While on the lookout for dodgy historical goings-on for my quackery website, I discovered the following case of Victorian literary dishonesty that forms a salutary tale for the plagiarists of modern times.
Like many newspapers past and present, The Bristol Mercury ran a regular Poet's Corner. The quality of this was as variable as you can imagine, but in June 1872 it printed some poignant lines by one T. L. B. of Clifton Wood. Nature and Faith was purportedly written to commemorate someone's death in May of that year, and it began:
We wept – 'twas Nature wept – but Faith
Can pierce beyond the gloom of death
And in yon world so fair and bright
Behold thee in refulgent light;
We miss thee here, but Faith would rather
Know thou art with thy Heavenly Father.
Comforting words indeed, if you like that sort of thing. Unfortunately for T. L. B., bereaved people had been receiving this poem from sympathetic friends since its publication in The Floweret Gathered by Thomas Goodwin Hatchard fourteen years previously – and some of them were readers of the Bristol Mercury.
One correspondent politely suggested that the poet must have made some mistake, while another called his actions 'as flagrant an instance of literary fraud as I have ever met with.'
The best response, however, came from Poet's Corner regular W. H. Dowding, who addressed the hapless T. L. B. with lines that are still relevant to the problem of plagiarism today:
Oh! T. L. B., though to me you're a stranger,
Allow me to send you a rhyme, in my way,
To tell, that by actions like yours there is danger
Of losing all claim to the chaplet of bay;
If you had tarried for sober reflection,
Surely you would not have acted so wrong,
Plain common sense must have told you, detection
Would follow your fraudulent folly ere long.
Strive not the voice of your conscience to smother
Just for a few fleeting moments of fame.
Rob not the wreath from the brow of another,
Such a mean act is deserving of blame.
Beauty and truth shall flourish for ever,
Falsehood shall perish 'neath scorn and disdain;
Work, if you can, with an honest endeavour
Work, if you can, with your own pen and brain.