A few years ago the poet and critic Tom Paulin, reviewing a biography of Kipling in the Times Literary Supplement, surmised that Kipling was borrowing from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when he used the phrase “dark places of the earth.” In fact, as a letter pointed out in the following issue, the phrase comes from Psalm 74:20—“Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” Both Conrad and Kipling, of course, were borrowing from the same biblical source.

By itself, this little mistake wouldn’t amount to much. But it happens all the time. I have seen Samuel Johnson credited with the words “The night cometh when no man can work,” the phrase “hand to the plough” attributed to Charlotte Brontë, and Martin Luther King, Jr. said to be the author of the words “Let...

 
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