of my observations, I collated a poem called “The Death-Bed,” and written by Hood, with one by Mr. Aldrich, entitled “A Death-Bed.” The criticism, ended thus: —

“We conclude our notes on the “Waif,” with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy? We shall be pleased if it be so; — but there does appear, in this little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate (is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend.”

Much discussion ensued. A friend of Mr. Longfellow’s penned a defence, which had at least the merit of being thoroughly impartial; for it defended Mr. L., not only from the one-tenth of very moderate disapproval in which I had indulged, but from the nine-tenths of my enthusiastic admiration into the bargain. The fact is, if I was not convinced that in ninety-nine hundredths of all that I had written about Mr. Longfellow I was decidedly in the wrong, at least it was no fault of Mr. Longfellow’s [page 137:] very luminous friend. This well-intended defence was published in the “Mirror,” with a few words of preface by Mr. Willis, and of postscript by myself. Still dissatisfied, Mr. L., through a second friend, addressed to Mr. Willis an expostulatory letter, of which the “Mirror” printed only the following portion: —

“It has been asked, perhaps, why Lowell was neglected in this collection? Might it not as well be asked why Bryant, Dana and Halleck were neglected? The answer is obvious to any one who candidly considers the character of the collection. It professed to be, according to the Poem, from the humbler poets; and it was intended to embrace pieces that were anonymous, or which were easily accessible to the general reader — the waifs and estrays of literature. To put anything of Lowell’s, for example, into a collection of waifs would be a particular liberty with pieces which are all collected and christened.”

Not yet content, or misunderstanding the tenor of some of the wittily put comments which accompanied the quotation, the aggrieved poet, through one of the two friends as before, or perhaps through a third, finally prevailed on the good nature of Mr. Willis to publish an explicit declaration of his disagreement with “all the disparagement of Longfellow” which had appeared in the criticism in question.

Now when we consider that many of the points of censure made by me in this critique were absolutely as plain as the nose upon Mr. Longfellow’s face — that it was impossible to gainsay them — that we defied him and his coadjutors to say a syllable in reply to them — and that they held their tongues and not a syllable said — when we consider all this, I say, then the satire of the “all” in Mr. Willis’s manifesto [page 138:] becomes apparent at once. Mr. Longfellow did not see it; and I presume his friends did not see it. I did. In my mind’s eye it expanded itself thus; — “My dear Sir, or Sirs, what will you have? You are an insatiable set of cormorants, it is true; but if you will only let me know what you desire, I will satisfy you, if I die for it. Be quick! — merely say what it is you wish me to admit, and (for the sake of getting rid of you) I will admit it upon the spot. Come! I will grant at once that Mr. Longfellow is Jupiter Tonans, and that his three friends are the Graces, or the Furies, whichever you please. As for a fault to be found with either of you, that is impossible, and I say so. I disagree with all — with every syllable of the disparagement that ever has been whispered against you up to this date, and (not to stand upon trifles) with all that ever shall be whispered against you henceforward, forever and forever. May I hope at length that these assurances will be sufficient?” But if Mr. Willis really hoped anything of the kind he was mistaken.

In the mean time Mr. Briggs, in the “Broadway Journal” — did me the honor of taking me to task for what he supposed to be my insinuations against Mr. Aldrich. My reply (in the “Mirror”) prefaced by a few words from Mr. Willis, ran as follows: —

“Much interest has been given in our literary circles of late to the topic of plagiarism. About a month ago a very eminent critic connected with this paper, took occasion to point out a parallelism between certain lines of Thomas Hood, and certain others which appeared in the collection of American poetry edited by Mr. Griswold. Transcribing the passages, he ventured the assertion that “somebody is a thief.” The matter had been nearly forgotten, if [page 139:] not altogether so, when a “good-natured friend” of the American author (whose name had by us never been mentioned) considered it advisable to re-collate the passages, with the view of convincing the public (and himself) that no plagiarism is chargeable to the party of whom he thinks it chivalrous to be the “good-natured friend.” For our own part, should we ever be guilty of an indiscretion of this kind, we deprecate all aid from our “good-natured friends” — but in the mean time it is rendered necessary that once again we give publicity to the collation of poems in question. Mr. Hood’s lines run thus: —

“We watched her breathing through the night,

Her breathing soft and low,

As in her breast the wave of life

Kept heaving to and fro.

“ ‘So silently we seemed to speak,

So slowly moved about,

As we had lent her half our powers

To eke her being out.

“ ‘Our very hope belied our fears;

Our fears our hope belied;

We thought her dying when she slept,

And sleeping when she died.

“ ‘For when the morn came dim and sad,

And chill with early showers,

Her quiet eyelids closed; — she had

Another morn than ours.’

Mr. Aldrich’s thus: —

“ ‘Her sufferings ended with the day,

Yet lived she at its close,

And breathed the long, long night away

In statue-like repose;

“ ‘But when the sun in all its state

Illumed the eastern skies,

She passed through Glory’s morning gate,

And walked in paradise.’ [page 140:]

And here, to be sure, we might well leave a decision in the case to the verdict of common sense. But since the “Broadway Journal” insists upon the “no resemblance,” we are constrained to point out especially where our supposed similarity lies. In the first place, then, the subject in both pieces is death. In the second, it is the death of a woman. In the third, it is the death of a woman tranquilly dying. In the fourth, it is the death of a woman who lies tranquilly throughout the night. In the fifth, it is the death of a woman whose “breathing soft and low is watched through the night,” in the one instance, and who “breathed the long [[,]] long night away in statue-like repose” in the other. In the sixth place, in both poems this woman dies just at daybreak. In the seventh place, dying just at daybreak, this woman, in both cases, steps directly into Paradise. In the eighth place, all these identities of circumstance are related in identical rhythms. In the ninth place, these identical rhythms are arranged in identical metres; and, in the tenth place, these identical rhythms and metres are constructed into identical stanzas.

At this point the matter rested for a fortnight, when a fourth friend of Mr. Longfellow took up the cudgels for him and Mr. Aldrich conjointly, in another communication to the “Mirror.” I copy it in full.

PLAGIARISM. — Dear Willis, — Fair play is a jewel, and I hope you will let us have it. I have been much amused, by some of the efforts of your critical friend, to convict Longfellow of imitation, and Aldrich and others, of plagiarism. What is plagiarism? And what constitutes a good ground for the charge? Did no two men ever think alike without stealing one from the other? or, thinking alike, did no two men ever use the same, or similar words, to convey the thoughts, and that, without any communication with each other? To deny it would be absurd. It is a thing of every day occurrence. Some years ago, a letter was written from some part of New England, describing [page 141:] one of those scenes, not very common during what is called “the January thaw,” when the snow, mingled with rain, and freezing as it falls, forms a perfect covering of ice upon every object. The storm clears away suddenly, and the moon comes up. The letter proceeds — “every tree and shrub, as far as the eye can reach, of pure transparent glass — a perfect garden of moving, waving, breathing crystals. ... Every tree is a diamond chandelier, with a whole constellation of stars clustering to every socket,” etc. This letter was laid away where such things usually are, in a private drawer, and did not see the light for many years. But the very next autumn brought out, among the splendid annuals got up in the country, a beautiful poem from Whittier, describing the same, or rather a similar scene, in which is this line

‘The trees, like crystal chandeliers,’

was put in italics by every reviewer in the land, for the exceeding beauty of the imagery. Now the letter was written, probably, about the same time with the poem, though the poem was not published till nearly a year after. The writers were not, and never have been, acquainted with each other, and neither could possibly have seen the work of the other before writing. Now, was there any plagiarism here? Yet there are plenty of “identities.” The author of the letter, when urged, some years after; to have it published, consented very reluctantly, through fear that he should be charged with theft; and, very probably, the charge has been made, though I have never seen it. May not this often occur? What is more natural? Images are not created, but suggested. And why not the same images, when the circumstances are precisely the same, to different minds? Perhaps your critic will reply, that the case is different after one of the compositions is published. How so? Does he or you, or anybody read everything that is published? I am a great admirer, and a general reader of poetry. But, by what accident I do not know, I had never seen the beautiful lines of Hood, till your critical [page 142:] friend brought them to my notice in the Mirror. It is certainly possible that Aldrich had not seen them several years ago — and more than probable that Hood had not seen Aldrich’s. Yet your friend affects great sympathy for both, in view of their better compunctions of conscience, for their literary piracies.

