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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 46, November 12, 2006, Article 19

HORACE WALPOLE'S NUMISMATIC PLAGIARISM

While looking for other things I serendipitously stumbled across
a numismatic reference to Horace Walpole (coiner of the word
"serendipity"!).  An item about Walpole on the Twickenham Museum
web site indicates that he adapted one of his most celebrated
passages from Alexander Pope’s 1720 "Epistle To Mr Addison,
occasioned by his Dialogues on Medals."

"Horace Walpole wrote to his cousin Henry Conway on 8 June 1747,
shortly after he had taken possession of Strawberry Hill still
known then as ’Chopped Straw Hall’. He described the place and
the stream which ran through it in some detail as:

A small Euphrates through the piece is rold
And little finches wave their wings in gold.

(Note: Sometimes written as of gold when quoted by later writers.)

This romantic description, with its arcadian undertones, is often
taken as an example of Walpole’s facility for elegant description.
It is actually no more than an example of his tendency to plagiarise.
Walpole did not write the lines himself: they were adapted from
Alexander Pope’s Epistle To Mr Addison, occasioned by his Dialogues
on Medals and first published in 1720. This poem is about the images
of the departed Roman empire as depicted on ancient medals and coins:

Con vinc’d, she now contracts her vast design
And all her triumphs shrink into a coin:

The lines used by Walpole were extracted from a passage commemorating
the conquests of various Caesars in the region of the Rhine, the
Nile and the Euphrates Rivers:

The Medal, faithful to its charge of fame,
Thro' climes and ages bears each form and name:

Although set in the letter in a fashion suggesting that they
were a quotation, Walpole did not acknowledge that the lines
were Pope’s, on a totally different subject. He needed, too,
to alter what Pope had written, which was:

A small Euphrates through the piece is roll’d
And little Eagles wave their wings in gold.

without appreciating, or possibly caring, that Pope was
describing military victories struck (roll’d) on a gold coin
(piece), rather than a piece of land with its bird-life. Walpole
then had to convert imperial Roman eagles into finches.

Later in the same letter Walpole wrote that Pope's ghost is just
now skimming under the window by a most poetical moonlight.” Well
he might!"

To read the complete web page, see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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