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Why Do We Quote?

Ruth Finnegan

II. Beyond the here and now

8. Controlling Quotation: The Regulation of Others’ Words and Voices

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The power of quotation is as dreadful a weapon as any which the human
intellect can forge
(John Jay Chapman)

How come stealing from one book is plagiarism, but stealing from many is research?

A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place
(George Washington Carver)

1Like any other human activity quoting is socially organised. The practices and ideologies surrounding its use have, as we have seen, been interwoven with changing preconceptions over who and what should be quoted, with the recognised but varying linguistic, visual or gestural signs for marking others’ words and voices, and with the particular selections of words for preservation and display across the centuries. They have linked too into the established resources and arrangements that have made possible the scintillating human artistries of quotations – pictorial, graphic and material as well as verbal – with their recurrent threads and their mutations over the years. Again and again the cases in this volume have illustrated what by now must seem a truism: that quotation, for all its importance, is no independent entity on its own but unavoidably intertwined with both the continuities and the changing specifics of human culture.

2Amidst this multicoloured variety quoting is often an applauded activity. But at the same time it can draw intense controversy, an aspect that needs to be confronted before we can conclude. Quoting is after all a risky undertaking. This was already clear in the comments of the British observers. Many approved of quotation in the right circumstances, but also described how people quoted to show off, to annoy others, or to make unjustified claims. Quoting could be pretentious and a way of excluding others, resented if used inappropriately or by unauthorised people, and to be condemned if merely ’parroting’ others or making free with what belonged to someone else. ’Plagiarism’ above all was denounced in the strongest terms, seen as a serious menace above all in this age of the internet.

3There is a long background to such ambivalence. Quoting has indeed been turned to valued purposes in many situations. People have used quotation to create beautiful literature, gathered wise and lovely sayings from the past, commented with insight or humour on the human condition – or on their fellows – and engaged reflectively in the processes of human living. But it also has an ambiguous side, and quoting and quotation have long been surrounded by doubts and restrictions. The terms surrounding quoting in Fig. 7.3 include negative notions like regurgitation, copying, plagiarism and theft, or two-sided ones like appropriation, imitation or collage, and for centuries individuals have brought out the dark as well as the bright side of repeating others’ words. ’A fine quotation’, it is said, ’is a diamond on the finger of a man of wit, and a pebble in the hand of a fool’ (Joseph Roux), and Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey famously opines that ’A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought’ even while lavishly continuing to use them. Ralph Waldo Emerson not only expatiated eloquently on quotation but also asserted roundly that ’Quotation confesses inferiority’ (1876: 167), and among linguists and philosophers quoting has been dubbed ’a somewhat shady device’ (Davidson 2001: 79).

4Even quotations collections and their users can be ambivalent. The prefaces to Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations described in Chapter 5 noted that quoting could be a way of showing off, and commented on people’s over-use of quotation in earlier periods, their ’Affectation… carried to a most ridiculous Extreme’ (Macdonnel 1797: iii, also later editions). A similar sentiment comes through in a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the 2004 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: ’Good news for show-offs, poseurs, pseuds, hams, smarty pants and swanks’ (The Observer, September 19, 2004) – a judgement that not a few might support. A potential reader responds to a survey on quotations dictionaries with ’I like to sound more erudite than I really am… corny I know, even dishonest but it works’, and another accepts that

using quotations in speeches is a very risky business. If they show the history of an idea, fair enough. If they are used because the speaker has not troubled to be creative in his or her own right it is fairly poor form
(OUP survey 2006).

5Plundering others’ words without attribution is widely condemned: hence the counter-intuitive impact of shocking-sounding sentiments like Anatole France’s much-quoted ’When a thing has been said and well said, have no scruple: take it and copy it’.

6Quoting is indubitably a powerful human activity, and has in fact long been treated as something with the potential of being used to bad no less than good purpose. Verbal expression is itself already a mighty force in human interaction – and for that very reason subject to social regulation – but to this is added the further weight of another’s voice and words. So it is scarcely surprising that the human propensity to quote is matched by a propensity to regulate and restrict it.

7So much may already be obvious from preceding chapters. But here let me touch more directly on a few aspects of this large and somewhat controversial subject. Like other strong forces in social life quoting and quotation cannot be left unfettered, and through the ages have been subject to a plethora of social, ethical, aesthetic and legal constraints.

8.1. Who plants and guards the flowers? Imitation, authorship and plagiarism

8One obvious form of control is guarding someone’s compositions from being quoted illicitly by others. This is not the only arena for the regulation of quoting nor, as sometimes supposed, is it simply a question of authorial rights or of fully settled agreement. But it has its own importance and we can start from that.

9Here it is a matter not of just any words, but of words regarded as having been gathered together with a degree of art or wisdom, falling within genres classed as in some sense marked and deliberate compositions, characterised by some recognised aesthetic, intellectual and/or monetary value and linked to some particular author or authority. Such classifications have of course varied in different cultural situations; but it is striking how often apparently illicit quotations from certain verbal compositions have been condemned. The history of literature is strewn with accusations of wrongful quoting, often seen as the theft or counterfeiting of others’ words. Classical Greek and Latin authors were accused of stealing other writers’ glory by imitating them too closely, while more recent centuries have seen allegations of unattributed copying against innumerable authors, from the Renaissance dramatist Ben Jonson or Scotland’s famous nineteenth-century bard Robbie Burns (Fig. 8.1) to leading politicians of today. Charges – and rebuttals – of plagiarism have been raised about such well-known figures as, among many others, Milton, Pope, Tennyson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Laurence Sterne, Edgar Allen Poe, Helen Keller, Bob Dylan, or Martin Luther King. Shakespeare too has come in for his share (’All he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations’ supposedly said the American critic H. L. Mencken) and it is nowadays almost a modern industry to attack contemporary novelists and historians for silently incorporating others’ words into their texts. Whether in manuscript culture, printed books, electronic communication or even the spoken word there has been recurrent concern about someone’s verbal compositions being repeated in whole or in part by those unauthorised to do so.

Fig. 8.1 ’In Defence of Robert Burns. The Charge of Plagiarism Confuted’, Sydney, 1901.
One of the published defences of well-known authors against charges of plagiarism (© The British Library Board, YA.1995.a.20492)

10Today we are familiar with the idea of authors’ control over their works as being enshrined in the laws of copyright and intellectual property by which authors broadly have the legal right, with some fairly minor exceptions, to prevent others from copying and quoting their words. These are treated as privately owned property which cannot be freely used by others, underpinning the widely-held notion of original works as the creations of individual authors whose rights to limit their quotation by others are indisputable.

  • 1 The continuing debates on ’authorship’, ’plagiarism’ and restrictions on quotation span a wide are (...)