“But, after all, wherein does the real resemblance between these two compositions consist? Mr. ——, I had almost named him, finds nearly a dozen points of resemblance. But when he includes rhythm, metre and stanza among the dozen, he only shows a bitter resolution to make out a case, and not a disposition to do impartial justice. Surely the critic himself who is one of our finest poets, does not mean to deny that these mere externals are the common property of all bards. He does not feel it necessary to strike out a new stanza, or to invent new feet and measures, whenever he would clothe his “breathing thoughts in words that burn.” Again, it is not improbable that, within the period of time since these two writers, Hood and Aldrich, came on the stage, ten thousand females have died, and died tranquilly, and died just at daybreak, and that after passing a tranquil night, and, so dying, were supposed by their friends to have passed at once to a better world, a morning in heaven. The poets are both describing an actual, and not an imaginary occurrence. And here — including those before mentioned, which are common property — are nine of the critic’s identities, which go to make up the evidence of plagiarism. The last six, it requires no stretch of the imagination to suppose, they might each have seen and noticed separately. The most of them, one other poet at least, has noticed, many years ago, in a beautiful poem on these words of the angel to the wrestling Jacob — “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” Wonder if Hood ever saw that? The few remaining “identities” are, to my mind, sufficiently disposed of by what I have already said. I confess I was not able, until the appearance of the critic’s second paper, in which he [page 143:] brought them out specially, ‘marked, numbered, and labelled,’ to perceive the resemblance on which the grave charge of literary piracy, and moral dishonesty of the meanest kind was based. In view of all the glaring improbabilities of such a case, a critic should be very slow to make such a charge. I say glaring improbabilities, for it seems to me that no circumstantial evidence could be sufficient to secure a verdict of theft in such a case. Look at it. A man, who aspires to fame, who seeks the esteem and praise of the world, and lives upon his reputation, as his vital element, attempts to win his object — how? By stealing, in open day, the finest passages, the most beautiful thoughts, (no others are worth stealing), and the rarest images of another, and claiming them as his own; and that too, when he knows that every competitor for fame, and every critical tribunal in the world, as well as the real owner, will be ready to identify the borrowed plumes in a moment, and cry him down as a thief. A madman, an idiot, if he were capable of such an achievement, might do it, but no other. A rogue may steal what he can conceal in his pocket, or his chest — but one must be utterly non compos, to steal a splendid shawl, or a magnificent plume, which had been admired by thousands for its singular beauty, for the purpose of sporting it in Broadway. In nine hundred and ninety-nine cases of a thousand, such charges are absurd, and indicate rather the carping littleness of the critic, than the delinquency of his victim.

“Pray did you ever think the worse of Dana because your friend, John Neal, charged him with pirating upon Paul Allen, and Bryant too, in his poem of “THE DYING RAVEN?” or of yourself, because the same friend thought he had detected you in the very act of stealing from Pinckney, and Miss Francis, now Mrs. Child? Surely not. Everybody knows that John Neal wishes to be supposed to have read everything that ever was written, and never have forgotten anything. He delights, therefore, in showing up such resemblances. [page 144:]

“And now — for the matter of Longfellow’s 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 they only verbal imitations of style? Perhaps this is one of them, in 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, to make. Who, for example, would wish to be guilty of the littleness of detracting from the uncommon merit of that remarkable poem of this same Mr. Poe’s, recently published in the Mirror, from the American Review, entitled ‘The Raven,’ by charging him with the paltriness of imitation? And yet, some snarling critic, who might envy the reputation he had not the genius to secure for himself, might refer to the frequent, very forcible, but rather quaint repetition, in the last two lines of many of the stanzas, as a palpable imitation of the [page 145:] manner of Coleridge, in several stanzas of the Ancient Mariner. Let me put them together. Mr. Poe says —

Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore,

Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.

And again —

It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore —

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore.

Mr. Coleridge says, (running two lines into one:)

For all averred I had killed the bird, that made the breeze to blow.

“Ah wretch!” said they, “the bird to slay, and made the breeze to blow.”

And again —

They all averred I had killed the bird, that brought the fog and mist.

“ ’Twas right,” said they, “such birds to slay, that bring the fog and mist.’

“I have before me an anonymous poem, which I first saw some five years ago, entitled the “Bird of the Dream.” I should like to transcribe the whole — but it is too long. The author was awaked from sleep by the song of a beautiful bird, sitting on the sill of his window — the sweet notes had mingled with his dreams, and brought to his remembrance, the sweeter voice of his lost ‘CLARE.’ He says: —

“ ‘And thou wert in my dream — a spirit thou didst seem —

The spirit of a friend long since departed;

Oh! she was fair and bright, but she left me one dark night —

She left me all alone, and broken-hearted.

· · · · · · · · · ·  

“ ‘My dream went on, and thou went a warbling too,

Mingling the harmonies of earth and heaven;

Till away — away — away — beyond the realms of day —

My angel CLARE to my embrace was given.

· · · · · · · · · ·  

[page 146:]

Sweet bird from realms of light, oh! come gain to-night,

Come to my window — perch upon my chair —

Come give me back again that deep impassioned strain

That tells me thou hast seen and loved my CLARE.

Now I shall not charge Mr. Poe with plagiarism — for, as I have said, such charges are perfectly absurd. Ten to one, he never saw this before. But let us look at the “identities” that may be made out between this and “The Raven.” First, in each case, the poet is a broken-hearted lover. Second, that lover longs for some hereafter communion with the departed. Third, there is a bird. Fourth, the bird is at the poet’s window. Fifth, the bird being at the poet’s window, makes a noise. Sixth, making a noise, attracts the attention of the poet; who, Seventh, was half asleep, dosing, dreaming. Eighth, the poet invites the bird to come in. Ninth, a confabulation ensues. Tenth, the bird is supposed to be a visiter from the land of spirits. Eleventh, allusion is made to the departed. Twelfth, intimation is given that the bird knew something of the departed. Thirteenth, that he knew her worth and loveliness. Fourteenth, the bird seems willing to linger with the poet. Fifteenth, there is a repetition, in the second and fourth lines, of a part, and that the emphatic part, of the first and third. Here is a round baker’s-dozen (and one to spare) of identities, to offset the dozen found between Aldrich and Hood, and that too, without a word of rhythm, metre or stanza, which should never form a part of such a comparison. Moreover, this same 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,’ etc.

“I might pursue it further. But I will not. Such criticisms only make the author of them contemptible, without soiling a plume in the cap of his victim. I have selected this poem of Mr. Poe’s, for illustrating my remarks, [page 147:] because it is recent, and must be familiar to all the lovers of true poetry hereabouts. It is remarkable for its power, beauty, and originality, (out upon the automaton owl that has presumed to croak out a miserable parody — I commend him to the tender mercies of Haynes Bayley,(1)) and shows more forcibly than any which I can think of, the absurdity and shallowness of this kind of criticism. One word more, — though acquainted with Mr. Longfellow, I have never seen Mr. Aldrich, nor do I even know in what part of the country he resides; and I have no acquaintance with Mr. Poe. I have written what I have written 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 scarcely remember an instance where the resemblances detected were not exceedingly far-fetched and shadowy, and only perceptible to a mind pre-disposed to suspicion, and accustomed to splitting hairs.


