A wildly popular author, an ivy-league attorney, a university professor and a plagiarist: Mathews made his mark in American literary fame in the late 1800’s because his literary larceny was never discovered. From his training it is no surprise. He was smart and had friends in high places.
This is a collection of his writings, most for popular magazines that had been published before and collected in this edition. The sleazy side of the story is that he published as original much that was clearly unoriginal. Most of these essays: the topics, the citations, the illustrative examples are all taken and often the very words, from British essays in the best reviews and journals from a couple of decades before he wrote. Obviously his tenure as a teacher at the University of Chicago gave him access to a significant library with lots of material to chose from that was old and uncommon enough in the States to escape detection by his audience.
His apparent wide-ranging knowledge and all-knowing brilliance is also implied in his essays and totally undeserved. He uses small quotes of foreign authors, which he did not translate, but it appears that he did. He refers to a “late writer” for a whole paragraph of a juicy example which adds to his argument, but can’t be bothered to list the man’s name or the source: probably because he chose to borrow some of that author’s prime examples. This last excellent and charming author was mined to adorn an essay of Mathew’s that became quite famous. The forgotten author, W. P. Atkinson, was an American teacher, wrote a wonderful essay, The Use and Abuse of Books, taken from a series of lectures he was asked to give on self improvement, after giving a list of books for a library created by a major manufacturer for his employees.
Even when you think Mathews might be original, as in his Recollections of Judge Storey, his revered law instructor, it turns out that at least one of the anecdotes was first related by another ex-student much earlier. The implication in this book is that Mathews is the source of the anecdotes and the original person who reported at least one of them is not mentioned at all.
Probably, I am the only one outraged by this man’s abuse of his education and status to continue his rise to glory on the backs of others with more morals and talent, who remained unsung and poorer because they had scruples!
Anyway, a lot of the essays are tedious but some are illuminating to a degree. Mathews did recognize interesting material and thoughts worth stealing — whether the essay is describing people and manners and institutions now long forgotten, or because of the wealth of pithy quotes from sources seldom cited now, but worthy of being remembered. The list of all the sources of the material he borrowed is so long that this book has been ready to announce for months but I was too depressed at the thought of the pages of footnotes it would need. I have not done it yet, but I will at some point (maybe). At least, you won’t quote this guy without double-checking to make sure the matter is original. If it helps you question those in authority: well and good, too. Always double-check before you believe or admire the wrong person.
There were a multitude of mis-quotes of famous authors even. He didn’t bother to make his quotes accurate either. Unbelievably shoddy! Or the editions he stole the quotes from were the shoddy ones, so it is hard to say where the inaccuracy lies.
There were also a multitude of typos, all that were found have been corrected and so noted in the source code for the page.
The good news is that you can discount his more intolerant moralizing much more easily, since you now know that he is not much of a role model as a teacher, a lawyer, a popular philosopher and American arbiter of morals for either ethics, brilliancy or integrity.