11But this is only one way in which quoting can be curbed and control over quotable text established. The differing views and practices of literary creation in Western European history illustrate some of the variations in the concept of authorship and in the sanctions against the repetition of others’ compositions, intermeshed as these have been with changing literary theories, aesthetic judgements, educational practice, printers and sellers of books, forms of transmission, and governing authority. This is an elusive and controversial topic – predictably so given the complex issues surrounding anything to do with quoting – but a brief retrospect can put current arrangements and debates into some perspective.1

12Individual authorship was recognised in classical Greece and Rome and literary compositions, especially poetry, praised for being original. But this also went along with admiration for imitation in the form of combining and re-using pre-existing material by earlier great authors. The image was of a common literary and intellectual inheritance open for recycling: a spring from which authors could draw water and convert it to their own use. Writing on untried and unsung themes – unwary independent fabrication – risked failure while judicious borrowing from revered literary ancestors was to be praised. The capacity to gain inspiration from the authorities and models of the past was admired – a kind of divine ’effluence’ as Longinus’ famous later work on elevated style was to put it (On the Sublime, Chapters Lessig 2004, Loewenstein 2002, MacQueen and Waelde 2004, Patterson 1968, Petley 2009, Sherman and Strowel 1994, Vaver and Bently 2004, Verma and Mittal 2004. 13-14); earlier too Plato had pictured the poet’s ’divine inspiration and possession’ as linked into a vast chain of previous poets in a series, as it were, of magnetic rings suspended from each other and, ultimately, from the Muses (Plato, Ion). Classical writers thus took pride in acknowledging their models and sources. Roman literature included many reproductions of Greek classics in close Latin translation, Virgil drew directly on Homer and Theocritus, and the Latin playwright Terence was one of several who recycled earlier Greek comedies. In combining many Greek plays into a few Latin ones, he wrote, he was following ’the example of good poets’ and thus considered it allowable ’to do what they have done’ (Terence, Prologue to Heautontimorumenos (The self-tormentor), transl. Riley 1896: 136-7).

13But mere word-for-word reproduction was not enough for literary acclaim. Good authors were expected to improve and reinterpret what they borrowed and many writers correspondingly made a point of asserting their own claims to originality. A distinction was made – at least by some – between laudable imitation and servile copying, the latter regarded as a form of theft, the more so if failing to acknowledge the source. Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs staged a mock encounter between the tragedians Aeschylus and Euripides in the fifth century BC where the latter was charged, perhaps credibly in the audience’s eyes, of wholesale plundering from others. Aristophanes in his turn was accused of quoting extensively from earlier comedies, and historians and philosophers too incurred the charge of thievishly appropriating others’ material for their own works. It was in the first century AD, when books were increasingly on sale, that a Latin poet, Martial, apparently first used the term plagiarius (’a kidnapper’) in the sense of a literary thief - the long-ago root of our modern ’plagiarism’.

  • 2 On classical authorship see specially Conte 1986, Conte and Most 2003, Putnam 1894, Silk 2003, Whi (...)

14But if classical antiquity was marked by charges of inappropriate and over-extensive quoting from others’ words this was on different lines from the later ideas of property, of publishers’ rights, or of monetary recompense. The controls lay in aesthetic and ethical judgements and, amidst the rivalry for honours, in the important issue of an author’s reputation. Those reckoned to be slavishly derivative copiers were liable not to a legal judgement initiated by an author, but to ridicule and contempt.2

15In the mediaeval period the classical balance between originality and imitation tipped more towards the latter. There was overwhelming reverence for auctoritas, ’authority’. What mattered were quotations from revered ancient works (auctoritates), above all from the divinely-inspired Bible and the church fathers. The old and established authorities were to be mined and re-assembled into new works, and creativity rested not on individual innovation but on the discovery of some truth already there and incorporated into your own text. As Chaucer had it in the fourteenth century:

Out of olde feldes, as men seyth,
Cometh all this newe corn from yer to yere,
And out of old bokes, in good feyth,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, lines 22-5).

16Books of approved excerpts circulated, like Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum or the many florilegia collections (see Chapter 5), as did commentaries on quotations from scriptural or other authoritative sources. Though the outlook was of course far from uniform and there were changes over time, in general there was less concern with individual human authors. Authorship was rooted in read and memorised texts from the venerable authorities, assembled together as a bee does when gathering nectar from many flowers and processing it into a single honey - a common image. Annexing others’ words accorded with the medieval idea, as Mary Carruthers summarises it, of ’making present the voices of what is past, not to entomb either the past or the present, but to give them life together in a place common to both in memory’ (Carruthers 1990: 260).

17But at the same time only certain voices predominated. Some of those accepted as the great writers of antiquity did indeed have a place – moralised to fit Christian viewpoints – but generally set lower in the hierarchy than scriptural texts or the writings of the saints and fathers. Their availability and direct reproduction furthermore were largely limited to the restricted numbers of those trained and authorised to directly engage with them. In this sense the quoting of others’ words and voices did indeed operate under restraints.

18Erasmus and other sixteenth century humanists were circumventing some of these limitations by circulating and validating a wider range of quotations. Pagan authors previously down-graded in the emphasis on Christian authorities and known only to a small number of elite scholars were to be brought forward to a wider readership. Not that all of Erasmus’ contemporaries agreed: one friend marked this widening scope by commenting negatively that ’everything is now becoming public property from which scholars hitherto had been able to secure the admiration of the common people’ (Erasmus Adages II i 1, CWE Vol. 33: 15).

19Ancient models were still admired. Sixteenth-century writers like Tasso reproduced extensive quotations from the acclaimed Greek, Latin and Italian poets, writers in England and France praised imitation of earlier great authors, and historians wove unattributed passages from classical writers into their narratives. Commonplace books were composed from multiple sources, with malleable texts and attributions intermixed with the compilers’ own inserts, and poets borrowed not only subject matter but exact wording from their predecessors. The classical concept of literature as a mine from which all writers could retrieve treasure continued. Indeed, as we saw in Chapter 4, up until the eighteenth century quotation marks could still signal passages accepted as common property for others to use, a contrast to their later function of fencing individually-owned words. For long it remained admirable to copy ancient authors, even without attribution. The eighteenth-century novelist Henry Fielding warded off charges of plagiarism in his Tom Jones on the grounds that ’The Antients [are] a rich Common, where every Person who hath the smallest Tenement in Parnassus, hath a free Right to fatten his Muse’, adding that he had not stolen from living authors (’we Moderns’) as that would be ’highly criminal and indecent’ (Fielding 2005: 546).

20But if the notion of imitation remained central in early Renaissance literary theory, and to an extent in later years too, there was increasing discussion of its nature and limits. Erasmus recommended

imitation which does not immediately incorporate into its own speech any nice little feature it comes across, but transmits it to the mind for inward digestion, so that becoming part of your own system, it gives the impression not of something begged from someone else, but of something that springs from your own mental processes
(Erasmus Ciceronianus, CWE Vol. 28: 441).

21Writers were praised for their individualised transformation of imitated material, and adverse criticisms about appropriation of others’ material began to circulate, expressed in such metaphors as ’robbing the hive’, ’gleaning by stealth’, ’stolen goods’, ’stolen feathers’, a ’pickpurse of others’ wit’, ’gathered out of other men’s gardens’, or ’flying with others’ wings’. John Hooper’s elaboration of ’Thou shalt not steal’ in his Declaration of the Ten Holy Commaundementes of Allmygthye God in 1549 revived Martial’s term for literary theft:

Here is forbidden also… the diminution of any man’s fame; as when for vain glory any man attributes unto himself the wit or learning that another brain hath brought forth… This offence Mart[ial] III. calleth plagium… speaking of him that stole his books (Hooper 1549, in Carr 1843: 393).

22The term ’plagiary’, anglicised from Martial’s Latin, came into circulation, at first as an adjective and in time for a person who pillaged another’s work by verbatim repetition, especially if concealing the source. Feuding writers attacked each others’ compositions and defended their own accomplishments and reputations.

23The concept of authors as living human writers with an interest in actively restricting the unauthorised repetition of their personal compositions was increasingly emerging. The dates of these developments remain controversial, but certainly charges and rebuttals of plagiarism became frequent, constantly circulating among writers – an apt context for the seventeenth-century Samuel Butler’s entertaining mock-defence of ’Plagiary Privateers’ who ’make free Prize of what they please’:

Why should those, who pick and choose
The best of all the best compose,
And join it by Mosaic Art,
In graceful Order, Part by Part,
To make the whole in Beauty suit,
Not Merit as complete Repute
As those, who with less Art and Pains
Can do it with their native Brains?
(from Samuel Butler ’Satyr upon plagiaries’, in Lamar 1928: 63, 65).

