Bloch, R. Howard. God's Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular

 

Bloch, R. Howard. God's Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular
Commerce of the Abbe Migne. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995 (originally,
1994).

There are some fabulous characters in the world of letters. Con artists of all sorts can be found if
one looks into the groves of academe. Just think of all the tomfoolery that's gone on: Atlick's
book, The Scholar Adventurers, details some of the fakery with, most particularly, the frauds of
Thomas Wise. But there are many more plagiarists, and liars (remember those travelers' tales
which swept Europe?) And many of the exploits of Ferdinand Waldo Demara (see, Crichton's
The Great Imposter) involved academic life directly: he was variously a Ph.D. in psychology, a
college president, and a surgeon, at various times in his career. These people demonstrate all too
clearly that fakery is possible.

This book concerns abbe Jacques-Paul Migne (1800-1875) who ought best be described as a
book publisher in 19th century France during the years of the Industrial Revolution. One way to
describe his exploits is to say that he brought industrialization to the book publishing. He was
among the first to harness steam engines in book production; he created a "factory system" in
which he employed hundreds to turn out book after book (most of which were cribbed from other
publishers). His major accomplishment was the publication of what he called the complete
writings of the Church Fathers. These he got out in a particularly difficult time for Holy Mother
Church. He sold the damn things in a style which brings Book of the Month Club tactics to mind:
subscriptions, discounts, prizes, raffles, you name it. And he sold these books to a Church which
was undergoing a rejuvenation after the Revolution; his books sold well.

He was completely unscrupulous in his abuse of the work of other publishers: he would simply
take a previously published book, even though still under copyright, and turn out his own edition
using the printed book as his source (kept editing costs low). He cribbed his books from all over
and, since his texts were usually Latin, had no translations to worry about. Thus, German,
English and all the other publishers in Europe were fair game for the guy.

He was a rabid self-promoter and, though one cannot be completely certain as many of the ads
are unsigned, he probably wrote many of the enthusiastic endorsements which accompanied the
release of his publications. He attributed endorsements to all sorts of people, without, of course,
ever getting those endorsements. But his texts all look and sound alike. He was no one to stint on
heaping praise on his books.

He was, as one might expect, constantly in legal troubles: suits to collect debts, legal battles with
the Church's hierarchy (he was a priest himself but that never seemed to deter him a bit). Other
publishers fought him. But, and perhaps more important, he loved to sue people over wrongs
done him.

He not only published books but also many newspapers which he used as methods of advertising
his books and promoting his anti-clericalism: he constantly gave advice to priests who were in
trouble with the law or with the hierarchy. He put out newspapers in the same way he put out
books: plagiarized the articles. He was not above using scandal and dirt in order to sell papers.
And while he constantly called his papers objective, his epigraphs constantly write of his
objectivity and fairness, he just did anything he could to make money.

And he did all this without much by way of education and almost no money. He abused his
employees notoriously and was guilty of harboring in his employ those who could find work
nowhere else. Thus, he would take in defrocked priests and others who were anathema and give
them a place to stay in return for their labors - and Oh, he drove them. Since they were pariahs
themselves, they had little recourse from his abuses.

Here was a guy who took advantage of the new technologies in printing and the opportunities
society presented to him. He was, comically, a man of his age.