What I admire in this letter is the gentlemanly grace of its manner, and the chivalry which has prompted its composition. What I do not admire is all the rest. In especial, I do not admire the desperation of the effort to make out a case. No gentleman should degrade himself, on any grounds, to the paltriness of ex-parte argument; and I shall not insult “Outis” at the outset, by assuming for a moment that he (Outis) is weak enough, to suppose me (Poe) silly enough, to look upon all this abominable rigmarole as anything better than a very respectable specimen of special pleading.

As a general rule in a case of this kind, I should wish to begin with the beginning, but as I have been [page 148:] unable, in running my eye over “Outis”’s remarks, to discover that they have any beginning at all, I shall be pardoned for touching them in the order which suits me best. “Outis” need not have put himself to the trouble of informing his readers that he has “some acquaintance with Mr. Longfellow.” It was needless also to mention that he did not know me. I thank him for his many flatteries — but of their inconsistency I complain. To speak of me in one breath as a poet, and in the next to insinuate charges of “carping littleness,” is simply to put forth a flat paradox. When a plagiarism is committed and detected, the word “littleness,” and other similar words, are immediately brought into play. To the words themselves I have no objection whatever; but their application might occasionally be improved.

Is it altogether impossible that a critic be instigated to the exposure of a plagiarism, or still better, of plagiarism generally wherever he meets it, by a strictly honorable and even charitable motive? Let us see. A theft of this kind is committed — for the present we will admit the possibility that a theft of this character can be committed. The chances of course are, that an established author steals from an unknown one, rather than the converse; for in proportion to the circulation of the original, is the risk of the plagiarism’s detection. The person about to commit the theft, hopes for impunity altogether on the ground of the reconditeness of the source from which he thieves. But this obvious consideration is rarely borne in mind. We read a certain passage in a certain book. We meet a passage nearly similar, in another book. The first book is not at hand, and we cannot compare dates. We decide by what we fancy the probabilities [page 149:] of the case. The one author is a distinguished man — our sympathies are always in favor of distinction. “It is not likely,” we say in our hearts, “that so distinguished a personage as A. would be guilty of plagiarism from this B. of whom nobody in the world has ever heard.” We give judgment, therefore, at once against B. of whom nobody in the world has ever heard; and it is for the very reason that nobody in the world has ever heard of him, that, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, the judgment so precipitously given is erroneous. Now then the plagiarist has not merely committed a wrong in itself — a wrong whose incomparable meanness would deserve exposure on absolute grounds — but he, the guilty, the successful, the eminent, has fastened the degradation of his crime — the retribution which should have overtaken it in his own person — upon the guiltless, the toiling, the unfriended struggler up the mountainous path of Fame. Is not sympathy for the plagiarist, then, about as sagacious and about as generous as would be sympathy for the murderer whose exultant escape from the noose of the hangman should be the cause of an innocent man’s being hung? And because I, for one, should wish to throttle the guilty with the view of letting the innocent go, could it be considered proper on the part of any “acquaintance of Mr. Longfellow’s” who came to witness the execution — could it be thought, I say, either chivalrous or decorous on the part of this “acquaintance” to get up against me a charge of “carping littleness,” while we stood amicably together at the foot of the gallows?

In all this I have taken it for granted that such a sin as plagiarism exists. We are informed by “Outis”, however, that it does not. “I shall not charge Mr. [page 150:] Poe with plagiarism,” he says, “for, as I have said, such charges are perfectly absurd.” An assertion of this kind is certainly funny, (I am aware of no other epithet which precisely applies to it;) and I have much curiosity to know if “Outis” is prepared to swear to its truth — holding right aloft his hand, of course, and kissing the back of D’Israeli’s “Curiosities,” or the “Mélanges,” of Suard and André. But if the assertion is funny (and it is) it is by no means an original thing. It is precisely, in fact, what all the plagiarists and all the “acquaintances” of the plagiarists since the flood, have maintained with a very praiseworthy resolution. The attempt to prove, however, by reasoning à priori, that plagiarism cannot exist, is too good an idea on the part of “Outis” not to be a plagiarism in itself. Are we mistaken? — or have we seen the following words before in Joseph Miller, where that ingenious gentleman is bent upon demonstrating that a leg of mutton is and ought to be a turnip?

A man who aspires to fame, etc., attempts to win his object — how? By stealing, in open day, the finest passages, the most beautiful thoughts, (no others are worth stealing), and claiming them as his own; and that too when he knows that every competitor, etc., will be ready to cry him down as a thief.

Is it possible? — is it conceivable that “Outis” does not here see the begging of the whole question? Why, of course, if the theft had to be committed “in open day “ it would not be committed; and if the thief “knew “ that every one would cry him down, he would be too excessive a fool to make even a decent thief if he indulged his thieving propensities in any respect. But he thieves at night — in the dark — [page 151:] and not in the open day, (if he suspects it), and he does not know that he will be detected at all. Of the class of wilful plagiarists nine out of ten are authors of established reputation, who plunder recondite, neglected, or forgotten books.


“I shall not accuse Mr. Poe of plagiarism,” says “Outis”, “for, as I have observed before, such charges are perfectly absurd” — and “Outis” is certainly right in dwelling on the point that he has observed this thing before. It is the one original point of his essay — for I really believe that no one else was ever silly enough to “observe it before.”

Here is a gentleman who writes in certain respects as a gentleman should, and who yet has the effrontery to base a defence of a friend from the charge of plagiarism, on the broad ground that no such thing as plagiarism ever existed. I confess that to an assertion of this nature there is no little difficulty in getting up a reply. What in the world can a man say in a case of this kind? — he cannot of course give utterance to the first epithets that spring to his lips — and yet what else shall he utter that shall not have an air of direct insult to the common sense of mankind? What could any judge on any bench in the country do but laugh or swear at the attorney who should begin his defence of a petty-larceny client with an oration demonstrating à priori that no such thing as petty larceny ever had been, or in the nature of things, ever could be committed? And yet the attorney might make as sensible a speech as “Outis” — even a more sensible one — anything but a less sensible one. Indeed, mutato nomine, he might employ “Outis”’s [page 152:] identical words. He might say — “In view, gentlemen of the jury, of all the glaring improbabilities of such a case, a prosecuting attorney should be very slow to make such a charge. I say glaring improbabilities, for it seems to me that no circumstantial evidence could be sufficient to secure a verdict of theft in such a case. Look at it. [Here the judge would look at the maker of the speech.] Look at it. A man who aspires to (the) fame (of being a beau) — who seeks the esteem and praise of all the world (of dandies) and lives upon his reputation (for broadcloth) as his vital element, attempts to win his object — how? By stealing in open day the finest waistcoats, the most beautiful dress-coats (no others are worth stealing) and the rarest pantaloons of another, and claiming them as his own; and that too when he knows that every competitor for (the) fame (of Brummelism) and every fashion-plate Magazine in the world, as well as the real owner, will be ready to identify the borrowed plumes in a moment, and cry him down as a thief. A madman, an idiot, if he were capable of such an achievement, might do it, gentlemen of the jury, but no other.”

