Quotation and Originality (An Essay)
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The stream of affection flows broad and strong; the practical activity is a river of supply ; but the dearth of design accuses the penury of intellect. How few thoughts! In a hundred years, millions of men, and not a hundred lines of poetry, not a theory of philosophy that offers a solution of the great problems, not an art of education that fulfils the conditions.
In this delay and vacancy of thought we must make the best amends we can by seeking the wisdom of others to fill the time. If we confine ourselves to literature, 't is easy to see that the debt is immense to past thought. None escapes it. The originals are not original. There is imitation, model, and suggestion, to the very archangels, if we knew their history.
The first book tyrannizes over the second. Read Tasso, and you think of Virgil ; read Virgil, and you think of Homer ; and Milton forces you to reflect how narrow are the limits of human.
Better To Fail in Originality than To Succeed in Imitation – Quote Investigator
The "Paradise Lost" had never existed but for these precursors ; and if we find in India or Arabia a book out of our horizon of thought and tradition, we are soon taught by new researches in its native country to discover its foregoers, and its latent, but real connection with our own Bibles. Read in Plato, and you shall find Christian dogmas, and not only so, but stumble on our evangelical phrases.
Hegel pre-exists in Proclus, and, long before, in Heraclitus and Parmenides. Whoso knows Plutarch, Lucian, Rabelais, Montaigne, and Bayle will have a key to many supposed originalities. Rabelais is the source of many a proverb, story, and jest, derived from him into all modern languages ; and if we knew Rabelais's reading, we should see the rill of the Rabelais river.
Swedenborg, Behmen, Spinoza, will appear original to uninstructed and to thoughtless persons : their originality will disappear to such as are either well-read or thoughtful ; for scholars will recognize their dogmas as reappearing in men of a similar intellectual elevation throughout history. Albert, the "wonderful doctor," St.
Buonaventura, the "seraphic doctor," Thomas Aquinas, the "angelic doctor" of the thirteenth century, whose books made the sufficient culture of these ages, Dante absorbed and he survives for us.
Mythology is no man's work ; but, what we daily observe in regard to the bon-mots that' circulate in society, — that every talker helps a story in repeating it, until, at last, from the slenderest filament of fact a good fable is constructed, — the same growth befalls mythology : the legend is tossed from believer to poet, from poet to believer, every-body adding a grace or dropping a fault or rounding the form, until it gets an ideal truth. Religious literature, the psalms and liturgies of churches, are of course of this slow growth, — a fagot of selections gathered through ages, leaving the worse, and saving the better, until it is at last the work of the whole communion of worshippers.
The Bible itself is like an old Cremona; it has been played upon by the devotion of thousands of years, until every word and particle is public and tunable. And whatever undue reverence may have been claimed for it by the prestige of philonic inspiration, the stronger tendency we are describing is likely to undo.
What divines had assumed as the distinctive revelations of Christianity, theologic criticism has matched by exact parallelisms from the Stoics and poets of Greece and Rome.
Later, when Confucius and the Indian scriptures were made known, no claim to monopoly of ethical wisdom could be thought of; and the surprising results of the new researches into the history of Egypt have opened to us the deep debt of the churches of Rome and England to the Egyptian hierology. The borrowing is often honest enough, and comes of magnanimity and stoutness. A great man quotes bravely and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves him with a word as good. What he quotes, he fills with his own voice and humor, and the whole cyclopaedia of his table-talk is presently believed to be his own.
Thirty years ago, when Mr. Webster at the bar or in the Senate filled the eyes and minds of young men, you might often hear cited as Mr. Webster's three rules : first, never to do to-day what he could defer till to-morrow ; secondly, never to do himself what he could make another do for him ; and, thirdly, never to pay any debt to-day.
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Well, they are none the worse for being already told, in the last generation, of Sheridan; and we find in Grimm's Memoires that Sheridan got them from the witty D'Argenson ; who, no doubt, if we could consult him, could tell of whom he first heard them told. In our own he knows politics, Greek, history, science ; if he only knew a little of law, he would know a little of everything.
Many of the historical proverbs have a doubtful paternity. Columbus's egg is claimed for Brunelleschi. Rabelais's dying words, "I am going to see the great Perhaps " le grand Peut-etre , only repeats the " IF " inscribed on the portal of the temple at Delphi. Goethe's favorite phrase, " the open secret," translates Aristotle's answer to Alexander, " These books are published and not published.
In romantic literature examples of this vamping abound. The fine verse in the old Scotch ballad of " The Drowned Lovers,". Hafiz furnished Burns with the song of " John Barleycorn," and furnished Moore with the original of the piece,. There are many fables which, as they are found in every language, and betray no sign of being borrowed, are said to be agreeable to the human mind. The popular incident of Baron Munchausen, who hung his bugle up by the kitchen fire, and the frozen tune thawed out, is found in Greece in Plato's time.