24By the eighteenth century a profession of writer was becoming established, with entrepreneurial authors competing in an expanding literary marketplace and keen to restrict others’ appropriation of their ideas and words. Another dimension was also coming into play: the mystique of the solitary introspective genius producing something that had never existed before. This was not the only view, and different genres to an extent involved different models of authorship. But the romantic image came to have a wide influence: the writer seen as self-inspired rather than imitating others, with a seemingly intrinsic right to prohibit quotation of their original and uniquely created works.

25Yet another strand in the mix came from the developing concepts of copyright. The initial forms were not in fact directed to authorial rights, and in practice copyright legislation took many twists and turns over the centuries – it was far from the smooth logical process towards some natural state of full authors’ rights that is sometimes pictured. In time however it developed in such a way that authors came to have some legal entitlement, if still in somewhat confused and even contradictory ways, to prevent their works from being extensively quoted by others. By now authors generally have some right during specified and quite lengthy periods to prevent their words (with certain allowed exceptions) from being quoted without acknowledgement, explicit permission, and in some cases payment. Recognised authors are treated as economic owners of their works with the right to profit from this personal property. Quoting does not run free but has in this context been brought into the marketplace, subjected to control by authors and publishers, and backed by law.

  • 3 There is an extensive – if controversial – literature on quoting among students and others from va (...)

26This may all seem by now well-settled, rooted in the notion of the independent solo author who through some inevitable teleological development is now rightly established as the owner of the words he or she has created. This indeed is currently one important basis for the control of quoting. But as must be clear from even this brief sketch, these arrangements are neither immutable nor unquestioned. Indeed both the present system and the apparently established image of authorship are now subject to sharp debate. Some argue that the current constraints on quoting others’ words are not only confused but too restrictive and costly and, especially in this age of technological fluidity, need to be loosened. More radically, it has been urged that notions both of the single autonomous author and of words as personal and commercially valuable property belong only to one phase in history. Differing assumptions within contrasting educational systems both within and between cultures also undermine – or at least question - apparently selfevident ideas of how quotation and author attribution should be deployed.3Nor do all authors themselves necessarily eulogise the unaided solo creator, a reaction well expressed by Bertolt Brecht’s fictional Herr Keuchner as he mocks writers’ claims to ’write great books all on their own’ where

thoughts are only manufactured in single-person workshops… [so] no thought is pick-up-able and no formulation of thought is quotable. All those writers, how little their activity requires! A pen and some paper is all they have to show! And unassisted, only with the meagre material that a single person can carry in bare arms, they put up their cottages! They know no greater buildings than those which one person alone is capable of building!
(Brecht 1995: 441, transl. Cheesman 2007).

27Further, the actual practices of written composition are more diverse than the autonomous-author image would imply. The romantic paradigm has arguably obscured the fact that in many contexts both nowadays and in the past collaborative writing has been as common as creation by a single individual. We see many cases of texts produced without clearly defined authors, of small-group collaborative writing projects, and of the incorporation of peer reviewers’ comments into finished texts with little or no direct signalling of their detailed provenance. Here the controls lie more in informally exerted colleaguely co-construction and the expected conventions of particular written genres than in individual authorial prohibitions.

28Challenge to the image of autonomous authors has also been promoted by poststructuralist perspectives, destabilising the individual authorial image and positing the impossibility of any true originality. The appropriation of pre-existing words here emerges not as some negative act of plagiarism that demands control but an on-going and necessary process by which texts feed unceasingly on the circulation and recirculation of words. Since in a way all is therefore quotation, controlling quotation becomes neither desirable nor, ultimately, possible. Such analyses remain controversial but deconstruction of the concepts of authorship and of plagiarism have undoubtedly helped to highlight the complexities and cultural variability of ideologies of literary creativity and reproduction – and, hence, of quoting and the way that it can or should be regulated.

29Added to this, the public space of the internet is now raising new issues about authorship and of what it means to create a work in this arena. The increasing experience of interactive and collaborative creativity on the web undermines the concept of an individual owning words and preventing their re-use by others, while the ’open source’ and ’copyleft’ movements challenge the restrictions of copyright and encourage the free usage, sharing, and joint creation and re-creation of material. In electronic settings texts also have a fluidity not found in hard-copy print, facilitating the free importation and interchange of verbal passages from one site to another. Where the signalling of quotation is thought important, as in the many ’quotations’ collections and excerpts from classic texts, this can indeed be conveyed by web-based visual signals. But equally passages that in traditional print are conventionally marked as quoted can now be merged seamlessly during the dynamic process of soft text creation.

30With this background the control of quotation is a highly topical and contentious issue. For some the new technologies represent a great new opportunity for free quoting, breaking the stranglehold of authorial and publisher restrictions. For others they portend piracy and plagiarism, undermining the established rights of authors or, alternatively, feared as presaging fierce new controls over people’s words. No doubt such debates will continue, as will the passions they arouse, for the traditional print system with its conventions for attributing authorship is arguably now being supplemented as both old and new texts are reproduced and manipulated with freedoms – and perhaps constraints – not available before.

31None of this has broken totally with established conceptions, vague and muddled as they sometimes are. There are still prevailing ideologies and institutional arrangements which support individual authors’ rights to control the quoting of their words by other people. Copyright clearances continue, teachers lecture their students about quote marks and citations, publishers enforce their house styles for presenting quoted passages, authors’ names are attached to publications, and they and their publishers are prepared to pursue charges for copyright infringements. Authors and print publishers fight for their traditional rights even amidst the changing communication media.And now as in the past huge numbers of printed volumes of excerpts, collections and anthologies circulate, working within the carrots and sticks of modern legislative and social arrangements. But the concept of an author and of his or her rights to guard their words against quotation by others is indeed now turning out more debatable than appeared at first sight and will without doubt continue to attract controversy. Just who plants and guards the flowers that might or might not be plucked by others remains a complex – and changing – question that includes, but is by no means confined to, to the constraints of legally enforceable copyright.

8.2. Constraining and allowing quotation: flower or weed?

32The regulation of quoting extends into other areas too, shaped by many processes and interested parties, not all obvious on the surface. For it rests not just on formal prohibition but also on socially prescribed expectation, often taken for granted rather than explicitly articulated.

33One point that does emerge immediately is that quoting is liable to get caught up in the ways that at given times and places people’s words are curbed by those with the desire and power to do so. What we now think of as copyright law began, after all, not from authors’ rights but from the concern of ecclesiastical and state authorities to maintain control in the early days of print, and early legislation was intertwined not only with the interests of printers and booksellers but also, notably, with the censorship of the press. In England the crown granted exclusive licences to selected printers to print and distribute books so that the monarch could prohibit the circulation of ’naughty printed books’ (Fig. 8.2). Here was an effective way of preventing the reproduction of passages seen as heretical, seditious, foreign, inimical to established opinion, or generally unwelcome. The licensed printers policed the gates on behalf of authority and offending books could be seized and burned.