Now, of course, no judge in the world whose sense of duty was not overruled by a stronger sense of the facetious, would permit the attorney to proceed with any such speech. It would never do to have the time of the court occupied by this gentleman’s well-meant endeavor to show à priori, the impossibility of that ever happening which the clerk of this same court could show à posteriori had been happening by wholesale ever since there had been such a thing as a foreign count. And yet the speech of the attorney was really a very excellent speech, when we compare [page 153:] it with that of “Outis.” For the “glaring improbability” of the plagiarism, is a mere nothing by the side of the “glaring improbability” of the theft of the sky-blue dress-coat, and the yellow plaid pantaloons: — we may take it for granted, of course, that the thief was one of the upper ten thousand of thieves, and would not have put himself to the trouble of appropriating any garments that were not of indisputable bon ton, and patronised even by Professor Longfellow himself. The improbability of the literary theft, I say, is really a mere trifle in comparison with the broadcloth larceny. For the plagiarist is either a man of no note or a man of note. In the first case, he is usually an ignoramus, and getting possession of a rather rare book, plunders it without scruple, on the ground that nobody has ever seen a copy of it except himself. In the second case (which is a more general one by far) he pilfers from some poverty-stricken, and therefore neglected man of genius, on the reasonable supposition that this neglected man of genius will very soon cut his throat, or die of starvation, (the sooner the better, no doubt), and that in the mean time he will be too busy in keeping the wolf from the door to look; after the purloiners of his property — and too poor, and too cowed, and for these reasons too contemptible, under any circumstances, to dare accuse of so base a thing as theft, the wealthy and triumphant gentleman of elegant leisure who has only done the vagabond too much honor in knocking him down and robbing him upon the highway.

The plagiarist, then, in either case, has very reasonable ground for expecting impunity, and at all events it is because he thinks so, that he perpetrates the plagiarism — but how is it with the count who steps [page 154:] into the shop of the tailor, and slips under his cloak the sky-blue dress-coat, and the yellow plaid pantaloons? He, the count, would be a greater fool in these matters than a count ever was, if he did not perceive at once, that the chances were about nine hundred and ninety-nine to one, that he would be caught the next morning before twelve o’clock, in the very first bloom and blush of his promenade down Broadway, by some one of those officious individuals who are continually on the qui vive to catch the counts and take away from them their sky-blue coats and yellow plaid pantaloons. Yes, undoubtedly; the count is very well aware of all this; but he takes into consideration, that although the nine hundred and ninety-nine chances are certainly against him, the one is just as certainly in his favor — that luck is everything — that life is short — that the weather is fine — and that if he can only manage to get safely through his promenade down Broadway in the sky-blue dress-coat and the yellow plaid pantaloons, he will enjoy the high honor, for once in his life, at least, of being mistaken by fifteen ladies out of twenty, either for Professor Longfellow, or Phœbus Apollo. And this consideration is enough — the half of it would have been more than enough to satisfy the count that, in putting the garments under his cloak, he is doing a very sagacious and very commendable thing. He steals them, then, at once, and without scruple, and, when he is caught arrayed in them the next morning, he is, of course, highly amused to hear his counsel make an oration in court about the “glaring improbability” of his having stolen them when he stole them — by way of showing the abstract impossibility of their ever having been stolen at all. [page 155:]

“What is plagiarism?” demands “Outis” at the outset, avec l’air d’un Romain qui sauve sa patrie — “What is plagiarism, and what constitutes a good ground for the charge?” Of course all men anticipate something unusually happy in the way of reply to queries so cavernously propounded; but if so, then all men have forgotten, or no man has ever known that “Outis” is a Yankee. He answers the two questions by two others — and perhaps this is quite as much as any one should expect him to do. “Did no two men,” he says, “ever think alike without stealing one from the other? — or thinking alike, did no two men ever use the same or similar words to convey the thoughts, and that without any communication with each other? — To deny it is absurd.” Of course it is — very absurd; and the only thing more absurd that I can call to mind at present, is the supposition that any person ever entertained an idea of denying it. But are we to understand the denying it, or the absurdity of denying it, or the absurdity of supposing that any person intended to deny it, as the true answer to the original queries.

But let me aid “Outis” to a distinct conception of his own irrelevance. I accuse his friend, specifically, of a plagiarism. This accusation “Outis” rebuts by asking me with a grave face — not whether the friend might not, in this individual case, and in the compass of eight short lines, have happened upon ten or twelve peculiar identities of thought and identities of expression with the author from whom I charge him with plagiarising — but simply whether I do not admit the possibility that once in the course of eternity some two individuals might not happen upon a single identity [page 156:] of thought, and give it voice in a single identity of expression.

Now, frankly, I admit the possibility in question, and would request my friends to get ready for me a strait-jacket if I did not. There can be no doubt in the world, for example, that “Outis” considers me a fool: — the thing is sufficiently plain: and this opinion on the part of “Outis” is what mankind have agreed to denominate an idea; and this idea is also entertained by Mr. Aldrich, and by Mr. Longfellow — and by Mrs. “Outis” and her seven children — and by Mrs. Aldrich and hers — and by Mrs. Longfellow and hers — including the grand-children and great grand-children, if any, who will be instructed to transmit the idea in unadulterated purity down an infinite vista of generations yet to come. And of this idea thus extensively entertained, it would really be a very difficult thing to vary the expression in any material degree. A remarkable similarity would be brought about, indeed, by the desire of the parties in question to put the thought into as compendious a form as possible, by way of bringing it to a focus at once and having done with it upon the spot.

“Outis” will perceive, therefore, that I have every desire in the world to afford him that “fair play” which he considers “a jewel,” since I admit not only the possibility of the class of coincidences for which he contends, but even the impossibility of there not existing just as many of these coincidences as he may consider necessary to make out his case. One of the species he details as follows, at some length: —

“Some years ago, a letter was written from some part of New England, describing one of those scenes, not very common during what is called “the January thaw,” when [page 157:] the snow, mingled with rain, and freezing as it falls, forms a perfect covering of ice upon every object. The storm clears away suddenly, and the moon comes up. The letter proceeds — “every tree and shrub, as far as the eye can reach, of pure transparent glass — a perfect garden of moving, waving breathing crystals. ... Every tree is a diamond chandelier, with a whole constellation of stars clustering to every socket,” &c. This letter was laid away where such things usually are, in a private drawer, and did not see the light for many years. But the very next autumn brought out, among the splendid annuals got up in the country, a beautiful poem from Whittier, describing the same, or rather a similar scene, in which the line

the “trees, like crystal chandeliers,”

was put in italics by every reviewer in the land, for the exceeding beauty of the imagery. Now the letter was written probably, about the same time with the poem, though the poem was not published till nearly a year after. The writers were not, and never have been, acquainted with each other, and neither could possibly have seen the work of the other before writing. Now, was there any plagiarism here?”

After the fashion of “Outis” himself I shall answer his query by another. What has the question whether the chandelier friend committed a plagiarism, to do with the question whether the death-bed friend committed a plagiarism, or whether it is possible or impossible that plagiarism, generally, can be committed? But, merely for courtesy’s sake, I step aside from the exact matter in hand. In the case mentioned I should consider material differences in the terms of description as more remarkable than coincidences. Since the tree really looked like a chandelier, the true wonder would have been in likening it to anything [page 158:] else. Of course, nine common-place men out of ten would have maintained it to be a chandelier-looking tree. No poet of any pretention however, would have committed himself so far as to put such a similitude in print. The chandelier might have been poetically likened to the crystallized tree — but the converse is a platitude. The gorgeous unaltered handiwork of Nature is always degraded by comparison with the tawdry gew-gaws of Art — and perhaps the very ugliest thing in the world is a chandelier. If “every reviewer in the land put the passage into Italics on account of the exceeding beauty of the imagery,” then every printer’s devil in the land should have been flogged for not taking it out of Italics upon the spot, and putting it in the plainest Roman — which is too good for it by one half.

