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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 of the
case. The one author is a distinguished man our
sympathies are always hi favor of distinction. " It is
not likely," we say in our hearts, " that so distin
guished a personage as A would be guilty of plagiar
ism 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 un
friended struggler up the mountainous path of fame.
Is not sympathy for the plagiarist, then, about as saga
cious 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 " ac
quaintance " to get up against me a charge of " carp
ing 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, how
ever, that it does not. " I shall not charge Mr. 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 curi
osity to know if Outis is prepared to swear to its truth,
holding aloft his right hand, of course, and kissing the
back of D'Israeli's Curiosities, or the Melanges of
Suard and Andre*. But if the assertion is funny (and


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

it is), it is by no means an original thing. It is pre
cisely, 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 a 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 gentle
man 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 in
dulged his thieving propensities in any respect. But
he thieves at night, in the dark, 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 plagia-


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

rists nine out of ten are authors of established reputa
tion, who plunder recondite, neglected, or forgotten

" 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 plagia
rism on the broad ground that no such thing as plagia
rism 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 a 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 sen-


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

sible one, anything but a less sensible one. Indeed,
mutato nomine, he might employ Outis's 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

of the court occupied by this gentleman's well-meant
endeavor to show a priori the impossibility of that
ever happening which the clerk of this same court
could show a posteriori had been happening by whole
sale ever since there had been such a thing as a for
eign count. And yet the speech of the attorney was
really a very excellent speech, when we compare 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
patronized 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 erer
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),


Mr. L/ongfellow and Other Plagiarists

and that in the meantime he will be too busy in keep
ing 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 circum
stances, 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 high

The plagiarist, then, in either case, has very reason
able 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
into the shop of a 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 mat
ters 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 pan
taloons. 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

1 66

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

in his favor, that luck is everything, that life is short,
that the weather is fine, and that, if he can only man
age to get safely through his promenade down Broad
way 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 Phoe
bus Apollo. And this consideration is enough; the
half of it would have been more than enough to sat
isfy the count that, in putting the garments under his
cloak, he is doing a very sagacious and very commend
able 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 " glar
ing improbability " of his having stolen them when he
stole them, by way of showing the abstract impossi
bility of their ever having been stolen at all.

" What is plagiarism ? " demands Outis at the out
set, avecl'air d'un Remain quisauve sa patrie " What
is plagiarism, and what constitutes a good ground for
the charge ? " Of course all men anticipate some
thing 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 en
tertained an idea of denying it. But are we to under
stand 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 expres
sion with the author from whom I charge him with
plagiarizing, 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 of
thought, and give it voice in a single identity of ex

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:


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

the thing is sufficiently plain; and this opinion on
the part of Outis is what mankind have agreed to de
nominate 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
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, 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

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,


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

not very common, during what is called ' the January
thaw, 1 when the snow, mingled with rain, and freez
ing 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, wav
ing, breathing crystals. . . . Every tree is a dia
mond 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 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

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 con
sider 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 else. Of
course, nine commonplace men out of ten would have
maintained it to be a chandelier-looking tree. No
poet of any pretension, however, would have com
mitted 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 alway degraded by comparison with the
tawdry gewgaws 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

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

amazed at every second thing which I see. One of the
most amazing things I have yet seen is the compla
cency 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 dlxit 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 anony
mous 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, for the
purpose of assisting a friend out of trouble, and with
out reference to the consideration that no third person
short of Signer Blitz or Professor Rogers could in any
conceivable manner have satisfied himself of the truth
of the twentieth part of it. Admitting this and every
thing 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 com
prehend Outis as demonstrating the impossibility of
plagiarism, where it is possible, by adducing instances
of inevitable similarity under circumstances where it


Mr. Longlellow and Other Plagiarists

is not ? The fact is, that through want of space and
time to follow Outis through the labyrinth of imper
tinences in which he is scrambling about, I am con
strained, much against my sense of decorum, to place
him in the highroad 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 concerned. The affair
is one of probabilities altogether, and can be satisfac
torily 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

am sincerely disposed to give Outis his due, and will
not pretend to deny his happy facility in asking irrele
vant 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 de
mand 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 twice under
scoring the words. Is it impossible that they ran
thus ? " I am perfectly well aware, to be sure, that
the only conceivable resemblance between Mr. Bry
ant's poem and Mr. Poe's poem lies in their common

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 * acquaint
ance 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

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 paltri
ness 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 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

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

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

" 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

" 'T was 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

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