To lift, or not to lift, with a nod to the Bard


THOUSANDS of followers of Professor Irwin Corey, world's foremost authority, are accusing me of plagiarism for referring in a recent column to Dr. Harold Liverworth as "world's foremost authority."

The title "world's foremost authority" was bestowed upon himself years ago by Professor Corey, these people note. My appropriating it without so much as a nod to Professor RussellBakerCorey and bestowing it on Dr. Liverworth leaves them stunned.

The plagiarism is rank, they say, though not without a nod to Shakespeare. It smells to Heaven, they assert, nodding Bardward once again.

The world is swarming with nuisances like these, all of them itching to thrust poor writers into loathed melancholy of Cerberus and blackest midnight born in Stygian cave forlorn, a state of mind to which I wouldn't dream of referring without a nod to John Milton.

Try to get away with the tiniest shred of plagiarism and these lint-pickers are at your throat nodding away at Shakespeare while crying, "What a rogue and peasant slave art thou!" It's confusing having somebody nodding to Shakespeare while he's crying at your throat, but such are the ordeals of the writer's life.

No, I do not blame Professor Corey for his followers' behavior. I know him to be a civilized gentleman, certain to be embarrassed by churlish conduct among his followers and far too decent to sue a poor working man for plagiarism.

I recognized the professor as a man of quality on first seeing him in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention of 1956. He was parading down Michigan Avenue on a float bearing a placard that said: "Professor Corey will run for any party, and he will bring his own bottle."

What a fine specimen of Americana he was. It was Professor Corey and others like him who made American political conventions worth attending in that golden past before our politics and our governance turned into television commercials.

But now 35 years have passed, 35 summers with the length of 35 long winters, since last I gazed upon that genial Corey, and, though I must stop for a nod to William Wordsworth, I realize that nowadays technology, and not the swashbuckling spirit, is the stuff that dreams are made of. (With one more nod to the Bard.)

Thus, John Dillinger gives way to computer theft and Adlai Stevenson to Peggy Noonan. Squadrons of busybodies police literary and academic society, sifting through mountains of the densest prose in the universe in search of plagiarism at which they can cry: "Aha! Got you, varlet!" (A nod here to Ralph Varlet & Son Dry Cleaning, of Brooklyn.)

Did we win the Battle of Midway only to create a world where wretched and mentally threadbare writers would never again be permitted to get away with a little plagiarism?

What a shame that we no longer esteem the humane musical spirit of Tom Lehrer, who, just a generation ago, sang the following advice to all America:

"Remember why the good Lord made your eyes: Plagiarize."

What small-minded people these plagiarism police are. Typically, not one of them bothers to mention the important point embedded in the column in which I called Dr. Liverworth "world's foremost authority." That vital point was this: Unless something is done, America faces disaster.

Do you suppose any of these thousands of letter writers thanked me for that timely warning? Has even one suggested a way to prevent imminent disaster? No. Such people do not read, they merely scan print in hope of catching the writer in some trivial offense so they can -- off arrogant, abusive and threatening letters.

Do they ever concede that the writer may have forgotten that Professor Corey held the patent on "world's foremost authority"?

Not likely. To be humane would deprive them of the joy they take in suspecting the worst of the human writing race.

Do they ever acknowledge that some small, trifling plagiarism may have been committed as an act of justifiable vengeance? I, for example, have had hundreds of my best phrases and ideas ruthlessly plagiarized and expect that others, like my idea for making a Broadway musical of "The Kama Sutra," for example, soon will be.

Republicans use my finest aphorism -- "There are no liberals behind steering wheels" -- without the slightest nod my way. (A nod your way, Frank Sinatra.)

With that, let's nod to Poe and drop the curtain with a silken, sad, uncertain rustling on these surly letter writers after saying, Yes, Virginia, there is a Professor Corey. (Nod to Santa Claus.)

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