“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 59-68.
D R. Bushwhacker came to us to-day, in an old fashioned, full circle blue Spanish cloak, a fur cap, a carpet bag, and a small package of pemmican in his hand. He deposited these articles in the hall, shook the hand of my wife impressively, and caressed the children with warmth and tenderness. The Doctor is usually boisterous with children, but to-day he was subdued. Moreover, he gave each of them a keep-sake. To Bessy a stalactite from the grotto of Antiparos; to Lucy a little paper of sand from the Desert of Sahara; Tom had a vial of water from the pool of Bethesda; and Jack a twig of ivy from Melrose Abbey. Even the baby was not forgotten, for he had brought it a Chinese rattle, that no doubt was contemporary with the age of Confucius; and to my wife he presented a little book make of papyrus, inscribed with Coptic characters, which might have been decyphered had they not been obliterated by time. Then, putting his hand in his left vest pocket, he drew forth a present for me. It was his lancet, which, he assured me, had bled more respectable people than any other lancet in fashionable practice. “My learned friend,” said he, “you have no idea of the fees which 60 have accumulated upon the point of this instrument. But the old practice, sir, the old, venerable, respectable practice is vanishing in these new fangled, latter-day lights of science. The good old days of calomel and tartar emetic have departed. The late Surgeon General broke down the time-consecrated faith in these specifics, and now, sir, we have to study the physical idiosyncrasies of a patient before we prescribe, as diligently as lawyers do when working up a case in their profession. The good old easy days are gone, sir — but I hear the dinner bell!”
The Doctor was silent during the repast. But a bottle of “Old Wanderer, 1822,” as bright as a topaz, drew him out. Poising the straw stem glass between his thumb and forefinger, and viewing the shining fluid with the eye of a connoisseur, he broke forth — “My learned friend, do you suppose that the science of chemistry has advanced so far that this wine could be imitated even by a Liebig?”
“Certainly not, Doctor. To any person of fine taste, all imitations must pass for imitations. They no more resemble the original than ——”
“Imitations usually do. I know what you want to say, my learned friend. All plagiarisms are as inferior to originals, as copies of great pictures, or plaster casts of great sculptures, are inferior to the works which the pencil or the chisel, in the hands of a great master of his art, has accomplished. This is so well understood in the more sensuous works of painters and sculptors that even 61 the most accurate copy of a Raphael, or of a Leonardi di Vinci, is nothing worth comparing with the original. But how is it with literature, my learned friend?”
“I do not understand you, Doctor.”
“How is it with literature? Do you think that you can ever build up an American literature, if the chief merit of our native authors exists only by imitation? Dr. Drake, sir, Joseph Rodman Drake was an example. He was an original native poet, sir. Who has followed his example? Not one.”
“That would be imitation, Doctor.”
“No, sir. It would be emulation. There is a nice distinction between the two phrases.”
“But what do you mean by plagiarisms, Doctor?”
“That is rather a harsh term to use. Suppose we call them ‘accidental resemblances.’ Now, your friend, Barry Gray, paid you a great compliment in accidentally resembling your style. My dear old friend, Washington Irving, once said to me: ‘Who is this Barry Gray? He has stolen from the Sparrowgrass Papers, the style of the author. Materials are everywhere, and are common property. But a new style is the author’s own. Tell me the real name of Barry Gray, that I may know upon whom to pour the full measure of my contempt, for I hate these literary pilferers.’ ”
“Surely, Doctor, you know what stopped my pen at that time, and so spare me.”
“Suppose we take up Halleck as an example,” said the Doctor, sententiously.62
“Great heavens, Doctor! Halleck! I know that ‘Fanny,’ has been assumed by the critics to be an imitation of Don Juan, but, really, it was written before Don Juan was published. Lord Byron’s story of Beppo suggested the metre, and Halleck wrote ‘Fanny’ before Don Juan had crossed the Atlantic.”
“What do you think,” said the Doctor, “of his eulogy on Burns? —
“Shakspeare, sir! Henry IV, Part I, Act III, Scene First, —
“Ah, Doctor! Halleck intended that to be a quotation.”
“Now, sir,” continued the Doctor, “we have Henry (again) IV, Part I, Act IV, Scene First, as authority for another popular catch word —
“ ‘There is not such a word spoken of in Scotland, as this term fear.’
And Bulwer in his “Richelieu” says —
“ ‘There is no such word as fail.’63
Do you not see the palpable resemblance of these two?”
“True, Doctor, but what shall be said of them except that they are ——”
“Accidental resemblances! Now, here is another example, from Paul Revere’s Ride in Longfellow’s ‘Wayside Inn’: —
But Tennyson had already written in his wonderful dramatic poem of Man —
What do you think of that?”
“Ah, Doctor, you are rather hypercritical.”
“Do you think so?” said the Doctor, slightly reddening, for he does not like his opinions to be impugned.
