« VorigeDoorgaan »
the same general disposition, or in the same national character; live together in the same period of time ; or in corresponding periods of the progression of manners, or are under the influence of a corresponding genius of policy and government ; in every of these cases, some considerable similarity of expression may be occasioned by the agency of general principles, without any suspicion of studied or designed imitation.
II. An identity of phrase and diction, is a much surer note of plagiarism. For considering the vast variety of words, which any language, and especially the more copious ones furnish, and the infinite possible combinations of them into all the forms of phraseology, it would be very strange, if two persons should hit on the same identical terms, and much more should they agree in the same precise arrangement of them in whole sentences.
There is no defending coincidences of this kind; and whatever writers themselves may pretend, or their friends for them, no one can doubt a moment of such identity being a clear and decisive proof of imitation,
Yet this must be understood with some limitations.
For l. There are in every language some current and authorized forms of speech, which can hardly be avoided by a writer without affectation. They are such as express the most obvious sentiments, and which the ordinary occasions of life are perpetually obtruding on us. Now these, as by common agreement, we chuse to deliver to one another in the same form of words. Convenience dictates this to one - set of writers, and politeness renders it sacred in another. Thus it will be true of certain phrases (as, universally, of the words, in any language), that they are left in common to all writers, and can be claimed as matter of property, by none. Not that such phraseology will be frequent in nobler compositions, as the familiarity of its usage takes from their natural reserve and dignity. Yet on certain occasions, which justify this negligence, or in certain authors, who are not over-sollicitous about these indecorums, we may expect to meet with it. Hamlet says of his father,
He was a man, take him for all in all ;
I shall not look upon his like again. which may be suspected of being stolen from Sophocles, who has the following passage in the TRACHINIAE.
The sentiment being one of the commonest, that offers itself to the mind, the sole ground of suspicion must lie in the expression, “I « shall not look upon his like again," to which the Greek 90 exactly answers. But these were the ordinary expressions of such sentiment, in the two languages; and neither the characters of the great poets, nor the situation of the speakers, would suffer the affectation of departing from common usage.
- What is here said of the situation of the speakers reminds me of another class of expressions, which will often be similar in all poets. Nature, under the same conjunctures, gives birth to the same conceptions, and if they be of such a kind, as to exclude all thought of 'artifice, and the tricks of eloquence (as on. occasions of deep anxiety and distress) they run, of themselves, into the same form of expression. The wretched Priam, in his lamentation of Hector, lets drop the following words:
je? ZxQ EU xatoioetat äid Q ciow:
“ This line, says his translator, is particularly “ tender, and almost, word for word, the “ same with that of the Patriarch Jacob; who, “ upon a like occasion, breaks out in the same “ complaint, and tells his children, that, if “ they deprive him of his son Benjamin, they 56 will bring down his grey hairs with sorrow “ to the grave."
· We may, further, except, under this head, certain privileged forms of speech, which the peculiar idioms of different languages make necessary in them, and which poetry consecrates in all. But this is easily observed, and
effect is not very considerable.
2. In pleading this identity of expression, regard must be had to the language, from which the theft is supposed to be made. If from the same language (setting aside the exceptions, just mentioned) the same arrangement of the same words is admitted as a certain, argument of plagiarism : nay, less than this will do in some instances, as where the imitated expression is pretty singular, or so remarkable, on any account, as to be well known, &c. But if from another language, the matter is not so easy. It can rarely happen, indeed, but by design, that there should
be the same order or composition of words, in
Vunc it per iter tenebricosum
CATUL. III. v. 11. Or, doth it amount to any more than this, that the terms employed by the two writers in expressing the same obvious thought are correspondent? But correspondency and identity