Fig. 8.2 King Henry VIII’s Proclamation prohibiting unlicensed printing, London, 1538.
Regarded as one of the key documents in early copyright history this prohibited the printing of any book in English without the express approval of the king through his Privy Council (as reproduced in Hughes and Larkin 1964: 270)

Fig. 8.3 The Roman Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, Rome, 1559.
The list was produced in successive editions from the sixteenth to the midtwentieth century. This shows the title page and start of the list in the pocket edition published in 1559. Inside are 65 closely packed pages of prohibited authors and titles, in alphabetical order
(Reproduced by permission from Houghton Library facsimile reprint, 1980, *93HR-7045, Houghton Library, Harvard University)

34The interest of those in power in restricting the repetition of certain words and voices is to be found worldwide, at many levels, and across many settings. Censorship of written and at times spoken material has recurred through the centuries, exercised in various periods and contexts by – among others – church, state, local magistrates, publishers, political parties, universities, schools, and parents, one famed example being the Catholic Church’s centuries-long ’Index of Prohibited Books’ (Fig. 8.3).

  • 4 For some recent overviews and references on censorship and the destruction of books see Baez 2008, (...)

35The aims have been, variously, to control the reproduction and circulation of material labelled as seditious, scandalous, heretical, defamatory, malicious, inciting violence, immoral, unpatriotic, blasphemous, insolent, or in some other way objectionable to current authority. Such prohibitions do not always work out as intended by the censors, of course, for the result can be active protest, precisely through quotation of the forbidden books. But they can be effective both in direct prevention and in encouraging a climate of self-censorship in people’s choice of quotable material. Another factor has been the widespread destruction of written records over the ages, from the clay tablets of Sumer or the book burning of ancient China, to the mass destruction of books during the Spanish Inquisition or the loss of libraries in the wars of recent times: whether accidental or, in a surprising number of cases, through deliberate and systematic suppression, such actions have been prevalent for millennia. Though not specifically directed against quoting as such, restrictions through censorship and destruction do indeed serve indirectly to silence certain voices and constrain the scope for the active repetition of certain words, often with far-reaching implications for shaping what can in practice be quoted and from what sources.4

36Common too has been the urge to prevent people from acquiring additional and notionally unearned status by invoking someone else’s voice. Assuming another’s authority by repeating their words or taking over their voice unregulated can be fraught with danger unless carefully managed: speaking beyond your expected station – a kind of impersonation – can unsettle the established order. Whether such actions are controlled by overt regulation or rely on unspoken convention depends on the setting and on who and what is involved – a matter again not of universal rights but of social definitions and expectations. Some quoters are indeed authorised to do so – but on conditions, and ruled by locally sanctioned norms. Thus the Akan Speaker in Ghana was subject to stringent personal requirements. In that his function was to speak the words of the chief he had to be ’the quintessence of moral virtues: sincerity, loyalty, probity, and selfless devotion should guide his behaviour at all times’. This was reinforced by a solemn oath carrying fatal consequences if violated (Yankah 1995: 85, 92). Similarly modern politicians taking it on themselves to speak on behalf of their party can be subjected to disciplining or public outcry if they do so without prior approval, while journalists misquoting those they report sometimes escape unscathed but can also be subject to protests from the original speakers, the need for public apology, even legal proceedings. To claim to quote God or speak in his name is regarded with special seriousness. One of the Bible’s famous Ten Commandments (inscribed high on the Dartmoor moors in Fig. 7.2) forbids ’taking God’s name in vain’. ’False prophets’ claiming to speak ’the words of the Lord’ are threatened with the wrath of God, and those wrongly prophesying in Jesus’ name are to be cast out (Matthew 7: 23). The authorised relaying of divine words from a spirit or deity is not open to just anyone. Preachers, prophets and diviners are regularly expected to be validated by, for example, lengthy specialist training or hereditary status, or, alternatively, the support of approving followers or a shared belief in spirit possession or divine inspiration. Purporting to speak the words of God or to take on a voice from the spirit world is imbued with danger and hedged with controls.

37Who is using others’ words and voices is another recurrent thread. Some people are freer to use quotations – or to quote in particular ways – than are others. In certain roles they may be expected to quote, perhaps indeed feel pressurised to do so. Recall the neat, if joking, summary by one of the British commentators that

Generally speaking, the only people who should be allowed to quote
are: Politicians…
Press officers
Newspaper columnists
Any embroiderer looking for a text for a sampler
And that’s about it (MO/R1760).

Fig. 8.4 Gibbon accused of misquotation and plagiarism. London 1778.
Henry Edwards Davis, An Examination of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of Mr Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in which his View of the Christian Religion is shewn to be founded on the MISREPRESENTATION of the AUTHORS he cites AND Numerous Instances of his INACCURACY and PLAGIARISM are produced, London, 1778 (© The British Library Board, T.1948.(1.))

38Those from particular social categories may be discouraged, even banned, from certain forms of quoting, even while others are applauded for doing so, the key issue often being the quoter’s age, status, educational stage, or religious attainment. A Shokleng Indian myth in Southern Brazil for instance is repeated only by the elders: ’young men would never think of telling this myth’ (Urban 1984: 325). In Akan tradition, elders quoted proverbs readily while for others it was acceptable to do so among your peers or to someone younger or socially subordinate; but if speaking to someone superior a young man had to either qualify his proverb use carefully or omit it altogether (Yankah 1989: 107) – reminiscent of Aristotle’s reported comment that ’It is unbecoming for young men to utter maxims’. In a weaker form, but still noticeable, was the assumption among British commentators that it was natural for teachers, parents and those in authority to quote proverbs at those beneath them, whereas children, though by no means forbidden to quote proverbs, were not so readily expected to do so. Similarly in the current worries about free access to quoting through the web it is the activities not of scholars but of ’teenagers’ and ’students’ that are most vociferously condemned (by their elders) as piracy. The initiated – the members of your in-group - are differently assessed, indeed quite likely to acquire attention and admiration for their quoting. Thus work produced by favoured colleagues, even if partly arising from cobbling together previous writing, is more likely to be assessed as ’research’ than dismissed as ’plagiarism’.

39On the same lines writers are more often denounced for wrongful quoting by people unsympathetic to their views. It was his political opponents who initiated the attack on Joe Biden for copying a speech from the British Labour leader Neil Kinnock, eventuating in his withdrawal from the 1988 US Presidential campaign. Two centuries earlier Edward Gibbon, author of the exhaustively documented eighteenth-century History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was accused of plagiarism and misquotation, and his work in some countries banned – the charges coming, significantly, from clerics incensed by his alleged hostility to the Christian church, notably Henry Davis’ acrimonious and persistent attacks (Fig. 8.4). Or again, today’s postmodernist writers asserting the right to extensive ’appropriation’ of others’ words are encouraged by some as innovative and creative, but liable to be censured for wholesale flouting of the proper rules of quotation by those who disagree with them. Here as so often the judgement of quoting – and its attempted regulation – is a matter not of objective measurement but of social relationships.

40Writers with the reputation of ’great’ (in certain eyes at least) are in the same way often treated as free from the restrictions exercised over others. Unlike ’lesser’ authors their writing is labelled creative and authentic, even if incorporating lengthy quotations without attribution. There are countless remarks to this effect. Dryden wrote of Ben Jonson that ’He invades Authours like a Monarch, and what would be theft in other Poets is onely victory in him’ (An Essay of Dramatick Poesie, in Monk 1971: 57), and T. S. Eliot was explicit with his ’Bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different’ (Eliot 1921: 114). Browning’s retort on hearing that Tennyson was suspected of plagiarism was apparently ’Why, you might as well suspect the Rothschilds of picking pockets’ (Tennyson 1897 Vol. 2: 204), just as the question of whether or not Coleridge was guilty of plagiarism seems to depend less on analysing his practice than on judgements of the value of his writing (he himself famously saw ’truth as a divine ventriloquist: I care not from whose mouth the sounds are supposed to proceed, if only the words are audible and intelligible’ (Coleridge in Engell and Bate 1983: 164)), Ralph Waldo Emerson claims, with only a little exaggeration, that ’It has come to be practically a sort of rule in literature, that a man having once shown himself capable of original writing, is entitled thenceforth to steal from the writings of others at discretion’ (Emerson 1904: 15) or, more briefly, ’genius borrows nobly’ (Emerson 1876: 170), and it could be summarily asserted in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1863 that

Little wits that plagiarise are but pickpockets; great wits that plagiarise are conquerors. One does not cry ’Stop thief!’ to Alexander the Great when he adds to the heritage of Macedon the realms of Asia; one does not cry ’Plagiarist!’ to Shakespeare when we discover the novel from which he borrowed a plot (Anon 1863: 279).