I put no faith in the nil admirari, and am apt to be amazed at every second thing which I see. One of the most amazing things I have yet seen, is the complacency with which “Outis” throws to the right and left his anonymous assertions, taking it for granted that because he (Nobody) asserts them, I must believe them as a matter of course. However — he is quite in the right. I am perfectly ready to admit anything that he pleases, and am prepared to put as implicit faith in his ipse dixit as the Bishop of Autun did in the Bible — on the ground that he knew nothing about it at all. We will understand it, then, not merely as an anonymous assertion but as an absolute fact, that the two chandelier authors “were not and never have been acquainted with each other, and that neither could have seen the work of the other before writing.” We will agree to understand all this as indisputable truth, I say, through motives of the purest charity, [page 159:] for the purpose of assisting a friend out of trouble, and without reference to the consideration that no third person short of Signor Blitz or Professor Rogers could in any conceivable manner have satisfied himself of the truth of the twentieth part of it. Admitting this and everything else, to be as true as the Pentateuch, it follows that plagiarism in the case in question was a thing that could not by any possibility be — and do I rightly comprehend “Outis” as demonstrating the impossibility of plagiarism where it is possible, by adducing instances of inevitable similarity under circumstances where it is not? The fact is, that through want of space and time to follow “Outis” through the labyrinth of impertinences in which he is scrambling about, I am constrained much against my sense of decorum, to place him in the high-road of his argument, so that he may see where he is, and what he is doing, and what it is that he is endeavoring to demonstrate.

He wishes to show, then, that Mr. Longfellow is innocent of the imitation with which I have charged him, and that Mr. Aldrich is innocent of the plagiarism with which I have not charged him; and this duplicate innocence is expected to be proved by showing the possibility that a certain, or that any uncertain series of coincidences may be the result of pure accident. Now of course I cannot be sure that “Outis” will regard my admission as a service or a disservice, but I admit the possibility at once; and not only this, but I would admit it as a possibility were the coincidences a billion, and each of the most definitive peculiarity that human ingenuity could conceive. But in admitting this, I admit just nothing at all, so far as the advancement of “Outis”’s proper argument is [page 160:] concerned. The affair is one of probabilities altogether, and can be satisfactorily settled only by reference to their Calculus.


“Pray,” inquires “Outis” of Mr. Willis, “did you ever think the worse of Dana because your friend John Neal charged him with pirating upon Paul Allen, and Bryant, too, in his poem of ‘THE DYING RAVEN’?” I am sincerely disposed to give “Outis” his due, and will not pretend to deny his happy facility in asking irrelevant questions. In the present case, we can only imagine Mr. Willis’s reply: — “My dear sir,” he might say, “I certainly do not think much the worse of Mr. Dana, because Mr. Neal charged him with the piracy, but be so kind as not to inquire what might have been my opinion had there been any substantiation of the charge.” I quote “Outis”’s inquiry, however, not so much to insist upon its singular luminousness, as to call attention to the argument embodied in the capital letters of “THE DYING RAVEN.”

Now, were I, in any spasm of perversity, to direct “Outis”’s catechetical artillery against himself, and demand of him explicitly his reasons for causing those three words to be printed in capitals, what in the world would he do for a reply? As a matter of course, for some moments, he would be profoundly embarrassed — but, being a true man, and a chivalrous one, as all defenders of Mr. Longfellow must be, he could not fail, in the end, to admit that they were so printed for the purpose of safely insinuating a charge which not even an “Outis” had the impudence openly to utter. Let us imagine his thoughts while carefully [page 161:] twice underscoring the words. Is it impossible that they ran thus? — “I am perfectly well aware, to be sure, that the only conceivable resemblance between Mr. Bryant’s poem and Mr. Poe’s poem, lies in their common reference to a raven; but then, what I am writing will be seen by some who have not read Mr. Bryant’s poem, and by many who have never heard of Mr. Poe’s, and among these classes I shall be able to do Mr. Poe a serious injustice and injury, by conveying the idea that there is really sufficient similarity to warrant that charge of plagiarism, which I, “Outis”, the ‘acquaintance of Mr. Longfellow,’ am too high-minded and too merciful to prefer.”

Now, I do not pretend to be positive that any such thoughts as these ever entered the brain of “Outis”. Nor will I venture to designate the whole insinuation as a specimen of “carping littleness, too paltry for any man who values his reputation as a gentleman;” for, in the first place, the whole matter, as I have put it, is purely supposititious, and in the second, I should furnish ground for a new insinuation of the same character, inasmuch as I should be employing “Outis”’s identical words. The fact is, “Outis” has happened upon the idea that the most direct method of rebutting one accusation, is to get up another. By showing that I have committed a sin, he proposes to show that Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Longfellow have not. Leaving the underscored DYING RAVEN to argue its own case, he proceeds, therefore, as follows: —

“Who, for example, would wish to be guilty of the littleness of detracting from the uncommon merit of that remarkable poem of this same Mr. Poe’s, recently published in the Mirror, from the American Review, entitled “THE RAVEN,” by charging him with the paltriness of imitation? [page 162:] And yet, some snarling critic, who might envy the reputation he had not the genius to secure for himself, might refer to the frequent, very forcible, but rather quaint repetition. in the last two lines of many of the stanzas, as a palpable imitation of the manner of Coleridge, in several stanzas of the Ancient Mariner. Let me put them together. Mr. Poe says —

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore,

Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.

And again —

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.

Mr. Coleridge says, (running two lines into one):

For all averred I had killed the bird that made the breeze to blow,

“Ah, wretch!” said they, “the bird to slay, that made the breeze to blow.

And again —

‘They all averred I had killed the bird, that brought the fog and mist,

“ ’Twas right,” said they, “such birds to slay, that bring the fog and mist.” ’ ’

The “rather quaint” is ingenious. Fully one-third of whatever effect the “Raven” has, is wrought by the quaintness in question — a point elaborately introduced, to accomplish a well-considered purpose. What idea would “Outis” entertain of me, were I to speak of his defence of his friends as very decent, very respectable, but rather meritorious? In the passages collated, there are two points upon which the “snarling critic” might base his insinuation — if ever so weak a “snarling critic” existed. Of these two points one is purely hypothetical — that is to say, it is disingenuously manufactured by Mr. Longfellow’s [page 163:] acquaintance to suit his own purposes — or perhaps the purposes of the imaginary snarling critic. The argument of the second point is demolished by my not only admitting it, but insisting upon it. Perhaps the least tedious mode of refuting “Outis”, is to acknowledge nine-tenths of everything he may think proper to say.

But, in the present instance, what am I called upon to acknowledge? I am charged with imitating the repetition of phrase in the two concluding lines of a stanza, and of imitating this from Coleridge. But why not extend the accusation, and insinuate that I imitate it from everybody else? for certainly there is no poet living or dead who has not put in practice the identical effect — the well-understood effect of the refrain. Is “Outis”’s argument to the end that I have no right to this thing for the reason that all the world has? If this is not his argument, will he be kind enough to inform me (at his leisure) what it is? Or is he prepared to confess himself so absurdly uninformed as not to know that whatever a poet claims on the score of original versification, is claimed not on account of any individual rhythmical or metrical effects, (for none are individually original), but solely on account of the novelty of his combinations of old effects? The hypothesis, or manufacture, consists in the alteration of Coleridge’s metre, with the view of forcing it into a merely ocular similarity with my own, and thus of imposing upon some one or two grossly ignorant readers. I give the verses of Coleridge as they are:

“For all averred, I had killed the bird

That made the breeze to blow,

‘Ah, wretch,’ said they, the bird to slay,

That made the breeze to blow.‘ ” [page 164:]

The verses beginning, “Then all averred,” etc., are arranged in the same manner. Now I have taken it for granted that it is “Outis”’s design to impose the idea of similarity between my lines and those of Coleridge, upon some one or two grossly ignorant individuals: at the same time, whoever attempts such an imposition is rendered liable at least to the suspicion of very gross ignorance himself. The ignorance or the knavery are the two uncomfortable horns of his dilemma.