“What do you think of this from the Birds of Killingworth, in the same volume?
Well, Doctor, I never heard that before, and it is a beautiful image.”
“Beautiful! indeed it is, if one had never before read Wordsworth’s ode on the Intimations of Immortality, where we have the same idea presented in a line, the 64 rejoicing, the rush and leap of the waters, the signal note, the great concurrence of waters, in one blast, as it were —
‘The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep.’
That, sir, is poetry, and the other is ——”
“But surely, Doctor, you must admit ——”
“That Longfellow’s psalm of life is original. Ars longa vita brevis, is cleverly rendered. As for the rest of the stanza, though I will quote the whole of it —
I cannot quite subscribe to the originality of any part of it. In my copy of Cowley’s Poems, (folio ‘1668,’ page 13, of verses written on several occasions,) in his Ode upon Dr. Harvey, who had discovered the circulation of the blood ——
“And a great discovery it was, Doctor!”
“A great discovery, sir! As great in medical science, as Galileo’s discovery of the rotation of the earth, sir. In Cowley’s tribute to Dr. Harvey, we find this expression of the poet — full of his subject, the new discovery — the circulation of the blood.
And here we see the idea of the march, of the musical 65 instruments, of the band, of the drums beating, embodied in the lines of our Cambridge friend.
“So then Cowley was the originator of that thought?”
“No, sir. I did not say so. His lines had ‘an accidental resemblance’ to the lines of Dr. Henry King, Bishop of Chichester, who had before written in a poem called the ‘Exequy,’ an ode dedicated to his deceased wife —
There, sir, what do you think of that?”
“Why, let us all thank God, Doctor, that such things have been modernized. Who the deuce could buy Cowley or Bishop King at this time?”
“Ah, my learned friend,” said the Doctor, “I do not like your remarks. I have paid a great deal of attention to these works of original men, and I would like to conserve them, apart and entire from the vulgar world.”
“What good would that do, Doctor?”
Dr. Bushwhacker paused. He was evidently moving upon a different plane from the ordinary motion of mortals. His love of uncut editions floated before his eyes. Finally he broke forth:
“The blessings of Providence, like the dew of heaven, should fall alike upon the rich and the poor.’ — Andrew 66 Jackson. There, sir, you have an original quotation from one of the greatest Presidents we ever had.”
“No, Doctor, for in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, which is one of the most comical books ever written, you will find on page 391, edition of 1836, printed for B. Blake, the following sentence: —
‘As the rain falls on both sorts, so are riches given to good and bad.’ ”
“That is so near Jackson’s motto, that the accidental resemblance is palpable. Of course General Jackson had read Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, my learned friend. What hadn’t General Jackson read?”
“Now, Doctor, in regard to these matters, what do you think of Tennyson’s
introduced in the prologue to the Princess?”
The Doctor paused. — “Tennyson is certainly an original poet.”
“But Milton in Book IV, verse 256, in Paradise Lost, has ‘flowers of all hues.’ Do you think Tennyson stole from Milton?”
“No, that was an accidental resemblance!”
“What do you think of Lord Byron? —
Compared with Dr. Fuller, in his Holy War, Chapter XXX.
‘Grass springeth not where the grand signior setteth his foot.’ ”67
“Ah,” said the Doctor, “you are too inquisitive, and too hypercritical. ‘Grass springeth not where the grand Turk setteth his foot,’ and ‘where the spahi’s hoof has trod, there verdure flies the bloody sod,’ is the same thought expressed in different ways. One is a commonplace method of expressing a superstition common in the days of Fuller; the other a highly imaginative poetical paraphrase of Lord Byron.”
“But the thought was an accidental resemblance? eh, Doctor?”
Dr. Bushwhacker, whose nut-pick had been busily employed during this colloquy, and who had tasted successively the Sherry, the Old Port, and the Wanderer of 1822, now laid down the little steel implement, which, in his hand, looked very much like a dentist’s tooth filler, brushed the lint of the napkin off his lap, and rose. “You ask me too much,” he said. “You overburthen my mind with ridiculous questions, and expect me to find answers for all the quips and cranks of an erratic brain. Do you not know, sir, it is much easier to ask questions than to find answers for them? Good bye, sir; I wish you a very good day. My compliments to your good lady, who, I suppose, is asleep by this time. And a kiss for all the little ones, who, no doubt, are in the same happy condition. I am going, sir, to a country where there are no poets, nor philosophers, nor plagiarists, nor politicians. To-morrow I shall take a steamer for San Francisco, and from that place I shall go to our new 68 Russian American Possessions, among the Polar Bears, and the beauties of Arctic vegetation. Farewell! and perhaps you will never hear more of Dr. Bushwhacker.
NOTE. — After the Doctor had departed I found on my desk the following paper; which I recognized as being in his handwriting. As a literary curiosity, I have thought it worth preserving.