  • 5 For example Angélil-Carter 2000, Havilland and Mullen 1999, Howard 1999.

41That controls over quoting are tied to particular participants is also illustrated in the current denunciations of student plagiarism. It is those in power – the teachers and university authorities – who define not just how quotation should be regulated and presented but also, crucially, in whose hands it counts as reprehensible. Some see something of a paradox here: that students, like their teachers, are encouraged to quote earlier authors from the established canon of knowledge but when they do so risk being berated for plagiarism. A number of studies have now traced how writing processes recognised as normal academic cooperation when by accredited academics are labelled as plagiarism, cheating or collusion when by students: they have not yet traversed the qualifying rites of passage and are still classed as subordinate apprentices.5

42Conventions about appropriate settings are another way of managing quotation. Whether or not it is approved depends on the situation, the audience and how or why it is done. Biblical quotation may be excellent in itself – but not necessarily commended in every context: ’The devil’, remember, ’can cite Scripture for his purpose’. The British commentators instanced how quoting that might be fine in the right conditions could offend or bore in the wrong. Quoting a proverb like ’Pride goes before a fall’, innocuous in itself, would in certain circumstances best be avoided. Or again

My son-in-law would… quote Shelley to an overburdened checkout assistant, and not realise he’d said a word out of place. One of our local characters a retired school-mistress/genius regularly lapses into exquisitely pronounced French or mediaeval verse in totally inappropriate settings, eliciting exasperation all round (MO/N1592).

43Others observed that in-group quoting should be limited to settings within their own circle, or were themselves having to curb an inclination to quote classic writers when amongst people unsympathetic to such literature for fear of being considered pretentious. Kellett similarly stressed the importance of choosing the right circumstances and knowing your audience: even in the 1930s there were times, he accepted, when it was better not to over-emphasise antiquity or have too many allusions (Kellett 1933: 9ff.). And we doubtless all recognise that certain stories, songs or jokes, however well-worn in some situations, should not be quoted in others. The problem is not quoting ’out of context’ in the sense in which this phrase is sometimes used – of misapplying some originallyintended meaning – but of quoting to an unreceptive audience and in unsuitable circumstances.

44This leads on to the question of who can be quoted. Here is another focus for regulation. Not just in the past but in more recent years too quoting the words of certain people has been discouraged, even prohibited outright – in certain circles or contexts at any rate – or judged as only repeatable if safeguarded by disclaimers. Like other powerful activities, quotation can be explosive. In Brendan Francis’s vivid image, ’A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority’, and a British observer similarly noted that quotations ’give authority to personal opinions. Perhaps this is the point of all quoting: we are involving someone else to back us up’ (MO/B3227). But if this ’authority’ is suspect, dangerous, or offensive, so then, doubly, is its quotation. Hence the distrust and sometimes outright legal ban on quoting the words of, say, Adolf Hitler, heretical preachers, rabble rousers, or even, at one point, unapproved translators of the Bible with their perceived threat to the established order. The Catholic Church’s Index of prohibited books and authors (Fig. 8.3) is an extreme example but in more general terms has had many parallels. Quotations have similarly been discouraged if originating from people deemed to fall into such categories (at various periods) as foreigners, infidels, anarchists, Jews, communists, witch-hunters, agitators or (to take some recent examples) holocaust-deniers, hate-preaching imams, or those labelled ’homophobes’, ’neo-Nazis’, ’racists’ or ’terrorists’.

45Other individuals are, by contrast, widely quoted, sometimes among specific groups at particular times, sometimes over centuries and nearworldwide. Confucius, Shakespeare, Mao, Churchill, Roosevelt, Marx or, in earlier times and to an extent now too, St Augustine, Cicero, Virgil or Plato – these are among the personages widely acclaimed as quotable. After all, ’People will accept your ideas much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first’ as David Comins put it, and, depending of course on the particular situation, it always sounds acceptable to attribute a quotation to, say, Gandhi, Aristotle, Mark Twain, or, of course – and specially in memorial or family occasions - ’my grandmother’. Oscar Wilde is another such, nicely captured in Dorothy Parker’s:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it
(Parker 1928: 30).

46And then there is what Nigel Rees nicely calls ’Churchillian Drift’:

Whereas quotations with an apothegmatic feel are normally ascribed to Shaw, those with a more grandiose or belligerent tone are, as if by osmosis, credited to Churchill. All humorous remarks obviously made by a female originated, of course, with Dorothy Parker. All quotations in translation, on the other hand, should be attributed to Goethe (with ’I think’ obligatory) (Rees 1994: x).

47It is striking how readily certain revered personages have attracted quotations to themselves. We have all doubtless encountered claims like ’My mother always said…’, or ’To quote my late boss…’ without necessarily taking them too literally. For personages in the public domain it goes further. The evocative ’If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’, regularly ascribed to Isaac Newton, had notable precursors in ancient sources (unpacked in Merton 1965), just as many of Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorisms were lifted from others: ’The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ had already been said in more or less the same words by Montaigne in 1580, Francis Bacon in 1623, the Duke of Wellington in 1832 and Thoreau in 1851 (Pennycock 1996: 208). Such ’misattributions’ will no doubt continue to circulate. They are what these personalities might have said, and there is something appealing about crediting to some named hero sayings that have rung down the ages. They are the personalities – iconic quoters – who par excellence are categorised as authorised vehicles of quotation.

48It is not just individuals however. The customary sources for quoting, for all their striking continuities, have also mutated over the years, bringing with them implicit but nonetheless influential expectations about whom it is and is not welcome to quote. In the appropriate settings and genres – and especially in formal educational and literary contexts – certain writers are at any given time put forward as self-evidently approved founts for quotation. In earlier Christian centuries, as we have seen, it was biblical sources and church authorities, later amplified by quotations from Greek and Latin antiquity. Long a major source for quoting, they too in time lost their dominant position. The prefaces to Macdonnel’s quotation collections are again informative. In 1826 the editor noted that the obligatory Latin quotations of earlier periods were no longer so fashionable – though he did in fact still include many – and cited a ’modern writer’ to the tune that ’We are now freed from the yoke of pedantry, and a man may say that Envy is a tormenting passion, and love an agreeable one, without quoting OVID or SENECA to prove it’ (Macdonnel 1826: iv). Earlier too he had put forward the same position:

Why should we speak in a less intelligible Language, what may, as pertinently and justly, be expressed in our own? It is with Reason then, that, in our Days, a Man is no more reputed a Scholar for quoting Homer and Virgil, than he would be esteemed a Man of Morals for reading Tully and Seneca
(Richard Steele as quoted in Macdonnel 1798: iv).

