Tag Archives: Plagiarism

A fascinating book catalogue of 1946

We found this rare and second hand book catalogue in our pile of ephemera the other day. It Elkin Matthews book catalogue 1946 001was issued by the well-established book dealer Elkin Mathews Ltd in July 1946, just a year or so after the close of the Second World War.


It is interesting in several respects—not least because it lists books from the libraries of ‘Stephen Hudson’, the novelist and patron of the arts whose real name was Sydney Schiff (1868 – 1944) ,the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, the acclaimed thriller writer Coulson Kernahan ( 1858 – 1943), the  fin de siecle writer Arthur Symons and Sir Hugh Walpole, the popular novelist and book collector. It is also revealing in that among the list of three directors published we find the name of Ian Fleming, who was to create James Bond a few years later. Fleming was a keen bibliophile, whose special interests included firsts of the most crucial works of modern civilisation (TV, atomic fission, birth control, motor cars and penicillin). One can imagine that before the list went out he would have selected several titles for his own collection.


Naturally, many of the items described in the catalogue are presentation copies from the authors and from friends and admirers; some contain pencilled annotations by the owners. For instance, at 4 guineas, a price which reflects the growing reputation of the author at this time, there is a copy of Betjeman’s exceedingly rare poetry pamphlet Sir John Piers (n.d.) with the poet’s corrections. Equally appealing and priced at 3 guineas is a first edition of Edward Dowson’s Decorations in Verse and Prose(1899) with a presentation inscription from Leonard Smithers to Arthur Symons: “ in memory of our friend the author “.


A number of the items listed had already been sold and this fact can be revealing.

For instance, an otherwise unremarkable copy of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel

(1927) was marked as sold, presumably because it came from the library of the popular philosopher C. E. M. Joad, at that time one of the most famous personalities on radio. He was, of course, much later on, prosecuted for fare evasion, an offence which effectively ended his career. Continue reading

Poets as plagiarists


clouston-pic-001The plagiarist today runs the risk of being sued by an artist, whether novelist, poet, composer or dramatist –or by the artist’s estate. However, in the case of poetry, it has always struck me how easy it must be for anyone entering a poetry competition to filch some particularly impressive lines from a forgotten slim volume or a short-lived little magazine. If the victim of the theft is dead there is only the slimmest possibility that the estate would discover it .

But when the theft is made from a comparatively obscure literary work many hundreds of years old and in another language the chances of the thief being detected in his or her lifetime are very thin indeed. Most literary thieves of this type are exposed many years after their own deaths. The whole issue is discussed in Literary Coincidences ( 1901) by W. A. Clouston, a folklorist and expert on oriental literature well qualified to address this matter.

One of the worst offenders seems to have been Lord Byron. In his Hebrew Melodies we find this first verse of ‘To a Lady Weeping ‘

‘I saw thee weep—the big bright tear

Came over that eye of blue;

And then methought it did appear

A violet dropping dew;’ Continue reading