Let us see. Coleridge’s lines are arranged in quatrains — mine in couplets. His first and third lines rhyme at the closes of the second and fourth feet — mine flow continuously, without rhyme. His metre, briefly defined, is alternately tetrameter acatalectic and trimeter acatalectic — mine is uniformly octameter catalectic. It might be expected, however, that at least the rhythm would prove to be identical — but not so. Coleridge’s is iambic (varied in the third foot of the first line with an anapæst) — mine is the exact converse, trochaic. The fact is, that neither in rhythm, metre, stanza, or rhyme, is there even a single point of approximation throughout; the only similarity being the wickedly or sillily manufactured one of “Outis” himself, appealing from the ears to the eyes of the most uncultivated classes of the rabble. The ingenuity and validity of the manufacture might be approached, although certainly not paralleled, by an attempt to show that blue and yellow pigments standing unmixed at separate ends of a studio, were equivalent to green. I say “not paralleled,” for even the mixing of the pigments, in the case of “Outis”, would be very far, as I have shown, from producing the supposititious effect. Coleridge’s lines, written together, would result in rhymed iambic heptameter acatalectic, [page 165:] while mine are unrhymed trochaic octameter catalectic — differing in every conceivable circumstance. A closer parallel than the one I have imagined, would be the demonstration that two are equal to four, on the ground that, possessing two dollars, a man will have four when he gets an additional couple — for that the additional couple is somewhere, no one, after due consideration, will deny.

If “Outis” will now take a seat upon one of the horns of his dilemma, I will proceed to the third variation of the charges insinuated through the medium of the “snarling critic,” in the passage heretofore quoted.(1)

The first point to be attended to is the “ten to one that I never saw it before.” Ten to one that I never did — but “Outis” might have remembered that twenty to one I should like to see it. In accusing either Mr. Aldrich or Mr. Hood, I printed their poems together and in full. But an anonymous gentleman rebuts my accusation by telling me that there is a certain similarity between a poem of my own and an anonymous poem which he has before him, and which he would like to transcribe if it were not too long. He contents himself, therefore, with giving me, from this too long poem, three stanzas which are shown, by a series of intervening asterisks, to have been culled, to suit his own purposes, from different portions of the poem, but which (again to suit his own purposes) he places before the public in consecutive connection! The least that can be said of the whole statement is that it is deliciously frank — but, upon the whole, the poem will look quite as well before me, [page 166:] as before “Outis”, whose time is too much occupied to transcribe it. I, on the other hand, am entirely at leisure, and will transcribe and print the whole of it with the greatest pleasure in the world — provided always that it is not too long to refer to — too long to have its whereabouts pointed out — as I half suspect, from “Outis”’s silence on the subject, that it is One thing I will take it upon myself to say, in the spirit of prophecy: — whether the poem in question is or is not in existence (and we have only Nobody’s word that it is), the passages as quoted, are not in existence, except as quoted by “Outis”, who, in some particulars, I maintain, has falsified the text, for the purpose of forcing a similarity, as in the case of the verses of Coleridge. All this I assert in the spirit of prophecy, while we await the forthcoming of the poem. In the mean time, we will estimate the “identities” with reference to the “Raven” as collated with the passages culled by “Outis” — granting him everything he is weak enough to imagine I am in duty bound to grant — admitting that the poem as a whole exists — that the words and lines are ingenuously written — that the stanzas have the connection and sequence he gives them — and that although he has been already found guilty of chicanery in one instance, he is at least entirely innocent in this.

He has established, he says, fifteen identities, “and that, too, without a word of rhythm, metre, or stanza, which should never form a part of such comparison” — by which, of course, we are to understand that with the rhythm, metre, and stanza (omitted only because they should never form a part of such comparison) he would have succeeded in establishing eighteen. Now I insist that rhythm, metre, and stanza, should form [page 167:] and must form a part of the comparison, and I will presently demonstrate what I say. I also insist, therefore, since he could find me guilty if he would upon these points, that guilty he must and shall find me upon the spot. He then, distinctly, has established eighteen identities — and I proceed to examine them one by one.

First,” he says “in each case the poet is a broker-hearted lover.” Not so: — my poet has no indication of a broken heart. On the contrary he lines triumphantly in the expectation of meeting his Lenore in Aidenn, and is so indignant with the raven for maintaining that the meeting will never take place, as to call him a liar, and order him out of the house. Not only is my lover not a broken-hearted one — but I have been at some pains to show that broken hearts and matters of that kind are improperly made the subject of poems. I refer to a chapter of the articles entitled “Marginalia,” (p. —.) “Second,” says “Outis”, “that lover longs for some hereafter communion with the bird.” In my poem there is no expression of any such longing — the nearest approach to it is the triumphant consciousness which forms the thesis and staple of the whole. In “Outis”’s poem the nearest approach to the “longing” is contained in the lover’s request to the bird to repeat a strain that assures him (the lover), that it (the bird), has known the lost mistress. “Third — there is a bird,” says “Outis”. So there is. Mine however is a raven, and we may take it for granted that “Outis”’s is either a nightingale or a cockatoo. “Fourth, the bird is at the poet’s window.” As regards my poem, true; as regards “Outis”’s, not: — the poet only requests the bird to come to the window. Fifth, the bird being at the [page 168:] poet’s window, makes a noise.” The fourth specification failing, the fifth, which depends upon it, as a matter of course fails too. “Sixth, making a noise attracts the attention of the poet.” The fifth specification failing, the sixth, which depends upon it, fails, likewise, and as a matter of course, as before. “Seventh, [the poet] was half asleep, dozing, dreaming.” False altogether: only my poet was “napping,” and this in the commencement of the poem, which is occupied with realities and waking action. “Outis”’s poet is fast asleep and dreams everything. “Eighth, the poet invites the bird to come in.” Another palpable failure. “Outis”’s poet indeed asked his bird in; but my raven walked in without any invitation. “Ninth — a confabulation ensues.” As regards my poem, true; but there is not a word of any confabulation in “Outis”’s. “Tenth — the bird is supposed to be a visitor from the land of spirits.” As regards “Outis”’s poem, this is true only if we give a wide interpretation to the phrase “realms of light.” In my poem the bird is not only not from the world of spirits, but I have specifically conveyed the idea of his having escaped from “some unhappy master,” of whom he had caught the word “nevermore” — in the concluding stanza, it is true, I suddenly convert him into an allegorical emblem or personification of Mournful Remembrance, out of the shadow of which the poet is “lifted nevermore.” “Eleventh — allusion is made to the departed.” Admitted. “Twelfth — intimation is given that the bird knew something of the departed.” True as regards “Outis”’s poem only. No such intimation is given in mine. “Thirteenth — that he knew her worth and loveliness.” Again — true only as regards [page 169:] “Outis”’s poem. It should be observed here that I have disproved the twelfth and thirteenth specifications purely for form’s sake: — they are nothing more than disingenuous repetitions of the eleventh. The “allusion to the departed” is the “intimation,” and the intimation is that “he knew her worth and loveliness.” “Fourteenth — the bird seems willing to linger with the poet.” True only as regards my poem — in “Outis”’s (as quoted) there is nothing of the kind. “Fifteenth — there is a repetition, in the second and fourth lines, of a part, and that the emphatic part, of the first and third.” What is here asserted is true only of the first stanza quoted by “Outis”, and of the commencement of the third. There is nothing of it in the second. In my poem there is nothing of it at all, with the exception of the repetition in the refrain, occurring at the fifth line of my stanza of six. I quote a stanza — by way of rendering everything perfectly intelligible, and affording “Outis” his much coveted “fair play”:

