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action is entirely changed. In the former case it is entirely honorable quotation, and in the other may be really invention, which the primary idea only served to suggest. Many brilliant passages in our best authors have originated in rude hints of their predecessors. The following lines from Dyer's Grongar Hill, will immediately recall to memory a more celebrated paragraph, in a later and a greater poet:
“As yon summits, soft and fair,
Clad in colors of the air,
Here distinctly lies the radical idea of the opening of the “ Pleasures of Hope ;” but how far inferior in the beauty of its development and associations.
“At summer eve, when Heaven's ethereal bow,
Spans with bright arch the glittering hills below,
In a little poem of Waller, addressed to a lady who had sung
for him one of his own songs, occurs the following stanza:
“ The eagle's fate and mine was one,
Who on the shaft that made him die,
Wherewith he wont to soar so high."
What is here only a puny conceit, has been improved into the most beautiful passage in the “ English Bards and Scotch Reviewers"—that on the death of Henry Kirk White:
“ 'Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
Many other such might be adduced, creditable alike to the original conceiver, and the more powerful mind which comprehended all their range and clothed them in beauty.
Again, imitation may follow the shape of a work, or the general tone and bearing of an author's ideas. When it descends to pursue all the windings of a tale, or a train of argumentation, so that the imitator as it were walks behind his model, stepping carefully in his footsteps, and following all his motions, it is called copying, and is to plagiarism as the whole is to the part. The copyist steals a whole plan, the plagiary, single ideas. The copyist is, however, commonly guilty of all the lowest forms of imitation, in addition to that which distinguishes himself.
When only the general tone and bearing of an author's ideas are seized upon as hints to something greater, or to a fuller or more beautiful development of the same, we may have derivative excellence of a high grade. This variety holds also the relation to the improvement of single ideas, that a whole has to its constituent parts. Imitation of this kind merits the highest approbation, and has been practiced by all the greatest improvers of art, as well as by reformers in morals and religion. Such imitators follow the spirit, and not the letter of their model; they follow him to the springs of inspiration, and there revealing richer sources for themselves, create entirely new works. Thus, Dante imitated Virgil, and produced such a poem as Virgil never conceived of. Thus, Burns imitated Ferguson, and Coleridge, Bowles, and each called into being a style of poetry, to which their models never dared aspire. Such imitation may be safely recommended. It is the steadiest and surest guide to original excellence, if pursued in connection with that faithful self-analysis, of which we have already spoken. Suppose for example, that after a careful examination of himself, in view of the pursuit, one decides upon the work of history. In accordance with this kind of imitation he would read various historians, for the purpose of observing their methods and spirit. He will compare their merits, and prefer the one who, on the whole, comes nearest to his own views of history. He will adopt a similar method in subordination to the requisitions of his own design, and the distinctive features of his own character. He will then read and re-read that author, until he has fully comprehended the spirit of his work, which he will analyse as if it were his own, rejecting what he thinks improper or at least unsuitable for himself and his design, and adopting, extending, and modifying what he finds appropriate to his purpose. He is thus guided by the hand of his predecessor a part of the way, and enabled to continue his advance where his guide can go no farther.
In a similar way may one proceed in the formation of style. Far from copying that of his master, he will criticise it, and distinguish carefully that which answers his own purpose from what does not: and in what he adopts, will introduce such modifications as to make it proper to himself, his object in working, and the general laws of composition directing his choice and discrimination. The advantage obtained in such a method is that which example possesses over bare precept, and is not only consistent with, but even conducive to the truest intellectual independence. It is a proper, a highly commendable use of the experience of our predecessors.
In concluding these remarks upon Originality and Imitation, I would remind the student that his praise will not be according to the greatness of his subject, but to his conception of it, and the merits of his execution. There is no need to transgress the bounds of native ability in order to find a subject capable of excellence. A horse, or a dog, by Landseer, is a greater work than a historical group by a middling hand: a bust from the chisel of Powers is worth more than many a full length statue: well written fiction will earn more fame, and do more good, than a poorly written history. Wolfe has won by one little song that universal praise which Joel Barlow failed to secure by an epic. Success is not always within command; but the most likely way to secure it is not by grasping at what already appears great, but by doing in the best manner what one is best qualified to do.