How to Quote Someone in an Essay
Antiphanes, one of Plato's friends, laughingly compared his writings to a city where the words froze in the air as soon as they were pronounced, and the next summer, when they were warmed and melted by the sun, the people heard what had been spoken in the winter. It is only within this century that England and America discovered that their nursery-tales were old German and Scandinavian stories ; and now it appears that they came from India, and are the property of all the nations descended from the Aryan race, and have been warbled and babbled between nurses and children for unknown thousands of years.
If we observe the tenacity with which nations cling to their first types of costume, of architecture, of tools and methods in tillage, and of decoration,-if we learn how old are the patterns of our shawls, the capitals of our columns, the fret, the beads, and other ornaments on our walls, the alternate lotus-bud and leaf-stem of our iron fences, — we shall think very well of the first men, or ill of the latest. Now shall we say that only the first men were well alive, and the existing generation is invalided and degenerate? Is all literature eavesdropping, and all art Chinese imitation? A more subtle and severe criticism might suggest that some dislocation has befallen the race ; that men are off their centre ; that multitudes of men do not live with Nature, but behold it as exiles.
People go out to look at sunrises and sunsets who do not recognize their own quietly and happily, but know that it is foreign to them. As they do by books, so they quote the sunset and the star, and do not make them theirs. Worse yet, they live as foreigners in the world of truth, and quote thoughts, and thus disown them. Quotation confesses inferiority.
In opening a new book we often discover, from the unguarded devotion with which the writer gives his motto or text, all we have to expect from him. If Lord Bacon appears already in the preface, I go and read the " Instauration " instead of the new book. The mischief is quickly punished in general and in particular. Admirable mimics have nothing of their own. In every kind of parasite, when Nature has finished an aphis, a teredo, or a vampire bat, — an excellent sucking-pipe to tap another animal, or a mistletoe or dodder among plants, — the self-supplying organs wither and dwindle, as being superfluous.
In common prudence there is art early limit to this leaning on an original. In literature quotation is good only when the writer whom I follow goes my way, and, being better mounted than I, gives me a cast, as we say ; but if I like the gay equipage so well as to go out of my road, I had better have gone afoot. But it is necessary to remember there are certain considerations which go far to qualify a reproach too grave. This vast mental indebtedness has every variety that pecuniary debt has, — every variety of merit.
The capitalist of either kind is as hungry to lend as the consumer to borrow ; and the trans-action no more indicates intellectual turpitude in the borrower than the simple fact of debt involves bankruptcy. On the contrary, in far the greater number of cases the transaction is honor-able to both.
Can we not help ourselves as discreetly by the force of two in literature? Certainly it only needs two well placed and well tempered for co-operation, to get somewhat far transcending any private enterprise! Shall we converse as spies? Our very abstaining to repeat and credit the fine remark of our friend is thievish.
Each man of thought is surrounded by wiser men than he, if they cannot write as well. Cannot he and they combine? Cannot they sink their jealousies in God's love, and call their poem Beaumont and Fletcher, or the Theban Phalanx's? The city will for nine days or nine years make differences and sinister comparisons : there is a new and more excellent public that will bless the friends.
Nay, it is an inevitable fruit of our social nature. The child quotes his father, and the man quotes his friend. Each man is a hero and an oracle to some-body, and to that person whatever he says has an enhanced value. Whatever we think and say is wonderfully better for our spirits and trust in an-other mouth.
What is Quoting?
There is none so eminent and wise but he knows minds whose opinion confirms or qualifies his own : and men of extraordinary genius acquire an almost absolute ascendant over their nearest companions. The Comte de Crillon said one day to M. Necker expressed a contrary one, I should be at once convinced that the universe and I were mistaken.
Original power is usually accompanied with assimilating power, and we value in Coleridge his excellent knowledge and quotations perhaps as much, possibly more, than his original suggestions.
If an author give us just distinctions, inspiring lessons, or imaginative poetry, it is not so important to us whose they are. If we are fired and guided by these, we know him as a benefactor, and shall return to him as long as he serves us so well. We may like well to know what is Plato's and what is Montesquieu's or Goethe's part, and what thought was always dear to the writer himself ; but the worth of the sentences consists in their radiancy and equal aptitude to all intelligence.
They fit all our facts like a charm. We respect ourselves the more that we know them. Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as Ile has done this, that line will be quoted east and west. Then there are great ways of borrowing.
Genius borrows nobly. When Shakspeare is charged with debts to his authors, Landor replies : " Yet he was more original than his originals. He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life. If De Quincey said, " That is what I told you," he replied, "No : that is mine, — mine, and not yours. And inasmuch as any writer has ascended to a just view of man's condition, he has adopted this tone.
In so far as the receiver's aim is on life, and not on literature, will be his indifference to the source. The nobler the truth or sentiment, the less imports the question of authorship. It never troubles the simple seeker from whom he derived such or such a sentiment. Whoever expresses to us a just thought makes ridiculous the pains of the critic who should tell him where such a word had been said before.