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting —

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken! — quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Sixteenth, concerns the rhythm. “Outis”’s is iambic — mine the exact converse, trochaic. Seventeenth — regards the metre. “Outis”’s is hexameter, alternating with pentameter, both acatalectic.(1) Mine is [page 170:] octameter acatalectic, alternating with heptameter catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrameter catalectic. Eighteenth and last has respect to the stanza — that is to say, to the general arrangement of the metre into masses. Of “Outis”’s I need only say that it is a very common and certainly a very stupid one. My own has at least the merit of being my own. No writer, living or dead, has ever employed anything resembling it. The innumerable specific differences between it and that of “Outis” it would be a tedious matter to point out — but a far less difficult matter than to designate one individual point of similarity.

And now what are we to think of the eighteen identities of “Outis” — the fifteen that he establishes and the three that he could establish if he would — that is to say, if he could only bring himself to be so unmerciful? Of the whole eighteen, sixteen have shown themselves to be lamentable failures — having no more substantial basis than sheer misrepresentation, “too paltry for any man who values his reputation as a gentleman and a scholar,” and depending altogether for effect upon the chances that nobody would take the trouble to investigate their falsehood or their truth. Two — the third and the eleventh — are sustained: and these two show that in both poems there is “an allusion to the departed,” and that in [page 171:] both poems there is “a bird.” The first idea that suggests itself, at this point, is, whether not to have a bird and not to have an allusion to a deceased mistress, would not be the truer features of distinctiveness after all — whether two poems which have not these items might not be more rationally charged with similarity than any two poems which have. But having thus disproved all the identities of “Outis”, (for any one comprehending the principle of proof in such cases will admit that two only, are in effect just nothing at all), I am quite ready, by way again of affording him “fair play,” to expunge everything that has been said on the subject, and proceed as if every one of these eighteen identities were in the first bloom and deepest blush of a demonstration.

I might grant them as demonstrated, to be sure, on the ground which I have already touched — that to prove me or any body else an imitator, is no mode of showing that Mr. Aldrich or Mr Longfellow is not. But I might safely admit them on another and equally substantial consideration, which seems to have been overlooked by the zeal of “Outis” altogether. He has clearly forgotten that the mere number of such coincidences proves nothing, because at any moment we can oblige it to prove too much. It is the easiest thing imaginable to suggest — and even to do that which “Outis” has failed in doing — to demonstrate a practically infinite series of identities between any two compositions in the world — but it by no means follows that all compositions in the world have a similarity one with the other, in any comprehensible sense of the term. I mean to say that regard must be had not only to the number of the coincidences, but to the peculiarity of each — this peculiarity growing less [page 172:] and less necessary, and the effect of number more and more important, in a ratio prodigiously accumulative, as the investigation progresses. And again — regard must be had not only to the number and peculiarity of the coincidences, but to the antagonistic differences, if any, which surround them — and very especially to the space over which the coincidences are spread, and the number or paucity of the events, or incidents, from among which the coincidences are selected. When “Outis”, for example, picks out his eighteen coincidences (which I am now granting as sustained) from a poem so long as The Raven, in collation with a poem not forthcoming, and which may, therefore, for anything anybody knows to the contrary, be as long as an infinite flock of ravens, he is merely putting himself to unnecessary trouble in getting together phantoms of arguments that can have no substance wherewith to aid his demonstration, until the ascertained extent of the unknown poem from which they are culled, affords them a purpose and a palpability. Can any man doubt that between The Iliad and the Paradise Lost there might be established even a thousand very idiosyncratic identities? — and yet is any man fool enough to maintain that the Iliad is the only original of the Paradise Lost?

But how is it in the case of Messieurs Aldrich and Hood? The poems here are both remarkably brief — and as I have every intention to do justice, and no other intention in the world, I shall be pardoned for again directing attention to them.(1)

Now let it be understood that I am entirely uninformed as to which of these two poems was first published. [page 173:] And so little has the question of priority to do with my thesis, that I shall not put myself to the trouble of inquiring. What I maintain is, that there are sufficient grounds for belief that the one is the plagiarised from the other: — who is the original, and who is the plagiarist, are points I leave to be settled by any one who thinks the matter of sufficient consequence to give it his attention. But the man who shall deny the plagiarism abstractly — what is it that he calls upon us to believe? First — that two poets, in remote parts of the world, conceived the idea of composing a poem on the subject of Death. Of course, there is nothing remarkable in this. Death is a naturally poetic theme, and suggests itself by a seeming spontaneity to every poet in the world. But had the subject chosen by the two widely separated poets, been even strikingly peculiar — had it been, for example, a porcupine, a piece of gingerbread, or anything unlikely to be made the subject of a poem, still no sensible person would have insisted upon the single coincidence as any thing beyond a single coincidence. We have no difficulty, therefore, in believing what, so far, we are called upon to believe. Secondly, we must credit that the two poets concluded to write not only on death, but on the death of a woman. Here the mind, observing the two identities, reverts to their peculiarity or non-peculiarity, and finding no peculiarity — admitting that the death of a woman is a naturally suggested poetic subject — has no difficulty also in admitting the two coincidences — as such, and nothing beyond. Thirdly, we are called upon to believe that the two poets not only concluded to write upon death, and upon the death of a woman, but that, from the innumerable phases of death, the [page 174:] phase of tranquillity was happened upon by each. Here the intellect commences a slight rebellion, but it is quieted by the admission, partly, of the spontaneity with which such an idea might arise, and partly of the possibility of the coincidences, independently of the consideration of spontaneity. Fourthly, we are required to believe that the two poets happened not only upon death — the death of a woman — and the tranquil death of a woman — but upon the idea of representing this woman as lying tranquilly throughout the whole night, in spite of the infinity of different durations which might have been imagined for her trance of tranquillity. At this point the reason perceives the evidence against these coincidences, (as such and nothing more), to be increasing in geometrical ratio. It discards all idea of spontaneity, and if it yield credence at all, yields it altogether on the ground of the indisputable possibility. Fifthly — we are requested to believe that our poets happened not only upon death — upon the death of a woman — upon the tranquil death of a woman — and upon the lying of this woman tranquilly throughout the night — but, also, upon the idea of selecting, from the innumerable phases which characterize a tranquil death-bed, the identical one of soft breathing — employing also the identical word. Here the reason gives up the endeavor to believe that one poem has not been suggested by the other: — if it be a reason accustomed to deal with the mathematical Calculus of Probabilities, it has abandoned this endeavor at the preceding stage of the investigation. The evidence of suggestion has now become prodigiously accumulate. Each succeeding coincidence (however slight) is proof not merely added, but multiplied by hundreds of thousands. [page 175:] Sixthly, we are called upon to believe, not only that the two poets happened upon all this, together with the idea of the soft breathing, but also of employing the identical word breathing, in the same line with the identical word, night. This proposition the reason receives with a smile. Seventhly, however, we are required to admit, not only all that has been already found inadmissible, but in addition, that the two poets conceived the idea of representing the death of a woman as occurring precisely at the same instant, out of all the infinite instants of all time. This proposition the reason receives only with a sneer. Eighthly, we are called upon to acquiesce in the assertion, that not only all these improbabilities are probable, but that in addition again, the two poets happened upon the idea of representing, the woman as stepping immediately into Paradise: — and, ninthly, that both should not only happen upon all this, but upon the idea of writing a peculiarly brief poem, on so admirably suggestive a thesis: — and, tenthly, that out of the various rhythms, that is to say variations of poetic feet, they should have both happened upon the iambus: — and. eleventhly, that out of the absolutely infinite metres that may be contrived from this rhythm, they should both have hit upon the tetrameter acatalectic for the first and third lines of a stanza: — and, twelfthly, upon the trimeter acatalectic for the second and fourth; and, thirteenthly, upon an absolute identity of phrase at, fourteenthly, an absolutely identical position, viz: upon the phrases, “But when the morn,” etc., and, “But when the sun,” etc., occurring in the beginning of the first line in the last stanza of each poem: — and, fifteenthly and lastly, that out of the vast multitude of appropriate titles, [page 176:] they should both have happened upon one whose identity is interfered with at all, only by the difference between the definite and indefinite article.