49The successive editions of the established dictionaries of quotations in recent decades reflect similar continuities – and changes. Older ’classic’ quotations continue to a remarkable degree, often nowadays in translation (though some Latin originals are notably hardy), but increasingly there is room for more topical quotations from a selection of (mostly) well-known politicians, media performers and celebrities. These too have joined the ranks of quotable sources in prominently published collections.

50And then there are the changing views of where and how far spoken words are treated as acceptable founts of quotation. In some settings clearly they are, most obviously in everyday conversation or when attributed to some famous figure. But there have also been shifts over how far quotations originating (or thought to have originated) in the spoken word have been admitted into the written genres of intellectual culture, well charted in the history of the novel and still a point of controversy in more recent times. The Irish playwright J. M. Synge’s incorporation of stories and expressions from the Aran islanders in his plays elicited disputes over whether or not these were ’quotations’ and how, therefore, his usage should be judged. Here as elsewhere passages which might from one viewpoint seem quoting others’ words or voices, can from another – or by different people – be accepted as merely part of freelyplunderable material. Rudyard Kipling catches this neatly:

When ’Omer smote ’is bloomin’ lyre,
He’d ’eard men sing by land an’ sea;
An’ what he thought ’e might require,
’E went an’ took – the same as me!

The market-girls an’ fishermen,
The shepherds an’ the sailors, too,
They ’eard old songs turn up again,
But kep’ it quiet – same as you!

They knew ’e stole; ’e knew they knowed.
They didn’t tell, nor make a fuss.
But winked at ’Omer down the road,
An’ ’e winked back – the same as us!
(Kipling 1896: 162).

51One way of conceptualising such examples has in the past been to attribute them to ’Tradition’ where verbally formulated matter can be projected as communal: repeatable certainly but not really attributable to any individual, and therefore (and specially if emanating from some colonised or otherwise marginalised group) not quite a matter of ’quoting’. But this perspective on it is now challenged by attempts, notably by UNESCO, to delineate and enforce intellectual property rights for notionally ’traditional’ compositions. Repeating them in any extensive and sustained form would nowadays, in the view of many, demand quote marks and named acknowledgement. On similar lines the earlier research practices by which the words of research ’subjects’ could be reported without attributing authorship are now being reshaped by ethical conventions about the control, ownership and presentation of such contributions – now more often recognised not as ’data’, but as quotations from individually-generated sayings, with their voices, not just that of the researcher, recognised as interpenetrating the text. Here again it is often not a matter of overt rules but of the implicit ways in which some voices are heard – or heard to varying degrees and at differing levels – but others remain hidden, not accepted as authorised sources of quotable words. As in so many other contexts, whose words and voices are to be treated as quotable, and how, is a social rather than purely literary or aesthetic question.

52The practice of quoting is also governed, and very effectively too, through the conventions of genre. These constellations of systematically related features and frameworks through which we organise our speech and writing play a crucial if often invisible part in structuring how quotation is used and judged by both authors and audiences. Changing and controversial as they have been over the years, genres offer potent schemas for dealing in particular ways with the words and voices of others, interwoven often enough not only with expectations about the appropriate personnel, content and setting but also with intertextual associations and hierarchies of value.

53Thus in some genres, extensive quotation without overt signal is or has at some time been an expected part of the art (though perhaps at the same time more allowable for certain practitioners or purposes than for others). In other genres or in different periods lack of attribution has attracted widespread censure, while in yet others again the explicitly signalled repetition of others’ words is not only acceptable but obligatory. The ancient genre of the cento, a collage made entirely from lines of other works, had quotation as its required basis, while parody has been expected over the generations to foreground quotation (of a kind) in more subtle ways. The repeated phrases and passages evident in many genres of oral and written literatures, from ancient epic to twentieth-century South Slavic heroic song, are different again, where what in some genres might look like direct quotations were handled more as repeated formulaic phrases, not demanding attribution. Mediaeval monks built texts out of the pre-existing words of earlier authorities, as did the compilers of renaissance commonplace books – normal at the time but to contemporary eyes sometimes looking more like unregulated plagiarism. Historical accounts too have been organised in differing ways according to the generic conventions currently observed. Sometimes the incorporation of large passages from previous works has been a welcome feature. Of the ten thousand pages of Sima Guang’s admired eleventh-century chronological account of Chinese history for example the author only used his own words in about one hundred passages. The rest was verbatim quotation from earlier accounts, in keeping with the ’scissors and paste’ tradition then – but not always – obtaining in Chinese historiography (Lafleur 1999). Similarly in 1599 almost a fifth of John Hayward’s history of Henry IV’s reign consisted of material translated from the centuries-earlier Roman historian Tacitus – criticised indeed by some even at the time but then a relatively established format.

54The conventions expected for Christian sermons again both regulate the use of quotation within certain frames and themselves cause disagreement. It is commonly accepted practice to insert or allude to biblical passages without specific acknowledgement of the exact source – the audience are expected to be familiar with the genre and the background. But there was also heated controversy between the contending sermon-genres constructed by Puritans and Anglicans respectively in the seventeenth century, the effects to an extent continuing into the present. Anglican sermons were packed with quotations and the deliberate, but not usually attributed, re-use of earlier texts, whereas the Puritans disapproved of what they saw as derivative sermons and instead valued improvisation and inspiration in enunciating words direct from God (Love 2002: 154ff) – a case of the power of religious, ethical and theological principles, varied as they were, to control the definition and usage of quotation.

55The quiet but pervasive managing of quoting through genre conventions also comes out in contemporary forms where the norm is to leave unmarked what writers in other genres would be blamed for not signalling. Ritual repetitions mostly go without overt quote marks or explicit attribution; so do orally circulating jokes (except among competing professional comedians), student exam scripts quoting back memorised words from lectures, journalists’ accounts quoted or closely paraphrased from agency reports, citations from handbooks and technical manuals in practical applications, and repetitions in indexes and – sometimes – dictionaries, reference works and databases. On the other hand authors of formal academic reports in ’peer-reviewed’ humanities or social science journals are expected to make at least a show of identifying sources and demarcating the quotation of others’ words by clear signals, once again regulated by taken-for-granted norms of the genre. Here as in many other settings genre expectations of which we are often not fully conscious structure our repetitions of others’ words, not seldom interacting with unspoken connotations about how particular genres are ranked in the hierarchy of verbal products, and of how and by whom quotation in them should be handled. What is taken to be ’proper’ quotation and what is not and for whom – what is flower, what weed – is again a situational and cultural matter, not one of objective delineation.

56Too many to recount in full, the controls over quoting thus include not only direct curbs by censorship or the deliberate exercise of authority but also less explicit – but powerful – assessments of who should quote and be quoted, and in what settings. What counts as quoting and quotable, and how formulated, is filtered through particular cultural expectations, epistemologies, hierarchies, accepted conventions and, often enough, disputes over how we should deploy the words and voices of others.

8.3. The fields where quoting grows

57The channels of communication that we humans have developed – spoken, written, pictorial, electronic and others – on the face of it seem transparent. But they too have a part in structuring how we configure the words and voices of ourselves and others. Our modes of expression and, equally important, the social arrangements for organising them have their relevance for our practices of quotation. A quick sketch can illustrate some of the ways they interlock.

58The oral medium offers fine opportunities to signal quotation. Different facets and degrees of the complex ideas associated with quoting are emphasised in differing languages and cultural contexts, and managed in a series of dimensions, not least through the co-construction of meaning among speaker and other participants. And it is of course not just by linguistic means but also, as illustrated in Chapter 6, by a series of complex multimodal markers mediated by the bodily signals by which people recognise – or sometimes wordlessly subvert – the rules of the game. Oral performance is a many-sided resource enabling someone to utter quoted words but at the very same time to qualify that act by, for example, an apologetic or ironic tone, a wry smile or throwaway gesture, strategies specially useful where there is some sensitivity about a quotation’s appropriateness.

