Edgar Allan Poe.

The complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) online

. (page 9 of 23)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 9 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

prietor " is fat henceforward and forever to the amount
of five-and-twenty dollars, very cleverly saved, to be
spent generously in canvasbacks and champagne.

There are two things which we hope the reader will
not do as he runs over this article : first, we hope that
he will not believe that we write from any personal
experience of our own, for we have only the reports of
actual sufferers to depend upon ; and, second, that he
will not make any personal application of our remarks
to any magazine publisher now living, it being well
known that they are all as remarkable for their gen
erosity and urbanity as for their intelligence and
appreciation of genius.


Mr. Longfellow and Other


the Evening Mirror of January 14, (1846),
before my editorial connection with the
Broadway Journal t I furnished a brief criti
cism 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

" We conclude our notes on the Waif with the ob
servation 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 avoid
ance of all American poets who may be supposed espe
cially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow.
These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

(is that the word ?) and yet never even incidentally

Much discussion ensued. A friend of Ms Long
fellow'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 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 neg
lected 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 con
siders the character of the collection. It professed to
be, according to the " Proem," from the humbler poets ;
and it was intended to embrace pieces that were anony
mous, or which were easily accessible to the general
reader the waifs and estrays of literature. To put


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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, fi
nally 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 becomes ap
parent 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

VOL. VIII. 10.

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 meantime Mr. Briggs, in the Broadway Jour*
naif 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 ap
peared 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 not altogether so, when
a * good-natured friend ' of the American author


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

(whose name had by us never been mentioned) con
sidered 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 indis
cretion of this kind, we deprecate all aid from our
* good-natured friends ' ; but in the meantime 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 hopes belied our fears ;

Our fears our hopes belied ;
We thought her dying when she slept,

And sleeping when she died.

But when the morn came dim and sad,

And chill with early showers,
Her quiet eyelids closed ; she had

Another morn than ours.

Mr. Aldrich'sthus:

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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.

"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 resem
blance,' 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 sec
ond, 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 through
out the night. In the fifth, it is the death of a woman
whose ' breathing soft and low is watched through the
night,' in 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 day
break, 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

rhythms and metres are constructed into identical

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 com
munication to the Mirror. I copy it in full :

" PLAGIARISM. Dear Willisf 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
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 cov
ering 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

diamond chandelier, with a whole constellation of stars
clustering to every socket, 1 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 ? Yet there are
plenty of * identities.' The author of the letter, when
urged, some years after, to have it published, con
sented 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 com-


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

positions 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 friend brought
them to my notice in the Mirror. It is certainly pos
sible that Aldrich had not seen them several years ago,
and more than probable that Hood had not seen Al-
drich's. Yet your friend affects great sympathy for
both, in view of their bitter compunctions of con
science, 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, when
ever 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,

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 men
tioned, 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
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 beauti
ful 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 ' iden
tities ' 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 brought them out specially, * marked, num
bered, 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 cir
cumstantial 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 steal-


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

ing, in open day, the finest passages, the most beauti
ful 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 com
petitor for fame, and every critical tribunal in the
world, as well as the real owner, will be ready to iden
tify the borrowed plumes in a moment, and cry him
down as a thief. A madman, an idiot, if he were capa-
able 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 out of a thousand, such
charges are absurd, and indicate rather the carping
littleness of the critic than the delinquency of his

" 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 had forgotten anything. He
delights, therefore, in showing up such resemblances.

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

" And now for the matter of Longfellow's imita
tions. 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 t

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 mag
nificent 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 familiar
ity 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,

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

for example, would wish to be guilty of the littleness of
detracting from the uncommon merit of that remark
able 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 imita
tion ? And yet some snarling critic, who might envy
the reputation he had not the genius to secure for him
self, 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 Mari*
ner. 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

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."

" 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 awakened 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. . . .

Sweet bird from realms of light, oh! come again 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


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

some hereafter communion with the departed. Third,
there is a bird. Fourth, the bird is at the poet's win
dow. 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 visitor from the land of
spirits. Eleventh, allusion is made to the departed.
Twelfth, intimation is given that the bird knew some
thing 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 two 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 con
tains an example of that kind of repetition, which I
have supposed the critic meant to charge upon Long
fellow 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

Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

have selected this poem of Mr. Poe's for illustrating
my remarks because it is recent, and must be familiar
to all the lovers of true poetry hereabouts. It is re
markable 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 J ) and shows, more forcibly
than any which I can think of, the absurdity and shal-
lowness 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
with 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 remem
ber an instance where the resemblances detected were
not exceedingly far-fetched and shadowy, and only
perceptible to a mind predisposed to suspicion and
accustomed to splitting hairs. OUTIS."

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 de-

1 1 would be a Parody, written by a ninny,
Not worth a penny, and sold for a guinea, etc.


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

grade 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 un
able, in running my eye over Outis's remarks, to dis
cover 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 little
ness " is simply to put forth a flat paradox. When a
plagiarism is committed and detected, the word " little
ness " and other similar words are immediately brought
into play. To the words themselves I have no objec
tion whatever; but their application might occasion
ally 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.


Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists

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 cir
culation 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.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 8) → online text (page 9 of 23)