Inspirational tale for bubonic plagiarists

Here’s a slightly paraphrased anecdote from Ramon Miquel i Planas’ El llibreter assassí de Barcelona (1928), which his footnote seems to imply was taken from Le livre, vi, 131 (Paris, 1885):

Emile Girardin and Charles Latour-Mézeray are two young literary bohemians running round 1820s Paris. Girardin has just published a novel and is feeling fairly desperate about its reception. On his way to meet his maker he bumps into Latour:
–Where are you off to, Girardin?
–I’m going to throw myself in the river!
Latour starts to laugh.
–Hang on a moment. Let’s start a journal.
–Who’ll write for it?
–And what will we call it?
Le voleur. We’ll rob whatever suits us from wherever we find it.

Miquel i Planas says that the header pictures a writer surrounded by newspaper sheets, with as footer an excerpt from the famous verse dedicated by Voltaire to Abbot Trublet:

[L’abbé Trublet avait alors la rage
D’être à Paris un petit personnage;]
Au peu d’esprit que le bonhomme avait
L’esprit d’autrui par complément [traditionally: supplément] servait.
[Il entassait adage sur adage;]
Il compilait, compilait, compilait…

Trublet may remind some of you of Tom Lehrer’s Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (“plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise…,/Only be sure always to call it please, ‘research'”), and Girardin and Latour will be more familiar to googlers as Émile de Girardin and Charles Lautour-Mézeray. There are also alternate versions of the launch of Le voleur in 1828. In Paul Ginisty’s Anthologie du Journalisme (1933) Girardin is still writing the semi-autobiographical Émile (which, incidentally, was to be a hit):

With his friend Lautour-Mezeray, later nicknamed “the man with the camellia” because, affecting the looks of a dandy, he used to wear a white camellia in his buttonhole, Émile de Girardin founded a journal which, it is said, met with “astonishing success”; it was put together with nothing more than a pair of scissors. Lautour-Mezeray had proposed calling it La lanterne magique.

“No,” said Girardin, “let’s be frank about it and call our journal simply Le voleur. The cries of the victims will attract the crowds and we won’t need to advertise.” (Comte G de Contade, Portraits et fantaisies)

Girardin was an astonishing figure, a Robert Maxwell at the court of Louis-Philippe. Foreign-born and notoriously self-inventing, he bought, founded and sold titles, creating a fortune and winning a duel in the process, married first an accomplished society beauty and then a Viennese postmaster’s daughter, and participated in politics to the extent of becoming a deputy and writing the monarch’s 1848 abdication address.

Of Miquel i Planas, more some other time: it’s not just the names he gets wrong.

[El llibreter is available in two modern editions, in Catalan with most of the French stuff translated, and in Spanish as El librero asesino de Barcelona.]

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