59Words and voices that circulate orally can in some respects evade controls over their repetition. Voicing someone else’s words is in one sense an easy matter, requiring no lengthy learned training: not a restricted skill, it is more or less open to anyone. In some contexts too, including the ’here and now’ of the literacy-imbued present, quotations like jokes, ditties, proverbs or funny stories do indeed seem to inhabit an open oral domain outside the restrictions on print or formal writing, less easy to pin down for censoring than written products.

60But spoken quotation too is ordered, as we have seen, by the conventions at any given time as to appropriate settings, personnel, genre features and verbal register. The live situation in which spoken quoting is enacted gives particular power to a present audience to directly control its expression, and the use of others’ words even in informal interactions is governed by the expected patterns of what and whom it is allowable to quote and in what company. There can be strong moral or even legal sanctions, especially if the words quoted are taken as divulging secrets, misquoting someone, uttering slander, repeating sentiments offensive to authority, or infringing rights of particular creators. Prohibitions by powerful parties removed from the direct scene of action might on the face of it seem ineffective to curb oral quotation but can sometimes be buttressed by local abettors and informants. Nor should one underestimate the tacit pressures of informal rules about the kind of quoting considered inadvisable and, in consequence, of self-censorship.

  • 6 Further references and discussion in Finnegan 1988: 95ff, 1992: 73ff, 2007: 106ff.

61In the context of the composition and appreciation of oral art there are sometimes quite formally recognised sanctions on repetition, not least where writing is relatively marginal to the process. Certain oral genres have owners – or, to be more precise, people with rights of varying kinds over their reproduction. Sometimes this is indeed a matter of identified individual authorship. The famed Somali poets referred to in Chapter 6 composed elaborate poems to be delivered word-for-word either by themselves or by reciters who had memorised them verbatim. Anyone repeating them must cite the original author’s name and was susceptible to challenge if not quoting accurately. In Fiji in the South Pacific, on the other hand, the highly regarded dance-songs (meke) were created by an inspired composer speaking words from the spirit world in trance or dream, to be captured verbatim by listeners on the spot. But the compositions did not reach full publication until long rehearsals had taken place by massed choir and dancers, and then only with the authority not of the composer but of the local chief who allowed the song’s reproduction. Or again people sometimes commissioned an expert to compose a song for them – and it was they, not the composer, who held the right to perform it. Among the Dinka of the mid-twentieth-century southern Sudan for example, individuals had their own songs, sometimes created by themselves, sometimes composed for them by someone else: others could quote someone’s personal song informally but only its owner was allowed to present it formally.6

62Writing provides a somewhat different set of resources. Written words have the potential to be repeated and recorded in a form more or less removed from the immediate context, and without the pressure of a directly present audience. With their diverse range of visual and linguistic signals for marking others’ words, illustrated in Chapter 4, they are in principle open to being copied at different times and places. But at the same time their physical and (up to a point) enduring presence renders them open to scrutiny over wider expanses of time and place, thus making them in certain respects more susceptible than the fleeting oral forms to interference from those with the wish and power to control their circulation. It is also worth repeating that the skills of writing and of reading have often, unlike oral expression, been restricted to a minority. Though there are always many modes in which written products are disseminated – private reading is only one form – and the arts of quoting by no means confined to an intellectual and literate elite, nevertheless the direct manipulation of quotation in writing has in many contexts been restricted.

63Not all writing is the same however, and different media offer varying constraints and opportunities for reproducing and accessing the words and voices of others. The clay tablets of early millennia were laborious to copy and depended on specialists for their reproduction, so the written quotation of Sumerian proverbs was inevitably restricted to small numbers of skilled practitioners. The various forms of scribal reproduction that came in later were primarily written on more portable, if more perishable, materials. They were still time-consuming to create, dependent on relatively long periods of learning and again directly accessible only to a minority. The papyrus rolls of earlier antiquity were a well-used medium for capturing many classic texts in writing, but needed both hands to hold and roll while reading, precluding the easy copying we can practise today. The quotation of written material did of course take place but direct copying remained an expensive and protracted business, often the task of literate slaves rather than the authors or potential readers of the material.

64From around the second century AD the codex form of book developed by the Romans was coming into circulation: folded parchment sheets stitched together along one edge. For both reading and direct copying these were easier to handle than papyrus rolls, their pages simpler to turn and re-turn. Writing was still costly and restricted, but the practice of scribal copying of, in particular, religious works became extensive and in the middle ages vast amounts of material were reproduced from earlier writing and regularly revered and quoted. Scribal books circulated in large numbers, both large-scale works and collections of quotations of the kind described in Chapter 5, and passages were extensively copied and rearranged by monks for their private devotions. Quoting in this form could be conducted in private – even in secret – without complicated technology. Not that this prevented disputes over ownership. There is the famous story of the sixth-century Irish saint Columba secretly copying out a Psalter belonging to St Finnian, only to have the copy denied him by the famous judgement ’To every cow its calf, to every book its copy’ – sometimes said to be the start of copyright and certainly evidence of an interest in the regulation of copying. But such colourful cases aside, the laborious and skilled nature of copying and the location of many scribes within a particular religious context meant that while written quotation was indeed widely practised, its immediate manipulation was generally restricted to the minority who had access to the necessary learning.

65The development and spread of print technology from (in Europe) the fifteenth century raised new challenges and opportunities. Books became cheaper and more available, circulating in multiple copies and offering resources for individuals to copy by hand into personal commonplace books and to conflate extracts from printed sources for further publication. They also presented a threat to the existing controls over quoting exercised by church and state. These understandably took pains to turn the new medium to their advantage and control its distribution, authorship and content. They were assisted in one way by the more ponderous and visible nature of print technology with its production and its products more open to detection than individual scribal copying. Printed reproduction soon came to be controlled by such measures as licenses or privileges granted to a limited number of printers, the deposit of authorised copies, registers of approved books, and prohibition of material judged seditious, heretical or foreign.

66Print technologies have since gone through a variety of forms, predictably matched by measures regulating printed quotation. Together with the institutional arrangements of publishing, the book trade, educational curricula and academic hierarchies, these measures have over the centuries come to underpin the system we broadly observe today. This has meant on the one hand greater openings than in manuscript copying for unattributed quotations lifted from the multiply available printed publications, on the other scope for additional constraints over what is copied – over what is, or can be, quoted. The physical work itself is traceable through just one of many identical copies, any apparent infringements thus the more detectable by outside authority. In some ways, controls over quotation have become all the tighter. But at the same time the technology, while often unwieldy for individuals to handle, also enabled rapid and effective reproduction, in some situations circulating and quoted underground. The legal restrictions have also varied in different regimes and periods. There was, for example, plentiful recycling of British publications in America before the international copyright agreement of the Berne convention of 1886. Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations with its multiple print-runs in America in the early nineteenth century is just one of many examples, a proliferation in large numbers of collected quotations which would scarcely have been feasible with the slower and less accessible procedures of scribal reproduction.

67The technologies of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century have added further twists to the social organisation of quoting. There are now substantial challenges to some of the earlier controls over the established medium and institutions of print. Photocopying, faxing, word processing, emailing, self-publication in increasingly manageable forms, and the recent spread of open-access publishing have removed many of the practical constraints on copying, facilitating a spurt in the reproduction of quotations as home industry rather than specialist publication. The web and its search engines have brought new facilities for locating, reading and painlessly reproducing both short and extremely long passages and extracted quotations can be pasted seamlessly into a copyist’s own documents. Quoting others’ words has become both easy and popular, well evidenced in lengthy documents of recycled material and in the prolific quotations collections now on the web.