Now the chances that these fifteen coincidences, so peculiar in character, and all occurring within the compass of eight short lines, on the one part, and sixteen on the other — the chances, I say, that these coincidences are merely accidental, may be estimated, possibly, as about one to one hundred millions; and any man who reasons at all, is of course grossly insulted in being called upon to credit them as accidental.


“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 everything 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 is 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 [page 177:] 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 insufferable cant and shameless misrepresentation practiced 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 “Outis”es who practice 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 mean time, being more thoroughly and painfully aware than these very “Outis”es, 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, [page 178:] 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 “Outis”es to the fact, that it was during what they (the “Outis”es) 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 “Outis”es, 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 endeavors of aggrieved authors to rebut what I have ventured to demonstrate. [page 179:] 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 “Outis”es 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 “Outis”es have been magnanimous enough to assign me — is not this preponderance, in a word, [page 180:] the natural and inevitable tendency of all criticism worth the name in this age of so universal an authorship, that no man in his senses will pretend to deny the vast predominance of good writers over bad?

And now, says “Outis”, for the matter of Longfellow’s 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 they only verbal imitations of style? Perhaps this is one of them, in 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, aPoet, 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 — [page 181:]

“ ‘Away — away — away’ — etc.

“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 in 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 connection, 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 parallel 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 of isles enchanted;[page 182:]

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 of 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.


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 wo,

A sound of wo!

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, [page 183:]

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,

The storm-wind!

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; [page 184:]

And the stars, from heaven down-cast,

Like red leaves be swept away!

Kyrie Eleyson!

Christie Eleyson!


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 glowing 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 [page 186:] 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, furnished by Professor Longfellow, entitled the “Good George Campbell,” and purporting to be a translation from the German of O. L. B. Wolff. In “Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern, by William Motherwell, published by John Wylie, Glasgow, 1827,” 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 side by side:


Hie upon Hielands

And low upon Tay,

Bonnie George Campbell

Rade fort on a day.

Saddled and bridled

And gallant rade he;

Hame cam his gude horse,

But never cam he.

Out cam his auld mither

Greeting fu’ lair,

And out cam his bonnie bride

Rivin’ her hair.

Saddled and bridled

And booted rade he;

Toom hame cam the saddle,

But never cam he. [page 187:]

“My meadow lies green,

And my corn is unshorn;

My barn is too big,

And my baby’s unborn.”

Saddled and bridled

And booted rade he;

Toom hame cam the saddle,

But never cam he.


High on the Highlands,

And deep in the day,

The good George Campbell

Rode free and away.

All saddled, all bridled,

Gay gatments he wore;

Home came his gude steed,

But he nevermore.

Out came his mother,

Weeping so sadly;

Out came his beauteous bride

Weeping so madly.

All saddled, all bridled,

Strong armor he wore;

Home came the saddle,

But he nevermore! [page 187:]

My meadow lies green,

Unreaped is my corn,

My garner is empty,

My child is unborn.

All saddled, all bridled,

Sharp weapons he bore:

Home came the saddle,

But he nevermore!

Professor Longfellow defends himself (I learn) from the charge of imitation in this case, by the assertion that he did translate from Wolff, but that Wolff copied from Motherwell. I am willing to believe almost anything rather than so gross a plagiarism as this seems to be — but there are difficulties which should be cleared up. In the first place how happens it that, in the transmission from the Scotch into the German, and again from the German into the English, not only the versification should have been rigidly preserved, but the rhymes, and alliterations? Again; how are we to imagine that Mr. Longfellow with his known intimate acquaintance with Motherwell’s “Minstrelsy” did not at once recognise so remarkable a poem when he met it in Wolff? I have now before me a large volume of songs, ballads, etc. collected by Wolff; but there is here no such poem — and, to be sure, it should not be sought in such a collection. No collection of his own poems has been published, and the piece of which we are in search of must be fugitive — unless, indeed, it is included in a volume of translations from various tongues, of which O. L. B. Wolff is also the author — but of which I am unable to obtain a copy.(1) It is by no means improbable that here the poem in [page 188:] question is to be found — but in this case it must have been plainly acknowledged as a translation, with its original designated. How, then, could Professor Longfellow have translated it as original with Wolff? These are mysteries yet to be solved. It is observable — peculiarly so — that the Scotch “Toom” is left untranslated in the version of Graham’s Magazine. Will it be found that the same omission occurs in Wolff’s version?

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 her hand near a table, on which are flowers. A bird singing in its cage. The Count of Lara enters behind, unperceived.

Preciosa reads.

All 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!

Thou little prisoner with thy motly 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. [page 189:]

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 Count.) Ha!

Lara. Senora, pardon me.

Preciosa. How’s this? Dolores!

Lara. Pardon me —

Preciosa. Dolores!

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 bold!

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.] Begone! begone!

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! [page 190:]

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 in 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 fevered soul doth dream of Heaven!

O happy land! [pauses.] She died — the maiden died —

O still more happy maiden who could’nt die.

Jacinta! [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 [page 191:]

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.]

Lalaye. 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 wo. 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. [Arising hurriedly.]

I cannot pray! — my soul is at war with God!

The frightful sounds of merriment below

Disturb my senses — go! I cannot pray; [page 192:]

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 anything 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, [page 193:]

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!

Lalage. ’Tis sworn!

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.” [page 194:]

Mr. Longfellow thus: —

“For 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 shine heart and write!

Sir Philip Sidney in the “Astrophal 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 gray-hooded even

Like a sad votarist in palmer’s weeds.

And again: — these lines by Professor Longfellow will be remembered by everybody:

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. [page 195:]

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? [page 196:]


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, I now feel at liberty to add a few words, by way of freeing myself of any suspicion of malevolence 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: that 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 [page 197:] 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 [page 198:] 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.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 147:]

1I would be a Parody, written by a ninny,

Not worth a penny, and sold for a guinea, etc.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 165:]

1“I have before me,” to “part of such comparison,” ante, p. 298.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 169, running to the bottom of page 170:]

1This is as accurate a description as can be given of the alternating (of the second and fourth) lines in a few words. The fact is, they are indescribable without more trouble than they are worth — and seem to me either to have been written by some one ignorant of the principles of verse, or to misquoted. The line, however,

That tells me thou hast seen and loved my Clare,

answers the description I have given of the alternating verses, and was, no doubt, the general intention for all of them.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 172:]

1See page 139.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 187:]

1Sammlung vorzuglicher Volkslieder der bekanntesten Nationen, grostentheils zun ersten male, metrisch in das Deutche ubertragen. Frankfurt, 1837.






[S:0 - SW, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - A Reply to Outis (Stedman and Woodberry, 1895)