68It is small wonder that these enhanced technologies for extensive, easy and potentially undetectable quoting have given rise to contradictory reactions. From one side comes celebration of the open and shared nature of the public space of the web, where people can interact collaboratively, formulate their own routes through a near-infinite series of hyperlinks, and manipulate and re-use existing material without the restrictive bonds of fixed print and traditional gatekeepers. On the other there is alarm, even outrage, about the apparently uncontrolled circulation of people’s authored words without attribution, authorisation or due remuneration for the author’s or publisher’s original work. Going along with that have been attempts to introduce new restrictions to curb this perceived quotation free-for- all, or at least turn it to good profit account, in their turn stirring fears of excessively stringent controls on the circulation and quoting of material. Among many, the anxieties over potentially unauthorised quoting seem especially to the fore, evinced among other things in the huge preoccupation of educators with finding ways to detect and punish the unauthorised quoting allegedly burgeoning among students. To many in the established order words seem to have been let loose, running out of control, no longer subject to the guardians who once policed the reproduction of hard-copy print but lying open, unchecked and unconfirmed for just anyone to seize and repeat as they wish.

69It is interesting to note what a central place in this atmosphere of unease seems to be taken by the concept and practice of quoting. It is not, admittedly, the only focus in current debates about our newer technologies. But it is unmistakeable how often the panics circle around notions of unrestrained plagiarism, issues over copyright, and the image of people’s words floating untrammelled for anyone to quote without restriction. Not for the first time, established controls over quotation are seemingly being broken and new freedoms – anarchies some would say – opened up. Alongside the opportunities go those long-familiar controversies coming from many interested parties over issues of freedom and restriction, ownership, profit and authority, and of what and who should quote and be quoted, whose voices heard and repeated.

70As human beings we are no doubt fortunate in the resources we have for connecting with the words and voices of others. I am thinking in particular of the channels of speech and of writing (there are others too with which they interact but let me continue to focus on the verbal). Here are spacious fields for our expression and communication – humanly cultivated fields, not limpid or neutral facts of nature. Long-continuing as they are, we have tilled them to set particular markers on our ways with words and voices, and on how we demarcate and assign them. We have indeed played with their specific features in different places and periods. But they still carry long-continuing tracks of their human organisation from earlier times into the present.

71In quoting above all, with its inextricable entanglement with the past, we would do well not to ignore the weight of this heritage. In spoken language, for all its mutations and contrasts, we carry the embedded traces of our parents’ and forebears’ ways with words and the subtle, often hidden, mechanisms for imbuing ourselves with others’ words and voices – a key channel now as in the past for organising the formulation of others’ words and voices in everyday interaction, in rituals, in organised verbal arts. Writing too has played a seminal role in the cultivation of others’ words and voices. While often lauded as among the greatest achievements of human culture, writing might in fact never have been developed as a medium for marshalling human expression and communication. But it did. And given that fact, we should recognise that this particular channel, humanly regulated, has had a vital role in organising our presentation of the words of others, a rich resource that, with all its selectiveness and variety over time and between different groups, has long been exploited as a medium for quotation. Through writing, quoted words have been built up and amassed in particular ways over the centuries, in part structuring how we experience others’ words today. In some ways these have indeed been restricted to the learned and semi-learned elite. In others however they have had immensely wide repercussions over vast areas and spheres of human endeavour, perhaps indeed more pervasive and actively cultivated than often realised.

72The concept of ’quoting’ is in part coloured for us today by this long inheritance of the visual marks of writing and the words they have demarcated and captured. And for all the cries of a revolution in communication technology, we cannot blink the strong hold that the written word retains on the web as in other settings – no transparent mirror but a humanly-governed social heritage with a crucial part in organising our engagement with others’ words in the here and now of our lives.

73It is then scarcely surprising to encounter the British observers’ ambivalence about the merits of quotation. Behind it lies a long history of human regulation, both overt and implicit. Quoting can indeed be valued in artistry and ritual, in personal interaction and the many dimensions of human living. But it also draws disputes, contending demarcations, and social, legal, ethical and aesthetic sanctions for controlling and confining it. And these processes are in turn entwined with social and educational hierarchies, property rights, aesthetics, literary creativity, changing technologies and the role of established practices and ideologies in regulating our long-sensitive human engagement with the words and voices of others


1 The continuing debates on ’authorship’, ’plagiarism’ and restrictions on quotation span a wide area, including historical studies, educational and pedagogical discussions, copyright matters, and literary and cultural theory. Sources I have found especially pertinent include Angélil-Carter 2000, Barthes 1977, Buranen and Roy 1999, Coe et al. 2002, Eisner and Vicinus 2008, Foucault 1977, Howard 1999, Macfarlane 2007, Howard and Robillard 2008, Kewes 2002, Lunsford and Ede 1990, 1994, Mallon 1989, Minnis 1988, Putnam 1894, Randall 2001, Scollon 1994, 1995, Skandalakis and Mirilas 2004, White 1935, Woodmansee and Jaszi 1994, and on the partially overlapping – and contentious – subject of copyright Bently and Kretschmer 2008-, British Academy 2006, Communia 2010, Deazley et al. 2010,

2 On classical authorship see specially Conte 1986, Conte and Most 2003, Putnam 1894, Silk 2003, White 1935.

3 There is an extensive – if controversial – literature on quoting among students and others from varying cultural backgrounds, often related to plagiarism, for example Ballard and Clanchy 1984, Bloch 2008, Casanave 2002, Connor 1996, Duszak 1997, Howard and Robillard 2008, Jones et al. 2000, Panetta 2001, Pennycock 1996, Scollon 1994, Suomela-Salmi and Dervin 2009.

4 For some recent overviews and references on censorship and the destruction of books see Baez 2008, Paxton 2008, Petley 2009, Post 1998, Thomas 2008.

5 For example Angélil-Carter 2000, Havilland and Mullen 1999, Howard 1999.

6 Further references and discussion in Finnegan 1988: 95ff, 1992: 73ff, 2007: 106ff.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 8.1 ’In Defence of Robert Burns. The Charge of Plagiarism Confuted’, Sydney, 1901.One of the published defences of well-known authors against charges of plagiarism (© The British Library Board, YA.1995.a.20492)
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Légende Fig. 8.2 King Henry VIII’s Proclamation prohibiting unlicensed printing, London, 1538.Regarded as one of the key documents in early copyright history this prohibited the printing of any book in English without the express approval of the king through his Privy Council (as reproduced in Hughes and Larkin 1964: 270)
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Légende Fig. 8.3 The Roman Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, Rome, 1559.The list was produced in successive editions from the sixteenth to the midtwentieth century. This shows the title page and start of the list in the pocket edition published in 1559. Inside are 65 closely packed pages of prohibited authors and titles, in alphabetical order(Reproduced by permission from Houghton Library facsimile reprint, 1980, *93HR-7045, Houghton Library, Harvard University)
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Légende Fig. 8.4 Gibbon accused of misquotation and plagiarism. London 1778.Henry Edwards Davis, An Examination of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of Mr Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in which his View of the Christian Religion is shewn to be founded on the MISREPRESENTATION of the AUTHORS he cites AND Numerous Instances of his INACCURACY and PLAGIARISM are produced, London, 1778 (© The British Library Board, T.1948.(1.))
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